‘IT holds the ace in govt’s economic diversification plan’



Peter Elofusim is the Chief Executive Officer of Promosol Ltd. A graduate of Electrical Engineering from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Elofusim is worried by the nation’s over dependence on foreign Information Communication and Technology (ICT) content as well as poor IT skills among Nigerian graduates, moreso as he believes that the country can generate more wealth and job opportunities from Internet Technology than oil and gas. He spoke with Chuka Odittah of our Abuja Bureau. Excerpts.

How relevant is Internet technology to development and how can it be used to improve the economy?
Internet based technology is a communication platform. It also has to do with any service on the internet such as web, email and voice over Internet protocol.

So, it is relevant to development because its a global trend. Countries that fail to catch up are left behind. It actually refers to a collection of networks linked by routers. That means you are looking at a global market right within the reach of a skilled user. It’s not just enough to use the internet for chatting, it can rather be put to more creative and highly enterprising use.

Almost every young Nigerian who is a graduate has access to a smart phone. And these phones have applications from which they can be downloaded for specific uses. There are games, health applications and a few others.

Now, the opportunities provided by Internet technology education is into almost anything you can think of. More importantly, these applications use the internet. Presently in Nigeria, a lot of applications enable people to place orders, run offices remotely, monitor market trends. There are hotel management and hospital management, car-tracking and security applications among others.

What lesson is there for Nigeria to learn from rapidly changing ICT models?
We need to buy into the Information Communication and Technology fully. These can begin at the level of graduate training in universities and other tertiary institutions.

Also, proper incentives need to be put in place to encourage creativity among scholars. It would interest you to know that most of the programmes we use on the internet today are written by students and interns in foreign countries and bought by those who think the the applications can solve a particular challenge.

There are Nigerians in Nigeria who build good applications but they find themselves competing with the foreign products which may have better finishing or performance. The knowledge gap always shows up as a result of lack of well organized training.

A typical Nigerian who is Internet-savvy and with organised internet technology training has the capacity to turn out world class products. Today, we hear of people like Chinedu Echeruo of Hotspot.com. He recently sold his company to Apple Inc for $1 billion. Believe me, the years of oil and gas wealth is over. The next big thing for today and tomorrow is in internet technology. The wealth that is in this industry far surpasses that of oil and gas. Government has to make swift plans to key into this sector, especially now that the nation is in dire need of alternative sources of revenue.

Can Internet technology contribute to the national GDP?
Of course yes. The nation’s GDP would quadruple – not because of oil or banking or anything of that sort – but because of the income that will be generated by different businesses springing up from internet platforms. E-commerce is currently growing in leaps and bounds; yet, the Federal Government is yet to account for the effect of E-commerce on the GDP. E-commerce is a very huge venture which many countries are keying into. Another way the government can make money to mitigate the effect of the dwindling price of oil is through telecommunications.

In a month, there are more than 300,000,000 minutes of international calls coming into Nigeria. The Federal Government can place a levy on such calls. Many countries all over the world do that. Nigeria stands to make, potentially, as much as $100 million or $200 million from that alone monthly. All the government has to do is tax these calls coming into the nation at, say, 10 to 20 cents and generate a lot of income. It’s all about Information Technology and acquiring necessary infrastructure to get this done.

The new administration has promised massive job creation as part of their campaign promises. How can ICT be leveraged on to fulfill this?
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians so many jobs during the campaigns. They will not be the first to promise Nigerians jobs. The last administration actually promised but always failed to deliver, as a result of the traditional path they took – always talking about building industries, factories and the likes – which is quite irrelevant in this dispensation.

However, with recent global happenings and in order to empower young people, government should provide training programme, which focuses on Internet technology. Internet technology remains the best bet for job creation for the new administration. This is because Internet technology is the bedrock from which every other thing springs from, as far as this generation is concerned.

The advocacy, for me, should be that government should spend time and resources on internet technology, instead of spending resources on industries and factories, all with a view to create jobs. The Nigerian youth should be empowered to ensure that they become job creators in their own right.

Special attention should be paid to the university curriculum. Presently, our university curriculum still caters for the pre-Internet era and when many of these young people graduate, they find themselves confused, especially in environment where people are Internet-savvy. I believe that every graduate of Nigerian school should be taught one form of programming language or the other.

Internet technology, with particular reference to coding dominate every aspect of our lives today. The Facebook we all use today was developed by a guy who was a psychology major but took electives in computing especially programming. .

Our youths are smart and my belief is that when they are trained in programming and other aspects of Internet architecture, they can hit the ground running once they are out of school. That way, they don’t look for government jobs, but become job creators themselves. There are many young people who have been exposed to programming language while in school and they easily integrate when they graduate.

Also, the current batch of corps members who are currently serving in the NYSC scheme can be taken through the rudiments of the programme. A boot-camp should be floated where every graduate can be made to undergo IT training.

When you talk of boot-camps, are they going to replace the NYSC orientation camp?
These camps should be such that they are like an extension of the orientation camp. From the orientation camp, they can move into the boot-camp, where they are taken through comprehensive and well cut-out training, technology-wise, so that at the end of the year, when they come out, even when they are not job creators, they can be ready to play their role in any industry they find themselves in.

Any willing person interested in learning any aspect of internet technology should be encouraged to take part in the boot-camp. The emphasis should be on training and capacity-building. I think that instead of dishing out stipends – like the N10, 000 monthly, which the new government has promised to give unemployed graduates every year, the capacity of these young people should be built.

If the stipend is given, the value can only be measured in monetary terms, but if the training is established, our immediate society will be the better for it. This is the kind of advocacy I am into.

You talked about upgrading the university curriculum from analogue to digital. Can you shed more light on this?
Presently, there are a number of things that are missing from the Nigerian tertiary institutions’ curriculum that are already in use all over the world. Digital marketing is a very good example. Now, the traditional marketing system is fast becoming phased out. Companies now use digital means to get to their customers.

Before now, if you had a programme, which you wanted people to know about, all you needed to do was go to the radio, television stations and newspapers to advertise them. Very few people can afford that today. However, with digital marketing technology, tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and the rest of them, you can push your products to the comfort and privacy of your target audience. How many universities have revised their marketing curriculum to accommodate this new reality? These days, I do not have to watch television to know that a product has just been launched. All I have to do is go online and the products and services of my interest hit me. We are missing out on a huge opportunity; many people and graduates who should have set up their own companies just by virtue of knowing how to use social networking sites do not know how to go about it.

You will agree with me that fundamentally, one of the things that contributed to the former ruling party losing grounds during campaigns was poor use of the social media. They never realised that the youths were relying more on social media than from NTA and AIT. The APC took hold of the social media where the youth audience was and set the agenda. The target audience is on the internet already and I am saying we should open their eyes to many more things they can do there to help improve their fortunes and the society at large.
Since our youths are already comfortable with internet, you can empower them and get them to do much more through coding and programming.

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