Nigeria needs chief information officer at the presidency, says Yele Okeremi

Managing Director of PFS, Dr. Yele Okeremi

Dr. Yele Okeremi, the president of Institute of Software Practitioner of Nigeria (ISPON), in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on the need for the country to have a chief information officer (CIO) at the Presidency, He also disclosed plans by the body of software practitioners to engage the startup community among other issues. Excerpts

It appears that the strong advocacy of ISPON, especially for the patronage of local software has gone down.

Also, most software engineers no longer consider it a priority to be a member of ISPON. What is the matter?

I will say the cheese has moved for a lot of people.

First of all, almost the entire country has been centered on government patronage and contracts, but if you look at the younger generation, they are a lot more interested in developing solutions for either private use or the private sector so the perception of value has moved for them.

Secondly, the aspirations of the younger generation are to deliver global solutions so you will realize that they are looking for opportunities in the global space.

More importantly, the ability for young startups to scale with the cooperation of international organizations has become more common with the pervasiveness of the Internet.

So ISPON, being a progressive institute is rediscovering itself to cater for the needs of the teeming new generation of engineers.

ISPON will begin to work in manners that cater for the needs of these bright young minds.

Once we can demonstrate value to them, I have no doubt that they will invariably gravitate towards where the value is being delivered.

Technology leaders in most developed economies work with governments to shape policies in key areas such as skill development, digital economy and businesses. Why is this not so in Nigeria?

My opinion in this regard is the perception of the nation to wealth.

What do we consider as wealth in Nigeria? You will discover that majority of Nigerians still consider money as something that comes out of the ground without having to add any value.

This is the case of pushing a solely crude oil and purely natural resources economy such as the so-called agriculture without processing.

If you take a look at those who are considered to be wealthy in the Nigerian society, you will realize that we do not have so many who are involved in any form of industrialization or indeed value-addition.

You will realize that governments and politicians also like to focus on big spending without necessarily looking at areas where there are great potentials in the economy. So as a country, we are suffering from the Dutch disease.

In truth, you will see country of paradoxes in Nigeria: Where there is abundance of water, yet the people are thirsty.

Take a look at the global results in countries that put thinkers first, the wealthiest people are involved in some form of value creation; particularly in the technology space.

Contrast that to what we have in Nigeria where it may be difficult to know what wealthy people really do for a living.

I am saying that the compensation mechanism in Nigeria is completely warped and needs to be fixed.

It is when we deal with this that we will begin to accord appropriate respect to those who deserve the respect.

As it stands today, our business competitive index is very low no matter what politicians want us to believe.

That is why we see companies from all over the world flooding into Nigeria to come and take over specific industry sectors where Nigerians ought to have occupied.

How many Nigerian companies have we seen go outside our country to become successful and become global?

My take is that government needs to take the lead to fix this negative trend. Government needs to begin a move towards development and not mere statistical rhetoric of growth without development. As a development economist, I can tell you that the most relevant output of government is development.

What are your plans to assist members having one challenge or the other?

ISPON will continue to work hand-in-hand with the management of Systemspecs and other members in similar situation to engage the appropriate stakeholders to ensure the right things are done.

The issue of the debt to Systemspecs is an issue but the bigger issue is the recognition that Systemspecs addressed a major national challenge using a solution that was provided end-to-end by a Nigerian software house.

We appreciate the fact that several innovations have come from Systemspecs.

The fact that a Nigerian FinTech drives the successes of the finance of many businesses and individuals in Nigeria, not just government, is a testament to the greatness of the Nigerian software firms, and it is a plus for ISPON as a body.

With its several innovations, Systemspecs is obviously setting agenda for the Fintech industry in general.

You have once canvassed for the establishment of the office of Federal Public Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Presidency. What would be the role of
such an officer at that level since we have the Minister of Communications?

My position on the office of a CIO General of the Federation remains unshaken.

The office actually is different from the office of the Minister of Communications Technology.

Firstly, we need to understand that the job of a minister is to ensure that the programme that has been set out by the government of the day is achieved by working with the bureaucrats; while the CIO General should be responsible for the technology strategy of the country.

The CIO General should be responsible for harmonization of all government technology initiatives to ensure cohesion and reduce duplication and conflicts.

The CIO-General will be the custodian of all technology deployed by the federal government and part of his responsibilities will include issues like cyber security, and, indeed cyber sovereignty of the country. This should be a career and not a political position.

Tech-focused countries assign national technology projects to local technology companies to empower its indigenous tech entrepreneurship. Why is this not so in Nigeria?

The first question is who are ISPON members? Every company and individual who is involved in software development or business is an ISPON member.

Therefore, I can safely conclude that there is no software project that cannot be successfully implemented by ISPON members in Nigeria.

I think we have not told our success stories well enough in this country and it takes away from the positive narrative of software players.

I dare say that if we tell these stories well enough, there will be a lot more respectability for the software industry.

One of the challenges is that software engineers like to work without even discussing their achievements. This is one of the mandates of the leadership of ISPON.

We have so many successful software initiatives and projects that do not have the right buzz and sponsorship around.

The fact is that there will be project failures but that doesn’t make us a country of failures.

There is no learning without mistakes. We need to learn to become a development-oriented country.

The link between the successful old software firms in Nigeria and the emerging technology startups environment is weak.

This situation has robbed the startup firms of the needed hand-holding. What is ISPON’s plan for the startup community?

This is very true. Indeed, the current leadership of ISPON is working hand in hand with the startup community to ensure a virtuous cycle of wealth creation.

The truth is that the older companies have a lot to learn from the startups.

I have had the opportunity to sit with these young Nigerians and I am always amazed at the competence and wisdom that come from them.

Many of them are a lot more competent than the older generation. What differentiates the older generation is simply time and experience.

Our mandate as the leadership of ISPON is to completely bridge the gap.

If you speak with many of the startups, they did not see value in ISPON until recently because they did not believe in the ways and manner that we have conducted software business in Nigeria.

We will bring the successes of the older companies to meet with the pragmatism of the startups and we hope to create a truly vibrant ecosystem.

Despite the fact that some of your members’ software solutions are exported to several African and Europeans countries, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council did not list any local software solution among over 1,500 products and solutions it is promoting outside the countries.

What is responsible for this lacuna and can it be resolved?

This again speaks to the point I made earlier when I discussed what nations consider as wealth.

IT shows how the government of Nigeria perceives its wealth.

I will like to see the products that are on their promotions list but the fact that we do not have technological products on the list is a sign of government’s perception of software as wealth creator and that’s a big shame.

Your company, PFS, has emerged as one of the most innovative financial software technology firms in Africa. What are your plans to deepen your market shares across Africa?

I will only like to speak about PFS as a notion for national development and significance because I speak on the platform of ISPON and I cannot promote any single company, but my comment is that there are many companies like PFS that are doing great stuff both within and outside Nigeria.

What I realize is that each of these companies has to fight their individual battles because there is no common ground for them to seek support.

ISPON intends to be able to support these companies by providing necessary linkages for them globally.

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