Practitioners allege FG’s neglect, $10 billion software importation

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Software practitioners are currently angered by the perceived neglect of the sub-sector by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Under the aegis of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), the operators said the development of software should be prioritized by governments at all levels.

Speaking at a Roundtable in Lagos, themed, “Future of Software in Nigeria,” the practitioners stressed the need to implement the Presidential Executive Orders series that started in May 2017, with Numbers E01, E02; E03 and subsequently EO4, EO5, among others, to improve local content in software applications in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) operating in the country.

ISPON represents indigenous software developers and practitioners in Nigeria, established in 1999, with the aim of creating an enabling environment for local content developers. Leading the charge for a new direction for the sub-sector, President, ISPON, Dr. Yele Okeremi, said the roundtable was convened to unmask the miseries around the software industry in Nigeria.

According to him, embracing indigenous software in the deployment of critical government databases and projects is one critical way to avoid impending ‘digital imperialism.’ He urged Nigerian government officials not to overlook the lurking global cyberwar where software contains the footprints of any nation.

Okeremi wondered why nearly 60 years of independence Nigeria is still referred to as “a country with a lot of potentials. When shall these materialize?”

“At a point, we were doing well in agriculture. But when oil was discovered, probably we became rich and relaxed. Now, the price of oil has ditched; environmental degradation has become unbearable.

“Aside from that, oil is becoming old-fashioned. It has now dawned on us that Nigeria, perhaps, is not very rich. Therefore, countries like Singapore; Rwanda, among others are doing very well without oil and such natural resources. We need to tap into the intellectual property and human resources we have to become great. This is not the time to play politics if we want to remain relevant as a great country, in the next 15 years.

“I am saying this because around 2013, Nigeria started showing up on the global map for innovation. Why? There were deliberate policies to support the software industry. That is why we are asking the MDAs to ensure strict implementation of the Executive Orders that give priority to local software.”

At the panel session, it was revealed that as at November, about $10 billion had been spent by Nigerians on the importation of foreign software, according to the Chief Semantic Architect/Knowledge Engineer – CYMANTIKS Nigeria Limited, Emeka Okoye, who drew the attention of participants to ‘data-economy’,

This was, however, countered by the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHub), Chris Uwaje, who stressed that the figure was far more than $10 billion, noting that the future of software will dwell largely on ‘data territory’ as it has become a strategic asset to companies and countries.

“I am confident that growing the software industry that is locally engineered and empowered would be beneficial to our country, generate wealth, stimulate inclusive growths in the domestic economy and reduce unemployment level. There are 20 million farmers in Nigeria, who need to be empowered using the software,” he said.

Also, a past-president of ISPON, Pius Okigbo Jr., believes the country must deliberately support the younger generation of software developers as a means to build software houses focused on solving local needs.

To actualize this, he said there must be a change of mindset among civil and public servants, especially as regards implementing Presidential directives meant to empower local software developers.“Federal Government should emphasize local participation in the execution of government contracts, to improving local content in national socio-economic development.

“We need to match words with action. The Government at the Federal level directed all MDAs to engage indigenous professionals in the planning, design, and execution of national software-related projects.

How have we fared so far?
“The intent was to maximize in-country capacity and capability in all contracts and transactions with software components, utilizing Nigeria human and material resources in the planning and execution of Nigerian projects.

“Unfortunately, some people are not interested in working in that direction. This must stop if we are going to build an enduring and endearing future for the younger generation. We must build ‘software-future’ for the younger generation, and it requires growing local by patronizing indigenous software companies.”

Okigbo also urged practitioners to focus on solving local issues. “For instance, there are about 700 hotels in Owerri, and the number in Enugu is growing too. A policy statement by the government to digitize the records of hotels in the state, it’ll lead someone to provide hotel management software for these hotels and open up a new business opportunity for the developer. We must look inward to grow and become global champions.”

Founder and Managing Director of Future Software Resources Limited, Nkemdilim Uwaje-Begho, also on the panel, pointed out that branding, continuous consumer education, and advocacies are key ways to expose different users to the efficacies of Nigerian software. On the other hand, she said that the country’s education system must be rejigged such that graduates can be equipped for future work.

In her words, “We must intentionally build the software industry for the younger ones, who on their own should have ‘patient-capital’ as against get-rich-quick syndrome.“The Order directed that all procurement entities of the FGN shall give preference to Nigerian companies in the award of contracts for major projects in SET, and where local expertise is not available, Nigerian companies shall enter into a consortium with relevant foreign firms.”

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