Monthly Archives: May 2018

Nigeria: The election season is on

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

They are beginning to come out of the shadows now. I do not suppose anyone is a tad surprised Bukola Saraki is running for president. Mr Saraki, who heads the Nigerian Senate, did not exactly hide his ambition hitherto. And clearly, he has proved to be quite a formidable politician. (Nothing beats a few troubles to test the mettle of a man.) Former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has thrown his hat into the ring as well. Unsurprisingly, Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, has suddenly found his wings. For a man popular (or unpopular) for, amongst other things, his deliberative style, you might wonder about the irony, of course. But lately, there has been a spring in the steps of the ailing former army general. He still would not say whether he is running for re-election; officially, at least. I suppose he reckons we already figured that out from his fabled body language. What I do know is that if you want a Fulani man to do something for sure, tell him not to. So the “bad belle” former army generals should probably think of another way. One hopes the president did learn a lesson or two from his recent trip to Lagos, though. If he is going to do a campaign event in that city in the future, he had better ensure his helicopters are in sharp condition. That way, those of us on land and him in the air would both be at peace. Otherwise, even Lagos kingmaker Bola Tinubu’s political magic would not suffice to sway votes in his favour. Still, the trip was a huge political success for Mr Buhari. Because if his intention was to make up for the humiliation Mr Tinubu felt hitherto, he likely succeeded. (Mr Buhari did not appoint Mr Tinubu’s preferred candidates into his cabinet.) Lucky man that he is, though, Mr Tinubu’s star still shone on the back of the appointments. Whenever vice-president Yemi Osinbajo is praised for his diligence, for instance, the man at “Bourdillon” is also given some credit. So, although Mr Buhari’s visit to Lagos in the week past was an official state visit, the first in almost two decades for that matter, it is no secret that the likely real reason why he finally visited Lagos was to pay his respects to the man he needs to win re-election.

Change as the wind blows
Still, I would not rest easy if I were Mr Buhari. And if I were Mr Tinubu, I would watch the wind. No one can say for sure in which direction it would blow, you see. And irrespective of how Mr Tinubu has been able to continue wielding power in the southwestern parts of Nigeria, even as he does not occupy any office of state, if he desires to maintain his influence, he would do well to put his ears to the ground before deciding on which horse to bet on. It is not a secret that there is currently not as much support for Mr Buhari in those parts as there was three years ago. We also know, judging from the recent statement credited to a northern elders’ group, which incidentally was read by a very sound former civil servant from the north, who also happens to be Mr Saraki’s chief of staff, that the northern elite would prefer a candidate from the north other than Mr Buhari. That way, power could potentially remain in the north for another eight years instead of four. Of course, the elderly northerners’ accusations against the man is mostly drivel. I remember thinking aloud when I first happened on the news: what else do they want? The whole country? The security establishment is firmly in the hands of northerners. Almost all the positions that really matter in this country are currently occupied by northerners. Quite frankly, it is unfair to accuse Mr Buhari of not helping the cause of the north. Ironically, these truths are also an indictment of the president.

MPC welcome party
And yes, the newly constituted monetary policy committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would finally be meeting this week (3-4 April), the first time this year. Some prominent economists desire that it should cut the policy rate; currently 14 percent. I would not be too quick to heed their advice, however. Not yet. Thus far, the CBN’s tight monetary policy has been quite successful in moderating inflation expectations. And even as the annual consumer inflation rate – 14.3 percent in February from about 18 percent the same time last year – is expected to continue trending downwards, it might be best to wait till it is in the single digits – probably by July – before attempting a rate cut.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/the-election-season-is-on/

The politics of corruption

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In a surprise move, the Nigerian government recently released a list of alleged treasury looters from the immediate past administration. In power under the banner of the All Progessives Congress (APC) party, the Muhammadu Buhari administration was responding to a dare by Kola Ologbondiyan, spokesman of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who wondered why the country’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law, would make blanket accusations of corruption against his party members. It was probably a mistake. With the chairman of the PDP topping the list, the Buhari administration might have also erred. Because now the move is perceived as political and not borne out of a genuine desire to expose corrupt former public officials. The government says the current list is just a “teaser”, though, and emanated within the context of the PDP’s criticisms; which it reckoned required a firm response. Besides, there was a pending court order for the government to publish a comprehensive list of so-called treasury looters in the immediate past administration and much earlier ones. There was not a particular desire, one reckons, by the Buhari government to vouchsafe the information hitherto. The motivation of the government in conveniently answering a court order this time around is palpable. Otherwise, the question could be raised about the many court orders it has thus far ignored and would probably never honour. A prominent one is the case of former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki, who in line with court orders, should be free on bail as he defends myriad corruption charges in court. In any case, the current war of words between the APC-led government and PDP would ultimately be beneficial to the citizenry. In between their supposed propaganda would lie the truth, for sure. That said, the Buhari administration could simply seize the moment, irrespective of its earlier motivation, to lay everything bare; that is, publish the names of the corrupt public officials that pilfered our commonwealth since as far back as it can find records to the current moment. The problem of course is that it might be reluctant to go that far; lest it hurt its own. How possible is it that in the whole of the APC membership, roughly more than half of which migrated from the PDP, one would not find a single corrupt person? Clearly, the name and shame campaign is really just a political game.

