|OPINIONS AND ANALYSES
It is hard to be optimistic about Nigeria. The economy is in tatters, the country's infrastructure is in a state of abject ruin, the standard of living has plummeted, and the middle class has seemingly gasped its last breath after withstanding years of progressive assassination. The country's brand mirrors corruption and international fraud. The Nigerian passport reeks of criminal signature, as anyone who has dared advertise it at international airports can attest. The Nigerian intelligentsia has fled the country's shores, unwittingly improving the economies of foreign lands, while lamenting the state of the motherland in periodic doses - evidence yet of non-zero emotional attachment. The civilian power pipeline is infested with mediocrity, as looters of yore, salivating to remount the graft pulpit to scrape off what little paint remains on the royal walls, armed with nasal capacity strategically reserved for opportunities hence. Any sense of self-belonging has been eroded by decades of incompetent, venal leadership. Ethnic divisions have resurfaced with manic vengeance. Morale is low.
Yet, underneath this thick garb of despair lies a gaunt frame of hope.
In the interest of conserving time and space, my sanguinity is based on several fundamental assumptions. First, the pistons of the polity must be optimized and lubricated for development, free of centralized bottlenecks: The country must be liberated from the yoke of bureaucratic malaise. Without the presence of a stable, robust yet unintrusive political foundation and arrangement, the crafting of any visionary development plan or strategic objective would be an exercise in futility. Furthermore, a policy is only as effective as its implementation: Policy initiatives must be irrigated with a national environment and culture that permit and catalyze their execution. Those institutions that form the underpinnings of modern civilization must be revived and sequestered to preclude interference and manipulation. Lastly, some modicum of law, order and structure needs to be reapplied to the social fabric.
Nigeria's problems are a plethora,
and extremely complicated. I cannot and do not know solutions to all of
them. This article documents only one of several possible perspectives
on curative recommendations, with particular emphasis on long-term
and technology policy.
The Paradigm Shift in the Global Economy
A paradigm shift is underway in the complex web that constitutes the global economy. For the benefit of those that choose to skim rather than peruse, I repeat: a paradigm shift is underway in the complex web that constitutes the global economy. This transformation represents both a huge threat to and opportunity for Nigeria.
Oil currently accounts for about 90 percent of Nigeria's exports and is the bedrock of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria's real-time economic performance is largely tied to world oil prices. Twenty years ago, the price of oil was about $40 a barrel. Given Nigeria's huge oil reserves, the high oil prices resulted in a booming Nigerian economy. Nigeria still has huge gas reserves that have largely gone untapped and have given many Nigerians some measure of optimism for an economic turn-around going into the 21st century.
The party might be on final approach.
Prices of crude oil have plummeted to historic lows. At about $10 a barrel, oil prices are at their lowest levels in 12 years. Oil companies have begun massive layoffs. More are planned. Mobil and Exxon, which together formed two of the biggest pieces of Standard Oil before the latter was broken up, recently announced a merger, the biggest in corporate history. Such a consolidation is clear evidence of an industry that has reached senile levels of maturity. Oil producing countries have been unable to coordinate and/or limit production to prop up prices. While future instability in the Middle East is a factor that could reverse this trend, continued U.S. military presence in the Gulf region makes this unlikely in the short to medium term.
Given Nigeria's near total dependence on oil, this trend represents a very serious long-term threat to the country's economy. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that oil prices might someday drop to $5 a barrel, albeit with intermittent correctional spasms. With the Nigerian private sector's relegation from prominence, graduates of the nation's universities essentially have only two career options regardless of professional qualification: banking and the oil industry. With the current turmoil in the Nigerian banking sector and the potential for more attrition in the oil industry, a massive surge in unemployment might be in the offing in the country. What smidgen of an appearance of a middle class still exists would be extinguished with speedy dispatch. With a complete lack of strategic redundancy in its economic base, these developments could spell even more doom for Nigeria. The development of the country's long-term macro-economic policy has to take this trend into account.
As oil prices have been dropping precipitously, high technology has ascended the industry throne as arguably the primary wealth-generator of the modern economy. Indeed, it seems clear that the global economy in the 21st century would revolve mainly around information technology. The Information Age has replaced the Industrial and Oil Ages as the center of mass of modern civilization. The contrasting valuations of oil and high-tech companies in the United States provide clear evidence of this. While oil stocks have been fairly stagnant, high-technology stocks have been rising at stratospheric rates. Unlike in the past when oil barons like John D. Rockefeller, Marcus Samuel, and William Mellon occupied the high table of the richest people on Earth, the wealthiest entrepreneurs today are high-tech executives like William H. Gates III, Michael Dell, and Larry Ellison.
The American Internet economy is growing at a rate of 109 percent per year, about thirty times the rest of the economy . Over the last year, the technology sector in the United States took a half percentage point off inflation. In addition, it added almost a full point to economic growth. Due mainly to the technology sector, real wages in the U.S. are expected to rise by 9 percent over the next ten years. Analysts forecast that corporate earnings of American companies, adjusted for inflation, would increase by 54 percent over the next decade. GDP growth is expected to rise to 3 percent, while inflation is expected to drop to about 2.5 percent . This year, the computer industry in the United States accounted for about 5 percent of the GDP. Over the next ten years, that figure is expected to more than double. Indeed, the high technology industry is credited with being one of the main reasons why the U.S. recently enjoyed its first budget surplus in decades. Assuming constancy in U.S. Federal spending, the American budget surplus is expected to swell to over $300 billion over the next ten years, primarily due to the growth of the digital economy .
