The Nigerian state is beginning to look like a military boot camp with what seems like multiple decrees being issued by the government and its various agencies. First, it was the NIN decree and how Nigerians who did not have it would be removed from the financial system. Then, it moved to the phone IMEI registration which is not on the front burner yet but has been subtly mentioned. The Central Bank of Nigeria has also joined the list of the threat issuing agencies of the Nigerian government with its recent declaration that all businesses must accept eNaira; no trust-building process for the e-Naira initiative, no visible engagement with stakeholders rather, all we got is a blanket directive filled with consequences. No negotiations whatsoever. This is really hilarious!
In any case, with the proliferation of smartphones and Internet access, the growth witnessed in the information and communications technology sector is nothing short of phenomenal. In Nigeria, for instance, the ICT industry has become the fastest-growing sector in the country, bringing in revenue that rivals that of the oil and gas industry.
Yet, as the importance of this sector becomes crystal clear, one would think that the government would go all out in its effort to nurture, secure, and stabilise what would become a major source of revenue. But alas, things are not going in the right direction. It is like for every one step forward, Nigeria takes 10 steps backwards.
I can go on and on about how the ICT sector needs an environment that can accelerate development and innovation. It becomes laughable when you imagine the frequency at which our government churns out policies that are usually detrimental to the survival of the citizens. And just like a tiresome, predictable TV show, Nigerians are downright frustrated at what the government keeps bringing up every time.
A week ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced that all individuals and corporate organisations who were into any form of Information Technology practice must register with the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria, or risk getting sanctioned.
According to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, the government’s action was aimed at stamping out quackery, imposition, and some other malpractices in the information technology sector.
Perhaps you are wondering if you have heard a similar directive before. Indeed you have; allow me to take you five years back. In 2016, I was compelled to write a piece after a comment was made by the former President of the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria, Prof. Vincent Asor. Having been newly elected then, he said that during his tenure CPN would deal with quacks in the IT industry as there would be no hiding place for them.
According to him, just about anyone with a fairly above-average knowledge of how to use IT tools in their daily operations was presumptuously claiming to be what they were not. To quote him directly, he said, “Those who are not qualified to execute IT jobs are the ones getting it. This is quite absurd and unacceptable to us. Therefore, as professionals, you have to join forces with us in fighting the scourge.”
As could be expected, this provocative statement generated reactions one of which reminded the CPN that the so-called quacks practising IT in Nigeria were responsible for transforming Lagos into the renowned IT hub it is today.
In my piece titled, ‘Who is a computer professional?’, I highlighted the need for organisations like the CPN and other relevant IT bodies to understand that we live in an era of digital transformation. Rather than cause a divide between a supposedly IT professional and a quack, they should seek ways to bridge the gap; in effect, prioritising value over certification. If you wish, you may check out the article in my ICT clinic column.
In the light of this newest Federal Government directive, I must say that my arguments back then are even more valid today. An excerpt from the Minister of Education, Adamu’s statement reads:
“The task of nation-building through Information Technology is an enormous one, but it is something we can do. We are all aware of what a dynamic and progressive policy in Information Technology has done for many countries around the world. With our determination, commitment and professionalism, we can attain and surpass their record.
“Therefore, all individuals and corporate organisations that are into Information Technology practice should register with computer professionals (Registration Council of Nigeria). In this, council has the support of the ministry and of government in its fight against quacks, impostors and all irregularities in the IT industry.”
Nigeria’s technology startup scene has witnessed tremendous strides in recent years. The Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2021, released by StartupBlink, shows that Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Lagos, has overtaken Nairobi, Kenya, emerging as Africa’s top startup ecosystem.
The country is home to Africa’s leading startups, not to mention one of Africa’s six unicorn companies- Flutterwave. The acquisition of Lagos-based Paystack by Stripe is still the biggest in Africa to date. Time will fail me if I keep talking about other local innovative startups disrupting the financial, agriculture, medical and educational sectors.
What is interesting is that a good number of these guys don’t even have a technology background. Like every smart innovator, they look within their community to solve challenges that are common. Do we then ignore the value they are creating because CPN deems them unprofessional? I think not!
When it comes to innovation and technology, the government’s knee-jerk reaction is to sanction anyone who does not dance to its tune. Like always, the government chooses to conveniently forget what it does not wish to remember. Nigeria has a high rate of unemployment made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. With this comes other socio-economic challenges, one of which is poverty. Yet, these quacks are the ones creating employment for the masses.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch