The rise of software developers in Nigeria

Technology is playing a vital role in the transitioning of Nigeria from the sidelines of global economy into the mainstream. This is underlined by the emergence of a technology ecosystem — a growing trend of entrepreneurs, technology ventures and innovation centres.

As the country goes digital, there is the inevitable emergence of entrepreneurial software development hubs, especially in Lagos. Tech hubs such as Co-creation Hub in Lagos are springing up to foster budding tech communities and software developers and equally helping brands in their quest to meaningfully engage with consumers and drive growth. The rise of these tech hubs mirrors increasing interest in software development from the venture community and investors.

Software developers have found application in financial services, payment systems, record keeping, disease detection and health monitoring, data analysis, communications, manufacturing, brand building initiatives and a host of other areas. Fortunately, Nigeria is blessed with developers who are producing software applications that are addressing socio-economic challenges within and outside the country.

For instance, Remita, which was developed by SystemSpecs, has helped the Nigerian government to consolidate and monitor its account with Nigerian banks. This product has helped the Federal Government to effectively manage its finances and reduce fraud.

In addition, Eyowo, a digital product developed by Softcom is at the forefront of driving financial inclusion. It has helped the financially excluded population in the country to receive collateral-free loans of N10, 000 on their mobile devices from the government, as part of the government’s social welfare programme called TraderMoni.

Another locally developed software application that has made waves in recent times is ALAT, a revolutionary Fintech application that has changed the face of banking in Nigeria. ALAT by Wema Bank has led the way in the digital banking space in Nigeria and according to data from the Google Playstore, ALAT has over 100,000 downloads.

The device was named the ‘Best Mobile Banking App’ and ‘Best Digital Bank for 2017’ in this year’s World Finance Digital Banking Awards by the World Finance Digital Banking Awards. Yet it was developed locally by Nigeria software engineers.

But perhaps one company that embodies this technological transformation the most is Andela, a company that identifies and nurturess software developers. The company launched operations in Nigeria in 2014, to help global companies overcome the severe shortage of skilled software developers and has offices in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United States.

Since its launch, Andela has received over 140,000 applications to its Technical Leadership Programme and has trained over 1,000 software engineers, who have worked with global companies including Safaricom, Invision, Viacom, and Skillshare.

For young, college-educated Africans, Andela’s program is in some ways a greater commitment than getting a Master’s degree. The four-year program begins with a six-month on-boarding period, during which time developers learn technical and professional skills in simulated engineering-team environments. They are then placed with one of Andela’s partners, where they hone their skills while building products for a global user base.

This depth of learning, coupled with the prospect of securing a job, has convinced many to choose Andela instead of getting an advanced degree. Wambua Makenzi, 22, was considering a Master’s program in Computer Science until he heard about Andela from a friend.

Meanwhile, Jumia, Konga and MallforAfrica, three of Africa’s most recognised e-commerce platforms were founded by Nigerians. Also, the management of Jumia’s parent company, Africa Internet Group, is a mix of repatriate Africans and MBA types from the US and Europe attracted to the continent’s technology opportunities over software development.

However, the successes of these digital products have been described as a drop in the ocean by stakeholders in the industry who are concerned about the inadequate government support and infiltration by foreign software.

The stakeholders in the information technology industry have identified software development as a very expensive venture that would only thrive with government support.

According to them, without good government policies and enabling business environment to encourage the local software companies, their foreign counterparts will continue to flood the market with software made for Nigeria.

The Chief Executive Officer, Precise Financial Systems, Dr Yele Okeremi, while lamenting the negligence of local software developers in the country, noted that the software development industry had helped many countries to develop their economies.

According to him, entrepreneurs in the industry are only thriving based on their personal efforts.

In order for Nigerian software companies to gain relevance in the country and gain acceptance in other regions, he said government’s support was important.

“If we want to be competitive globally, we should be looking more into the software space, and I don’t see much traction in that space from the government side. Most of the success stories that you hear about are generated by the efforts of entrepreneurs. I still do not see a national strategy or push to becoming self-sufficient or reliant on local software at all,” he added.

Despite government regulation mandating the agencies of government to compulsorily prioritise indigenous ICTs for procurement, the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency reported that local firms had executed software projects of Ministries, Department and Agencies of the government worth N5m from 2018 till date.

Meanwhile, this amount is ridiculous compared to the billions of naira budgeted by government agencies for software procurement.

NITDA also said the local content guideline had resulted in the growth of the purchase of indigenous contents in the public sector.

The agency said the purchase of indigenously-assembled hardware and software in 2018 was a total of 355,647 units compared to 154,424 in the previous year.

The Chief Executive Officer, CWG, Adewale Adeyipo, while speaking at a roundtable on the use of Nigerian software in the financial sector, said for Nigeria to create a viable software ecosystem, it was essential to develop policies that would empower local software companies through investment and establishment of government-owned coding academies.

He cited the example of Rwanda, which built a programming school that allowed its citizens to have access to the best global practice in software development.

The National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, a government agency saddled with the responsibility of registering technology transfer agreements, had observed that 90 per cent of the technologies powering the Nigerian economy were foreign and that for a country to be recognised as a global technology player, it must develop and deploy indigenous technology.


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