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Microsoft: Imagining a Digital-first Nigeria

As the countries slowly reopen after strict lockdowns to slow the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increasing shift in focus to the benefits that “going digital” can offer countries, organizations and individuals. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is taking an exponential leap, according to experts.

Across the world, businesses and countries are thinking in a new direction, making strategic turns and aligning their processes to fit a new reality forced by the pandemic outbreak.

Beyond the health crisis, gains in automating processes, machine learning, cloud computing etc. are now clear as the application of the aforementioned in areas like health, education and governance can accelerate inclusive growth and create new opportunities for all.

In a recently published Microsoft position paper, digital transformation is presented as a means for social and economic development in Nigeria, and as an opportunity for every Nigerian citizen and business to achieve more. Commenting on the paper, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) said: “In recognising the need to focus on digitalisation of the economy as a way to foster inclusivity, growth and skills development for job creation as well as the significant benefits in enabling government, citizens, and businesses to achieve more, we are working with Microsoft to leverage their technological expertise to enable the transformation that will allow our country to take part in the $11.5 trillion global digital economy.”

Diversifying Digitally

The World Bank last year said the digital economy is expected to grow from 15.5% of world GDP in 2016 to 25% in less than a decade, a pace of growth faster than the world’s economy. However, the bank said Nigeria has remained on the sidelines.

Recent decline in oil revenue has reignited a push for economic diversification. In today’s digital world, there are new possibilities in data.

Speaking with Businessday on Friday, Akin Banuso, Country General Manager at Microsoft said in Nigeria’s quest to diversify from oil, the country can look to the digital space to create new jobs and services that can be exported without suffering a brain drain.

Economists have pointed to India’s ICT revolution as the bedrock of the economic progress it is enjoying today.

Source: World Bank

By investing in digital education and in technology, India equipped its youth with skills that were in demand in western countries like the US. The country was able to enjoy a greater dollar inflow and a more valuable service sector.

Today, India has its own “silicon valley” in Bangalore with the IT industry worth at least $50 billion according to some estimates.

Banuso also pointed out benefits in the education sector, where today, many students are unable to continue learning due to the pandemic that forced the closure of schools.

He said Microsoft is currently working with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on providing low-cost data to rural communities to facilitate students’ learning and support internet accessibility.

According to the World Bank, while Nigeria is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of the digital economy, minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas is leaving a significant number of the most marginalized segments of the population without Internet access.

Given Nigeria’s doctor- to population ratio, Banuso said telemedicine will afford the country the opportunity to allow more people to benefit from the healthcare system and improve the efficiency of service delivery.

For instance, asides diagnosis and consultations, telemedicine will allow data to be sent from one point and analyzed in another, with results sent back in real time, he said.

A digital Nigeria would also improve accountability in the public and private sectors, help lower cost of Nigeria’s bureaucracy and improve citizen’s engagement with their leaders in the grassroots and across tiers.

Tailwinds for Progress

To drive cloud adoption in the country which would catalyse the digital transformation of public institutions, Microsoft has laid out recommendations, which include:

1. To sustain the traction of a cloud-first policy and other digital transformation initiatives, Government efforts to increase digital and cloud capabilities of the public service are important. The Government should amplify communications of its commitment and support of ICT policies within an enabling environment

2. Build digital and AI capacity through the creation of AI knowledge centres across the country as well as the enhancement of scientific research on AI adoption

3. Government must optimise its data ecosystem through the development of multi-domain open data repositories that will enhance citizen interaction and amplify the country’s emergency response infrastructure.

4. Government should ensure technology adoption barriers like costs are fair to all socioeconomic groups and offer support and provision of digital applications in sectors such as education and healthcare.

5. To implement the NITDA’S e-government Interoperability Framework across the public sector. This provides uniform standards to follow in ICT adoption that will optimise the government’s role in driving sustainable development.

6. Adapt the national education curriculum and delivery methods to align with 4IR and develop digital and non-digital skills such as critical thinking.

7. The passage of data protection laws unique to the Nigerian context that aligns with cutting-edge technologies is technology-neutral and balances innovation with protection.

Technology’s power lies in its ability to empower people regardless of background, gender, religion or race, yet barriers of access to technologies continue to persist which in turn keeps adoption of technology low.

Inclusiveness brings down the cost of governance for government and improves social good among the citizens. Additionally, the adoption of responsible management practices and guidelines will optimise transformation initiatives and enhance benefits realisation for social inclusion.

As data protection, security and privacy are the key concerns holding back widespread adoption of emerging technologies in the country, it is therefore vital that Nigeria builds data protection laws and frameworks that regulate behaviour while ensuring the right to privacy for every individual.

Transforming Nigeria using technologies will require developing a digital ecosystem, infrastructural enhancements in the policy and regulatory environment, education sector and national security.

According to Banuso, there is a fair amount of work to be done, but it is a shared responsibility between governments, private sector organizations and other interested stakeholders.

Microsoft is involved in a number of initiatives to promote the digitalization of Nigeria, and Africa.

Microsoft’s Africa Development Center, with a location in Nigeria and Kenya, is one of seven around the world.

Microsoft is changing the digital economy narrative positively with programs and initiative such as Accelerate Lab, Imagine Cup, AFDB Code for Employment, Gigi Girls, Leap, etc.

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