There should probably also be an aggressive awareness campaign to inform the youth about the numerous opportunities on the internet for education, skills acquisition and indeed jobs. Perhaps a second initiative should be to do something about making data cheaper or free. For instance, it is probably more optimal to invest in free wifi spots than libraries at this time.


Scale-up the Digital Economy

The importance of the internet for job creation cannot be overemphasised. Making data, which 116 million Nigerian internet users (about 60 per cent of the population) currently buy expensively, cheap or available for free at ubiquitous wifi hotspots is a simple way by which the authorities could easily scale-up the digital economy. The ministries and parastatals of the federal, state and local governments should all have free wifi hotspots in their various buildings and locations. Instead of sometimes meaningless and self-serving corporate social responsibility initiatives by the private sector, companies could instead make free wifi hotspots available to the extent that they could across the country.

If the labour ministry is tasked, in tandem, with a massive public media campaign on where to find opportunities for digital skills acquisition and abundant digital economy jobs and opportunities to apply them to afterwards, many young Nigerians, who currently engage in fraudulent digital economic activities (“Yahoo, yahoo”, in local parlance) could be diverted towards positive and value-adding activities in the digital economy.

Recent research by Jonas Hjort and Jonas Poulsen in the American Economic Review, a highly rated academic journal, titled, “The arrival of fast internet and employment in Africa” shows how the arrival of submarine cables to various African countries increased employment and productivity. There were new firm entries into South Africa, for instance. And because fast internet infrastructure enabled firms to sell their wares abroad much easily, exports increased. And in Ethiopia, improved firm-level productivity was observed. This is not surprising, considering that employees were able to get real-time on-the-job training without having to travel abroad and so on. And these are just examples of how the internet has enhanced local legacy industries.

But tech and the internet are also creating new industries that could very well help Nigeria and other African countries to leapfrog easily into services. In this regard, the experience of India is instructive. Of course, the downside to this is that the services sector tend not to be as labour-intensive as manufacturing. But put together, with the suggestions for building our industrial base, the combined effort could easily reduce the employment rate by more than half.

Nigeria could easily be a talent factory; technology talent, especially. One of the abundant resources we are endowed with as a country is people. Intelligent people. And it is one thing that does not require too much hard infrastructure to develop for what is an increasingly global digital economy.

Raise power tariffs, create free wifi spots anywhere and everywhere. Together with an imminent boom in the petrochemicals sector via the Dangote et al. refinery, we could be telling a very different but very positive story in just about three years from now.


How do I mean? You may wonder about the poor quality of our educational institutions, for instance. True, this is a constraint. But increasingly less so. How so? Anyone who genuinely desires a good education can avail him- or herself of the abundant resources online. It then means that the priority of government should be to ensure that basic education at the primary level is of high quality, available and compulsory for everyone. As most Nigerians already know how to use a smartphone, regardless of their education level, it is relatively easy for them to get access to these online educational resources, if they choose to.

What if they cannot afford data to browse the internet? That is where government comes in. Whereas in the past, the poor went to the library to avail themselves of educational resources, the internet is now where they would be able to similarly do so in today’s digital economy. So the authorities should make available free internet/wifi/hotspots across the country for the poor for such purpose.

There should probably also be an aggressive awareness campaign to inform the youth about the numerous opportunities on the internet for education, skills acquisition and indeed jobs. Perhaps a second initiative should be to do something about making data cheaper or free. For instance, it is probably more optimal to invest in free wifi spots than libraries at this time.

As we are well aware, a sizeable portion of Nigerians now have smartphones; purchased brand new or used. The current number ranges from 25-40 million smartphone users. One forecast (Statista) I am privy to suggests there could be more than 140 million smartphone users in another five years. If a diligent citizen has a smartphone, and the knowledge on where to find productive resources on the internet, surely such a citizen should not be handicapped by not being able to afford data to browse the internet.

These are relatively easy things to do. Raise power tariffs, create free wifi spots anywhere and everywhere. Together with an imminent boom in the petrochemicals sector via the Dangote et al. refinery, we could be telling a very different but very positive story in just about three years from now.

Rafiq Raji, a writer and researcher, is based in Lagos, Nigeria. Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji