A recent event at the London School of Economics sparked the question whether technology can help Nigeria improve its policymaking and corporate governance issues. The talk failed to address the systemic issues that lie at the foundation of why technology cannot fix Nigeria’s problems. Indeed, technology needs to be understood as a catalyst for change, not a wand that can fix broken things.
Living Up to the Promise?
Facebook, Twitter, Google, Baidu and Alibaba have all harnessed the power of technology making our world more interconnected. However, despite its positive feats, technology can easily deepen existing fractures and inequalities within society. As an example, there are some tech companies that fail to pay appropriate corporation tax and fail to disclose how they handle consumer data. It is also important to note that Africa has less than 30% internet penetration, still lagging way behind the world average. Moreover, levels of access to technology still replicate the physical disparity between the rich and poor, urban and rural, male and female.
This is not meant to criticise Nigeria, but provide positive and actionable solutions as to how and why it can improve and utilise technology to galvanise its labour force to achieve the type of industrial, social and economic revolutions seen in other countries worldwide such as China, India and Thailand. Nigeria is not just a country full of promise, but it has the potential to become Africa’s leading nation and a beacon of social and industrial progressivism and economic success.
However, having potential is meaningless without introspection, accountability and action, all of which are necessary to help Nigeria move in the right direction. Every country reaches enlightenment in its own time, but time is relative, and if Nigeria does not find a way to get right foundation and then leveraging technology, it will not live up to its promises and the hopes of its people and the international community. Thereby, Nigeria must live up to all expectations.
Why Technology Cannot Fix Nigeria
As mentioned above, technology will not fix Nigeria’s troubles. Despite its vast amount of resources and funds, Nigeria has not fully mastered the benefits of technology to scale up and further continue its evolution. The seven most systemic reasons as to why technology cannot fix the country’s issues are as follows:
1. Nigeria has not established a consistent and reliable source of electricity;
2. Nigeria has not yet provisioned a quality, well maintained and reliable infrastructure;
3. Nigeria has not taken steps to provide accessible and low-cost access healthcare;
4. Nigeria has not understood the importance of the provision of education for all;
5. Nigeria has not put measures in place to have effective government officials who are truly accountable and reliable;
6. Nigeria has not achieved a unified identity or vision of what it wants to be as a country;
7. Nigeria has not put in place measures to support the improvement of social conditions with a significant portion of the population still living in extreme poverty.
Most advocates for Nigeria’s economic and social development will mention that many countries in the world have not met the criteria above. Although this may be true, Nigeria is struggling with all of them. In a recent article, Yomi Kazeem notes that “on average, Nigerians pay six bribes per year, or one every two months. NBS estimates the total amount of bribes paid to public officials amount to $4.6bn in purchasing power parity terms—the equivalent of 39% of the country’s federal and state budgets for education last year.”
Moreover, a study by PwC says that “by 2030, the size of Africa’s biggest economy should triple in real terms come what may. Yet, if Nigeria manages to reduce corruption to levels comparable to Malaysia (itself hardly above suspicion: its prime minister recently had to explain how almost $700m had made it into his bank account), its economy could be 37% bigger than it is right now.”
Yet, within some circles, there is so much talk about what technology can do for Nigeria and yet there is a lack of wanting to address the key issues and challenges that the country faces. It is almost as if by ignoring the fundamental questions, these problems will naturally take care of themselves. It is the elephant in the room that many either do not want to speak of, or believe does not hinder the country’s development at all. How can there be talk of blockchain or cryptocurrency in Nigeria? Or even mobile payment systems, when at best they will only further the disparity between the rich and poor and the urban and the rural. Even if technology is implemented in Nigeria only a minority of the population can access it, thus how is it truly helping to fix the country?
The Wheel Is Broken
What is important and necessary is scalable technology, which can transform the country and help it modernise even quicker. With a population of 1almost 196 million, Nigeria continues to stand out in the World Bank’s 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals, which shows that 35 million more Nigerians were living in extreme poverty in 2013 compared to 1990. Among the ten most populous countries for which data is available, only Nigeria recorded an increase in the number of citizens living in extreme poverty over the period of the study.
The Atlas defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1.90 a day. It appears that there is a delusion or a misconception about the use case of technology and its impact. In the same way a building must have solid foundations, so must a country before it can begin to leverage technology to improve or scale.
Many critics will say that there are start-ups in Nigeria and businesses that are leveraging digital to scale and add value to the lives of their citizens. However, one can imagine the scale and growth that could be achieved if even three of the seven factors above were addressed. Technology is a tool, but it cannot fix a country that has built its foundations on sand. Nigeria should quickly address and improve its core foundations, then focus on education, entrepreneurship, innovation, policy and technology to not only cement its position as the leading industrialised country in Africa but also as a global driver of global growth and economic prosperity.
Frank is a Senior Digital Strategy Associate within Parliamentary Digital Services, helping the UK Parliament to unlock innovative opportunities through the alignment of both their digital and technology strategies. His role requires driving successful cultural capability change, process improvement, analytics and the development of quality digital products within the Digital Portfolio. He holds an MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management from Imperial College London.