#TwitterBanInNigeria: The Third Party and the Third Sector


It is important to situate the debate around the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter within the context of ongoing conversations between many countries and social media platforms. The hot topic of social media regulation is understandable because of the twin issues of disinformation (“fake news”) and dangerous speech (“hate speech”) but to avoid creating more problems in the name of solving same, every sensible country where these regulation conversations are happening has benefited from parliamentary oversight, judicial interpretation and citizen participation. Nigeria took a radically different approach with the Buhari-led government’s reckless action on June 4, 2021, when it ordered telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers to cut off access to Twitter in the country.

While much of the focus of the ongoing debate has been on Twitter and the Nigerian government, there is a third party we need to pay more attention to — citizens. As courts are now beginning to consider cases brought before them on the suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government, we must be clear about this: citizens are not going to court to defend a company, they are asking courts to defend their human rights. Citizens are not in court to defend a company against their nation but to defend their fundamental right to speak, using any platform of their choice. Citizens are also in court to challenge an illegal “you are directed to” process that is used by governments to clamp down on dissenting voices.

Nigerian citizens, assisted by third sector organisations, are in court for three main reasons. First, it is wrong for the government to cut off the right of citizens to speak up using any platform of their choice. Second, if there is a valid concern, the process of addressing such must be subjected to judicial oversight and not just through a memo asking companies to default on their contract by cutting off access to services. Third, we must challenge the government’s attempt to retroactively use secondary legislation to clamp down on the institutions that support citizen voices.

The conversations between social media platforms and countries are not unique to Nigeria, and in addition to the role played by the judiciary, legislature, and media in various countries that are discussing social media regulation, input from citizens and third sector organisations form a major part of the debate. It is important to set this context because there is more to what is going on in Nigeria; it is not just about social media regulation but the continuation of a clampdown agenda. In 2013, Paradigm Initiative (PIN) sued the Nigerian government when it refused to respond to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request regarding an unlawful Internet surveillance contract. Since then, there have been many attempts to restrict the online civic space through problematic bills that focused on clamping down on citizens rights, such as the Frivolous Petitions Prohibitions Bill, Hate Speech Prohibition Bill, National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, and Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill.

Many of these bills were met with citizen pushback, as were the government’s attempts at backdoor legislation without judicial or parliamentary oversight. At the instance of overbearing ministers, the formerly independent Nigerian Communications Commission and the National Broadcasting Commission repeatedly exceed their regulatory oversight to clamp down on dissenting voices online. This act of targeting the online civic space does not come as a surprise given the role that the Internet, and social media in particular, has played in Nigeria since 2009. Thanks to growth in mobile Internet access, Nigeria added 33 million Internet users in 2009 alone, to achieve 16% Internet penetration, and it instantly became a tool in the hands of citizens who had a lot to say about governance or the lack of it.

Citizens used the Blackberry Messenger platform to speak up and organize protests in 2009 and 2010. Citizens developed a mobile application to monitor elections in 2011. Citizens used Twitter and Facebook, among other social media platforms, to join the #OccupyNigeria protests in 2012. This wasn’t only happening in Nigeria, by the way; in many African countries, online conversations led to offline action. From #YenAMarre in Guinea and Senegal in 2012, to #ÇaSuffit (“that’s enough”) and #LeBalaiCitoyen (“the citizen’s broom”) in Burkina Faso in 2014, Nigeria’s #BringBackOurGirls in 2014, #FeesMustFall in South Africa in 2015, and #GambiaHasDecided in 2016, citizens used social media to hold governments accountable. This continues, as seen through recent citizen-led actions like #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, #CongoIsBleeding, #ShutItAllDownNamibia, #EndAnglophoneCrisis in Cameroon and #EndSARS in Nigeria. The clampdown agenda we are seeing in Nigeria and other African countries is focused on the Internet, and social media in particular, because that is the last standing civic space where citizens have found the opportunity to exercise their rights and fill gaps left by opportunistic opposition political parties.

Nigeria does not have a strong opposition culture because politicians simply use parties as election special purpose vehicles instead of building ideological structures, so the real opposition that can hold the feet of government to the fire is the citizenry, not politicians who are mostly concerned about the political platform that can help them win their next election. This is a reason the online civic space has been under attack by various governments and why attempts at restricting the use of social media are not really about social media regulation, in the sense of creating standards that will solve the problems of disinformation and dangerous speech, but about clamping down on dissenting voices.

Nigerians are the third party in this ongoing debate and when citizens defend their right to tweet, we should not get hung up on the metaphor but recognise that this is simply to defend the right to freedom of expression, regardless of platform. As this debate continues, the third sector has been supporting the third party, as many non-governmental organisations are registered by Nigerian law to do. The third sector is working with the third party to restore citizens’ rights to free speech, using any platform of their choice, and to make sure that the government does not use illegal processes to solve problems.

The twin problems of fake news and hate speech need to be solved, and even though government officials are some of the biggest perpetrators of disinformation and dangerous speech in Nigeria, citizens and civil society organisations have expressed willingness to work with government and other stakeholders to solve the problems while respecting the democratic rights of citizens. The third party, in the ongoing #TwitterBan debate, and the third sector will continue to work together using the opportunity of this misstep by the government to right the wrongs and make sure that Nigeria remains a democratic country that respects citizen rights. This is why all arms of government — Executive, Judiciary and Legislature — must work with the third sector and the third party, in this ongoing debate, to resolve the issues, provide long-lasting solutions to the problems that we have all identified, and ensure that we don’t create a problem while trying to solve another.