Improvements in technology also have negative side effects on the oil industry, a dynamic that suggests that the global economy might, in the long-term, be too small for both industries to simultaneously prosper. For instance, technological advancements that accelerate the initiation of oil fields also lead to faster depreciation rates of these fields. Advances in solar-power technology only hasten the devaluation of oil as a strategic mineral resource.
As with all paradigm shifts, the
transformation can, overnight, propel businesses and nations into
of economic prosperity, or, with comparable rapidity, relegate them to
utter irrelevancy. The almost-infinite terminal velocity of such
is what gives me reason for some enthusiasm. If we as a country
our return to seriousness with the almost-complete commoditization of
technology, and make the Information Age the centerpiece of our
policy for the 21st century, Nigeria's reincarnation might
sooner than we all expect. If, on the other hand, we fail to recognize
the threat being posed by the ongoing paradigm shift, future
might look back at the depression that is currently upon us with some
The Information Age
The Information Age, like the Industrial Age before it, would undoubtedly have a colossal impact on the efficiency and mechanics of civilization. Its current manifestation, the Internet, has already fundamentally changed the way people work, play, and interact. In the future, the Internet would play an even more central role in how people learn, conduct business, entertain themselves and stay in touch with one another. In the past year alone [1997-1998], the number of Internet users worldwide has more than doubled, to more than 140 million people. A large percentage of commerce is already being conducted electronically - buying a car, planning a vacation, etc. In the United States, it is estimated that by the end of this year, about seventeen million people would have bought goods over the Internet, up from virtually none a few years ago. Today, one quarter of Americans use the Internet on a daily basis. Just three years ago, that figure was a mere 4 percent. In the United States, $30 billion of good and services would be sold over the Internet this year and $250 billion in four years . Electronic commerce is expected to comprise up to 6 percent of American retail purchases in the next five years .
A sizable share of education would be conducted online. Many meetings would be held via video conferences. With essentially unlimited access to information, unconstrained by the traditional boundaries of space and convenience, the operations of individuals, businesses, governments would be much more efficient [4, 5]. Nigerians would be able to compete globally via virtual channels while remaining physically resident in the country.
The potential benefits of the Information Age to the Nigerian economy are boundless. Nigerians' standard of living would improve, thanks to the efficiency of information access and the obviation of the need for physical movement: Traffic would lessen. Consumers would have all the power to choose the best prices, given the friction-free flow of information. Investors in Nigeria would be able to buy stocks and commodities from the New York Stock Exchange on a regular basis, via handheld devices. Businesses would find it easier to stay in touch with their customers and to make better-informed decisions. Students in Nigerian universities would be able to take courses in the best institutions in the world - e.g., computer-science courses from Stanford and business courses from Harvard -- thereby improving local educational standards at exponential rates. Doctors would be able to communicate with their patients and determine diagnoses and initiate treatment over wireless communication channels. This, in concert with improvements in biotechnology, would result in major improvements in the quality of health-care.
Unfortunately, the current decrepit state of Nigeria's infrastructure precludes the country from immediately reaping the fruits of these advances. Ages beget ages. The Information Age could not exist without the benefits provided by the Industrial Age. In the United States, the Internet is an application that sits on a robust platform: the country's power and telecommunications infrastructure. The U.S. made these strategic investments long before anyone even conceived of the Internet or the Information Superhighway. Such a sense of long-term strategic planning, it appears, has eluded Nigeria's policy-makers for too long.
Going forward, the primary focus
public policy should be on rebuilding the country's infrastructure.
with appropriate doses of regulatory oversight would accelerate this
or, at the very least, set it on the proper footing. In the short term,
however, the Information Age also provides Nigeria with other
that are not directly tied to the presence of a national
the exploitation of which, in lock step with infrastructure
should be the top priority of the country's long-term strategic
Opportunities for Nigeria
As we approach the 21st century, there are many opportunities for Nigeria to rebuild its economy. Indeed, serendipitously, the country is being offered a pole position on the road to resurrection on a platter of silver, albeit not 100 percent pure.
The nature of technology is that once its products or services attain critical mass, they enjoy huge economies of scale. The prices of Personal Computers (PCs) have been dropping steadily for the last several years. Prices under $500 are now commonplace. Indeed, many industry analysts have posited that PCs would eventually be free, their fixed costs being subsidized by "vigs" and advertising revenue derived from content and back-end services. Eventually, observers argue, the PC business model would mirror that of cellular phones wherein the access device is a commodity and the value exists in the network and the content.
Computer processing power keeps increasing at almost exponential rates. In just a few years, today's processing speeds would appear lethargic in comparison with the state-of-the-art. Over the next several decades, a revolutionary technology called "quantum computing" could yield increases of several orders of magnitude in computational power at relatively low cost [7, 8, 9]. Advances in atomic physics promise to provide almost unlimited storage capacity, far exceeding the capacity of today's CD-ROMs .
Communications services and bandwidth also exhibit similar economic dynamics. In the next ten to twenty years, satellite networks that carry voice, data, and video would become pervasive. Motorola recently launched a global satellite-based wireless telephone service code-named "Iridium." Another company, Teledesic, is building a system, "Internet-in-the-Sky," that will provide broadband telecommunications services using a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites. When launched, Teledesic will have enough capacity to provide broadband telecommunications access for individuals, businesses, schools, and governments everywhere in the world. Wired networks would also gain exponential improvements in bandwidth capacity. A technology called Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) promises to offer, in the limit, virtually infinite amounts of bandwidth [2, 10].
