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National digital innovations, enterpreneurship centre will provide many benefits to Nigerians – Dr Pantami

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has disclosed that the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre would provide Nigeria many benefits that would transform the nation’s economy into innovation and entrepreneurship driven economy.

The Minister made the disclosure on Thursday at the groundbreaking ceremony of the centre, located at the heart of Abuja, which will be replicated in all states of the federation.

In his speech titled “Appreciation to Mr. President for Being the Father of Digital Economy in Nigeria” the minister said the Centre, when completed, would avail Nigerians the opportunity to acquire cutting edge technological skills; enable them to participate in the development of hardware, software, and emerging technologies and create an innovative ecosystem for them.

Other benefits attached to the centre include; creation of a unique platform for technical skills, soft skills, entrepreneurship that focuses on the promotion and development of ICT, including smart energy solutions to drive ICT; nurturing of new ideas, and developing an inquisitive perspective to support the creation of employers of labour; supporting the promotion and development of ICTS, including aspects of advanced applied research; and allowing startups to accelerate and experience innovations at scale, through customized visits, design thinking sessions and co-innovation workshops to create a highly collaborative and immersive environment.

Pantami explained that the activities of the centre are conceptualised to give impetus to 6 out of 8 pillars of the National Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria was launched in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

He said, “The groundbreaking ceremony of the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre is another giant leap towards the development of our digital economy and diversification of our country’s economy. The Centre will be based on the ‘live, work, and learn’ concept. The activities of the centre align with 6 out of the 8 pillars of our National Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria. These include Pillar 2 (Digital Skills), Pillar 4 (Service Infrastructure), Pillar 5 (Digital Services Development and Promotion), Pillar 6 (Soft Infrastructure), Pillar 7 (Digital Society and Emerging Technologies) and Pillar 8 (Indigenous Content Development and Adoption).”

While maintaining that National Digital Economy Policy appreciates the importance of identifying and supporting Small and Medium Enterprises, (SMES), the minister stressed that the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre would ensure the objective is taken a step further by metamorphosing them to Innovation Driven Enterprises.

“The Ide-concept has been promoted by leading institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and these enterprises, no doubt, have great advantages. In contrasting IDES and MSMES we find that IDES tend to have a global outlook while SMES tend to start small and choose to remain local,” he said.

He added that “IDES also generally require more capital than SMES and tend to integrate innovation more into their activities more than SMES. However, they can have a far more significant impact on the economy than the SMES can. To further illustrate this, imagine the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a nation of IDES. A 2015 Report notes that such an ‘MITnation’ would have been the world’s 10th largest economy, with gross revenue falling between the GDP of Russia $2.097 trillion and India $1.877 trillion.”

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The minister declared that following the designation of the ministry and the launching of the National Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria, the ministry and its parastatals have been motivated by the support which has led to significant development of the Digital Economy sectors.

He cited the increased contribution of the ICT sector to Gross Domestic Product which stood at 17.83 percent in the second quarter of 2020; the leapfrog of broadband penetration from 33.72 percent to 45.07 percent; the amicable resolutions of Right of Way for fibre optic cable which had lingered for 7 years, training of over 120,000 Nigerians online on digital skills and development of over a dozen policies that are to provide the right environment to enable entrepreneurs to thrive in the sector as some of the achievements of the ministry.

In his welcome remark, the Director-general, National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE stated that the value and prosperity digital economy is capable to propel an investment in the innovation and entrepreneurship imperative.

Describing Digital Economy has the fastest growing economy in Nigeria and the world in general, the DG said they (the ministry and the parastatals) would continue to ignite innovation and entrepreneurship to sustain and consolidate the growth. “That is why we are investing in this initiative, “he said.

Mallam Abdullahi acknowledged that the “Digital economy is mainly driven by rapid business innovation, using digital technology to deliver the new customer value proposition, new business model, new organizational structure, new customer experience, operational excellence and enhanced products and services adding the nation need an innovative ecosystem to thrive.

He said, “It is obvious innovation is not evenly distributed globally but there is something common among all innovative countries. They all have a strong innovation ecosystem. To build a vibrant innovation ecosystem in Nigeria we have keyed into the MIT program call REAP – Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program. REAP is a global capstone initiative that provides the opportunity for communities to engage with MIT in an evidence-based and practical approach to strengthening the innovation ecosystem. This center will serve as a platform for the MIT-REAP initiative.

The DG who was optimistic that the centre would sprout unicorn companies in no longer distance future said it would focus on IDE because “IDE is the game changer when it comes to value and prosperity creation. It is through IDES you can have unicorn companies”.

