Nigeria’s competitiveness and fourth industrial revolution

[FILES] Industrial revolution stages from steam power to cyber physical systems, automation and internet of things. Photo/ PHOTO: Google image

ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, Head, Communication and Technology, in this report, examines the importance of the 4TH Industrial Revolution to Nigeria’s competitiveness.

That Nigeria has not really benefited from the boom created by technology in the past 50 years might not be the news, but the possibility of the country still being left behind again in the new revolution should be a source of concern to the nation’s handlers.

Indeed, Nigeria did not gain anything significant in the first, second and third industrial revolutions.

Therefore, the hope of gaining something in the fourth industrial revolution appears elusive, owing to various economic challenges and policy summersaults that have become the norm of modern day Nigeria.

The personal computer (PC) era ushered in by Microsoft, IBM, and Apple, did not really benefit Nigeria, as the country was not ready for it.

While Microsoft and co. envisioned a world in which every human being had a PC; in Nigeria, it was few and far between, and could not lead to the massive productivity that it promised.

It took the evolution of mobile technology, and the advent of the smart phones to allow Nigeria and other third world countries to finally get access to the Internet, and attendant benefits.

But the revolution it brought to education, health, productivity, and quality of life has been mostly absent for most Nigerians, in a country richly blessed with all the human and material resources to lead others.

For instance, our health system has not improved; our educational system has decayed, and our infrastructure overall have been degraded.

Although there are patches of benefits here and there, but overall, Nigeria has lost in the race to use technology to advance its civilization, and build wealth for her citizens.

Countries like India, China, Japan, UAE, Singapore, Sweden, Qatar, South Korea and even South Africa, have all latched on to the technology culture to pull millions out of poverty.

Sadly, while the aforementioned countries have already started envisioning the benefits of the 4th industrial revolution, Nigeria still relished in third if not the second.

The 4th Industrial Revolution

Although the notion of this fourth industrial revolution isn’t new and has been a core topic in many countries and territories across the globe, the inherent acceleration of industry 4.0 as the fourth industrial revolution as often called is moving beyond the sheer technological, human and societal dimension.

Since the second half of 2017, and the beginning of 2018, there has been another acceleration that can’t be overlooked concerning the fourth industrial revolution; countries and territories are stepping up efforts in the global race to Industry 4.0.

The first began in the early 19th Century, when the power of steam and water dramatically increased the productivity of human (physical) labour. The second revolution started almost 100 years later with electricity as its key driver.

Mass industrial production led to productivity gains, and opened the way for individualised mass consumption.

The third revolution followed 70 years after with information technology: the use of computing in industry and the development of PCs.

The fourth industrial revolution started 30 years later and is on-going. Also known as the ‘digital revolution’, it combines technological and human capacities in an unprecedented way through self-learning algorithms, self-driving cars, human-machine interconnection, and big-data analytics.

Coined by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, the 4th revolution refers to a unique era of technology development marked by a fusion of digital, biological, and physical systems.

If you have heard about self-driving cars, electric cars, robotics, additive manufacturing or 3D printing, ambient computing, wearable technologies, automation, among others, then you know about the revolution.

Under this tech revolution, leather will come – not from the unequal body sizes of random animals, but from the predictable calculations of genetic engineering.

The fourth industrial revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as Blockchain; Internet of Things; Machine Learning; Artificial Intelligence; Driverless car and Augmented Realty, among others, would dictate the pace of development among nations.

Putting it the word of a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, it is a revolution that will shift societal reliance for investment decisions from investment managers singled out for talent to big data and advanced algorithms.

It will move the world from its dependence on fossil fuels to new and renewable sources of energy.

It will destroy old jobs and replace it with robots as well as create new ones in the process. Even the regulatory aspects of government remit will be revolutionised.

People, consumers, workforces will dictate what happens. And perhaps that’s the main promise of the fourth industrial revolution: transformation and innovation with people in mind, including a direct link between production and consumer.

Nigeria’s ICT/Telecoms space

In Nigeria, while much might not have been achieved in the core ICT sector, especially in hardware and software sub-sectors, the telecoms sector could be said to have done a bit better, though still bedevilled with challenges.