The reach and capacity of these systems are so immense that the attendant economies of scale are too huge for even the entire globe to exhaust. With infinitesimal marginal cost, everyone on the planet can be provided the benefits of the Information Age. In the next twenty years, devices used to access the Internet, as well as communications services, might be free. All Nigeria needs to do, in theory, is demonstrate some measure of commitment, and align its policies to piggyback on these phenomena. With the proper infrastructure in place, Nigeria can get tuned to the digital age at essentially zero additional cost.
An intrinsic part of the character of an information economy is what economists term the "Network Effect." This refers to the phenomenon wherein the value of a network rises non-linearly as more subscribers are added to it. To illustrate, the first telephone was of zero value. The second was of infinitely more value to users. Market-share or, rather, "network-share," is even more critical in the Information Age. This suggests that developed countries like the United States have an economic incentive to ensure the ubiquity of benefits accruing therefrom. To illustrate this, the White House recently announced an initiative, through private-sector funding and World Bank loans, to provide aid for developing nations' Internet projects such as providing communications and Internet access to remote regions via satellites. The nature of this economic model is a huge opportunity for Nigeria.
In addition to mineral resources, Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of human capital. As high technology attains critical mass and prices drop, the attendant low margins can only be offset by high sales volumes. The sheer size of Nigeria's human capital provides the country with the market volume that would attract investors wishing to exploit this business model. Furthermore, as we move into the next millennium, intellectual assets are fast replacing physical and natural capital as the most strategic resource a country can have. Again, this is a tremendous opportunity for Nigeria. With the quality and volume of its brainpower, Nigeria can become globally competitive even with economic powerhouses like the United States and Japan. The country needs to manufacture and export intellectual capital in unseen quantities. The resources are there; they need to be directed, motivated, and exploited. Furthermore, locally authored software products, services, and content could, in the long-term, provide the country with another major source of export. There is currently a huge shortage of workers in the information technology sector in the United States and elsewhere. In fact, the U.S., despite strong opposition in Congress, recently increased the cap of the number of work permits it gives to immigrants on an annual basis, albeit with a tenure. Given the forecasted explosion of the Internet in the coming years, these increases are unlikely to lower the equilibrium price of high-tech talent. In the next twenty years, I expect intellectual capital and software services to be the hottest export in the global economy. Nigeria's long-term national planning has to be made consistent with this trend.
Advanced nations also realize that any "canyonesque" inequity in the distribution of global wealth and civilization could prove deleterious to them in the long-term. For instance, America's strategic foreign policy recognizes the primary threat posed in the event of an unstable Mexican economy: uncontrolled illegal immigration. In addition, the need to prevent potentially costly civil conflict around the globe gives the U.S. some incentive to ensure stability and some measure of economic prosperity even in far-away lands, especially in a country as geo-politically strategic as Nigeria. While it is the case that the U.S. has adopted a somewhat insular foreign policy since the end of the Vietnam War and, more so, since the end of the Cold War, it still has some impetus to ensure global stability, given that it is now the World's only superpower. The problem, thus far, has been that many developing countries have failed to take advantage of these political and economic dynamics.
The morass in which the oil industry currently finds itself has been one of the factors that have fueled the United States' current economic boom. As oil prices continue to drop, the U.S. budget surplus would likely increase further, owing to the fact that it is one of the World's largest importers of petroleum. Nigeria should exploit the current surge in the U.S. economy to attract private and public investment to rebuild its existing infrastructure underpinnings and to build new national information systems that would carry it to the 21st century. Essentially, this suggests that the drops in oil prices -- which threaten Nigeria's economy - would lead to excess capital that could be available for reinvestment in the country. Such a cyclic flow of capital, a phenomenon that is not atypical in the modern global economy, provides yet another opportunity for Nigeria.
The regions and countries that comprise Nigeria's competition in emerging markets -- Asia, Latin America, Russia, etc. -- are stumbling. Nigeria needs to seize this opportunity before time expires. While there might be plenty of investment capital to go around in the long-term, the country needs to pursue a strategy for quickly acquiring a position of global economic leadership amongst Third World countries, or, at the very least, earning a seat on the table. With the current mess in Asia especially, investors, understandably, are somewhat wary of emerging markets in general. However, I remain convinced that some speedy indication of seriousness and stability on our part will provide the asynchrony we need to outflank the competition.
Another strategic advantage Nigeria has in the global economy is that its peoples are English-speaking. While this might appear trifle in its tactical importance, rest secured that it is an extremely critical benefit to have as we charge head-on into the Information Age. In the next few decades, as intellectual capital achieves more and more prominence, Nigerian programmers and other high-tech workers would have to compete for jobs with their Chinese, Mexican and Russian counterparts. That these countries' citizens, in general, do not speak English fluently puts them at a competitive disadvantage when compared with Nigerians, Indians, and other English-speaking workers.
As technology has become more pervasive, the "intellectual barriers to entry" have become lower. As software has permeated every sector of society, the level of abstraction of its ingredients has increased. As a consequence, Nigerians have the chance to choose software development as a career regardless of background. In addition, software engineering, being largely based on logical thought, does not require as much formal training as other fields. Other "high-tech" jobs, like those involving the creation and maintenance of web-sites, are even more pedestrian in nature. These characteristics give Nigeria the opportunity to churn out programmers and web-site authors in volume. Furthermore, the capital investment needed to generate legions of software engineers is minimal when compared with that required in other industries. Nigeria can offer its citizens' minds and software for export with a fraction of the investment capital it takes to build physical plants like steel rolling mills. The corresponding rates of return are, as a consequence, much higher. Given Nigeria's lack of a maintenance culture, a shift to a focus on intellectual capital would also preclude the waste and mismanagement that has characterized past investments in the manufacturing sector.