The author, ‘Gbenga Sesan, is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion and digital rights through its offices in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University.


We Should All Be Digital Rights Advocates

It was a cold evening in Johannesburg. A few colleagues decided to go for dinner at a restaurant hosting a live band and a short talk. A short talk, before awesome food and amazing music, could hurt no one, we assumed. By the time we got to the restaurant, the short talk was on, so we believed it was only a matter of minutes before we settled down to the evening’s entertainment. We were wrong. The short talk dragged on, and became the night’s big lesson. She talked on and on about diseases and each PowerPoint slide that we assumed was the last disappointed us.

By the time the scientist was done with us, food was no longer interesting and the live band had lost their mojo. As we left the restaurant to book taxis in groups, someone voiced our joint disappointment. “That’s exactly how we sound when we talk about Digital Rights, guys,” another colleague said. He was right. Our passion for a subject we hold so dear keeps us from connecting with the people that need to hear about it the most. So, on behalf of everyone who has added to your lack of interest in the subject of Digital Rights — human rights in this age of phones, computers and other gadgets, — I apologise. As the scientist did to us at that dinner, we have bored you so much that even though we should all be demanding our rights in these complex times, you tune off at Digi…

We live in an age defined by digital. As at the end of 2018, 4.3 billion people were connected to the Internet. During the same period, there were 2.53 billion smartphones and 23.14 billion devices connected to the Internet. Life, work, play and every other interaction we have with the world, is subject to some form of digital tool, platform or solution. Unfortunately, this also means that those who seek to control our lives and participation in public – including political – life can easily focus their attention on keeping us disconnected from these digital opportunities. This is why demanding our rights in the digital age – our digital rights – is important. Beyond protecting our rights for the sake of asserting our humanity, there are also social, economic and other costs to violations. In many cases, money is wasted on equipment and other things by erring governments. As we have seen in many African countries, there are economic losses during clampdowns and lives are lost due to deliberate target of opposition or when citizens get disconnected from emergency services.

A telecommunications company’s SIM registration contractor sold off laptops that still had biometric information belonging to hundreds of Nigerians. A leading public hospital published sensitive information about patients that paid for HIV-related services online. Other data breaches featured airlines, banks, government agencies and more. No one is immune to the violation of rights in an environment that has no protection for citizens and some of these violations cost much more than discomfort. This is why you should care about your rights in the digital environment. From the child whose data is compromised for life to a relative that won’t come home tonight because of something he posted of social media, and the young woman whose innovation may never see the light of day because Internet services were disrupted while trying to submit her entry, the list of possible implications is endless.

A major reason we are seeing more rights violations across Africa is that as more people come online, their opportunity for democratic participation through this new town hall clashes with the ego and self-serving interests of some political leaders who are increasingly learning about the power of the Internet. Fortunately, many of them are beginning to see that the violations they allow today will come back to haunt them when they lose power. Nigerians will forever be reminded of a powerful National Security Adviser who lost his position and suddenly became a human rights activist. Human dignity is very connected to the respect of rights, and in this digital age, it is important to respect these rights. I have good and bad news. Let’s start with the bad: governments who are scared of digital rights will continue to enable violations by either not acting to stop it or perpetrating it themselves. The good: more citizens will get online and become aware of the opportunities for expression. Also, attempts to limit the digital civic space will yield less and less results.

Many years ago, a Nigerian dictator sent an Internet service pioneer to jail to stop the spread of information. Long after his death, he is being discussed online. When Uganda shut down the Internet, the information they tried to keep under wraps exploded because it is impossible to limit free speech in the age of circumvention and resilient networks. Unfortunately, Nigeria just suffered a setback in its digital rights journey because the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill was not signed by the President. If ever there was a time we needed to rise to defend a fundamental right that benefits everyone, it’s now. We should all be advocates of our rights in the digital age. While some may be frontline drafting laws, training, litigating and doing other things, we must all defend in our own little ways. We should all be digital rights advocates.

What every startup must know about tech policy in Nigeria

48 million naira is a decent sum. That was the price quoted for NigeriaAir.ng by a business-savvy Nigerian who registered it on July 18, 2018, a day after the national airline was unveiled. This followed the mistake by government handlers of Nigeria’s proposed national carrier that was expected to commence operations in December 2018, but is yet to take off. At the time, I tweeted that the registrant could face a jail term and/or pay a fine to show a legal blind spot.

Unfortunately, that blind spot remains today, and can be seen in the many reactions to regulatory bottlenecks that have reared their heads between July 2018 and now. Some laws may be unfair but laws remain the system of rules that guide behaviour, and anyone whose daily grind and intended success will be subjected to such rules must pay attention. The dust of the NigeriaAir.ng case has now settled but some real issues remain.

That it was a surprise for many people that a business-savvy individual could face such punishment based on provisions of the Nigeria’s cybercrimes law, points to a major problem. You can’t afford to be ignorant of the law in your domain of expertise, especially in a country where laws are mostly government revenue traps. Another challenge is the complete lack of interest in going beyond individual cases, such as the NigeriaAir.ng domain name debate and recent law affecting ride-hailing startups, to look at the importance of policy to startups. In this article, I share three major lessons every startup must learn about tech policy in Nigeria.

