Though impressive, Peter Obi’s plans for the Nigerian tech space lack depth

Ganiu Oloruntade
Though impressive, Peter Obi's plans for the Nigerian tech space lack depth

On Sunday, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, formally revealed his much-awaited manifesto ahead of the 2023 polls. In October, a purported manifesto of the former Anambra governor surfaced online, which he immediately denied.

Suppose there is anything that has reshaped the Nigerian polity, it is undoubtedly the emergence of Peter Obi as a major contender for the nation’s top seat, pitching him against older and well-established politicians: Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

A recent poll conducted by NOI Polls put the Labour Party flagbearer as the voters’ preferred choice. Time, like they say, will undoubtedly tell next February when 93.5 million Nigerians head to the polls to elect their new president.

Read also: Can technology make Nigeria’s 2023 elections more credible?

This article examines Peter Obi’s newly released 72-page policy document and scrutinises his plans for the ever-growing Nigerian tech space. Recall in the build-up to the 2019 elections, we similarly reviewed the manifestos of outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, and other presidential aspirants, Atiku Abubakar,  Kingsley Moghalu, and Oby Ezekwesili

Now let’s dig in.

For starters, Peter Obi’s manifesto doesn’t have a spelt-out section focusing on tech alone. For a youth-backed candidate, I expected more depth, considering that young people are at the forefront of Nigeria’s booming digital economy. Another noticeable flaw in the document is the paucity of data, which is a bit surprising because Peter Obi is always known to reel out figures which have since kept fact-checkers busy.

Also, I find it a bit amusing that the much-talked-about Nigerian Startup Bill wasn’t even mentioned in the manifesto for yet-to-be-disclosed reasons.

Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi.

But the manifesto isn’t without a few essential policies that could impact the tech ecosystem positively. As highlighted in yesterday’s newsletter, the three major takeaways from the document include his pro-work-in-Nigeria earn-in-dollar remote work policies, pro-blockchain policies, and broadband infrastructure projects.

Youth empowerment, STEM and VC-like fund for entrepreneurs

According to the manifesto, Peter Obi wants to “shift emphasis from consumption to production by running a production-centred economy driven by an agricultural revolution and export-oriented industrialization”. This statement is hardly surprising to anyone following Obi’s speeches and interviews: “consumption to production” is unarguably the catchphrase of his presidential bid.

To pull this off, one of the actionable plans proposed in the document is to “grow the national economy quantitatively and qualitatively by devising programmes for re-skilling our youths to achieve a greater synergy between their skill sets and our factor endowments”.

Now, this is a bit unclear. Are we looking at another youth-focused skill acquisition scheme?

In 2012, then-president Goodluck Jonathan introduced the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). The Buhari government later discontinued the initiative and replaced it with the N-Power program in 2016 under the Social Investment Programmes (SIP), which is largely considered to have failed to address youth unemployment.

According to his policy document, Peter Obi intends to “create a mandatory national certification for blue-collar artisans, strengthen some of the existing tertiary schools of science and engineering to train the next generation of experts in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field and create a venture capital-like fund for young entrepreneurs.”

Investopedia defines blue-collar workers are “individuals who engage in hard manual labour, typically in the agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, or maintenance sectors”. Certifying blue-collar workers is excellent as it will encourage professionalism in their craft. In fact, some startups are working on standardizing blue-collar jobs in Nigeria. However, the workability of the plan is another thing to consider.

Also, there has been an unending cry for the fusion of STEM subjects in the Nigerian education system. Also, the VC-fund idea, reminiscent of the N1 trillion fund proposed by Moghalu in 2019, would undoubtedly go a long way in supporting homegrown businesses and, in turn, creating job opportunities. Just recently, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said it plans to disburse $500 million for businesses on the continent.

But unlike Moghalu, details about the financial implications of the fund weren’t stated in Peter Obi’s document.

In all, the promise, on paper, sounds great but cannot be measured. I guess a manifesto can’t say everything after all.

Creating a digital economy

Though the document doesn’t have a tech-focused section, it highlights the major plans for the tech ecosystem to “leapfrog Nigeria into the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) through the application of scientific and technological innovations to create a digital economy.”

Peter Obi's plans for the NIgerian tech space.
Source: Peter Obi’s manifesto.

“Building on the gains of the agriculture-led manufacturing and export, we will pursue the development of capacities to leverage on the emerging disruptive digital technologies, automation, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, blockchain technology, biotechnology and data science, all of which are at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution,” it said.

In truth, any serious-minded government must explore possible ways to harness the power of emerging technologies to accelerate real economic growth. Per the manifesto, Peter Obi believes in the importance of disruptive new technologies to drive Nigeria’s digital economy, valued at $100 billion in revenue flow.

But how the plan will take form wasn’t stated. For instance, Nigeria already has a National Blockchain Adoption Strategy with the mission “to drive the adoption of blockchain technology in government in a way that supports efficiency, transparency, and productivity”.

So what’s the new thing Mr Peter Obi plans to bring to the table? It is not stated, at least.

On digital skills and the gig economy

The manifesto also said that a Peter Obi-led government “will prioritize a structured approach to developing the digital skills of our young population to give them the competitive advantage to receive offshore jobs in the new gig economy while also improving the efficiency and productivity level of our economy”.

This is a good move, considering the vast talent gap in the Nigerian tech space, and even the few talented ones are still leaving the country in droves– a major worry to founders and other stakeholders. Also, in recent times, more young people in Nigeria are dumping the traditional 9-5 work culture to embrace the gig economy. By signing up on freelancing platforms, Nigerians can work and earn dollars right from the comfort of their homes.

This Rest of World article also shows how gig work is changing life in Nigeria. Predictions are that the gross volume of the global gig economy will reach $455.2 billion by 2023, so Nigeria is sure to get its share of the pie.

Other plans for the Nigerian tech space stated in the document, include strengthening “the incentive regimes for new growth industries, in particular, the culture and creative industry, and technology-oriented industries.”

For one, the creative and entertainment industry in Nigeria has experienced massive growth over the last decade. Recent reports indicate that Nigeria’s creative sector will create 2.7 million jobs by 2025. No doubt, making the industry attractive to investors is essential, with stakeholders calling on the Nigerian government to provide tax incentives to the private sector to enable them to invest in the sector.

However, what “incentive regimes” will cover in Peter Obi’s definition remains unclear, at least for now. Is he considering grants or a dedicated special fund?

On broadband infrastructure

Also, the Peter Obi manifesto says that the aspirant will pursue “a combination of state-led and public-private initiatives to drive the penetration of broadband infrastructure and information superhighway necessary to empower smart industrialization”.

Except there is a new plan in the pipeline, this isn’t particularly convincing. Just recently, the outgoing government launched a provision of broadband infrastructure for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) & tertiary institutions across the country.

In 2020, Nigeria launched its National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 with a target of achieving 70% penetration by 2025. Though, recent data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) show only a 5.24% increase in broadband penetration in the two years of implementing the plan.

So floating the idea of driving penetration of broadband infrastructure without a well-defined strategy or specific targets — as seen in Obi’s manifesto — does not offer enough hope.

In sum

All in all, the manifesto didn’t sufficiently address the issues around the Nigerian tech space. The ideas appear great on the surface, but a deeper look shows that the document’s authors didn’t consider making the provisions clearer and less superficial.

It’s one thing to say, “we will do this”; showing “how it will be done” is another.

While Peter Obi’s plans for the Nigerian tech space might lack depth and details regarding framework and implementation, the manifesto still holds several prospects for the ecosystem.

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