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Paucity of fund threatens Nigeria’s digital economy plan

Nigeria’s move to build a digital economy through an eight-pillar strategy faces a daunting challenge over lack of fund.
This is even as government expressed worry that many young Nigerians with digital skills that could help the realisation of the plan were leaving the country in droves due to lack of support.
The country’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS 2020-2030), which was launched in November 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari was developed to reposition the Nigerian Economy in order to take advantage of the many opportunities that digital technologies provide.
The strategy is hinged on the eight pillars of Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy & Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development & Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society & Emerging Technologies; and Indigenous Content Development & Adoption.
However, speaking on the digital economy plans during a live television programme monitored by our correspondent, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, lamented that funding had been a major problem towards realising the goals of the plan.
“This sector is facing serious funding challenge. The 2019 budget, which I inherited, can only implement about one per cent of the plan and this is where we are right now,” the minister stated.
Incidentally, with the downward review of the country’s 2020 budget due to the impact of COVID-19, the ministry will be getting less than what it initially planned to spend on capital projects this year.
From the revised budget, the ministry’s total allocation was slashed from the initial N6.1 billion to N5 billion. Also, the ministry’s allocation for capital projects was slashed from N5 billion to N4 billion.
Added to this challenge, according to Pantami, is the issue of young innovators leaving the country for better environments where they could get adequate support to grow and develop their ideas.
He admitted that the Nigerian government had not been doing enough in terms of support for innovators due to lack of fund.

“In other countries, governments’ support for innovators is huge, they have a lot of intervention programmes aimed at encouraging young ones to be creative and develop solutions to help their economies. The little fund we give here as support is sourced from international organisations,” he said.
Aside funding, the minister said youths with digital skills were also leaving the country due to what he described as negative government intervention.

This, he said, occurred in the form of harassments of young persons with laptops by the police.
“We have many young creative innovators in Nigeria, but many of them are leaving the country because they are being harassed and intimidated by the police.
“Our law enforcement agencies need to understand that there is a difference between young innovators and ‘Yahoo Boys,” he said.

Pantami said there was a need for collaboration and synergy between all tiers of government and all agencies of government to achieve the objectives of the digital economy plans.

While the NDEPS is a federal policy, Pantami stated that states and focal government areas were also encouraged to “cascade these policies and strategies so that we can be on the same page as we achieve the vision of this document, which is “To transform Nigeria into a leading global digital economy providing quality life and digital economies for all.” “In the policy document, the Federal Government hinged its motivation for the plan on the fact that the development of a digital economy will create new technological platforms and industries on one hand, while enhancing the efficiency and productivity of existing industries on the other. “Digital technologies build upon and extend the concept of ICT to include a focus on the creation and not just the use of technology.

“These technologies also encompass emerging technologies and the potential for datafication that they provide. The digital economy will be built on these digital technologies. This Policy aims to provide an environment for the innovative use of such technologies to develop the economy of Nigeria,” it stated.

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