By Rasheed A ADEBIYI, PhD,arpa
To say that the current Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani, has hit the ground running in driving the core foci of his ministry is an understatement. The man has dazzled stakeholders with his approach to implementing a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder drive at engendering innovation and creating wealth in the digital economy. This move, for a sector still in a state of flux, is a positive sign that the new sheriff in town in the digital economy understands the ecosystem. One of the early indicators of his brilliant moves is the recent release of the 1M Technical Talent Co-Creation Report. The report which was a result of the deliberations of over 40 startups and training providers convened in Abuja to draw up an initial framework that would help the ministry coordinate efforts aimed at not only training 1 million technical talents over the next three years but also assists in the scalability of the initiative.
The report is a robust document identifying 6 different areas of creating an adaptive framework for identifying technical skills, recognizing system and infrastructure gaps, developing a viable and efficient training framework and establishing a framework for talent placements. Other areas captured in the report include a monitoring and evaluation framework and a sustainability framework. These sections speak to the real problems confronting the fostering of innovation and the productive drive for digital-economic prosperity in Nigeria. According to our analysis of a 10-year Global Innovation Index which assess various factors including institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication, and business sophistication in the innovation ecosystem in the countries of the world, Nigeria has not been doing well in the area of knowledge and technology outputs.
Figure 1: Rank per key innovation index indicator in 10 years
Source: Global Innovation Index, 2013-2022, Opolo Global Innovation, 2023
This poor performance is attributed to challenges faced by players in the industry in producing and disseminating innovative knowledge that could have a substantial impact on the economy. So, it is heartening that the intention behind the convening of critical stakeholders in the ecosystem is to create a framework for an ambitious talent identification and skilling programme. The bandwagon effect of a million tech talents’ earning on the Nigerian economy is enormous.
However, as the minister moves ahead in gathering stakeholders’ support and involvement in this ambitious initiative, it is our opinion that the ministry pay attention to the following issues moving forward:
Expanding the Net of Consultation and Participation in the Implementation Route
It is understandable that the report was as a result of an initial consultation and brainstorming session involving startups and training providers. Yet, it is important that the net be widen to capture more players in the sector that could add value to the initiative and ensure its smooth implementation as well as its sustainability. Innovation companies such as Opolo Global are relevant to the scope of issues raised in the report. As the largest operators of innovation hubs, spread across 5 campuses and 2 underserved communities, in Nigeria today, the social enterprise has a diverse and wide experience in delivering innovation across campuses and communities. The company’s focus on digital innovation, skills and enterprise has positioned it to contribute meaningfully to the discourse and serve as a willing partner in the course of implementing this ambitious talent production. The quadruple helix approach of the company has birthed robust collaboration, partnership and presence in educational institutions such as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University; Obafemi Awolowo University,Ile Ife; Bayero University, Kano; Rivers State University of Science and Technology; and Osun State University, Osogbo. This has also given birth to other collaborations locally and globally. In essence, it is our opinion that experienced technology and innovation companies should be brought on board to share experiences working with multi-level stakeholders.
Inter-Ministerial and Agency Approach
Again, it is also important to reiterate the fact that for the initiative to be impactful, the ministry of communication and digital economy needs to loop in other ministries. One ministry that is of utmost essence here is the Ministry of Education. The report identified gaps in curriculum. To plug in the gaps in the educational curriculum across levels in the post-secondary education, there is a need to work with different agencies under the ministry in charge of education in the country. The recent move by the National Universities Commission to expand and review the curriculum in the Nigerian university system could be a low hanging fruit to redesign the university curriculum to accommodate the initiative. There are segments that speak to innovation, venture management and digital skills in the new Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS). The minister should also liase with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE). It would be a good move if the digital skilling could be extended to the primary and secondary schools as well.
Redesign the curriculum but also retrain the implementers
The report alludes to designing a diversified curriculum to take care of the knowledge gap in digital and innovation education. While this is a right path in the right direction, it is also important to include continuous training of the implementers of the curriculum. It is our opinion that no matter how good a curriculum is, it is still a document, So, using it to achieve the aim of this initiative would involve having creative implementers with a growth mindset. This should be part of the report moving forward. We opine that creative implementers are as good as a robust curriculum.
Dovetailing the Initiative to State Level
We submit that the initiative be driven together with sub nationals. However, in doing that, the minister should pay attention to the failure of past initiatives that took the same route. A recent example of failure to coordinate sub national governments in FG-led programmes is the National Start Up Act. The Act is expected to be domesticated by all the 36 state governments for a country-wide impact. Findings revealed that not up to one third of the 36 states have signed up to the Act. Yet, carrying the states along in this ambitious journey is a critical point for national success. We advise that a peer review mechanism should be set up to have an open and transparent framework that would show how states are doing in fostering economic prosperity using the training as a leverage.
A balanced sustainability framework
It is a good sign that sustainability is visibly worked into the report. The report captures six areas of sustainability. These highlighted sustainability measures are good. Still, there is a need to expand the focus of the sustainability plan. Higher Education Institution partnership and private sector commitment are two tiers of stakeholder involvement identified while funding and revenue generation are financially-related sustainability plan. We add that instead of focusing on the Diaspora engagement alone, there is a lot to also get from within the country as well. High Networth Individuals, alumni bodies, town associations, religious groups and others should be involved as well. Our experience in Opolo relating with these groups in the course of fostering innovation across the country is a testament to how effective this approach could be. There are a number of these bodies spread across the country and waiting for their hands to be sought in support.
The initiative of co-creating the 1 million technical talents is a sure way to leverage the potential of the digital economy to empower youths. It is ambitious yet not impossible to achieve. But, there is a need to ensure that a robust framework is put in place to have an initiative that is all-encompassing.
Rasheed Adebiyi, PhD is the Head, Branding & Strategic Communication, Opolo Global Innovation Limited