KnowledgeIgnorantia legis neminem excusat. Ignorance of law excuses no one. Startups must get familiar with the legal environment where they do business and intend to grow. If they don’t, they could force investors (who care about legal environments) to ignore them. Issues around tech and law must not be left until you are bigger and can afford a Government Relations Lead or Policy Wonk in Residence. Show interest, listen when experts discuss, seek counsel from people who can guide you, build expertise within your team and stay on top of this compliance aspect of your game. You don’t want to build the best product or service only to find out that you can’t make your launch date from behind bars. Yes, there are those of us whose job it is to work for a better environment — to make sure government either gets out of the way or works for innovation over clampdowns — but please don’t get into trouble while we are still fighting necessary battles.

Involvement: The only way to prevent bad laws is to make sure they don’t become laws. Working with others who have shown similar interest, you can make your opinion known about those potential laws while they are still under discussion. Write an opinion piece, attend a public hearing, support organisations working to stop bad bills, or just do anything within your legal rights to make sure that bad bill doesn’t get signed. For example, the notorious Anti-Social Media Bill died because people acted but our failure to stop Section 24 of Cybercrime Act 2015 from remaining vague has had repercussions including jail time, court cases or unfortunate clampdown affecting numerous journalists/bloggers. Paradigm Initiative and partners are still in court over the worrying provisions of the Cybercrime Act and though our case has been thrown out twice, we are preparing for what could be a final decision on the matter, at the Supreme Court. It should not be Paradigm Initiative or Enough is Enough Nigeria or Media Rights Agenda alone, we should all be involved.

Proactive Action: Knowledge and involvement are good but we must shape policy to avoid fire brigade responses to each incident. In fact, what I am saying is that we must all become policyshapers if we don’t want to end up with lame laws. After many years of fighting for digital rights because of vague laws and outright abuse of privilege, I drafted the Internet Freedom Declaration for Nigeria in 2013. With support from partners in civil society and a willing sponsor in the House of Representatives, that seemingly useless document morphed into the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill that was passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, and made it to the President’s table earlier this year. It wasn’t signed into law then but has now gone through first reading at the House of Representatives with the help of a new sponsor. If something worries you that much, take proactive action. Do something about that policy proposal now, before it becomes an impediment to your business growth. Or ecosystem survival.

The sexy side of things shouldn’t be the sole focus of startups. There are other issues like pipelines (capacity building) and policy that must get your attention if you are building something that will be here when many fads join others before them in historical archives. If there was ever a good time for tech startups to know more about tech policy, get involved and take proactive action, that time is now!

Huawei Shows What’s Possible With Technology As Force For Good

by ‘Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative

Da8zCEOUMAEp38vAs a guest of Huawei at the 2017 World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, I ended up learning more about the company owned by 90,000 employees. Later in the year, in September, following another invitation from Huawei, I joined other experts to discuss digital inclusion and sustainable development in Africa at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. At the Forum, I saw the other side of Huawei’s work that touched on digital inclusion, and that resonated with me considering Paradigm Initiative’s own interventions in Nigeria’s Aba, Ajegunle and Kano. It was only natural that when I got the invitation to join other Key Opinion Leaders at this year’s Huawei Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen, China, I expected the conversation to continue – and it did.

The 2018 Summit focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud, 5G and Internet of Things (IOT), and I had a chance to share my simplified description of the hot topics. In response to the question about the “threat” AI poses with respect to job losses, etc, my response was: “We will be fine. Humans, that is.” This is not the first revolution that humans have had to adapt to and while machines learning how to learn could be tricky, considering the option of being completely locked out of the learning/decision path at some point, technology remains a tool that can be appropriately applied towards development. I described IoT as “Cool things that cool things want to be like when they grow up” because a network of e things than devices will change the way we experience processes.

When I think of Cloud, the words that come to mind are reliable and secure. Or maybe those are the wishes that I have. However, the phrase “getting cheaper” isn’t a wish. Thanks to reliable cloud services, the need for massive – and expensive – offline storage has significantly reduced. A recent comparison of laptops led me to appreciate how easy it is to choose a sleek beast of a machine with only 250 gigabyte of space over one that has 1 terabyte of space but looks like something from a 1984 movie. If 5G doesn’t bring “fast” to mind, talk to anyone who has seen it in action. The Summit presented another opportunity for Huawei to both show off what it’s been up to and demonstrate how the advances in technology are sexier when they are a force for good.

Da82GmnVMAAgd5iEric Xu, Huawei’s Rotating CEO and Deputy Chairman of the Board, discussed Huawei’s new vision, Artificial Intelligence and more during his opening presentation. Hear him:

“Huawei is committed to making this intelligent world a reality and extending the benefits of digital and AI to every person, home, and organization. We are working to make the value of digital and AI accessible to all, whether it’s in life, work, education, or fitness. In this fully connected, intelligent world, all people will be more empowered. For example, with connected smart helmets, blind people can move around with complete freedom. Smart translation services will remove language barriers. AI-powered cameras will allow inexperienced photographers to create masterpieces. In this fully connected, intelligent world, home life will become more fulfilling: There will be a diverse array of home services such as robots for at-home healthcare and education. Ultra-broadband and AR/VR technology will make holographic communications possible: No matter where you are, your family will be within reach. In the intelligent world, organizations will become more innovative. Businesses will deliver scalable, customizable products to meet unique user needs.”

Da82C0zUwAApvHcHuawei’s Global Industry Vision (GIV) 2025 was also a highlight of the Summit. GIV 2025 describes a future where the role of smart devices and smart robots will evolve from being just a tool to being an assistant. The penetration rate of smart assistants is expected to be 90% by 2025, with 12% of homes having smart service robots. And with the assistance of guide robots, the world’s 39 million blind people and 246 million people with impaired vision can live normal lives. On deploying Artificial Intelligence for inclusion, William Xu, Huawei ‎Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, demoed a helmet for the visually impaired, a product that “will soon be on the market”. The demo of a visually impaired person “seeing” the world through AI, and walking the streets, got me excited.