The liberalisation did not only open the sector, it encouraged both local and foreign investments.

The telecoms sector’s worth is currently put at over $70 billion, owing to the notable contributions of firms including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and 9Mobile.

Others, which have played critical roles in the performance of the sector include MainOne, Zinox Technologies, Jumia, Spectranet, and Konga, to mention a few.

Also, the contributions of the Computer Village, Ikeja, cannot also be wished away easily.

Considered as the largest IT market in West Africa, available statistics estimate that transactions worth N1 billion are traded daily in sales, repairs and services of computers, phones, gadgets, and technology accessories.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said the Computer Village contributed about two per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014.

Despite these data, the hardware sub-sector continues to struggle, and the software industry faces acceptability challenge.

The telecoms sector battles poor quality of service, and subscribers’ anger almost on a daily basis amid latent exploitations.

The industry’s major enemies remain the state governments. They are blocking developments in their domains following arbitrary and illegal taxes. They see operators as ‘cash cows’.

This is in addition to Nigeria’s poor and obsolete infrastructure, especially erratic power supply.

These challenges have contributed immensely in the slow pace of investments into the sector.

No wonder, Nigeria still has about 200 access gaps, and about 40 million of her populations still cut-off from any form of telephony services.

However, one must mention that from about 400,000 NITEL lines in 2001, Nigeria has surpassed the 120 per cent teledensity mark with over 260 million connected lines of which 170 million are active.

As at November, there were well over 105 million Internet users, with 27 million Facebook users.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), announced in November that broadband penetration is now 30.9 per cent against the 30 per cent target for 2018.

Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s efforts in the technology space is laudable, as there are now more technology hubs across the country.

Missed opportunities

While experts have commended the contributions of the industry thus far, they however regretted that opportunities that abound in the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, which should have placed the sector and indeed Nigeria at par with some leading economies were greatly missed.

They decried that these gaps have impacted the growth of the sector and the economy of the region, making it largely a consumer nation.

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), disclosed that studies have shown that Nigeria will be spending $143.8 billion on importation of Information Communications Technology (ICT) products and services this year.

NITDA claimed that Nigeria loses about $2.8 billion yearly from the importation of ICT goods and services, including $1 billion spent yearly on software imports.

Locally manufactured or assembled computers represent less than eight per cent of all the computers used in the country.

While over N612 billion is lost to ICT counterfeits almost on a yearly basis. The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, two years ago, claimed that about N127 billion was lost in the country to cybercrimes.

Bridging the gap

To move the ICT/telecoms sector forward, experts have that it would be a tragedy for Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries to miss the fourth industrial revolution.

President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, warned that Nigeria may miss big in the revolution, if there are no adequate preparations.

Teniola said: “Yes, if we collectively remain in silos in both thinking and execution. Yes, if we continue to retain status quo and finally avoid making the necessary decisions to embrace all technological forms in the way we transact all our businesses, engage with government and build an educated workforce capable of leveraging the technology that exists.

“Overcoming these challenges and by working collaboratively, then we can catch-up and leapfrog into the 4th revolution, It is a journey we should all begin and embrace.”

He stressed the need for collaboration that will lead to innovation through local content development.

From his perspective, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, noted that Nigeria’s global e-Readiness Index status pointed to this challenging fact.

According to Uwaje, “a case in point is registered by the information that our ICT spend is not only abysmally low, but 80 per cent of it is regrettably import-centric and consumer based, leading to the suffocation and stagnation of Local Content Innovation.

“Therefore, 20 per cent of local IT spend will not speedup our ICT e-readiness status nor lead to meaningful engagement and competitiveness in 4th Industrial revolution space.”

Uwaje said there was a need to consciously focus on developing about five million ICT Innovation capacities anchored on software – with special emphasis on clean energy, e-Knowledge education, sustainable health, e-Government, AI, robotics, digital security, platforms, among others, as Nigeria’s population growth aims at 400 million by 2050.

In his view, the Founder, Signal Alliance, Collins Onuegbu, benefitting immensely from the 4th Industrial Revolution, and improving Nigeria’s education standard are imperative.