One problem that has stymied the development of the software industry in developing countries is piracy. Given the current economic crunch in Nigeria, the business model of selling shrink-wrapped software with the hope that it would not be illegally duplicated is untenable. However, the advent of the Internet and the paradigm shifts in high technology business models gives Nigerian entrepreneurs a tremendous opportunity. As shrink-wrapped software gets displaced by web-sites as the primary value proposition in computing, the hosts of such back-end services would regain control of how their software gets used. The problem with shrink-wrapped software is that once it is out of the store, the seller, essentially, is at the mercy of the buyer's goodwill. In contrast, if buyers have to access web-sites for their computing needs, the seller would be able to monitor and track who is using his or her software. This model, however, assumes the presence of connectivity and a robust electronic commerce platform. For the foreseeable future, Nigerian software entrepreneurs would still have to deal with the piracy problem. In the long term though, with the proper infrastructure in place, and if its constituents adopt a low-cost, high-volume approach, the Nigerian software business environment should be able to prosper from the Information Age.
Lastly, the virtualization of the
that would form the bulk of exports in the 21st century insulates
from one of many problems that have impeded its development: the
of foreigners to invest physical capital in the country for fear of
instability. If, in the next millennium, Nigeria becomes one of the
exporters of intellectual capital, investors could tap into its
brainpower with very little physical presence. This would allay valid
that many have of making deep commitments that, today, often require
installation of human and physical assets.
The Risks Posed by the Digital Age
A full-scale conversion to a digital economy without appropriate policy safeguards can be dangerous. One of the primary features of an information-based economy is the further devaluation of drudgery. This implies that many low-skill jobs could get lost due to advances in high technology. The ascension of intellectual capital as the major source of economic prosperity would hasten the depreciation of existing blue-collar jobs in the manufacturing sector. Making the Information Age the bedrock of Nigeria's public policy would achieve one critical aim: the rebirth of the Nigerian middle class. However, it would also lead to further erosion of the lower class. Skills that were in high demand in the Industrial and Oil Ages could suddenly be of little or no value.
Another threat that the Information Superhighway poses is that it would give insurgents, criminal organizations, and terrorists the tools to further facilitate their craft. Drug dealers would be empowered with the infrastructure they need to better coordinate their activities with international rings. Without strong encryption, national security networks could be compromised by treacherous individuals, organizations, and governments. The pervasiveness of electronic commerce would, without the proper application of cryptographic safeguards, encourage more credit card and bank fraud. With unregulated access, pornographic material could be more easily exposed to children.
The pervasiveness of advanced telecommunications networks could also be a threat to personal privacy. Overzealous government agencies or other institutions could exploit the information infrastructure to tap people's phones, read their personal e-mail, or monitor their retail purchases and transactions. Without the enforcement of privacy laws, businesses could, without express permission, track their customers' personal information and buying or usage habits.
The rate and totality with which the Information Age would render many existing business models obsolete may also be cause for concern. Many middlemen would be eliminated. A large number of industries would be transformed or destroyed. In the absence of precautionary policy scaffolding, the seismic nature of such a perturbation could threaten the Nigerian economy through its profound and destabilizing impact on the private sector.
Nigerian policy-makers must also
not to over-invest in a transformation to a digital economy to the
detriment of other sectors of commerce. Such a move, while tempting,
amount to bad public policy. Such a euphoric, whole-scale switch in
focus is one of the strategic errors that led to the mess we are
in. We must not repeat this mistake. Oil, while likely to be of lesser
value, would still be an important national asset. Nigeria's huge gas
are yet to be exploited. Other mineral resources, such as gold, still
in abundance. The agricultural sector has long been neglected and still
has a lot of potential to be a major revenue source. While the nation's
long-term focus should be on information technology, its policy-makers
must be careful not to balkanize other sectors of the economy.
Perhaps most importantly, given our history of ethnic fissures and mistrust, the Information Age would have major geopolitical implications on Nigeria. I predict that in the 21st century, intellectual capital, not mineral resources like oil, would be the most strategic and valuable global resource. The impact of this phenomenon on Nigeria cannot be overestimated. It suggests that as time goes on, a country's geographic placement and mineral resource endowments would take on less and less significance. In contrast, the skill-level and educational competence of its workforce would become the primary determinants of economic prominence.
Going down one more level of indirection, this trend also has major ramifications on the internal geo-politics that have plagued us since independence. As the Information Age attacks puerility, the value of territorial attachment -- derived from an uneven distribution of mineral resources -- would get depreciated. Similarly, relative regional wealth and strategic importance could change overnight due to the paradigm shift. Groups in Nigeria can no longer rely on geographical affinity as a guarantee of long-term economic prosperity. Proximity to the Atlantic - access to seaports -- would no longer be an assurance of commercial power. The new seaport of the 21st century would be the handheld device, the personal computer, the television. Arguably, the primary export would be brainpower and locally authored software services hosted on web-sites. The ports from which these products would get dispatched would be Internet access nodes. Fiber-optic lines and the airwaves would complement the oceans as the primary conduits of international trade.
In the Nigerian context, over-emphasis on oil as the foundation for any strategic ethnic or regional planning and policy would be a grave mistake. The drops in oil prices, as well as the increasing importance of the educational quality of human capital, would vitiate any such calculations. This, by the way, applies to groups that are blessed with mineral resources as well as to those that are not. On both sides, the need or nature of long-term regional political strategy should be reevaluated based on a recognition that the world is changing. Only those ethnic groups that have a well-educated and sophisticated workforce would be well placed to directly reap the benefits of the digital age.