Flora Zhang, Technical Expert (Wireless), spoke about Huawei’s SDG intervention: equalizing mobile connection for all, inclusive/sustainable cities and building green wireless. Huawei discussed its plans to assist the EU achieve its sustainable development goals for 2018, which is targeted at extending network coverage to over 100 million users in rural areas, providing urban networks with high efficient base stations to cut 600,000 tons of carbon emissions. Speaking on progress of the company’s SDG program, Cao Ming, Vice President (Wireless), talked about their project in Nigeria that was originally planned for 10 million people over 3 years but is now being expanded to impact an ambitious 30 million citizens over a 5-year period based on government’s request and expert advice. “The telecom industry is the first to make commitments to the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. Huawei is constantly committed to making the world a better place for everyone. As a member in the telecom circles, we are obliged to bring the world new technologies, including 5G and clouds. It is also our responsibilities to make the world an equal, green and sustainable haven,” he said at the Summit.

DbDlzeUVAAACER2There was a lot of excitement about AI, Cloud, IoT and 5G at the Summit but what stood out for me was the conversation around how these technology opportunities must be harnessed for good. When speaking of Huawei’s PoleStar deployments, Cao Ming revealed that approximately 20,000 square meters of land – almost 3 times the size of a standard football pitch – has been saved because of smart deployment. PowerStar uses AI-based software that can help achieve up to 15% energy consumption reduction which would help save 600,000 tons of carbon emissions in the first year alone.

If there was ever a time for technology companies and thought leaders to maximise the opportunities that cutting-edge technologies provide, that time is now. Huawei demonstrated this possibility at the 2018 Global Analyst Summit that was hosted in a city that itself demonstrates the power of possibilities – in less than 35 years, the once sleepy fishing village became a thriving metropolis considered the gadget factory of the world.

The Company Owned By 90,000 Employees, One Of Nature’s Best Kept Beauty Secrets, And Other Stories From #MWC17

C5qIzP1XEAA4U7tWhen I received the eMail from Huawei asking me to join them as a Key Opinion Leader at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I asked my assistant to reply with a no. My first response didn’t take too long because of the Huawei I thought I knew. In my mind, as with some others, I imagine, the company’s name brings up images of China and since China makes one think of digital rights challenges, any company controlled by the country must be guilty by association. I was wrong, as I’d later find out that not only is the company not controlled by China, it actually has one of the best ownership structures I’ve seen in tech.

C5rJi9wWQAEFWV7After I discussed the invitation with some colleagues and considered the opportunity of using the invitation to ask Huawei and other companies at the Mobile World Congress questions about digital rights, I had a follow-up eMail sent, that stated my willingness to join other Key Opinion Leaders as guests of Huawei at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. A few eMails on logistics and not-exactly-helpful strict Schengen visa rules by the embassy later, I arrived Barcelona for a week of knowledge, meetings and honest discussions.

C5minGjWMAAiGY-At a Digital Transformation Forum held on February 26, Huawei discussed its role as a strategic partner to countries working towards economic and social development. Apart from the impressive research findings and the Seeds for the Future program developing ICT talent in 96 countries and regions, let me quote directly from what I thought was an insightful statement by William Xu, Executive Director of Board and Chief Strategy Marketing Officer of Huawei:

The Global Connectivity Index (GCI) published by Huawei in 2016 reported that for each GCI score point increase a country improved its innovation capacity by 2.2%, competitiveness by 2.1%, and productivity by 2.3%. Operators around the world are in a unique position to invest in these emerging markets to capitalize on huge ICT industry potential, untapped demographics, and national ICT strategies. Huawei is committed to helping operators increase efficiency and drive profitable growth by promoting the sustainable development of emerging markets. We work hand-in-hand with operators to help them identify valued customers, develop valued businesses, and build valued networks. We enable operators to combine industry policy with the utilization of existing network resources, and integrate technological and business innovation. Our goal is to help operators drive new revenue streams and a positive business cycle of service development and network construction. By 2025, we will see 2 billion more people with mobile connections, and another 500 million broadband homes. Our commitment has always been to enable world’s operators to build roads to new growth. Huawei continues to drive its social responsibility to help emerging markets grow by at least 1 GCI point while guaranteeing coverage in times of major world events or natural disasters.

C5qI3KhXQAAMVCvDuring the week, I had a chance to meet with some leaders of the company and what I found out about the company made me wonder why they’re not out there blowing their own trumpet. First, the fact that about 90,000 employees are co-owners – through an employee stock option plan – with the founder, Ren Zhengfei, who only controls 1.42% of the company’s shares, should be a more popular story. Also, I’m surprised that Huawei hasn’t done more to talk about the fact that its suspicious relationship with China was discussed in leaked documents that have now shown their innocence. Of course, no company operating in a tough environment wants to pick a fight with its host but Huawei’s global business will benefit more when the perception of its government relationship is done away with. Even China will benefit from the increased revenue by the company that earned about $75 billion in revenues for 2016, coming as an impressive 32% increase over the 2015 numbers.

C5qI1yTXMAA2m0mC5l-UMlWYAA1oJ3C5mYdWuWUAAFjhgC5mYdtHWMAAv4iNApart from the cutting-edge demos throughout the week, including Connected Drones, robots and 5G Connected Vehicles, Huawei’s ROADS (Real-time, On-demand, All-online, DIY and Social) strategy caught my attention. From its presentation of the new mobile device, P10, to its smart Watch 2 and other services (most of them focused on the Cloud), it is clear that Huawei is positioned to be a major partner with various service providers and countries interested in digital transformation. I will be testing the P10 and Watch 2 devices so expect another blog post on those soon.

