Antitrust issues. Why does it matter to Nigeria Software Space? Just as Black lives and other lives matter, Antitrust concerns in Tech matters to all. Particularly, it matters to Nigeria and should be engaged to spearhead the success of accomplishing the challenge of a well-structured; formidable, and sustainable digital mission.
This is required for the enthronement of strong indigenous skill-sets, formidable and equitable solutions and services in the ICT industry sector. And by extension, it is regarded the critical engine room and accelerator of productivity in our national development cycle and national survivability.
Big Antitrust Issues in Tech – why it matters for Nigeria? According to Jason Del Rey, six antitrust issues of note from USA Tech space experience include; but not limited to the following:
- Tech giants use their power in one market to crush competitors in another
- Tech giants have so much power that fair business negotiations are impossible
- Big Tech companies infringe on small competitors’ patents today because they’ll control the market by the time they have to pay up tomorrow
- Big Tech companies prioritize “monopoly rent” over the best interest of business partners and consumers
- Tech giants are both participants in and owners of their platforms, and so they tilt the playing field in their direction
- The online dossiers that Facebook and Google have amassed on their users give them too much power
All the above are evidence of the colossal risk that developing nations in Africa such as Nigeria face in the global ICT competitiveness landscape and indeed, in the future and survivability of their nations. The main thrust of this submission is, not to overlook the monopolistic powers in Tech Antitrust issue. But rather apply it as a strategic advantage window to encourage the adoption of indigenous software for the security; as well as growth of the economy.
If we must build commensurate capabilities and capacities to alleviate the critical challenges of the indigenous software ecosystem; while providing a formidable roadmap for the advancement of sustainable development and competitiveness of Software Nigeria; inclusively, antitrust in the ICT ecosystem should be part of the strategic plan which aims at ensuring that the provision of massive employment opportunities for millions of Nigerian youths is assured and contribute to the GDP and become a vital export resource for wealth creation and national security.
The success of our national development post COVID-19 pandemic will, to a large extent, be determined by the gross skill resource input and balanced contributions of our Information and Communications Technology arsenal at all levels. To achieve the set goals of 2021 budget within the context of our national economic development plans; as well as the New-Normal of Work (NNW), building large IT critical skills in Governance, Education, Health, Power Infrastructure; SME Industry and Citizens empowerment remain core strategic priorities. Indeed, this New-Normal of Work (NNW) has presented governance in Nigeria with both fundamental challenges and opportunities to showcase her ability; as well as capacities to reimagine the future of the nation by overhauling and retooling the functionalities of information/data-of-everything.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to apply antitrust laws in the software space for many cogent reasons. First, it is critical to the nation’s digital economy as recently exemplified by the NIMC national identity number (NIN) issues. This laudable initiative was deployed at enormous cost to benefit the nation. Regrettably, there were too many professional missing links which resulted to its recent stampede and big-data management scenario. Another Software-centric scenario worth researching on, as a matter of urgency, is the structures and state of the digital information system and Big-Data Management issues at the National Independent National Election Commission.
Another significant role played by IT in 2007 is its contribution to the Financial/Banking sector.
For those who can read between the lines, Information Technology was indeed the champion with respect to the Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s World Bank/Paris Club (2006/07) debt relief/repayment deal/feat and the Prof. Charles Soludo’s CBN master-stroke initiative, leading to the merger and consolidation of the current 25 Banks. The impact of these accomplishments however led to the eclipse of Indigenous Application Software Solution Providers in the Banking Industry; as well as the high-risk empowerment and monopoly of foreign IT Firms – at great expense to the nation. This was a severe blow to the Indigenous Software Industry which had earlier surged better in the Banking and Finance space. If we had an IT/Software Antitrust Law before the merger; Indigenous Software Solutions Providers would have also been compelled to merge for the bigger game.
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No doubt, that CBN strategic growth plan was a master stroke. Nonetheless, lessons learned point to the critical need in future to undertake cross-impact analysis and inclusiveness strategy of all stake holders before such a large- scale national policy is implemented. Perhaps, such policy decisions were made within Data vacuum where the capability of Nigerian IT/Software skills in the Banking and Financial Sectors were grossly unavailable.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS), current evaluations of available studies and analysis on conventional wisdom of applying Information and Communications Technology to development reveal that the less input of IT in any of our development domain, the less development success and contributions to GDP we get. Equally, the greater IT input (process automation) we inject into our national development cycle will result in greater GDP yield; as well as sustainable development success. For example, the service delivery performance and perceived efficiency of the power generation and distribution; sub-sectors of the Energy Sector – in recent years, are grossly determined by the amount and quality IT input; diffusion, and professional project management.
