Nigeria's Software Initiative
Nigeria's Software Initiative
EDITORIAL February 23, 2005 Posted to the web February 23, 2005
PRESIDENT Olusegun Obasanjo's government has once again demonstrated commitment to the development of science and technology. Recently, it set up a multi-sectoral committee to work out modalities for the cultivation of the nation's software industry currently valued at N15 billion.
This was sequel to the formal launch of the Nigerian Software Development Initiative (NSDI) and the brand name "Software Nigeria" - two ambitious programmes aimed at leveraging software development in Nigeria from its subsistence level to a major foreign exchange earner.
This is not the first time this administration has shown implicit commitment to technology development. In the past three years, it had at various times directed all ministries and parastatals to patronise locally buttembled computers which have been adjudged to be of international standard.
Again, to its credit, the government has also launched a satellite and is currently at the threshold of launching another, this time a communications satellite. These are commendable initiatives which portray this government as not only in tune with contemporary trends in technology but also futuristic.
With such pedigree and enthusiasm in local technology development, it is not surprising that government would bring the same zeal to bear on software development as is currently being pursued through a public-private sector partnership.
This is even more so given the key role of software development in the emerging global knowledge-based economy. Global economy is increasingly being driven by knowledge. And at the core of this knowledge is software development with a global market estimated at over $260 billion.
Some developing nations namely South Africa, India and even Kenya have vigorously pursued the policy of backward integration in software development, realising the great potentials in the sector.
What Nigeria is about to start was mooted by India as far back as 1976. The initiative culminated in the building of the electronic city in Bangalore, housing software parks and allied shops. Today, India has become a major player in the global Information Communications Technology (ICT) market.
Last year alone, India earned $18.5 billion in ICT export, up from $15 billion in 2003. In both cases, software accounted for about 55 per cent. The reverse has been the case in Nigeria. Last year, total software import to Nigeria stood at an estimated $980 million which multi-sectoral industry players maintain is a stupendous waste of foreign exchange.
Chairman of the NSDI, Jim Ovia, said a study undertaken by his team showed that software has the potential for being the single largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country in the next five years if properly harnessed.
There is indeed no gainsaying this. Already, some made-in-Nigeria software are successfully being deployed not only in Nigeria but in other overseas countries namely South Africa, Mexico and Zimbabwe.
Going by its antecedent in the area of local technology development, it is expected that government would earnestly provide a sound template for the take off of the project. The challenge here is for the private sector to take full advantage of this and churn out industry standard software that would not only meet local needs but would also compete favourably in the global market.
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We are not ignorant of the fact that there are other private sector initiatives geared towards software development. The Jim Ovia committee should liaise with these private operators to see how their various efforts could fit into the big picture.
The federal government has already granted the request of the NSDI to use part of the old federal secretariat at Ikoyi, Lagos for the setting up of a pioneer software park. This is good only in its sense of urgency. We, however, advise that a befitting permanent site that would take cognisance of parameters like proximity to the market and more importantly ergonomy, would be procured and developed as soon as possible.
We particularly welcome the initiative because of its many inherent benefits. Aside providing jobs for Nigerians, it would also enhance national security as certain sensitive software especially for the nation's security and intelligence units would no longer be outsourced to foreign firms.
Besides, it would help arrest capital flight both in terms of software procurement and in training of personnel. It would also boost computer sales and usage as well as create economies of scale by triggering the emergence of diverse software support services across the nation.
These and many other reasons are why this initiative should elicit unwavering public-private sector support. It holds the key to a better Nigeria, no doubt.
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