C5rA8mtWgAAdN3AC5rA5huXQAEGxxfC5rD_pkWYAA32UOI’m glad I changed my mind join other Key Opinion Leaders as Huawei’s Mobile World Congress guests. Not only did I get a chance to learn more about Huawei and get answers to my questions, I also made new friends from around the world and got to spend some time at Montserrat, one of nature’s best kept beauty secrets.


Microsoft’s Cloud Bet. For Global Good

9 lawyers and an ICT Policy guy walked into Building 34 on Microsoft’s expansive campus in Redmond. It was going to be a week-long workshop to launch the Microsoft Outside Counsel Network for the Middle East and Africa region but it turned out to be much more. New knowledge, exposure to hidden – but existing and important – information, meetings with top executives, visits to experience/visioning/cybercrime centres, virtual tour of data centre, and maybe most importantly, energetic discussions with some of the smartest on the meeting point between Digital Transformation and Law in the region, describe how last week went for me.

From the interactions, discussions on Microsoft’s high-level – and demonstrated – commitment to trust and privacy got me pretty excited. What else do you expect from someone focused on Digital Rights on a continent that appears desperate to scale up violation of the same? Hello, Cameroon! In Paradigm Initiative‘s 2016 Digital Rights in Africa report, we identified 11 countries that shut down the Internet in 2016 and highlighted violations – or policies that allow such – in 30 African countries.

The report also highlighted the role that corporate organisations can play in reducing such violations in the countries where they work, so each time a global technology company emphasises Digital Rights, I want to do the DR dance! I’ve argued that human – including digital – rights is good for business, so it’s great to see companies like Microsoft (and Google, Facebook, etc) commit to rights as a central part of their business model. It could be as invisible as metrics that determine where to do business with governments or as out-there as winning a tough legal battle against a national security agency. Anything that enforces or encourages the rights of consumers – citizens in various countries – has my attention. Microsoft’s commitment to Cloud for Global Good sure has my attention and admiration.

The week in Redmond wasn’t just about rights, it also allowed the 10 of us join the Microsoft team (that did an awesome job at hosting us) to take a peep into tomorrow. Our Microsoft Visioning Centre and Digital Cybercrime Unit visits demonstrated the cutting-edge actions being taken today and what we’ll see in a few years. Any country that is smart knows to embrace the cloud and the many opportunities it offers for digital transformation. I recommend Microsoft’s new book, Cloud for Global Good, to public officials who will surely find relevant opportunities in the 78 recommendations (in 15 policy categories) the book offers. For many African countries, the possibilities that the cloud offers in education and youth employment are not what any sane State should ignore.

It is not just governments that must move with the cloud, the social sector must also align itself with what is now popularly described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our social investment, choice of beneficiaries, evaluation and decision indices must be based on data – which we potentially generate a lot of but don’t do a great job at analysing. At Paradigm Initiative, our digital inclusion work is only able to grow because of the way we gather, process, manage and interpret data from our training centres and program touch points. For our digital rights work, we are only able to respond better because of data management. So, my excitement at Microsoft’s bet on cloud for social good is not just for the fantasy of what nations can do but also the immediate application to the social investments that Paradigm Initiative and other social sector organisations make.

Last week provided me the opportunity to see how Microsoft – and others – are shaping the future of work, life and play through cloud services and I look forward to working with other members of the Outside Counsel Network to influence the delivery of the dividends of a trusted, responsive and inclusive cloud for Africa.

The Funnel Effect in Nigeria’s Education System

First, it was Facebook. And now, it’s WhatsApp. You get added to a group, everyone welcomes you, you’re excited about hooking up with classmates… and then someone drops the bomb: we should go back to help the school, you know. Silence. In some cases, the silence is broken. In all cases, especially those groups set up for the tertiary institution you attended (in Nigeria), everyone agrees that things could have been better. Lecturers didn’t have to play so much God. Lectures could have used some more relevance. The story of how education is increasingly disconnected from the workplace says a lot about why unemployment and unemployability are both on the high side right now — and until we fix today’s student experience, the fate of tomorrow’s economy is pretty certain. At Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, we work to fix this student experience, using ICTs, so that under-served youth can improve their chances — but a foundation of miseducation makes this work a bit more difficult.

In addition to the miseducation that happens within the four walls of many institutions, there is also a funnel effect that condemns many young people to impossible futures, and this takes its toll on the economy too because some education — especially of the flawed variety — adds to the damage of available (wo)manpower. Let me start with the most scary of them all: 30% of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54% transit to Junior Secondary Schools. I wish I made that up. I didn’t. That was UNICEF data before terrorism joined child labour, economic hardship and early marriage for girls to chase more kids, especially girls, out of school. An even more recent Fact Sheet suggests that less than one-third of Nigerian primary school students will proceed to secondary schools — and “the top two factors influencing primary school drop-out in Nigeria are Monetary cost (32%) and Insufficient interest (26%)”.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 17.59.51Working with the more optimistic number, I should not need to suggest what the 46% who don’t make it into Junior Secondary School go on to do but what happens to the 54% that make it into secondary schools? We know, for a fact, that not all of the 54% make it to Senior Secondary School but let the data speak for the results and experience of our children who complete those 12 years of education. Let me call the West African Examination Council (WAEC) to the stand. The  student pass rates for WAEC between 2004 and 2016 are shown below, and if you don’t see the funnel effect in action, then you scare me more than the data. A student is considered to have passed this Senior Secondary School examination if (s)he gets a minimum of credit passes in six (6) subjects, including compulsory Mathematics and English.