Power wins
So how will it end? Ideally, the government in power usually wins the politics of corruption. How so? Both parties have information on the corrupt persons in our midst. The PDP, in government for almost two decades knows what are in the records. But unlike the party in government, it could not necessarily charge anyone to court. It could file cases against certain persons of interest in the government, of course. But that would be a waste of cash and time. Besides, the top guns in the ruling APC have immunity from prosecution while in office; the time it really matters to throw dirt on them for political gain. And those who do not have the privilege could simply use official means to delay any court case against them for as long as possible. Quite frankly, I do not think the “name and shame” campaign would offer either side any advantages. (Nigerians assume most politicians are inherently corrupt anyway; only differentiating based on degree) And it is my view that if the APC loses the upcoming 2019 elections, it is not likely to be because of the PDP’s antics; irrespective of the candidate they field for president. And as things are beginning to look, it might be a crowded presidential game field come 2019. If Mr Buhari desires a second term then, even though he might be better off retiring, the people he has to worry about are not in the PDP but in the APC. Additionally, the focus of the administration in not only fighting corruption but in also collecting stolen funds for its programmes should remain its main focus. A publication of the list of looters makes the government lose that advantage, however. Once outed or in court, there is limited incentive for anyone to seek a plea bargain deal to return stolen funds. Besides, with the amount of money stolen by these politicians, they probably have now realised that a more effective and cheaper strategy might be to simply get Mr Buhari out at all cost. That way, the next administration, which would likely be more “ flexible”, would let them be. So, it is probably too late in the game to expect anymore of the looted monies to be recovered. In any case, the administration is already in full election mode. There is now a limit to how much corruption it can fight or prevent. The costs are beginning to mount. The government’s budget for 2018 that was supposed to be passed in December last year is now tentatively slated for passage in May. With Senate president Bukola Saraki already declaring his intention to contest the country’s presidency in 2019, and a subsisting rancorous relationship between the executive and legislature, even as both arms of government are controlled by the APC, passing the budget in May might even become elusive. There are other reasons why.

Some secrecy permitted
In early April (earlier this week), Mr Buhari approved $1 billion dollars for the military to purchase equipment and cater for other needs. That was the first the public would be hearing of it. There are no indications the legislature was informed aforehand. Was it legal for the president to simply approve an amount that significant without appropriation, it was widely wondered. As the funds would be from the special account for crude oil proceeds in excess of that estimated based on the approved crude oil price benchmark, the so-called “Excess Crude Account” (ECA), the legal issues are a little controversial. Some stakeholders also wonder about the coincidence with recent security events. The new military spending is coming weeks after the abduction of some schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria. There is also a sense of déjà vu. Just like a similarly huge amount was approved by the previous Goodluck Jonathan adminstration ahead of a crucial re-election campaign, some are wondering whether the Buhari administration is not also seeking a clever way to fund the president’s re-election campaign. Consistent Buhari-critic, though not often objective on issues relating to Mr Buhari, raised some of these questions. It would be wrong to simply dismiss them. Mr Fayose also wonders how the monies provided by international donors to fight the Boko Haram insurgency were spent, for instance. Some have also queried the request by the public for transparency on the planned military spending. Predictably, the government might be reluctant to do so in reality even though its spokesperson has declared it would. I would suggest some secrecy nonetheless; as is the practice with national security issues. Even so, there are well-established ways for such sensitive national security issues to be dealt with in secret while still ensuring that the process of appropriation is abided by. Typically, the relevant legislators are granted security clearance to do the job. Afterwards, they are at liberty to only reveal broad category headlines to the public to ensure national security is not compromised. And for those military hardware purchases that would naturally be in the public domain, the procurement of uniforms, say, or the imminent purchase of fighter jets from America, which would be made public over there anyway, there should be no hesitation to reveal those. And even as the ECA mechanism is still a matter of legal interpretation, the austere anti-corruption posture of the Buhari administration and the risk that its recent action might be misconstrued to be for political gains, put on it a greater responsibility to be transparent.

Thankfully, presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu says due process would be followed; in comments to Channels Television, a well-regarded local TV station, on 6 April. In that interview, Mr Shehu initially claimed the approved funds were in the style of an emergency. Later in the same interview, he dubbed it a “special intervention”. He also added that the intention was never to bypass the National Assembly. According to him, what the president has simply done is to grant his approval, but that the matter would still be deliberated upon by the cabinet and subsequently sent to the legislature for approval. As Mr Buhari is scheduled to depart for the UK imminently for private matters, there could be some truth to this. He may have wanted to deal with the matter while he was still around to avoid any delay or hesitation on the part of his deputy, who would be in charge in his absence. That said, it does seem that the desire to seek legislative approval was an after-thought. I would not want to dwell on that overmuch, however. Better to just assume that the government realised its misstep after the public outcry and back-tracked. The public should thus continue to be vigilant and raise objections when the government does things that might seem untoward. And to its credit, even as there is much to worry about, the Buhari adminstration remains quite sensitive to public opinion. Could it be due to the upcoming elections? I do not think so. Although the government’s record on many things is mixed, there has been one consistency: it is very attentive to what the citizenry says.