With respect to the structure of the Nigerian polity, one feature of the Information Age is the value of having a high volume of human capital. With the concomitant economies of scale, Nigeria's relatively huge size would be of strategic benefit. In addition, the attendant economies would far exceed the capacity of Nigerians to drain them: All Nigerians would be able to enjoy the benefits of the Information Age with little or no incremental cost, regardless of the center of gravity of the intellectual capital from which wealth is derived.
The accessibility of information would also make it much more difficult for totalitarian governments to suppress or manipulate information for their own purposes. In the next century, the concept of "dictatorship" might be switched to life support. The Information Age could strengthen democracy in Nigeria in that it would empower the common-man to make more informed decisions relating to political issues. With a pervasive information infrastructure, political candidates can be screened much more easily and thoroughly by their constituents. Public-office holders would find it much more difficult to spread propaganda effectively. News on scandals or corrupt activities by government officials would be disseminated much more rapidly and freely. The Information Age promises to fundamentally change politics, as we know it today. Already, in the United States, the effects of digitalization are becoming more and more apparent. That the stories relating to President Clinton's private life could be monitored, covered, and propagated with such detail and swiftness indicates, yet again, that we are living in a changed world. The power of the media and the ubiquity of information channels would, undoubtedly, make politicians much more sensitive and conscious of their surroundings. The universality of information access would also give the Nigerian media - the "fourth estate" -- a much more powerful and strategic role in the country's governance.
Given the fact that highly skilled human resources would be the driver of the Information Age, the private sector would, rightfully, become the kernel of Nigeria's economy. This implies that, by fiat, the government's ability to mismanage the country's revenues and to control the physical distribution of prosperity thereof, would be impeded. The geographical distribution of a country's wealth, essentially, would be most dependent on the territorial residency of its citizens. This is a very powerful phenomenon, especially in ethnic-based societies that are commonplace in Africa. Obviously, this assumes that tax-rates would remain reasonable - thereby preserving the capitalist model in which personally generated and managed wealth is the engine of economic growth.
The presence and accessibility of advanced wired and wireless telecommunications networks could also promote national unity and a renewal of Nigerians' sense of national identity. With the virtualization of geographical boundaries, Nigerians of different ethnic backgrounds would easily be able to communicate with one another regardless of physical location. In addition, in the next thirty years, voice-recognition and natural language technology should be mature enough to facilitate the automated transcription and translation of all of Nigeria's languages. The ubiquity of hand-held products that employ advanced speech and language processing technology could defrost some of the tension that arises from the diversity of Nigeria's tongues.
A digital economy would also have a profound impact on Nigeria's national security and stability. A national information infrastructure, with its advanced telecommunications networks, would simplify the task of coordinating resistance to coups and insurgency. Reaction to internal or external military threats would be more easily organized. Paradoxically, however, broadband telecommunications networks erected for the purposes of national security could also foster the planning and execution of coups. Given Nigeria's history of military interference in politics, the impact of an improved information infrastructure on the country's national security framework cannot be overemphasized.
In addition to its impact on the Nigerian polity, the Information Age could have implications on the leadership structure and stability of the continent as a whole as well as on the West African sub-region. Over the next few decades, Nigeria would no longer be able to rely solely on its huge oil reserves as its source of regional political supremacy. Less endowed, smaller nations could end up gaining more prominence if they make long-term investments in developing and embellishing the skills of their human assets. Neighboring land-locked countries, albeit bereft of mineral resources and facilities for physical trade, could emerge as regional threats.
In terms of information technology
South Africa stands in sharp contrast to other African countries,
Nigeria. It is estimated that there are 270,000 home-based Internet
and about 80 Internet service providers (ISPs) in that country. In
about 800,000 South African citizens are online. Local experts estimate
the country's Internet service market to be about $80 million per year
with a 120 percent annual growth rate . Evidently, with respect to
the presence of an Internet economy, there is currently a huge gap
South Africa and Nigeria. With the ongoing shift to the digital age,
striking imbalance could, in the long term, shape or fortify the axis
economic and political leadership on the African continent.
Nigeria should adopt a policy framework the underpinnings of which are consistent with making the Information Age the nucleus of its long-term strategic national planning. The recommendations that follow constitute line items that are aimed at accomplishing this objective.
From an economic perspective, arguably the most urgent policy task facing Nigeria today is that relating to public relations. Before embarking on any long-term economic development plan, Nigeria needs to rebuild and re-market its brand. Nigeria's image has been completely desecrated and is in urgent need of reconstruction. If Nigeria fails to undertake an explicit marketing policy, many investors are not going to take the country seriously, regardless of whatever economic opportunities are offered. The country's brand needs to be fumigated in order to project a fresh image of law-abiding seriousness, stability, and unlimited economic potential. Its new tag line should indicate African and Third World leadership in exporting intellectual capital for -- and exploiting the -- Information Age. For the next several years, brand refurbishment needs to be at the core of Nigeria's foreign policy objectives: Aggressive re-advertising of the country's image should be one of the top priorities of foreign embassies and missions.
There are numerous Nigerian intellectuals in the best schools, institutions, and corporations around the globe who, in the aftermath of the country's derailment, cowered into seclusion. Nigeria, through its foreign embassies, should identify, contact, and consult these individuals for the purposes of re-branding and national development. The country would be doing itself a great disservice if it excludes the input of its talented foreign-based citizens from its long-term policy planning. The many Nigerian professionals who were forced to flee the country for economic reasons remain an extremely valuable resource that should be harnessed.
