In recent years Nigeria has developed into a major market for ICT firms of all stripes. With a population of nearly 170m people – more than a third of whom subscribe to mobile internet services, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission – the country is the largest potential market for ICT products in Africa and one of the fastest-growing in the world. The number of mobile internet subscriptions more than doubled from 30.9m at the end of 2012 to 64.2m at the end of 2013. With these figures in mind, ICT multinationals have moved in en masse in recent years. The local software, hardware and internet segments are dominated by major foreign players, including heavyweights like Google, Microsoft, Dell and Samsung.
Nigeria’s indigenous ICT sector is small by comparison, though it has begun to show signs of growth. Globacom, the sole Nigerian mobile network operator, is perhaps the highest-profile indigenous ICT company. Over the past half-decade a number of other firms have sprung up in digital media distribution, online advertising and data storage services. Encouraging Nigerians to develop more local content is one of the government and the private sector’s key priorities. “The internet needs to have some local content, something that should be an integral part of our everyday lives,” Juliet Chiazor, Google’s Nigeria country manager, said at a conference in June 2013. “The level of creativity we find in the marketplace is very exciting.”
Many ICT multinationals have worked to boost local content production. Microsoft has launched a Nigeria-focused online portal, MSN Nigeria, which features domestic news, entertainment and sports. Similarly, in mid-2013 Google hosted the Share Your Nigerian Content conference, which saw the company facilitating the uploading of thousands of hours of Nigerian content to video-sharing website YouTube.
Additionally, Microsoft, Google and a variety of other ICT players support the Co-Creation Hub (CCH), a nonprofit ICT incubation centre in Lagos. Since its launch in 2011, the CCH has supported a number of Nigerian entrepreneurs in developing mobile applications and similar products. For example, the hub was home to a team that developed Jobs in Nigeria, a jobs-listing website and mobile platform that was downloaded more than 100,000 times in its first year.
The privately owned Wennovation Hub has taken a different angle, providing financing and expertise to existing start-ups in exchange for equity. It also oversees a programme to support young entrepreneurs through training and by connecting them to sources of funding. The Wennovation Hub has been involved in several projects, including Valleybits, which facilitates event planning, and OTG Playa, a digital media distribution platform aimed at low-income populations.
The Federal Ministry of Communication Technology (FMCT) has also unveiled a spate of initiatives to develop local content. The IT Development Entrepreneurship Accelerator (iDEA) was established by the National IT Development Agency in April 2013, with a mandate to provide an “enabling environment that will assist the software entrepreneurs or start-ups to create successful businesses”. Local entrepreneurs accepted into the iDEA programme receive training, access to software and development tools, use of facilities at an iDEA Centre, and access to finance and marketing. While the iDEA programme is currently funded by the government, the state plans to shift towards private and operational financing by 2016-17.
In conjunction with iDEA, the FMCT recently established the Techlaunchpad programme, a public-private partnership initiative under which ICT entrepreneurs will be mentored by ICT managers from major companies. Firms that have signed up to participate in the first phase include Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil, Access Bank, First Bank and Accenture. Finally, in 2013 the FMCT launched the IT Innovation Fund, a $15m venture capital fund that will finance local software developers and start-ups. While the scheme was established by the government, the fund will be managed by a private fund manager from a major local financial institution.