Thankless task
We should also bear in mind that the renewed violence across the country is underpinned by corruption. There are many angles. I will focus on one here. Recent killings were bizarrely ramped up at just the moment it became clear Mr Buhari might seek re-election. Hitherto, because of his health condition, which some say was instigated by a mysterious event, his detractors, especially the corrupt ones who have been feeling the heat of his anti-corruption efforts, were almost sure he would not seek a second term in office. In better health now, and with clearly improved security to ensure that another mysterious event does not succeed again, Mr Buhari seems determined to exercise his right. Consequently, the detractors have gone into overdrive to make sure the country becomes ungovernable and Mr Buhari unelectable. Incidentally, their objective also coincides with the north’s desire to keep power in their region for another eight years. (With Mr Buhari, they can only get another four years.) The president is fighting enemies from all corners it seems. But are those who say the APC-led government is simply harassing opposition figures under the guise of fighting corruption right? When challenged on this in the earlier mentioned TV breakfast programme (“Sunrise Daily”), Mr Shehu, to his credit, was able to quickly mention the name of a prominent member of his party, a former governor, that was being similarly scrutinized. All said, corruption remains a fact of life in Nigeria. True, Mr Buhari has made some progress. But like his predecessors, his efforts are likely to be similarly seen through the prism of politics.

America cannot stop China’s advance

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

“The United States hasn’t had a trade surplus with China in 40 years. They must end unfair trade, take down barriers and charge only reciprocal tariffs. The US is losing $500 billion a year, and has been losing billions of dollars for decades. Cannot continue!” This was American president Donald Trump venting about China in a recent tweet. At the ongoing Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in Hainan, China, today (started on 8 April), Chinese president Xi Jinping would finally get an opportunity to make remarks in public about the trade spat between his country and the United States. His officials have been the ones responding to President Trump’s rhetoric since America fired the first salvo in February by announcing tariffs on aluminium and steel imports. Mr Trump escalated trade tensions further in March by announcing tariffs on goods more directly punitive to Chinese interests. (China is a fringe exporter of aluminium and steel to America.) The Asian nation has announced retaliatory tariff measures of its own. Even so, Mr Xi is likely to be conciliatory in expected remarks on the issue at the BFA on 10 April; that is, even as he would likely make sure to echo China’s capacity to beat Mr Trump at his own game.

Already ahead
America has also filed a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming it has been stealing American companies’ intellectual property; on the back of its compulsory technology sharing policy for foreign companies operating on its soil which must enter into partnerships with local ones. As the slow-winding process of the WTO is not likely to the taste of the restless American president (“The WTO is unfair to U.S.” goes one recent tweet), the complaint is probably just a formality. Mr Trump wants results now. Of course, this is wishful thinking. Even if he were a magician, he would find conjuring up a trade surplus with China to be an arduous task indeed. In any case, China’s advance could hardly be stopped now. What its engineers and scientists do not already know is not likely known to any of their contemporaries in America or elsewhere either. America can only slow China’s advance a little bit by creating a few difficulties here and there. But such an approach could hurt America more than it does China over time. With China so integral to global supply chains, there are limits to the punitive trade and investment actions the Americans can undertake. Besides Mr Trump does not have the capacity to play the long game like his Chinese counterpart could. Unsurprisingly, Mr Trump has left the door of negotiations open; even as he maintains his stern anti-China rhetoric.

China is currently well-positioned to be the leading innovator of the next century. With some clairvoyance, the Asian nation not only aggressively invested and built enviable capacity in new technologies like electric vehicles, solar power, robotics and so on, it has more or less locked in the primary resources that would be needed to power them. Mr Trump’s irritation is understandable. Still, it is probably too late for America or any other country to do anything about it. Most of the goods China produces and sells to the world, it is able to manufacture more cheaply. Those that it cannot do less dearly, its neighbours are taking up; with some bound for African countries like Ethiopia. And for the high-end manufactures it is now focused on, it is increasingly attaining cost leadership. And if Mr Trump’s protectionist measures make China jettison its hitherto feigned posture of obeying global trade rules, it is market-driven economies like America’s that would probably suffer in the long run. Mr Trump is undeterred: “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.”

