Abuja has the potential and resources to attain smart city status – Essiet

Abiodun Essiet is a special adviser to the chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council on information communication technologies, donor agencies and civil societies. In addition to helping business owners to grow their enterprises, she inspires social change. She speaks to Stephen Onyekwelu on the challenges of creating smart cities in Nigeria and platforms where women can blossom in their businesses.

How prepared is Nigeria to become a smart nation?

Nigeria is on the right path in making its major cities smart environments through the creation of various government agencies such as the National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA), to drive innovative technology and build support from citizens.

There have also been policies that promote innovation and facilitate the ease of doing business. The government has also taken public and private partnerships seriously to drive the growth of digital technology.

The digital economy and its development is a key priority in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017–2020 (ERGP) recognises the need for a digital-led strategy to make the Nigerian economy more competitive in the 21st century.

Smart cities are a means of achieving general urban objectives with social, economic and environmental aspects. This is more important especially with the rapid growth of major urban cities in Nigeria. Smart cities drive will help to solve urban problems, support the development of new industry and promote development.

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In what ways are you helping Abuja to attain a smart city status?

Abuja has the potential and resources to attain the status of a smart city. Abuja Municipal Area Council, (AMAC), being one of the leading municipalities in the Federal Capital Territory and the seat of government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a strategic role to play in catalysing the digital economy drive at the local level.

Making Abuja a smart city was our intension for joining the World smart cities and e-government organisation. In assuming the position of a special adviser on ICT, AMAC signed a memorandum of understanding with a private venture (Venture Platform) to create a digital ecosystem for Abuja.

The ecosystem was to assess tech entrepreneurship success, understand the current assets and gaps along the seven main pillars of the framework for boosting digital entrepreneurship.

These pillars include financing structures that fund initiatives to support the growth of its digital economy; skilled talent availability to develop innovative and commercially viable products and services and infrastructure that is required and available to promote a digital economy.

Others are enabling regulations and much-needed government initiatives whether regulatory or programmatic; creating market potential within the state and mechanisms to enable internal revenue generation and exports contributed by the digital economy; building effective networks, existing collaborations amongst key stakeholders to catalyse digital economy in the state; heightening the level of awareness and adoption of digital products and services for everyday use at individual levels and institutional levels.

The gaps identified in our ecosystem mapping will help drive our digital intervention in making Abuja a city enabling continuous innovations.

What has been the effect of Covid-19 on your work?

The reality of the pandemic (COVID-19), hampered real-time interactions during the updated ecosystem assessment. Moreover, the pandemic has also shown to us the need to invest in digital entrepreneurship and innovations which is the basis of a smart cities agenda. A lot of daily interventions were negatively impacted due to the pandemic as a result of a lack of technological structures.

How prepared were you for this work and projects?

As an activist, before joining the government I was involved in a community project that educates members of the public on ways to hold their elected officials accountable to the people. One of the major interventions I conducted was to engage grassroots women in my ward in budget tracking of their local government.

I educated them about the importance of a budget. I took them through the process of assessing the budget of their council and the rigorous follow up needed.

But how did you do that?

On getting a copy of the budget of AMAC, we dissected the budget to understand the priorities of the government and we followed up on the contracts awarded in my ward. I believe every woman has the potential and ability to multitask. To succeed as a businesswoman or career woman is about setting and managing your priorities which I believe I am doing well on. I seek the help of the support system to help balance my responsibility at home and at work.

How have Rwanda and Dubai as growing smart cities influenced your work?

Concerning Rwanda and Dubai, I must confess that, I am inspired by the rapid growth in their development and their innovative digital technology. Rwanda is ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Africa and also ranks higher than Nigeria in the Global Competitiveness Index by the World Bank.

While Dubai which was an emerging state in the early 80s has become one of the world’s leading tourist and investment destination within a space of three decades, and Nigeria with far more resource than both countries lags.

Both countries have substantially improved vital sectors such as education, health, transportation and tourism, which have significantly enhanced the impact of governance on the lives of the citizenry.

Rwanda and Dubai also have a relatively flexible visa policy and low travel cost. Our organisation Africa Young Female Adviser Initiative, AYFAI was created for all female advisers across Africa platform that seek to mainstream more women with capacity across all sectors.

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