The Nigerian government needs to get out of the way. Its direct involvement in the generation and distribution of power, the provision of telecommunications services, the distribution of fuel, etc., is one of the primary reasons for the pathetic state of the nation's economy. Even the United States, with its huge and vibrant private sector, has detractors who argue that its government is too intrusive. It is widely known that governments all over the world are not exactly models of efficiency. The current efforts towards privatization in Nigeria are in good stead and should continue more aggressively.
While the government should disengage from the provision of telecommunications and other services, it would be imprudent to hands off completely. A public monopoly, while inefficient, is, arguably, preferable to a private one, given that the former usually subsidizes the provision of its services to the populace. The Nigerian government should maintain some measure of regulatory supervision while operating at an appropriate abstraction level in order to preclude bureaucracy-induced ills. In the telecommunications sector, for example, policy controls, such as the insistence on the provision of "Universal Service," the prohibition of cross-subsidization, and the enforcement of antitrust laws would likely be required to ensure level economic and geographic playing fields. A lesson can be learnt from the United States: In 1934, when AT&T was the only provider of telecommunications services in the U.S., the Federal Communications Act was signed into law. One of the primary regulations that the U.S. government imposed was that of "Universal Service." This meant that AT&T could not pick and choose what markets it wanted to provide telephone services in: If it provided service in the urban dwellings of New York or Philadelphia, it had to do the same in the bucolic settlements surrounding Billings, Montana. This line item is the primary reason why the U.S. currently enjoys a 99 percent penetration rate of telephone service: the very platform that has enabled the permeation of access to the Internet in American homes and businesses, and the rebounding of the U.S. economy. Again, bear witness to the benefits of long-term strategic planning.
While it retreats from prominence, the government also has an important role to play in optimizing the context and environment in which the private sector operates. Appropriate laws should be enacted to protect Nigerian companies from foreign competitors, especially as local markets are being opened up to outside investment. Tax incentives should be given to small businesses. The bureaucracy at the ports and government-controlled agencies needs to be removed to facilitate friction-free business transactions. In order to protect local software entrepreneurs and foreign investors, the government should formulate a policy to discourage software piracy and enact laws to punish offenders. Intellectual property laws should be promulgated to secure foreign companies who invest in the country. Nigerian software entrepreneurs should be encouraged and supported with low-interest loans and other incentives. Given the impending shift of economic wealth to the private sector, the government also needs to improve its taxation system in order to ensure some evenness in the distribution of economic growth. With the likelihood of further decreases in revenues accruing from oil and other mineral resources, and simultaneous increases in privately sourced wealth, the government must optimize its tax-collection systems in order to generate revenue for social programs. Tax rates should be carefully chosen such as not to impede economic growth, yet to be sufficient to fund government initiatives.
The Information Age would not have the envisioned critical-mass impact on Nigeria until the country's infrastructure is revamped. In particular, the power grid and the telecommunications network need to be upgraded or replaced. Wireless base-stations and systems need to be installed. Again, if these measures are going to be implemented by private interests, some amount of regulatory control would be needed. The wireless spectrum would need to be managed carefully in order to preclude congestion. Parts of it can even be auctioned out, as it is the case in the United States, to provide alternative sources of revenue for the government. While overhauling its underlying infrastructure, Nigeria should also promulgate a formal policy to develop a new "National Information Infrastructure," targeted at providing narrowband and broadband telecommunications services to its citizens. The country should monitor the pulse of satellite development programs like Teledesic and "Iridium" and position itself to take advantage of the economies created thereof. Committees should be formed specifically to work with foreign governments and high-tech firms to advertise the opportunities that Nigeria offers with its scale and volume. Policy measures should be put in place to attract investment capital for the construction of Nigeria's new wired and wireless telecommunications networks.
Information technology development plans in other Third World countries should be studied in lieu of devising similar policies for Nigeria. Singapore, especially, is widely touted as a model for developing countries making the transition to a digital economy. A core part of Malaysia's "Vision 2020" plan is the wiring of its "Multimedia Super-Corridor" (MSC), a high-speed telecommunications system scheduled to open soon. The MSC will help transform Malaysia from an industrial economy to an information economy. Taiwan has a "National Information Infrastructure Project," whose sole aim is the digitalization of the country's economy and infrastructure. Korea has also begun a similar information technology initiative. The Philippines has developed a "National Information Technology Plan" with the goal of transforming the country into the "knowledge center of Asia." Clearly, there is a pattern here. Nigeria must, without further delay, begin to formulate and implement its own national policy for information technology.
The debased state of Nigeria's capital projects clearly indicates our ineptitude at maintaining our national infrastructure. The nation's power plants, telephone networks, refineries, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, and national monuments are all in a state of disrepair. Any policy for rebuilding the existing infrastructure or erecting replacements, without a formal recognition of the lack of accountability and a maintenance culture, would be severely flawed. A national maintenance policy needs to be drafted and localized in every sector of the economy. Government-awarded contracts need to be supplemented with maintenance clauses. Aggressive privatization of state-run monopolies would stimulate this process.