Be alert
Should African economies be worried about the Sino-American trade squabble? My views on this are published in the current April 2018 issue of Forbes Africa magazine (“Will Trump’s trade war hurt Africa?”). I argue that as Africa’s trade with America is quite meagre and is infact declining, there is probably no cause for signficant concern. Considering Mr Trump’s volatile nature, however, I suggest the continent’s leaders should not be complacent. Soon enough, after going to press, Mr Trump announced plans to suspend duty-free treatment of clothing from Rwanda under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The move was a potential retaliatory measure to Rwandan restrictions on American used apparel and footwear in the event that it did not reverse them 60 days from the date of the announcement in late March. Tanzania and Uganda were similarly warned for the same measures but were allowed their AGOA benefits after corrective actions. Still, the Rwandan example brings to light how even small economies might find themselves in Mr Trump’ firing line.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/america-cannot-stop-chinas-advance/

Nigeria: Buhari is not Mandela

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari recently declared he would be seeking a second term in office. This was not a surprise to many. His body language and actions hitherto suggested that would likely be the case. And in line with tradition, he made it seem like he was begged to re-contest. The upside, at least, is that it puts a lid on speculations about his intentions. What then for those within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party who were hoping Mr Buhari would take the Nelson Mandela option? (The respected former South African leader and father of the nation served only one term as president; even as he could easily win a second one.) Senate President Bukola Saraki, who has also announced his intention to run, would likely now need to find another party to fulfil his ambition, for instance. Mr Saraki could opt to challenge Mr Buhari in the party’s primaries, though. A test of Mr Buhari’s clout would be whether he is able to get his party to adopt him as a consensus candidate. With so much division within the APC, this may be difficult, however. So if Mr Buhari is really serious about his second term bid, he would have to literally block the chances of all the other presidential contenders within his party. As those who are really serious about challenging the president would likely defect to other political parties, he could well be saved the trouble.

Rights & wisdom
One Nigerian senator whose political activities I like following was recently accused of murder by the police. That is his “wahala” [local parlance for trouble], as we say in these parts. Fortunate man that he is, though, news broke shortly afterwards that his accuser was tortured by the police to frame him. In his own case at least, evidence of his “innocence” came out just in time. It certainly helped that he got wind of the “plot” beforehand. Some are not so lucky. A more colourful but probably not as well-read colleague of the afro-haired senator would be defending similar charges in court very soon. Again, that is his own wahala: he knew the game before joining it. There is a common characteristic of the politicians – mostly senators – who are suddenly grappling with one trouble or the other. They are either at odds with their state governors or acting against Mr Buhari’s interests or both. The first senator, together with the other two senators of his state, recently blocked a proposed World Bank loan by their governor. Even as the senator is one of the reasonable ones, he likely had a political motive. For the second senator cited, he uses every opportunity to discredit his state governor. Such is the rancour between the two that it is believed the senator’s recent legal troubles could be traced to the conflict.

Incidentally, the two mentioned senators hail from the north-central geopolitical zone of the country. The views of the first, who likes to use Roman analogies to describe national events and in the process vouchsafe privileged information that he would otherwise not be able to divulge, are apt for the message of my column this week. When Mr Buhari made his “surprise” announcement to run again, much to the discomfiture and surprise of some state governors present at the APC’s national executive committee meeting where it took place, the said senator tweeted about the great matter thus: “Now that Baba decided not to be a Mandela, we hope he become a Deng [Xiaoping] and not Augustus Pinochet”. It was a rebuke. Just so the point is not missed, he tweeted further on the issue the day after: “Plebeians of Rome; When Pompey broke the promissum of his last chariot stop, thee pelted him; When Caesar broke the promissum of his unus term, thee blessed him”. Just for the fun of it, I will leave you to decipher what he meant. (Hint: He was comparing two presidents.). By the way, the activist senator is perhaps one of Mr Buhari’s staunchest supporters, who like the others who genuinely wish the president well, see how Mr Buhari’s surprisingly positive legacy in such a treacherous political environment like Nigeria may be about to be destroyed. These fears may be needless, of course.

Winnie!

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

With raised fists, mourners shouted her name in the rain as she made her final journey. “I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”, she once said; there are probably no truer words. Before, as her casket rode by the streets of her beloved Soweto towards Orlando Stadium, bike riders in full gear, raised their helmets in salute. Her beloved Sowetans ran along, the extent they could. She was being given a state funeral not as a favour but because to have done otherwise would have been almost suicidal for the government. The people would have given her a befitting farewell regardless. And they did. Some of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party cadres who were belatedly now celebrating her were likely conscience-striken; mean folks, those ones. She bested them all. She was at once an open book and an enigma. It made sense then that her favourite hymn was “Great Mystery”, which her friends and foes sang as she lay in her casket likely with a mischievous smile. She stirred in both, depending on who, almost violent emotions of love and hate. On 14 April, the day of her funeral, a nation was genuinely distraught for a leader who did not shy away from her humanity nor allowed it stop her from achieving her great destiny. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was celebrated, not because she was an appendage to Nelson Mandela, the deceased father of the nation, but as “Mama Winnie”, mother of South Africa.

