Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tech, World Cup jerseys and Nigerian lawmakers 


tiamin rice

I did a Twitter survey recently to find out if people would invest in a farmer or a tech startup founder? A majority of people opted for the farmer.

I was not surprised; I wanted to gauge the sentiment of people towards early-stage investment in the tech sector.

People believe it is easier to understand what a farmer does than what a technology startup does. Tech is seen as opaque while farming seen as open.

The reality is that there is now more tech involved in farming than people realise.

The largest farm in Nigeria (the Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc) was my very first corporate client in 1994 when we started our company.

Working at Okomu was an eye-opener. We built platforms there at that time that are still useful to similar farms today.

We were lucky to have been given the opportunity by Mr John Whitechurch the former CEO who wanted to empower locals to build software rather than outsource to foreign firms.

It was a significant opportunity that has gone on to create employment years after.

Tech makes every sector better, including the public sector. It is in the application of tech that tech shines and not the technology itself.

We have a massive perception problem with services and technology in Nigeria, and our lawmakers sometimes don’t also help matters.

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Nigerian tech and our National Assembly

I wrote an article here earlier on how tech can help fix our problem with corruption, and one prominent example was Remita built by Systemspecs to support the government in the implementation of the policy of “Treasury Single Account”.

Remita was also dragged all over the press because of National Assembly concerns over their transaction fees.

The National Assembly has a right to seek for more understanding of technology products that are of strategic importance, but I feel the manner the Remita matter was handled left a lot to be desired.

When I see Remita from Systemspecs today, I see all the struggle they put in to build “Human Manager,” their first successful enterprise software product.

I know the quality assurance effort that they put into it to make it world standard and replace software from other global companies at some of the largest corporate entities locally. It was that success that led them to the government.

I saw all that knowledge transferred into a valuable payments product that would be of benefit to Nigeria but the national assembly members only saw that a 1% transaction fee was too high.

The perception created at that time was that local tech products and services should be cheap even when they are of global standard.

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That perception has effectively scared away people who could have contributed their knowledge and products towards improving the public sector.

My company made it a rule not to work on public sector projects after prior bad experiences. The Remita episode didn’t inspire confidence.

Aba vs Asia

Starting my tech journey from Sabo, I have admired Senator Ben Murray-Bruce for a long time as a fellow “Sabo Boy.”

I have always felt he should be doing more to support the services and software industry as he is a pioneer in entertainment-based services also powered by technology.

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I was dismayed when I saw his commentary on the World Cup jerseys when he said:

“Just imagine if those 3 million Nigerian Super Eagles jerseys were made by a firm in Aba rather than Nike. Aba tailors have the capacity to produce them.

We just lost an opportunity to infuse at least $100 million into the Nigerian economy and provide jobs for our youths.”

He further clarified his position that it was about manufacturing not marketing when people indicated that the jerseys were more than sewing pieces of textiles together.

True, Nike doesn’t make jerseys at its base in Europe or America as Senator Bruce said.

It is true also that they are produced typically in Asia, but Aba is very far from Asia when it comes to the technology to create Nike’s quality of products within the time frame required.

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I think we should see this as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to modernise Aba so that Nike would think of them first instead of Asia.

One would also ask why someone like me who benefited from the same opportunity of being selected as a local service provider would find a flaw in Senator Bruce’s argument?

I believe it is about understanding where the current tech opportunities and strengths are.

A case for using Nigerian creatives for Nike’s campaign and design would be much easier to make than an argument for Aba tailors.

It would also send better signal outside for our tech community.

Anakle, a local the Digital Media company recently produced advertising content for Wikipedia’s African campaign. Our digital services are already world class, and Senator Ben Bruce could champion it.

A lot more value and employment could be created more rapidly from digital services than tailoring.

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Nigerian lawmakers seem not to understand or care about the value of product design and intangible digital services yet because they don’t see the strategic importance, they only see the current bottom line.

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