The acting president of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibanjo recently signed three new executive orders into law to improve the ease of doing business in the country. One executive order mandates Federal Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to give preference to local content in the procurement of specified items, including ICT products.
The executive order, which specifies that MDAs spend at least 40% procurement expenditure for these items on local goods and local service providers has been lauded by many in the tech industry. Prior to this, there have been talks condemning Nigeria’s continued dependency on imported software products by groups like the National Information Development Agencies (NITDA) and Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) so this must have come as good news to them.
However, According to Veteran IT expert, Emeka Okoye, Nigeria did not always depend on foreign software, he said this in an interview with Techpoint;
Companies like Tara Systems, located in Marina, Lagos, were selling software that American banks used as far back as ’92/’93. Even Oracle was using Tara Systems. Nigerian software was being used locally and all over the world. At the point when we had 89 banks in Nigeria, about 33% of those banks were running on locally made software."
Have we asked ourselves, “What changed?” How did a leader in the software industry get here? While the move by the government to boost the use of indigenous IT products is a good one, have we even stopped to really analyse why public and private businesses/ agencies show a preference for foreign IT products despite higher cost?
The use of imported software is generally attributed to Nigeria's thirst for foreign items, a trait that stemmed from distrust in our ability to churn quality products. Yet, what has been done to fuel the confidence of Nigerians to use locally produced software other than just talk?
While we may argue that some indigenous software meet international standards, there are also many that do not. Yet is there any software certification system in Nigeria? While delivering a keynote at the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) President’s Dinner last year, Niyi Ajao Director, Technology, and Operation at NIBSS said
We need to work on certification of software products in Nigeria. If you talk to businessmen in Nigeria, many have stories to tell. Many have taken the risk to use local content and at the end of the day, they get hurt”, he said. “In my view, government needs to see how software can be certified with label to say this has met minimum quality such that people would have confidence in buying our product”,
Besides, where are these businesses that produce standard software in Nigeria? What is done by relevant agencies to promote these products to the public?
Dr. Jimson Olufuye, Chairman of the Africa ICT Alliance, once criticised NITDA for its inefficiency in promoting Made in Nigeria software saying:
When it decides to take the responsibility seriously, it could convene an indigenous software adoption working group that would effectively map all sectors of the Nigerian economy and detail indigenous software available as solutions to those sectors and where there is none encourage intervention in such areas through incentives
Also, businesses in the software industry should strive to put themselves in the forefront.
Despite the low patronage of indigenous tech products, Remita, an indigenous payment software by SystemSpec, stood out and did a good job of managing Nigeria's Treasury Single Account (TSA), even though this laudable project was stifled by the same government that is now advocating for the use of local content.
While the signing of the executive order may seem like a laudable move, however, it may also fuel the mediocrity we have witnessed in the Nigerian ICT space.