Free spirit
My first inkling of the suffering in South Africa was through the popular movie “Sarafina”. As I recall in the early 1990s, back in Shiroro in northcentral Nigeria, where the country’s still most modern hydroelectric power station is located, we had neighbours from different parts of the world; Italians, Americans, Egyptians, Namibians and so on. One, a nurse from Namibia, was the mother of a friend; and perhaps the friend of everyone in the massive estates housing the staff of the power station. I do not recall how many times I watched the movie but I think Ibrahim had to ask for it back. Black South Africans went through unbelievable suffering and Winnie was right in the thick of it. Who could make Jacob Zuma, the former South African president, and firebrand opposition leader Julius Malema, attend the same event? Mama Winnie. Her magnetism emanated from her genuineness. Of course, she took great care with her appearance. Not that her beautiful visage required any embellishment. She was as beautiful and she was fierce. That lethal combination made her at once adored and feared. They say she cheated on her husband who she could not touch for almost three decades. Hypocrites. Many of them use public money to “bless” young girls with meagre means and they dare to point a finger. She defied them all. But perhaps what really enraged her enemies was that they could not control her no matter how hard they tried. And no one did. Not even Nelson.

Phony tears
Unfortunately, the comrades she is leaving behind would likely simply go on with their corrupt lives after all the celebrations. But she did plant a few worthy seeds. Mr Malema, who gave his most impassioned speech yet at her funeral, took her enemies on. The hypocrites are crying the loudest, he shouted. “Those who sold you out to the apartheid regime are here. Mama, you never told me how we must treat them when they come here, I am waiting for a signal, Ma…all those who resigned from the NEC of the Women’s League because they said they cannot be led by a criminal, they are here. Some of them are playing prominent roles in your funeral, in a funeral of a person they called a criminal, in the funeral of a person they were ready to humiliate in front of the whole world, they are here, Mama. Ma, Ma, Ma, I am waiting for a signal on how we should treat them ”, he remonstrated with an emotion-laden voice. “Mama, you didn’t know that your organisation had been rendered incapable of loving you back”. The discomfort his words caused the ANC cadres that they were targeted at was palpable. He did not spare Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president. He decried the continued deplorable state of dependants of protesting miners killed at Marikana. Former ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe made an attempt at “adult supervision” thereafter, saying the funeral should not be an occasion for opening old wounds. He should have probably just shut up. How are the horrible wounds that Ms Mandela and many poor black South Africans endured to be forgotten? Thank God for the many brave sons and daughters she raised like Mr Malema who will now continue her fight.

Rest in peace
To his credit, President Ramaphosa rose to the moment. Quoting from his eulogy: “They thought they could banish her to Brandfort. They miscalculated greatly because in truth, they sent her to live among her people – to share in their trials, tribulations and hardships, to share their hopes and aspirations, and to draw courage from their daily struggle against the tyranny of racial subjugation. The enemy expected her to return from Brandfort diminished, broken and defeated. They expected her to succumb to the excruciating pressure of years of excruciating pressure of years of solitary confinement, harassment and vilification. Instead, she emerged from these torments emboldened, driven by a burning desire to give voice to the asipirations of her people. To give them hope. To give them courage. To lead them to freedom…Like so many of our people she has lived with fear, pain, loss and disappointment. And yet each day she rose with the nobleness of the human spirit. They sought to denigrate her with bitter and twisted lies, but still she rose. They wanted to see her broken, with bowed head and lowered eyes, and weakened by soulful cries, but still she rose. As we bid her farewell, we are forced to admit that too often as she rose, she rose alone. Too often, we were not there for her.” If there was any doubt about where she was going, God left no doubt. Just as the military pallbearers made to carry her casket at the stadium for her last journey, the heavens poured tears of joy. She is in a good place.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/winnie/

Tax social media at your peril

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

African countries have low tax bases not necessarily because their authorities do not desire the revenue but often due to the cost of acquiring it. With significant portions of their populations in the informal economy, there are not many options available to tax authorities to assess income. More financial inclusion should make their jobs easier over time. But what about now? The ubiquity of mobile phones, smartphones especially, and the proliferation of social media, could be a less expensive means by which to assess how much people earn. Oftentimes, it is not that citizens do not wish to pay tax. But dealing with public institutions in most African countries is not only sometimes frustrating but potentially punitive.

Authorities are better off just taxing their citizens’ consumption. Value-added tax (VAT) tends to be an effective tool in this regard. In some African countries, the telecommunication sector tends to be either exempt from VAT or allowed concessionary rates to engender digital inclusion. Considering how endeared many are to their mobile phones, any measure that makes it more expensive to use them could be politically costly, however. When Nigeria, a country where there is extreme sensitivity to any measure that could potentially stifle internet freedom, first flirted with the idea of a “communication services tax”, the uproar was deafening. But with almost $800 million in potential annual revenue, it was too tempting a proposition for the authorities. Some African authorities are not as encumbered. At least, so it seemed at first.

