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Ecosystem working with government for success of Nigeria Startup Bill – Kola Aina

Kola Aina, General Partner at Ventures Platform Fund, in this short interview with BusinessDay’s FRANK ELEANYA discusses the progress made so far on the Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB). He also shares on the relationship between the ecosystem and the government in providing an enabling regulatory environment for startups.

Explain the collaboration between the tech ecosystem and the government in NSB?

The collaboration between the tech ecosystem and the government on the NSB project is a big tent approach. Whilst the presidency and the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy are working to ensure that all government agencies align with the president’s vision for young Nigerians, other stakeholders in the tech ecosystem are galvanizing action and support from the necessary actors for the success of the Nigeria Startup Bill project.

We are very optimistic and are counting on the Executives’ commitment to delivering the bill that this ecosystem needs.

How were the leaders of the NSB selected and does anyone have veto power in the drafting of the bill?

The Nigeria Startup Bill secretariat consists of a cross-section of high-level volunteers from various sectors in the ecosystem, the private sector, and the government. But the bill belongs to all Nigerians and not just a few selected people. We have an engagement team that is dedicated to ensuring that every voice gets heard. The team is collecting inputs from various MDAs and ecosystem sub-groups so that we get the best ideas into the bill.

We have seen developmental bills spend about 20 years (PIB) and more. What is behind the confidence that this will not suffer the same fate?

The Nigeria Startup Bill is built on a solid foundation through its big tent approach. This approach allows every stakeholder to own the process and drive it. We have the country’s political, public, and legislative will behind this bill, so we are banking on these positives to ensure that the Nigeria startup bill will not take that long.

Read also: Sylva under fire from home over PIB becoming law

The tech ecosystem is collaborating with the government that has over time shown little regard for its input in critical decisions. Why would they treat the NSB any differently?

To an extent, it is true that the tech ecosystem has faced many drawbacks due to government policies and regulations. You can attribute this to a gap in the understanding of the ecosystem and startups in general. This collaboration shows a sign of good faith as the Presidency has taken a “big tent” approach, taking comments and input from all stakeholders (government, startups, investors, etc.) to bring this bill to life.

The engagement this time around is one thing that we can say is different. Policy analysts have lauded the robust engagement as one of the most encompassing Nigeria has seen. We hope to keep it that way so that we come up with a final output that everyone will be proud of and that will work for the good of all and most of all provide regulatory certainty for our ecosystem.

What is your perspective of the draft NITDA amendment, and what potential impact would it have on the existence of NSB?

The NITDA bill, I am told, is an amendment of the 2007 NITDA act that is already in play. It appears that the amendment seeks to clarify and consolidate the extent of NITDA’s regulatory authority in the information technology sector. Some of the contents are alarming for sure and require a re-think.

It is worthy to note that this document was purportedly leaked so I hope and am told that consultations are still ongoing regarding the bill.

The NSB, however, is completely different from this and is to serve as a law that recognizes all tech and tech-enabled Nigerian startups and their peculiarities and needs. The NSB aims to provide a framework for regulatory certainty for startups to operate successfully in Nigeria as well as provide incentives for startups and their investors too.

Can both exist harmoniously?

The Nigeria Startup Bill project team has engaged NITDA and they are in full support of the project. The agency is among those driving the NSB project. The Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantanmi whom NITDA reports to has also thrown his full weight behind the NSB. His ministry is driving its implementation. We hope that NITDA and its policies will provide cover for the implementation of the NSB and our engagements so far with the agency have been positive. We also hope that the NITDA continues to take a progressive stand in the discharge of its responsibilities and even with this amendment.

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