Onuegbu said science and technology education is really important. “But you cannot build a world on science alone. Our education must work. As a tool for national aspiration, as a foundation for rebuilding our battered institutions, and as a gateway to building the leadership we need for the tomorrow. The failure of our educational system means that even the Nigerian human intelligence is totally underutilised.”

Onuegbu, an advocate of Artificial Intelligence (AI), noted that technology is eating up every industry.

“Building capacity for lobbying and policy making in collaboration with other industries will position tecnologyh as a key policy for the reform of the Nigerian economy.

This would help create the momentum for the adoption of technologies like AI in a widespread manner .Only then can we hope for a chance to join the AI conversation.

‘‘Under the right guidance, Nigeria can aspire to join the next industrial revolution. And even have a play in the current one. In the process, it will build a nation whose citizens can aspire to be the best in world. And join a future that will be led by educated humans, supported by intelligent machines.

Senior Director of Privacy, GSMA, Boris Wotjan, told The Guardian that apart from huge revenue losses as a result of obsolete infrastructure, the country risked being cut off from the global technology eco-space.

He added: “The fourth industrial revolution present a huge opportunity for Nigeria and other African countries to leapfrog into the global technology ecosystem. The region’s ICT ecosystem has improved greatly, but this can be consolidated if attention is shifted to next revolution.”

Wotjan called for massive investments in infrastructure and upgrade of existing facilities across the countries.

He advised Nigeria and other SSA countries to introduce policy and regulatory frameworks for improved ecosystem and come up with digital inclusion strategy that would aid connections to rural areas, stressing the need to develop digital skills for the revolution and ensure data privacy.

Head of Mobile for Development, GSMA, Yasmia McCarty, charged governments across the region to embrace sustainable global digital development plans.

McCarty said for the development to be impactful, “as much as the private sector will be willing to invest, governments must create an enabling environment for growth.”

She appealed to governments in the region to escalate mobile Internet, stressing that Africa should lead in the adoption of new technologies for leveraging.

While the change mantra still pervades the political scene, Aluko noted that it is very appropriate for the Nigerian policymakers to recast governance system to the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so that both the executive and the legislature are more responsive and responsible in addressing major global challenges staring us in the face.

The telecoms expert said Nigerians must come to the reality that humankind is moving from physicality to a data-based world.

He said the essence of the fourth industrial revolution is the need to train people in an entirely new set of 21st Century skills, which are in fact the oldest skills – communication, collaboration, empathy, respect, and how to overcome cultural boundaries.

Taking a cue from EU

In the article, “The fourth industrial revolution: How the EU can lead it,” the Union’s policies focused on investing in digital infrastructure and strengthening the single market by reducing barriers to the trade in goods, services and applications, and by implementing better policies in education, such as schemes for lifelong learning.

Besides, EU policy would foster the demand side of European technology, an area that policymakers have hitherto undervalued.

This means establishing a policy that creates a market network in which the use of new technologies (hardware/devices and software/applications) are part of what the states organises or finances.

According to the EU, technology policy must be linked to economic policy. This approach requires that the public sector explicitly stresses its own role as a customer and user of technology.

The public sector not only reinforces the ‘supply side’ of new technologies but also acts as a ‘buyer’ of these applications.

This is especially important where the purchase and use of technology by the public sector leads to benefits for the private sector.

For example, public expenditure for R&D in defence or security might lead to the invention of technologies, which private companies go on to use to compete more successfully on global markets.

Strengthening the demand side of EU technology policy would enhance market outcomes.

EU policy on the fourth industrial revolution is focused on strengthening member states’ capacity to improve the potential for innovation in the private sector, and not on picking winners and creating EU champions of industry.

According to the Union, the private sector creates technologies that serve the needs of customers efficiently and effectively.

The role for governments would be to support a broad range of technological applications in different industries. Governments should be reluctant to support technology in which investments can be made more appropriately by companies.

EU noted that removing all obstacles in the way of cooperation between the government and the private sector would support this approach.

“Universities would play a crucial role. They would carry over the fruits of pure science to applied science. And they would also provide labs and workspaces with the aim of developing entrepreneurial skills and fostering the demand for new products, services and applications,” it noted.

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