As we head into the 21st century, the increasing value of intellectual capital makes it imperative for Nigeria to make long-term strategic investments in rebuilding and enhancing its educational systems. Its great secondary and tertiary institutions, erstwhile factories of intellectual leadership, have been desecrated and need to be reinvigorated. Lesser-known schools, which have been strewn over the land in volumes yet currently serve only to sprout or regurgitate mediocrity, are also in dire need of therapy. Pedagogical emphasis must be placed on computers, math, programming, and other software skills. A commitment to long-term research and development in computer-science should be an intrinsic part of long-term policy on tertiary education. The universities must be properly funded with some focus on software engineering. A "National Information Technology Foundation," similar to America's "National Science Foundation" should be created to fund computing projects in Nigeria's institutions and research laboratories. In order to stimulate innovation, awards and grants should be given annually to top-notch professors and students in the research community. Partnerships between the government, universities, and industry should be developed and nurtured . Given the historical imbalance in gender-based representation in the classrooms and fields of science and technology, the government should also encourage the participation by women in the information technology sector.
Nigeria should build a new technological institute of first-class pedigree, similar to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), whose sole role it should be to generate technical talent of the highest quality . This institute must have a brand that declares its specific focus, free of dilution. It must be equipped with state-of-the-art computer and communications facilities, and must have direct high-bandwidth access to the Internet. To preclude government interference that comes with the territory, funding should be generated via private channels. In the long-term, several campuses should be built - in order to increase the output volume while still preserving the institution's elitist status and the sacredness of its brand. Joint educational programs should be developed to ensure that the school collaborates and stays in touch with top-notch computer-science universities in the U.S. and around the world. Formal marketing programs should be initiated in the catchment areas of high technology in the United States: Silicon Valley, Seattle, Austin, etc. Companies in these mass centers should be made aware of the existence of high-quality intellectual capital in Nigeria. The marketing of the institution should be directed at making its name synonymous with a mill of superior technological and software talent. In addition, its advertisement should be consistent with the re-polishing of the Nigerian brand. Obviously, as is the case with any new product, service, or institution, it will take time for the school's brand to earn credibility. However, a focused long-term strategy aimed at achieving incremental increases in brand awareness, with periodic milestones, would accomplish the desired objectives.
In the long-term, the technological institute should be the source of intellectual information technology leadership in Nigeria. In this respect, the institute's educational policy should be aimed at ensuring that over the next few decades, a subset of its graduates would pervade the upper echelons of Silicon Valley and Corporate America. This would provide them the fiscal and intellectual ammunition necessary to compete more effectively on a global scale. These citizens would also be good ambassadors for the country in the digital capitals of the world. Furthermore, they would be able to encourage more foreign investment in Nigeria through their direct contacts with high-tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The planting, in such fashion, of "intellectual moles" in the global headquarters of digital commerce would prove to be extremely strategic to Nigeria in the long term. In light of this, these workers should be afforded the tools - for example, the option of dual citizenship - they require to straddle the islands of the global economy with ease, and, eventually, to re-invest the knowledge they would have acquired back into the country.
In parallel with the development of the elitist institution, a high-volume strategy, with emphasis on software, should be employed in order to facilitate the recreation of the Nigerian middle class. Existing universities should be marketed to high-tech companies around the world. The government should develop outreach programs to advertise the opportunities of the Information Age to its citizens. Training and certification programs, like the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), should be subsidized or provided for free on the basis of need. Training centers for programming and other software skills should be erected with private support and investment. Programming books, magazines, and journals should be provided at affordable costs with the help of private grants and investment capital from high-tech companies in the United States: High-volume discounts can also be negotiated with publishers abroad. This would ensure that Nigerian software developers remain in touch with the latest technologies and trends in the industry. National and state libraries should be properly equipped and new ones built, specifically targeted at information technology. The application of all these measures would produce battalions of qualified Nigerian programmers and web-site creators. Going forward, the omnipresence of computer literacy and sophistication should be the primary objective in Nigeria's technology policy. In concert with brand marketing, these initiatives would put Nigeria in very good stead to be a leading exporter for intellectual capital and software services in the 21st century. In synchrony, revamping the country's infrastructure would decelerate the brain-drain scourge that has plagued the country over the last several decades. With the proper telecommunications infrastructure in place, Nigeria's intellectual capital could be exported while its workers remain resident in the country.
Nigeria should also develop a digital "mini-city," akin to America's Silicon Valley, which would be the country's crater of high-tech intellectual power and commerce. Again, this should be funded largely with private capital and foreign investment and should be advertised to high-tech firms around the world as a center in which they can set up subsidiaries -- free of government-induced clogs -- with all the benefits of economies of scope. To generate more economies, the government could consider subsidizing the center with the collaboration of neighboring West-African countries. However, such a policy should recognize the attendant risks: Nigeria's strategic regional leadership and competitiveness must not be compromised as a result.
In recognition of the criticality of the Information Age and its potential impact on Nigeria, a "Federal Information Technology Commission" should be established. This body should be charged with formulating and implementing Nigeria's long-term information technology policy. It should be very well funded and supported, and should be given the necessary latitude to execute its policies, free of undue red tape. The mechanics of its interaction with existing ministries should be explicitly defined in order to preclude bureaucratic contention. The organization should be comprised of intellectuals with expertise in germane fields: computer-science, engineering, economics, education, business, and public policy. Long-term technology policy devised therein should be carefully coordinated with strategic educational and economic initiatives. In addition, a "Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee," comprised of members of the private sector and academia, should be incorporated to provide direct and complementary policy guidance to the executive branch .
Once the national information infrastructure is in place, the Nigerian government needs to exploit it in order to improve the efficiency of its own operations. Internal networks, databases, web-sites, and other software should be erected to effect the replacement of the piles of files and papers that currently congest or litter government offices. E-mail services should be installed and used as the primary means of inter-departmental and inter-ministerial communication. In the long-term, this would save costs, as it would reduce the need for cars and travel. Accounting software should be installed to automate billing services. The use of electronic clearinghouses would cut the time and cost it takes to distribute government reports.
