It is for this reason that the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) recently held a Stakeholders’ Summit on "Nigerian Content Development in the ICT Sector" The event took place at the Golden Gate Chinese Restaurants, Ikoyi, Lagos.
ATCON organized the meeting because it was of the opinion that for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector in Nigeria to develop and level up with leading ICT nations of the world, concerted efforts have to be made towards developing some amount of local contents both in the software and hardware components of ICT infrastructure. It also felt that our local ICT infrastructure providers should be granted some measure of protection against their multinational counterparts whose corporate strength and investment could pose serious threat to the survival of local players.
The Association believes that the establishment of an enabling environment will encourage existing and potential local investors to venture into the development of Nigerian content in our ICT sector. This will eventually register Nigeria in the league of global leaders in the ICT sector.
The summit elicited passionate reactions from experts and stakeholders that came for the event. Of particular reference was the open challenge thrown to foreign software developers by Dr. Chris Uwaje, Managing Director, Connect Technologies Limited to come for an open competition to determine who was better at the job. He was quite confident that Nigerian software developer would not be found wanting nor underdogs.
Experts say that the software industry in Nigeria is worth over 20 billion dollars and over a trillion dollars worldwide.
The industry generally exudes much optimism but there is a pervading air of disillusionment which developers blame on absence of government support for the industry.
Government has never indicated interest in the local industry and it only seems to be interested in IT consumption. The Nigerian computer society with over 15,000 memberships is a strong advocate of government investing in software development in Nigeria. They have also advocated for the establishment of a software research institute.
There are thousands of indigenous software in the Nigeria market but they all get swallowed up as foreign brands. Nigerian made software provide solutions for school management, cyber café management, human resources, banking and micro-finance, the stock market and many other areas of human endeavours. Though a few have enjoyed patronage in the banking sector, stock market, and micro finance institutions. However, they still suffer discriminations when compared to that of their foreign counterparts even as foreign software is still dominant in the market.
Those from abroad get the lion share while local software are still lagging behind.
Foreign solutions practically dominate corporate Nigeria, particularly the banking and oil sector where IT has been remarkably integrated into their operations. Where local applications are in use, they are built into the architecture of the foreign solution as one of several modules. For instance, where the module for personal management of the offshore package does not fit into the local environment, it is replaced with a locally written module that reflects the unique traits of the local business environment.
Several banks in Nigeria are guilty of this practice. This means that the local developers are perpetually relegated to the background while their foreign counterparts take the driver’s seat of the national economy. Our local developers are never part of the major software platform, which drives the economy.
Though, there are areas where local software developers need to improve on their products, as many industry analysts say most local developers are yet to realise that software is both research and business. This is because they lack commitment to the business angle of software development. Also, they complain that most local software is not user friendly as the graphical user interface are not there.
They also complain that some software applications are difficult to understand when compared to those from say India, China or some western countries.
They submitted that developers must know that it is not always how good the software is that matters but how it can easily be understood and used.
Mr. Austin Okere, Group Managing Director, Computer Warehouse Group (CWG) once told his audience at a software forum organised in Lagos that local software developers are either unwilling to run the distance to keep to global standards or they are just being lazy to make their products global. He maintained that there are standards that must be reached if they want their solutions to compete favourably with foreign brands.
"Software has no tribe or race, the man who wants solutions would go for what can solve his problems,"he said.
Others believe that the mortality rate of local solutions is very high. Be that as it may, there are many who believe that there are some local solutions which could compete favourably with their counterparts from anywhere in the world.
Many believe that if our local software developers are encouraged, they would do better that they are doing presently. This is because many Nigerian developers lack the fund and necessary support. Some because of the socio-economic factors in the country are more concerned with their physiological needs than with the exigencies of their profession.
Though, the government have in the past pretended to be doing much to encourage the local software industry but industry watchers see these as just a flash in the pan. For instance, in 2004, the government inaugurated a 16 member task force for the development of software in Nigeria as part of its IT policy implementation strategies, an IT park worth N2 billion to be financed by Zenith bank was also promised. However, four years on, this project is yet to take off. To put it more succinctly, it is as good as gone with the administration that proposed it.
The 16 member committee was to among other things develop a blue print or strategies for promoting software development in the country and creating an enabling environment for software development to thrive in the country. This too still remains a dream which in the typical Nigerian parlance is still in the pipeline.
Dr. Chris Nwannenna, former president, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) speaking on the challenge confronting software developers in Nigeria, said lack of patronage was one of the greatest problems confronting the industry in Nigeria. "It is only in the last couple of years that Nigerians started patronising the software industry in Nigeria. Software is quite unlike other products. You conceive the product, do the analysis, design, code, package, test, before you even present it to anybody. All these will take a minimum of six months to develop a total commercial appreciation. Sometimes, it takes more. Also, marketing it becomes very difficult because of the economic situation in the country. So all these things discourage people from going into software development. The gestation period is quite long. Also, you need somebody to back up. You need support, so you can concentrate on the job.
He continued: "We have always said that the government can promote the private sector to become more effective. Well, government should come out open to say before any Nigerian agency, ministry or government institution buys any software from outside Nigeria; it must make sure that there is no indigenous equivalent. That will be the first step that will galvanise the Nigerian software industry. This will serve as an impetus to the local software industry.
"We want a clause that will make it difficult for any buyer of software to just purchase anything they see or hear about outside Nigeria without first checking what is available locally. Because you know Nigerians have a penchant for foreign things even when they are not good.
Perhaps if the government at all levels will heed to these wise words of an expert in the industry that as it were has seen it all. The software industry in Nigeria maybe on its way out of the woods and the practitioners may just get a new lease of life that may help them in their line of duty.
It is on record that the Nigerian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector has continued to grow beyond bookmakers’ predictions. However, despite the high number of ICT professionals in Nigeria, adequate attention has not been given to the issue of developing and building local contents.