2004: 18%
2005: 19%
2006: 9%
2007: 8%
2008: 14%
2009: 26%
2010: 25%
2011: 31%
2012: 39%
2013: 37%
2014: 31%
2015: 39%
2016: 53%

Whichever way you look at these numbers, we should be worried. Even if you work with the best result in years — the 2016 result — we still have some 47% (one of every two students) who are not qualified to proceed to the next stage in their education. If there were vocational education or informal options, the pressure wouldn’t be much, but tertiary institutions tell the next story: only about a third of the students who pass their Secondary School exit examinations and write tertiary institution examinations are able to get a seat in the many schools that dot the Nigerian landscape. But that would be if they all pass, right?

waec-pass-rate-2004-2016According to the Nigerian Universities Commission, we have 40 federal, 42 state and 61 private Universities in Nigeria while the National Board for Technical Education says there are 25 federal, 40 state and 38 private Polytechnics; 17 federal and 19 state Colleges of Agriculture; 23 federal, 2 state and 2 private Monotechnics; 9 federal, 40 state and 3 private Colleges of Health Technology; 19 federal, 110 state and 3 private Technical Colleges; and 22 federal, 47 state and 14 private Colleges of Education. Between them, these 576 institutions have a carrying capacity of about 800,000 (up from 450,000 in 2011, 500,000 in 2012 and 520,000 in 2013), which means only 800,000 of the 1.47M students who wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) in 2015 had a chance at tertiary education. When you consider the fact that most of them don’t bother applying outside universities and polytechnics, you can see the pressure on the funnel better.

By the way, there were 1,493,611 UTME applicants in 2011; 1,503,933 in 2012; and 1,735,729 in 2013. That means only 30% of students who wrote the UTME in 2011 could get a place in our tertiary institutions. That number was 33% for 2012 and 30% for 2013. It grew to 54% in 2015 but that’s still 1 of every 2 students locked out. In summary, only 1 in 2 kids move from primary to secondary school and only 1 of every 2 kids who make it into secondary school have a place in our tertiary institutions. Someone should ask: how about the Open University? Well, the unconventional National Open University, better known for unconventional students like Obasanjo, Awujale, Emir of Bauchi, etc, had 132,000 students as at 2013 even though it said it could potentially handle 1.5 million. Let’s add National Open University’s 77 study centres to the 800,000 spaces in tertiary institutions and we still have much less than 1 million in total capacity, for about 1.5 million students!

There’s the capacity problem. And the motivation problem (why bother with this trouble when you can become a militant or politician and earn way more than your brilliant friends, right?) And the quality problem. And the disconnect problem. Comparing apples and oranges has nothing on comparing curriculum with industry requirements. Beyond all these, there’s also the cram-pass-forget problem. And the dub-a-final-year-project problem. That’s how, among other economy-related reasons, why we ended up with 49.5% youth employment in Q2 2016. There we go again with 1 of every 2 employable youth getting a job. Look at the unemployment and underemployment numbers and fear God. the future.

unemp-q2-2016-info1 unemp-q2-2016-info4These problems can make you bury your head in the sand and thank your stars for an opportunity to send your child to a country where education matters but if they’ll return to — or you’ll live in — the country where 50% drop off at every stage, you’ll be building an island of sanity that will soon be flooded by the waters of insanity all around it. We must do education differently and tackle each stage with deliberate interventions that will change the current outcomes. I don’t know much about the elementary and secondary school stages but the work that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria is doing at the post-secondary level through our LIFE and TENT programs have demonstrated what’s possible. For the tertiary stage in particular, we work with a model that helps students start preparing for post-school life in Year 1 and graduate with more than just a resume. Through the TENT program, we help students build ICT skills and businesses — not just apps or what’s popular — so they can be workplace ready, as skilled employees or business(wo)men in their own right.

Of course, there are many other institutions out there creating dents — and they could all use more support — but nothing helps like a coordinated approach that combines policy, action and partnerships. We have a huge problem on our hands and must act now to slow down the disaster.

Of Zuck’s Visit to Nigeria, Euphoria and Important Lessons

Zuck’s visit to Nigeria is a big deal. With two trips within one week, he helped draw attention to Nigerian tech startups, offered some form of validation for Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, held high-level meetings with the Nigerian government, attended a major tech event hosted by the Presidency for start-ups, and left a strong impression about simplicity. I pity the next Nigerian big man that harasses citizens with security details. Not only will he become meme material, his entire worth will be converted to dollars just to make the point that he has nothing close to the man, worth $54.5B, who walked the streets of Lagos without visible security.

I doubt that anyone can argue with the importance of Mark Zuckerberg’s visit. He sits atop the largest pool of private data in the world, considering Facebook’s announcement that it had 1.71 billion monthly active users as of June 30, 2016 and 1.57 billion mobile monthly active users as of June 30, 2016. China has a population of 1,378,510,000. India has a population of 1,330,430,000. Facebook has a population of 1.71 billion people. Beyond the importance of his visit and the euphoria though, Zuck was simply here to promote his company’s interests, and there are important lessons that must not be lost even as we continue to discuss the importance of Nigeria’s August visitor in September — and maybe over the next few months.