As the erection of a national information infrastructure has major implications on national security, encryption should be carefully regulated to ensure that the advanced telecommunications networks are not violated for the purposes of coups, terrorism, fraud, or child-pornography. The information infrastructure needs to be carefully engineered and compartmentalized to guarantee strategic redundancy and locality in the event of threatened compromise. Privacy and cryptographic laws should be formulated and enforced: The government must have the necessary access it might require to track criminal and terrorist organizations. However, in doing so, it must be careful to ensure that its law-abiding citizens' privacy and civil liberties are not violated as a result.
Given the caste stratum of the intellectual capital that would be of value in the Information Age, precautionary measures would also need to be put in place by the government to ensure that the lower class is offered some measure of protection. The advent of the Information Age would necessitate "trickle-down economics," wherein the lower class would, essentially, be at the mercy of the bourgeoisie classes. While this has traditionally been the character of most Third World economies, Nigeria still needs to erect proper policy structures to ensure that it does not lead to an even more unhealthy level of inequity in the distribution of wealth and opportunities.
Arguments on the composition of the polity should recognize the continual devaluation of oil as a strategic resource. I posit that voluminous human resources of high intellectual capacity would, in contrast, become the primary tools of 21st century commerce. Long-term regional political strategies might soon be rendered obsolete. The constitution-shapers and policy-makers need to internalize these fundamental changes. Those Nigerians who might be tempted to cavalierly call for the country's disintegration must recognize the benefits of scale and volume in the digital age. Indeed, one could make the argument that Nigeria should, like the member nations of the European Union are doing, tear down the economic boundaries between it and its neighbors in order to create more scale economies. However, before such a policy is pursued, it must have clauses that would guarantee the preservation of the nation's sovereignty.
The private sector, its constituents, and other members of society also have a role to play in transforming Nigeria into a digital economy. Businesses should make strategic investments in technology in order to improve their productivity. Nigerian companies should install "Digital Nervous Systems" to improve communication with their customers, partners, and employees . Expense reporting and other mundane chores should be automated with web-sites and software. Achieving a "paperless office" should be one of the primary objectives of information technology initiatives in Nigerian businesses.
Graduates of Nigerian universities
need to recognize the opportunities the Information Age presents and
their career choices accordingly. They need to proactively acquire the
skills that are most relevant in the digital age: software development,
database programming and management, web-site design and creation, etc.
They need to train themselves through self-study and formal instruction
programs. Parents need to encourage their children to learn software
and to study computer-science. Obviously, the country would still
doctors, lawyers and chemical engineers. However, to accelerate the
rehabilitation, the slant of the distribution of career prodding should
be directed towards information technology. The Nigerian media should
help in creating awareness of the opportunities offered by high
Its constituent arms should assist in the authorship, creation, and
of editorials and programs to advertise the benefits of choosing
in the computer industry. Nigerians that work in the oil industry and
been laid off should pursue opportunities in the technology sector.
Nigerians in the high-tech industry also need to establish networks
themselves. This is exactly how the Indians and the Chinese have
the nooks of high-tech Corporate America. Microsoft alone has over a
Indian programmers and testers. Nigerians in the high-tech field need
create opportunities for each other in similar fashion. Nigerians
should aim at having at least five hundred high-tech workers in Silicon
Valley and its brethren in ten years.
Nigeria has lost its soul. That is probably the tersest way to summarize the decay that has inflicted what could easily have been one of the greatest countries on the face of the Earth. The country, with its unlimited potential, has been looted into penury. The future looks very bleak, even to its most upbeat citizens. Indeed, many would argue that the country never really existed and was merely an artificial experiment that failed miserably. For many of its peoples and admirers, emotional detachment has been the safe course to take in order to avoid complete insanity.
Still, the diversity of the country's resources and a tectonic change in the foundation of the global economy should give reason for some optimism. The nation's potential for highly skilled intellectual capital, arguably the most valuable commodity of the Information Age, remains largely intact. With its low barriers to entry and relatively trifle capital investment requirements, software talent, products, and services could become Nigeria's leading export in the 21st century. The nature of technology, with its huge scale economies, provides Nigeria with an immense opportunity, at comparatively low cost, to rebuild its economy. The economics of advanced technology, coupled with the abundance of investment capital and the current lassitude in competing emerging markets, also offer Nigeria an opening for reincarnation.
Given the current focus of many Nigerians on the need to reorganize the architecture of the polity, the geopolitical impact of the Information Age on the country cannot be overstated. With the incessant cyclical depreciation of oil and the increasing valuation of skilled human resources, erstwhile region-centric political calculations might be antiquated. This phenomenon needs to be factored into any long-term planning of Nigeria's political structure.
Before commencing any significant
programs, Nigeria's primary political focus should be on ensuring that
the country's internal structure, culture, and leadership promote,
than stymie, national development. The soul of the country needs to be
raised from the dead. Its value scale needs to be re-calibrated. Its
needs to be rebuilt. Only then can any long-term strategic initiative
on any measure of relevance. Once a re-optimized polity is firmly in
Nigeria should make the Information Age the seed of its strategic
planning for the 21st century. Properly regulated emphasis
repairing its brand, privatization of its state-run enterprises, fixing
its educational systems, and generating phalanxes of skilled high-tech
workers would set the country on the road to rebirth.
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