Meanwhile, it has been disclosed that the state of the art National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, which is to be completed in the next 18 months is conceived to make the transition from the traditional economy to the digital economy seamless.

The Centre will provide facilities to nurture new ideas and help develop the inquisitive perspective that will create opportunities for entrepreneurs in becoming employers of labour. Furthermore, it will focus on promotion and development in ICT which include advanced and applied research; development in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Internet of Things (IOT), Quantum Computing, and also Smart Energy Solutions to drive ICT.

In addition, he said, the Centre will allow startups to accelerate and experience innovations at scale, through customized visits, design thinking sessions and co-innovation workshops thereby creating a highly collaborative and immersive environment.

The DG said the facility is creatively designed with the aim of achieving sustainability, minimalism, technology, adaptability, and user comfort. The centre, which comprises of two towers, 7 and 8 floors high, will be equipped with state of the art facilities which include a digital innovation lab, mini research park, co-working space for start-ups, digital literacy, and skill capacity building facilities, office complex, multilevel car pack, and many other facilities.

It finally dawned on the CBN and the Federal Government that they had lost control. It’s not that they are ever intended to have control in the first place, I mean, the very nature of cryptocurrency is a decentralised peer to peer based system that eliminates the need for an institutional middle man.

It is telling that the CBN Circular of 12th January 2017 is the only legal instrument that addresses the money laundering risks posed by Cryptos’ operation in Nigeria. For a nation that is second in the entire world in terms of economic activity with cryptocurrency, the current regulatory strategy around Crypto is grossly underdeveloped, and has as a result thrown the country into a haven for rogue activity.

Despite the mighty public outcry, experts and forecasters knew that this was inevitable. There simply was no way to cope with this upsurge of activity and allowing things to go on as they were would put the federal government at risk of culpable negligence from an international onlooker’s perspective, particularly the United States. A report was announced stating that the FBI allegedly raised concerns to the Federal Government over these events. The report identified that there was a $200 – 300 Million inflow worth of Cryptos a week into Nigeria. Upon further analysis, it was determined that the economy did not have the corresponding economic activity to justify these figures legitimately. In a statement issued by the CBN following the ban, they exhaustively outlined all the risks and dangers involved in permitting crypto activity in the country, and irrespective of reactive sentiments by the public, they are valid.

It would be a shame if this marked the end for the crypto industry in Nigeria. Cryptocurrency presented vast opportunities for an economy in need of an adrenaline shot. The United Nations has long described technology as the bridge that allows developing countries to close the gap at a much quicker rate, and the rise of Crypto has accelerated many aspects of global transaction and international trade. The CBN ban should serve to buy more time for them to develop a regulatory strategy that can allow Nigeria to capitalise on its pole position in an industry that is already taking off.

Can Crypto be regulated in Nigeria?

As was stated earlier, the existing laws in Nigeria are scanty at best. The Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act (MLPA) 2011 (as amended) makes provisions regulating cash payments. However, the said provisions are grossly inadequate to combat the money laundering risks posed by Cryptos’ use. The act only applies to financial institutions and designated nonfinancial institutes, and Virtual Currency exchangers do not fall, pithing the definition of “Designated non-financial institutions”. The only law directly relating to Cryptos is in the 2017 Circular, and to put it politely this legal instrument is akin to using a needle to try to kill a fly.

Due to its lack of central governance, Cryptos are extremely complex to regulate. There isn’t a single international jurisdiction that seems to have a definitive and consistent regulatory answer. The crypto industry is inherently fastmoving, and at this moment, having a single regulatory instrument would not be the most prudent course of action. Japan happens to be the world’s most progressive country when it comes to cryptocurrency regulations. Its Financial Services Agency gave the crypto industry self-regulatory status, permitting the Japan Virtual Currency Exchange Association to police and sanction exchanges for any violations. It appears that this may currently be the only way to stay on top of Cryptos. The fact that this body comprises experts in the field means there is a boosted technical understanding that would otherwise be lacking from your typical bureaucrat.

Given the already widespread use of Cryptos in Nigeria, it is safe to assume that the country will not lack any technical expertise. Recent strides in technology and the plethora of Nigerian-owned Crypto based platforms suggest that we may actually be highly skilled in this regard. Therefore, this ban should serve as a grace period to consult with experts and work on a model similar to Japan’s.

The world’s largest electric car manufacturer Telsa recently purchased $1.5 Billion worth of Bitcoin and plans to accept it as payment, a move which saw its value soar. All signs indicate that with or without Nigeria, Cryptos will not slow down.

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