In March, Uganda announced a so-called social media tax. Not that the authorities did not already tax voice and data communications. But they did not tax data usage as much as they did phone calls. Planned for July, data usage on social media platforms like FacebookTwitterWhatsAppSkype and Viber would be taxed more; according to the proposal then. The move was motivated in part because of the authorities’ strained finances, it seems. Volatile and hitherto low commodity prices are one of the reasons why. Burgeoning debt stocks and disproportionate portions of revenue used to service them, are another. Consequently, African tax authorities have little choice to but to seek new ways to raise more revenue.

Touching a nerve
Many African authorities have been looking to tax the purchase of data for internet use by their citizens more heavily for a while now. The potential revenue figures are eye-watering certainly. But there is another motivation, it is believed. Some African authorities, increasingly irritated by criticisms on the internet, might not mind that the social media habits of their citizens be a little bit more expensive. Take the Ugandan example; President Yoweri Museveni was not shy about his desire to make gossip via social media a very dear endeavour via the new digital taxes he mooted. Not that the authorities do not already assert some form of control over social media and other forms of internet usage. Like China, African authorities are becoming adept at switching off the internet, making it slow, or restricting its usage, during crucial politically sensitive events like elections, protests and so on.

But higher taxation on internet usage could be a more effective and less expensive way to do that for the authorities with such aims. Since if the habit weighs on the purse, people are likely to choose the words they publish on social media more carefully of their own volition. Public opinion would definitely be stifled as a result. But there is also the possiblity that the proliferation of fake news might reduce. Perhaps then, it is only a matter of time before other African countries begin to flirt with Mr Museveni’s idea. Even so, there are limits to how far the authorities can push the envelope. Because unlike the quasi-dictatorships cloaked in democratic garments in countries like Uganda and Rwanda, some African leaders, especially those with crucial elections to win, can ill-afford to alienate citizens.

Resist
Turns out Mr Museveni is not totally insensitive to public opinion: he has shelved the planned social media tax. In fact, his government now says no such proposal was ever made: “There is nothing like social media tax. There is no such proposal. That is not what the president proposed. No one will tax you for using WhatsApp and Facebook”, says Ugandan information minister Frank Tumwebaze. Is Mr Museveni’s counterpart in Tanzania, John Magufuli, who recently ordered that bloggers pay a $930 fee to legally do what is ideally free, likely to be similarly sensitive? No matter. He will fail.

Smart Lagos (1): Status, Prospects & Opportunities

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Introduction
Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, is a source of mixed emotions for its more than 20 million inhabitants.[1] Many come to the city from the hinterland to pursue their dreams. Some succeed, some do not. But all suffer one grief or another from the city’s punishing traffic jams, noise pollution from ubiquitous standby-generators, and so on. Despite its shortcomings, Lagos is a city of great potential. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$136 billion in 2017, the city is already acclaimed to have the 7thlargest GDP in Africa.[2],[3] (The state government believes it is the 5th largest in Africa and aspires to become the third largest by 2020, three years from now.[4])


Figure 1: Smart Lagos as an ecosystem
Source: Author’s research

Additionally, the Lagos economy is estimated to constitute about a third of Nigeria’s output and certainly earns the highest annual tax revenue of all 36 federal states and the federal capital territory; which is in excess of US$1 billion.[5] Lagos leads Nigeria on a number of other metrics. It has the highest literacy rate among 15-25 year olds.[6] It has the homes with the most mobile phones in Nigeria.[7] More homes have a car or a truck in Lagos than anywhere else in Nigeria.[8] By 2023, Lagos could have uninterrupted power supply if current efforts by the state government continue and are successful.[9] State governor Akinwumi Ambode has staked his reputation on bringing this about. Private sector actors are being encouraged via a myriad of incentives to establish small power plants that need not plug into the national grid. This is no doubt helped by recent moves by the federal government to waive this necessity, particularly that of licensing to generate electricity. An individual or corporate body generating no more than 1 megawatt (1MW) of electricity does not need to get a license.[10] Judging from these attributes, it is not an exaggeration at all to suppose the ambition of the government to make Lagos a smart city, is one that can be realised.

Organic tech
The technology sector in Lagos is perhaps the one area where the city’s potential is writ large. With little or no government support, savvy entrepreneurs built the so-called “Computer Village” in the Ikeja capital district of Lagos, where there is hardly an information and communication technology (ICT) hardware that cannot be found. [11] Today, Computer Village is adjudged the largest ICT accessory market in Africa.[12] A planned relocation to a dedicated ICT park by the government has not been well-received.[13]

But the city is also building capacity in software; organically at that. Lagos-based Andela trains programmers and facilitates their placement with software companies around the world. Such is Andela’s stellar reputation for excellence that American TV network CNN in June 2015 called it “the startup that’s harder to get into than Harvard.[14] There is also a budding tech entrepreneurship boom in what is called the “Yabacon Valley” in a district of Lagos called Yaba, where techies have been aggregating to create innovative solutions; currently mostly in e-commerce and payment systems.[15] Global tech executives got wind of these developments and started paying visits. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, stopped by in August 2016.[16]So did Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichal in July 2017.[17] But it was Microsoft that blazed the trail, with its chief operating officer Kevin Turner visiting Lagos in November 2010.[18]

