As I sat on my couch over the weekend preparing notes from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference in Lagos, I thought through the challenges confronting Nigeria and the precarious situation of a young Nigerian in the global “street” with the entire “Invictus and xenophobia saga”. Young Nigerians with so much energy and “native intelligence”, but little “legit” and numerous “illicit” opportunities to harness these endowments. I thought, “What can we do to make life better for Nigerians who are blessed with talents and ‘a rising debt profile’ (an irony!)”.
Then it dawned on me, as a policy and innovation enthusiast, “how about we tackle this from a policy angle?” I remembered my research culminating to findings for the need to set up an agency or ministry focused on driving policies, programmes, and partnerships that stimulate and intensify “innovation” in order to improve economic growth and the quality of life.
Such an agency, however, is best suited for states. And which state is better suited to achieve this than a state with a governor who has shown a quest for excellence and innovative leadership with his language and appointments (particularly with his appointment of Seun Fakorede as a commissioner, despite the odds) within only 88 days in office.
Why an agency of innovation and technology in Oyo state? In an age where there is an increasing demand for skills that are fit for the future of work, an age where problems such as poverty, poor healthcare, and unemployment persist – there is need to develop robust policy frameworks that exploit innovation and technology for different sectors, for the benefit of Oyo state indigenes and residents.
This can start as an agency with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), from which it grows into a full-fledged ministry serving to identify challenges to innovation within the state, drive policies and programmes, and pursue partnership and opportunities for innovators and innovation in Oyo state.
Under the leadership of the governor, the agency can help Oyo state become a conscious catalyst for innovation as well actively bring in investments and partnerships in innovation and technology, which serve national and global needs irrespective of proximity.
For example, opportunities, scholarships, and grants for the likes of Akanbi Segun, a teenager in Oyo state who created the feather plucking machine – there are thousands of such persons as Akanbi. The office or agency can pursue partnerships that make this happen for many Akanbis in Oyo state. Also, Adebayo Alonge, a 30-year old indigene of Oyo state with a start-up in Ibadan called RxAll which I advise, recently received a global award for being the first to invent a handheld artificial intelligence nano-scanner that can scan and detect fake drugs in 20 seconds. Therefore, the agency can develop policies that help us celebrate and locally support Adebayo to ensure we produce more of his kind. What we promote is what becomes popular.
Currently, I have privileged information about some investment interest in setting up an Ibadan Digital City with funding from investors from Canada and China. But we need to show commitment in driving innovation policies and ease of doing business in Oyo state. In fact, with investments like this facilitated by the agency with the private sector, there can be professional programmes that ensure a selected few with digital and tech skills do some weeks of internship with the Oyo state government and ministries after their training, which can help such participants learn how the public sector works and use their skills to improve the governance architecture in Oyo state.
The agency, or office, for innovation and technology under the governor’s office can focus on driving policies, programmes, and partnerships that will attract investment in innovation and technology for youths and for harnessing the intellectual resource in Oyo state’s higher institution in solving challenges in rural communities across Oyo state.
This agency can create policies that encourage the building of an ecosystem that supports capacity development in specialised technology skills, to achieve accelerated economic prosperity and decent jobs whilst tapping into the potential market that Lagos, Africa, and the world offers for innovators and tech. For example, data science and cyber security are in high demand. Harvard calls data science the sexist job on earth, with a need for more than 150,000 data scientists (irrespective of talent location) in US alone.
The hustle and bustle in Lagos isn’t encouraging the survival of innovators and tech skills, even though it has the market. Here lies the opportunity, an opportunity for Oyo state to show leadership and commitment to attract talents and start-ups. For example, Law Pavilion is based in Ibadan, and its AI innovation is serving the entire law industry in Nigeria and West Africa. How can we ensure more businesses and start-ups such as Law Pavilion, Interswitch set up technical base in Oyo state whilst serving the Lagos, Nigerian, and global market?
These are the kind of challenges the agency will solve through policy.
Oyo state is the pacesetter state and can show the way on how Nigeria can do such at the federal level by starting first from within. Thank you for reading and sharing – let the conversation begin from here to the governor’s listening ears. Ire O!!!
Olagunju is a lawyer and policy consultant and tweets @timithelaw