However, with zero antitrust laws to balance and enhance indigenous Software industry participation; through foresighted domestication of skilled IT manpower and commensurate patent and knowhow into the energy sectors; we may as well wake up one day to find out that we have been held hostage outside the rules of the game!
For example, the core problem in the power generation and distribution sectors in Nigeria today, is indeed not in the physical infrastructure level; but in the domain of skillful information generation and management system; especially as far as 85% or more of the required services in that domain are manually delivered by unskilled manpower. But no amount of investment in the next 10 years will resolve the problem of power blackouts in the country without meaningful IT/Software Skill intervention. The Armed Forces, especially Police Force suffer from the same IT-phobia of IT Solutions intervention! The same yardstick of non-availability of IT-skills to accelerate and manage national development expectations, can be applied and used to measure the state and performance of other critical sectors; such as Education, Health, Economy, Creative Art, Infotainment, Research, Security and Development, Governance and delivery of Government services.
Currently, viewed against the backdrop of Government workload (as derived from its current budgetary scope of works and services); may not be commensurate to the required ICT capacities and plans, programmed to effectively deliver the anticipated services to the citizenry. In my opinion, this may not be intentional; but generated by and a direct consequence of the current non-centralization of IT processes and systems integration and inter-operability of core e-government operational functions and standards.
We are perhaps yet to appreciate that; unless the IT sector is specially recognised as the pilot and engine room for national development; empowered to collaborate with other domain knowledge professionals to build special and integrated/multi-disciplinary skill capacities to spur the accelerated development of the economy, it will, with all certainty, be difficult to attain any meaningful SDGs growth going forward. If IT domestication is lip-serviced and trampled upon as usual, corruption will thrive and grow more monstrous, while the democratic gains and economic reforms may further slide backwards.
To effectively compete with the rest of the world; Nigeria needs to build a critical mass of a minimum of 250,000 human capital in Information and Communication Technologies. Where is our hidden Lee Kwan Yew? Consciously driven by consistent political will, this can be done.
Can this be done? Yes, with a proper plan and political will; we can pool together, convert and polish up the over 120,000 NYSC participants; as well as the growing pool of the Technical Youth Corps (TYC) Scheme; the Internet-by-night salve secondary school groups/users and willing Diaspora champions. With 65% youth population, Nigeria is definitely a nation to reckon with in the emerging knowledge society; provided there is a fundamental shift (both in policy articulation, strategic approach and implementation actions). Currently, it is estimated that the indigenous software sector urgently needs about 10,000 skilled staff to engage the opportunities presented by the Telecoms sector, outsourcing and the consolidation process of the financial/banking/insurance sectors.
Knowledge is not just acquired by observation and consumption but by thinking, making and doing. The knowledge revolution is about innovation and creativity – spurred by recognising, promoting, incubating and rewarding innovative knowledge ventures. The new economy is here. Indeed, the nation must admit that traditional means of responding to the challenges of national development have now become obsolete! How prepared are we to enthrone Software Nigeria?
The roadmap to the solutions and the way forward lies in our heads (the real/intangible technology); and not in the acquisition of the physical products of technology. All revolutions have spurn through concrete ideas and deep perception, knowledge and understanding of a particular process; consisting of complex variables. And history has shown that all revolutions throw up new leaders. Now, the software ecosystem players should assume national development leadership space. Political will should, through Executive Order (to be later transformed and enacted into an Act); ensure that all Boards of Governance should have at least one accredited Software Practitioner.
COVID-19 has and continues to warn us that science matters and listening to scientists matters more. Time to listen to the IT/Software & Cybersecurity Experts – who remain blatantly marginalized – has come. Indeed, stimulus funding for indigenous software developers/start-ups and innovators should be advanced to the sector as a matter of urgency. Nigeria your IP. Wasting away? Stop it Now.
We need an Antitrust Law for Software Nigeria, like yesterday. Empower Software Nigeria to engage the Universe. Yes, it Can!