Some years ago (early 2000s), $1 million was invested in a tech company in Nigeria and it made great news. Everyone in that sector was so happy because it seemed to signify the symbolic finger in the sky that held the promise of better things to come. It gave a sector that was built on its sweat and labor, a modicum of recognition. It was like the Apple and Microsoft IPO moments in the US.
The Nigerian Tech sector, just like Nollywood, has grown virtually on its own and has done well for itself so far. Like a son born out of wedlock but has done well for himself, it is gradually being integrated into the mainstream of the Nigerian economy.
So far so good, but a lot has to change. Let’s start with the story of Philippines, an exporter of labor, of course there is India, an obvious example of tech talent export, where Infosys, Tata Consulting and WIPRO have perfected the scheme.
The Philippines have a vibrant workforce to export. They do not only export home maintenance experts to the Middle East, they export skilled technical personnel around the world, captains, sea farers, engineers, craftsmen, technicians and so on.
How did they get here? In the 1970s, The Philippines was beset with high unemployment and a crisis in balance of payments. The government then found a way to export its workers to oil rich, labor short neighbors in the Middle East first, and then to other parts in the world. The Philippines government adopted policies that systematically encouraged the export of contract labor. In order to make this work, they were aggressive in training their work force to high standards across board. While that was going on, the government sold the idea to the citizens and prepared them adequately. That program was supposed to be a temporary measure but it has lingered on even up till today.
The Oversea Filipino Worker (OFW) is the ‘oil well’ to the Filipino economy. According to the Migration Policy Institute “The Philippines ranks third after India and China as major recipients of remittances. In 2016, the country received US $26.9 billion in money transfers, according to the Central Bank of the Philippines.” See link -https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/philippines-beyond-labor-migration-toward-development-and-possibly-return
In a recent article by The Times of India, the Philippines surge in the industry was cited - Wipro Ltd, an IT Company based in India began operations in Philippines in 2007 now has 3,000 workers in India and 4000 in the Philippines. Also, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, India’s largest software services firm, plans to open a business processing outsourcing centre in the Philippines.
What can we draw from this?
Talents will always drift to where opportunities abound, and vice versa. Since the Nigerian state cannot, in the short term provide the opportunities for immediate employment and utilization of talent, there should be a program for development and training of local talent to grab both local and global opportunities. Thankfully, unlike the Filipino worker who needs to migrate, the era of remote working has bridged that chasm in some ways.
The Nigerian Government may adopt policies that encourage the training of local talent in the tech sector, thus enabling partnerships with the private sector.
It does not always have to be cash investments.
With some thought and brain power, a wide highway could be created with infinite possibilities. This is achievable in 3-5 years.
Imagine there is a policy to easy laptop ownership (many young people code on their phones and do amazing things with computers).
Imagine a hub for training in specific tech languages.
Imagine having a mentor in those hubs to provide mentorship and direction.
Imagine the democratization of data and other internet infrastructure.
Imagine the likes of Sim Shagaya of Konga.com getting involved in public/private partnerships.
A lot can be achieved in a short period of time and talent development will grow for our own good and local consumption.
Andela is doing this already as a private endeavor, as well as Hotels.ng, which has an internship program, and few others in the private sector.
Those in the Nigeria tech sector complain of the dearth of talent, especially senior engineers/technical advisers (some were absorbed recently by Booking.com). Again, it is either opportunities go to talent or talents go to opportunity.
Nigeria has received CEO’s of Google, Facebook, Figma, Y-Combinator etc. CEO’s don’t just go to spy; they visit to confirm and act. Now that we are the new bride, we have to accept this marriage proposal and close the deal. This time will not be for forever.
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