Solving national problems with local technology(opinion)

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Fred Agbata Jnr writes about why Nigeria should support its locally-grown technology, using the example of Remita; a Fintech software powering the country’s TSA.

There are over 101 national issues to reflect upon as Nigeria begins its 59th journey as an independent nation. Apart from the ‘hilarious’ display by politicians across various states, technology development and other salient issues, such as education, job creation and national integration are some of the issues that have been relegated to the background.

I belong to the school of thought that says the developmental destiny of any nation depends largely on its political leadership, but technological innovations may be the driver for a slow but organic development. Any technological innovation that would become a national legacy in Nigeria must be partly or majorly owned and developed locally.

A case in point here, is what SystemSpecs, a Nigerian-owned company is doing with Remita, an electronic payment platform, wholly developed in the country for local and international payment solutions. It is the robust software solutions that is powering Nigeria’s Treasury Single Account policy. The TSA is an IMF-recommended initiative, where all government’s funds are collected and managed, from a single banking account maintained at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Remita’s TSA’s success, has, for instance, enabled the government to reduce borrowing costs, extended credit facilities, improved fiscal policies and enhanced financial accountability among various institutions and MDAs.

Who would have thought that a Nigerian company could have handled such a complex setup that connects to the CBN, all the banks, thousands of organisations and many other APIs? Think about it for a moment, before the TSA was fully implemented, the government had over 20,000 accounts but today, through a click of a button, designated government officials can tell the financial situation of the country. That is the power of software!

My humble opinion is that one of the key ways Nigeria can gain respect in the international community, is through the development of innovative solutions that can solve some of our major national problems such as education, healthcare, power and many more. Sadly, Nigeria currently ranks 118th, out of the 126 most innovative countries in the world, with a score of 22.40, while Switzerland ranks number one with a score of 68.40 according to the Global Innovation Index.

This simply means, our country is not even in the first 100 countries with life-transforming innovations in the areas of research and development, productivity and variability of tech products, high-tech institutions/companies in computer and mobile device infrastructure, Internet, energy and chemical, military defence, hardware and software, educational institutions, advanced technology, market and business solutions, and even food security, among others.

Most advanced countries in the world are known for specific innovations that technology helped to create, while trying to solve a problem. What is Nigeria known for? It saddens the mind that, mostly, what Nigeria is known for is corruption. Although our country is the most populous African nation and the most populous black nation in the world, South Africa and Egypt, still ranks ahead of us, in terms of most advanced technological countries in Africa.

No country truly develops by leaning on Western ideology alone. The United Kingdom, Russia, China, Singapore, India, North Korea, South Korea, United States, Germany, Switzerland and France, among others, did not develop into the most technological and advanced countries by relying on other ideologies. No, they developed their own solutions and exported these innovations to other countries of the world.

Regretfully, Nigeria’s reliance on Western technology is not just limited to hardware and software technology – it cuts across every aspect of our life and existence. To us, everything foreign is the best; there seems to be nothing good in it being local. We are still suffering from imperialism and our rejection of cultural values is deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Foreign clothing and dressing, language accents, education, political and legal systems, banking system, transportation, and now technology — industrial, automotive, digital (software) — everything must be imported, to have value in our sight. We no longer have values of our own. We must begin to change the narratives and start encouraging local technological innovations, if we must make any meaningful impact on the world technology stage.

Is it the fault of this generation? No. It is a fundamental problem that we have been breeding from decades ago and this has eroded our value system. The government, which is the main institution that can change the situation, has also been swept away in the flood of Western worship and adoration.

How can we, then, use technology to solve our national problems? Here are a few ways:

  • Promoting made-in-Nigeria goods, services, and ideologies.
  • Investing in innovative and technological reforms.
  • Reducing brain drain by limiting the exodus of graduates and skilled professionals seeking greener pastures outside of the country.
  • Equipping our universities of technology and polytechnics for truly advanced technological engineering – hardware and software
  • Making government funding and grants available for problem-solving innovations, as well as funding innovative start-ups with technology prospects
  • Exporting our technologies to other nations – just like South Africa has exported major corporations to Nigeria and other African countries.
  • Making the relevant government’s Ministries, Agencies and Departments more responsive to innovation and disruption.

Smart nations support their own either overtly or covertly. Using the US as an example, when push comes to shove, the country would not fail to turn on national diplomacy in favour of their giant technology companies when they get into trouble in other nations. Another example, recall the time a telecoms company was fined heavily, who was it that found his way to Nigeria? The President of South Africa, who came on a working visit right about the same time — that is a smart nation! The big question is, what stops Nigeria from strategically supporting platforms like Remita and many others to serve other nations starting from West Africa?

Well, like the Managing Director, SystemSpecs, John Obaro,  asked during an interview I had with him, “if your country does not take you seriously or treats you unprofessionally, why should other countries respect you?” It is high time we did away with colonial mentality and truly support our own. Nigerians can build world-class solutions whether it’s building software or solutions to run critical national programmes such as accounting, national identity, the BVN, Immigration, the CBN and many more areas that we are currently spending billions annually, renewing licences and providing jobs for other economies. Let’s wake up from a rather deep slumber, please!

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