Facebook pulled a major PR stunt to have Zuck visit Nigeria. I can imagine Ebele, Emeka and the rest of the team smiling as headlines — and pictures — continue to pop up all over the place. Of course, the PR stunt isn’t unconnected with Facebook’s Internet.org interest and projects. Following the Indian experience and questions that keep coming for Facebook’s Free Basics project, it’s not surprising that Africa is important to the project. When you combine factors such as population, Facebook use, Internet growth rate (7,415.6% over 17 years is no joke) and the fact that Africa is easier to get into, the Nigerian trip and successful PR stunt make business sense. This is a brilliant business move by Facebook and while no PR can turn what is clearly a business strategy into an altruistic save-the-poor one, Facebook is not the issue. Our failure is.


Source: Internet World Stats

Source: Internet World Stats

Connecting the unconnected may benefit from short-term efforts but sustainable work must be done by governments of respective countries, who must put their money — that they’ve been collecting as special taxes, or Universal Access Funds, — where their mouth is! This has been done before, for mobile telephony, and can be done again, for access. Remember when someone in Nigeria said mobile phones were for the rich and poor people couldn’t afford them? Projects like the Rural Telephony Project suddenly became sexy but it was only when liberalisation and sustainable market practices happened that we saw progress.

Today, almost anyone who wants a mobile phone can get one. Competition is something that net neutrality supports and broadband can become Nigeria’s next GSM through just that, and not necessarily by relying on an half a loaf is better than none philosophy. The target date by which Nigeria seeks to achieve 30% broadband penetration is less than 3 years away and while we’re now at 13% according to the Nigerian Communications Commission, it’s mostly thanks to limited mobile broadband. For reliable broadband, terrestrial infrastructure is king, and the last mile — which is a major problem even though many undersea cables adorn the Lagos coastline — matters.

This is not just about what government must do. A lot has happened in spite of government and I’m glad to see a strong move from dependence on government patronage to real value creation. One generation wasted the opportunity for innovation when it settled for the lazy option of rent-seeking and that is one mistake today’s start-ups must not make. Beyond the validation that visits like Zuck’s bring (a lot more will follow), the ecosystem must focus on real work and collaboration. Don’t wait for validation. Work. It won’t be pretty. It probably won’t enjoy the spotlight all the time, if it ever does, but lay the foundation, and if you intend to — or are fortunate — benefit from it. Visits should move from validation to tech tourism and handshakes. There will be long moments with no external support or euphoria opportunities, and that’s when real work gets done.

Another important lesson is that we must create an environment that allows youth fulfill their potential. You can’t pull down buildings occupied by small businesses one day and talk about creating an environment for businesses the next. You can’t reward militants and politicians more than graduates and expect innovation to be commonplace. This is why I think Aso Villa Demo Day holds some potential to send the right signals. Hopefully, it doesn’t end as a tokenistic PR opportunity but goes on to inform government policy on the ease of doing business, and lays a foundation for thorough engagement.

One final important lesson for me: we want tech rock stars but often forget that innovation and hunger don’t mix well. Once you begin to pay bills, you’re likely to focus less on work and more on returns to pay ’em bills. This is why Paradigm Initiative Nigeria started TENT and why I’d choose spending time with young people who have fallen completely off our radar over also showing up for the pictures 🙂 We need more people investing in schools, and working to catch them young. If they start before 13, there’s a better chance they hit rockstar mode by 30. I’m excited that our first set of TENT students graduate this session, and many of the ideas they started working on in Year 1 are now Final Year Projects. As their colleagues defend 5,000-word dissertations (many of them copied and pasted), they’ll be pitching businesses. Or pitching their skills to potential employers.

Zuck was here. The euphoria is understandable. However, important lessons must be learnt so we move from just hosting rockstars to exporting same.

What Buhari Must Do For The Nigerian ICT Industry

By the time Nigeria’s President said, “I, Muhammadu Buhari, do solemnly swear…” on May 29, 2015, his honeymoon was officially over and expectations from all sectors of the economy – and corners of the republic – soared mercilessly. Nigerians are now impatient and want change, immediately. When the promise of change was being made during the elections, many qualified the word, “change”, with the prefix, “immediate”. Immediate change is what many now expect, and Mr President and his team should have hit the ground running, and must now be working overtime to fulfil promises and meet expectations.

As can be seen from recent reports on the health of economies globally, any nation that gets its Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) act right holds the potential of enjoying socio-economic benefits. There’s a reason why the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) and Human Development Index (HDI) have similar curves. If you plot a graph with NRI on the Y axis and HDI on the x axis, you will see that almost all countries with high NRI are above 0.8 on the HDI scale. It has also been established that increase in broadband access can add up to 0.3% gain to any nation’s GDP. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari must pay more attention to this opportunity, and maximize it. It is safe to assume that the president’s team already has many ICT experts but one hopes that this contribution will add value to existing thoughts and proposed strategies. We cannot afford to continue as a nation solely dependent on the mercy of global oil prices, it is time for us to start defining what the next decades must look like, and we can start with how this government manages the relationship between policy and innovation.

I have often argued that any government that can not work to make sure that policy supports innovation should get out of the way of innovation – and real work – instead of stifling it. The Muhammadu Buhari administration must ensure that policy is weaved around innovation in such a way that instead of standing in the way of those who are working tirelessly to introduce cutting-edge application of ICTs, government encourages innovation. One area where this directly applies is the emerging culture of tech startups in Nigeria, and government must not stand in the way of this potential answer to jobs and innovation but must instead seek to introduce policies that will encourage a Year 1 student in a College of Education to start working on her startup ideas, or at least acquire relevant skills, instead of just waiting to put together a CV as soon as she graduates. School fees are pretty high, even for public schools, so why waste it just to end up on the increasingly long unemployment queue that boasts of every grade of paper with “certificate” written on them?