Now the Lagos State government takes the sector very seriously; albeit in some cases (like in the relocation of the computer village from Ikeja to an ICT park elsewhere) not necessarily to the delight of operators in the sector. In January 2017, state governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced plans to transform Yaba into a major technology hub: “I decided to come here just for me to feel the state of things and to learn about your challenges. Our government is seriously committed to assisting entrepreneurs like the ones here to be able to be good startups.”[19] Tech entrepreneurs in the Yaba cluster would be allowed access to the state’s 25 billion naira employment trust fund, for instance. Mr Ambode also announced plans to upgrade road and parking infrastructure in the area. Now the state government is working on initiatives to position the city as a place for technological innovation. Yabacon Valley has a robust broadband infrastructure, courtesy of the state government, for instance.[20]

To be continued.

The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was specifically written for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies

Smart Lagos: Status, Prospects & Opportunities

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Introduction
Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, is a source of mixed emotions for its more than 20 million inhabitants.[1] Many come to the city from the hinterland to pursue their dreams. Some succeed, some do not. But all suffer one grief or another from the city’s punishing traffic jams, noise pollution from ubiquitous standby-generators, and so on. Despite its shortcomings, Lagos is a city of great potential. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$136 billion in 2017, the city is already acclaimed to have the 7thlargest GDP in Africa.[2],[3] (The state government believes it is the 5th largest in Africa and aspires to become the third largest by 2020, three years from now.[4])


Figure 1: Smart Lagos as an ecosystem
Source: Author’s research

Additionally, the Lagos economy is estimated to constitute about a third of Nigeria’s output and certainly earns the highest annual tax revenue of all 36 federal states and the federal capital territory; which is in excess of US$1 billion.[5] Lagos leads Nigeria on a number of other metrics. It has the highest literacy rate among 15-25 year olds.[6] It has the homes with the most mobile phones in Nigeria.[7] More homes have a car or a truck in Lagos than anywhere else in Nigeria.[8] By 2023, Lagos could have uninterrupted power supply if current efforts by the state government continue and are successful.[9] State governor Akinwumi Ambode has staked his reputation on bringing this about. Private sector actors are being encouraged via a myriad of incentives to establish small power plants that need not plug into the national grid. This is no doubt helped by recent moves by the federal government to waive this necessity, particularly that of licensing to generate electricity. An individual or corporate body generating no more than 1 megawatt (1MW) of electricity does not need to get a license.[10] Judging from these attributes, it is not an exaggeration at all to suppose the ambition of the government to make Lagos a smart city, is one that can be realised.

Organic tech
The technology sector in Lagos is perhaps the one area where the city’s potential is writ large. With little or no government support, savvy entrepreneurs built the so-called “Computer Village” in the Ikeja capital district of Lagos, where there is hardly an information and communication technology (ICT) hardware that cannot be found. [11] Today, Computer Village is adjudged the largest ICT accessory market in Africa.[12] A planned relocation to a dedicated ICT park by the government has not been well-received.[13]

But the city is also building capacity in software; organically at that. Lagos-based Andela trains programmers and facilitates their placement with software companies around the world. Such is Andela’s stellar reputation for excellence that American TV network CNN in June 2015 called it “the startup that’s harder to get into than Harvard.[14] There is also a budding tech entrepreneurship boom in what is called the “Yabacon Valley” in a district of Lagos called Yaba, where techies have been aggregating to create innovative solutions; currently mostly in e-commerce and payment systems.[15] Global tech executives got wind of these developments and started paying visits. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, stopped by in August 2016.[16]So did Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichal in July 2017.[17] But it was Microsoft that blazed the trail, with its chief operating officer Kevin Turner visiting Lagos in November 2010.[18]

Now the Lagos State government takes the sector very seriously; albeit in some cases (like in the relocation of the computer village from Ikeja to an ICT park elsewhere) not necessarily to the delight of operators in the sector. In January 2017, state governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced plans to transform Yaba into a major technology hub: “I decided to come here just for me to feel the state of things and to learn about your challenges. Our government is seriously committed to assisting entrepreneurs like the ones here to be able to be good startups.”[19] Tech entrepreneurs in the Yaba cluster would be allowed access to the state’s 25 billion naira employment trust fund, for instance. Mr Ambode also announced plans to upgrade road and parking infrastructure in the area. Now the state government is working on initiatives to position the city as a place for technological innovation. Yabacon Valley has a robust broadband infrastructure, courtesy of the state government, for instance.[20]

Smart city defined
“A smart city is a destination where hard and soft infrastructures are integrated with technology and securely connected together.”[21] And what does the Lagos State government hope to achieve when it refers to the concept? In remarks made in May 2017, Governor Ambode explained his understanding of the concept this way: “In the emerging knowledge era, ICT has taken centre stage, and as the city of the future, Lagos must take advantage and indeed leverage on the tools of ICT in moving towards a Smart City.”[22]