Governments don’t create jobs, (small) businesses do. If we create the adequate policy environment and support innovation by allowing each student or out-of-school youth that introduces a new tech idea to do their job well, jobs and other economic benefits may follow. As tech startups grow, the need for adequate (wo)manpower becomes increasingly clear. In today’s Nigeria, we have a capacity problem such that even when there are jobs, it is often difficult to find young people who are able to adequately fill the gap. Instead of building (wo)manpower, many of our academic institutions are killing dreams by turning green-horned dreamers into cram-pass-forget students who end up on job queues but with almost no skill. We can turn this around. We must change from mis-educating to purposeful (wo)manpower development. Ongoing efforts in this regard give some reason for hope but they must not end up as paper tigers.

Nigeria has a National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) that can assume the responsibility of working with various stakeholders to lead this process of a time-bound and targeted (wo)manpower development for the ICT sector. We must ask the hard questions: how many people do we need with specific skills or knowledge in the next 10 years? What are the industry needs that (wo)manpower development must meet over the same period? Which sectors of the Nigerian economy can benefit from focused ICT capacity building over the next decade or so? When can Nigeria take leadership positions in pre-defined ICT application areas on the continent? These are the questions that NITDA must ask, set targets with, and then work with the academia and industry to develop (wo)manpower towards.

If we do this well, in the next decade, Nigeria will have adequate (wo)manpower to meet local ICT industry needs and be able to deploy assets towards places of interest where we can both learn and add value. There are problems with the academia, agreed, but if you have seen focused training based on the desire to meet specific objectives, you will appreciate the power of focused learning that has clear expectations. I see this from time to time as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria engages some of the academic institutions that have been condemned as cram-pass-forget centres.

As we develop more (wo)manpower, we must also address the problem of access. With ~46% Internet penetration and about ~12% broadband Internet penetration, majority are cut off from many opportunities. When I wrote on “Keep The Visa, Give Us Broadband!” many years ago, I was speaking to the fact that if we lay the pipes properly, we can afford to build where we are and allow the world come to us instead of jumping from one visa queue to the other, in a race towards better economic opportunities. Now that we have a National Broadband Plan (2013-2018), the Muhammadu Buhari government must build on it and work with the industry to repeat the feat of the early 2000s with GSM. Broadband is the new GSM and we can see aggressive roll-out and increased investments towards faster, cheaper and ubiquitous broadband access over the next 5 years.

For government to work more efficiently with industry and other sectors, it must become leaner and less confusing. In a 2007 report by the Presidential Committee on Harmonisation of Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting Sectors, which predates the establishment of a Ministry of Communication Technology, proposals were made on how to ensure proper ICT convergence in government. It’s time to whip the National Broadcasting Commission in line and get them to allow full implementation of the 2012 ICT Policy approved in principle by the outgoing government. One minister stood in the way of required harmonisation work and that error should now be corrected. Another recommendation that needs to see the light of day is the need to get rid of quasi-government ICT businesses.

President Muhammadu Buhari needs a leaner, fully harmonised and more focused Ministry of Communication Technology to help supervise Nigeria’s much-needed ICT revolution Nigeria must get her ICT act right, and it’s the responsibility of this government to make sure this doesn’t suffer additional delay.

Opening for Social Development Analyst at RemouldNG

RemouldNG is a start-up development consulting firm specialising in qualitative research and analysis in the areas of energy, gender, health, agriculture, and the environment. The firm works to assess the social and economic impacts of technical and policy interventions in the above-mentioned core areas. The firm also conducts primary and secondary research to uncover the factors driving such impacts, given that they are often at variance with the intentions of the public and private organisations tasked with technology and policy implementation.

Our clients span the gamut from international development organisations to national governments, civil society actors, and local businesses. We also work with the intended beneficiaries of development and market interventions to assess their needs and determine how best to channel public and private resources to meet those needs. Our aim is to provide a strong evidence base on which organisations can subsequently build their implementation strategy and ultimately meet the needs of target populations in ways that matter most to those populations.

The firm is now seeking a social development analyst who will work out of Lagos and will be engaged in all aspects of the firm’s work, including research, data analysis, results presentation, and report writing. Specifically, the analyst will be required to:

  • Undergo training in qualitative research methods on the job;
  • Contribute to the development of research and consulting proposals;
  • Participate in the design of desk and field studies;
  • Conduct desk research and synthesise the findings into background reports;
  • Undertake field research within and outside Lagos;
  • Distil the findings of primary research into working papers and final reports;
  • Contribute to the ongoing development of content for the firm’s outreach channels;
  • Assist the principal analyst in all activities relating to the planning, execution and delivery of project results.

The ideal candidate will have the following profile:

  • A bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, geography, or other social science field. A Master’s degree in any of the above-mentioned fields would be an added advantage;
  • At least two years’ experience working on poverty alleviation and international development issues;
  • Excellent writing and oral presentation skills;
  • Ability to work with minimal supervision and to strict deadlines;
  • Willingness to travel within Nigeria on temporary field assignments.

Remuneration will be dependent on the candidate’s skills, experience, and ability and willingness to learn on the job.

How to apply: Please send your CV, along with a 500-word essay on the potential benefits of mainstreaming gender considerations into energy projects, to temi@gbengasesan.com by Friday May 13, 2016.