So, what are the steps already taken by the government towards this objective? In June 2016, the Lagos State government signed a memorandum of understanding with Dubai Holdings LLC, owners of Smart City Dubai LLC, “to develop sustainable, smart, globally connected knowledge-based communities that drive a knowledge economy.[23] To be located in Ibeju-Lekki on the outskirts of Lagos, “a Smart-City Lagos will be the pride of all Lagosians, just as we have Smart City Dubai, Smart-City Malta and Smart-City Kochi (India).” [24]

To assess its potential, it would help to examine the evolution of smart cities elsewhere. Investments and jobs have been touted as potential gains. That has been the case for Smart City Dubai, certainly. But there are many advantages Dubai has that Lagos does not as yet have. Apart from looking to successful cities like New York and drawing up plans and implementing them, a crucial factor for Smart City Dubai’s success has been the authorities’ collaboration with the private sector, especially global technology companies. Today, just about five years after the Dubai Smart City project was launched in 2013, Dubai is at the forefront of research in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and so on.

The city of Dubai has also taken on ambitious events and projects to motivate it towards its ambitions, like the Expo 2020 (which it won hosting rights to the same year the smart city project was initiated), Hyperloop DubaiOasis Eco Resort and so on. [25] Other initiatives are: Happiness Metre, Smart District Guidelines, Smart Dubai Index, Dubai Data, Smart Dubai Platform, Dubai Blockchain, and so on.[26] Although the Dubai example is perhaps a long shot, the promoters of Smart City Lagos are right to aim that high.

Local capital looking to profit from tech play
So, what could realistically be expected to happen in regard of Smart City Lagos over the short- and medium-term? And what are the opportunities to watch out for over these time horizons? In assessing the opportunity, a potential investor, and indeed the government, could choose to focus on Smart City Lagos or Lagos as a smart city. In any case, the state authorities seem to be aiming for both.

In May 2017, they started the installation of free wifi infrastructure across the city.[27] The state government has also started training its staff to align them with its smart city vision. For instance, staff in the Lagos central business districts (CBDs) had their training session in January 2018.[28]

The real opportunity lies in Lagos, the smart city. True, the advantages that a smart city in the mould of Dubai Smart City provides, which in addition to flawless infrastructure, include a clustering of talent in a particular area, such that tech companies could easily conduct all their operations in one location, with all the logistical and operational benefits that engenders.

Currently, there are two other major smart city developments in the city apart from Smart City Lagos, which are already at advanced stages, and probably more relevant for a foreign firm looking to make the move to Lagos momentarily. Eko Atlantic City is a new city being created from a sand-filled area of the Atlantic Ocean bordering the highbrow Victoria Island area of Lagos. A totally private initiative, but with considerable government support, firms could easily set up shop and find accommodation for their staff in a secure and efficiently run enclave, without any of the difficulties typically associated with the main city.

The other major development is the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), where a deep sea port is being built. Promoted by The Tolaram Group, a Singaporean conglomerate, and the Lagos State government, the Lekki Deep Seaport, the first phase of which is expected to start operations in 2020, would be able to handle 2.5 million TEUs and subsequently almost double that to 4.5 million TEUs when the second phase is completed.[29]And although the broader LFTZ is currently dominated by manufacturing firms and the like, an IT hardware manufacturer could easily set up shop there as well.

The Lagos Smart City, under the aegis of the state government, should not be confused with other self-acclaimed smart city projects by private sector players that are ongoing across the city. The idea is more or less the same: a cluster of office and residential buildings dedicated to the ICT business. One being promoted by Chams Plc, “SmartCity Innovation Hub,” located in the Lekki-Epe corridor of Lagos, would, when completed, “provide a conducive cocoon in terms of physical and ICT infrastructure, energy, regulatory and fiscal policies for the optimum and most profitable operation and development of technology products and/or service companies.[30]

The key attraction of the concept remains the proximity advantages of having many ICT companies in one location where they are able to operate under world-class conditions and standards to enable them to compete favourably with their contemporaries anywhere in the world.

Another smart city project, also located in the Lekki-Epe corridor, is the $300 million Imperial International Business City (IIBC), initiated by one of the royal families in Lagos. They boast it would be the first eco-friendly smart business city in Africa and is expected to be completed by 2021.[31] Put together with that of the state government, the potential investor is spoilt for choice. They are all trying to address the typical first concern for tech startups and indeed bigger firms of finding a conducive and cost-efficient environment to operate.

But Lagos offers much more than that. It is a market of more than 20 million people. If all these people are able to use the internet for free, they could easily serve as the target of the services of these firms.

‘Lagos Innovates’
The smart city vision of the state government was discussed extensively at a conference it sponsored during its “Lagos at 50” celebrations in May 2017.[32]Themed “Towards a Smart City: Preparing for the next 50 years of prosperity”, it had as keynote speaker a top thinker on African issues, Oxford professor, Paul Collier. He had a more engaging definition of what a smart city is. “Smart does not mean elite. Smart means a city that works for everybody in it. A city that works means that ordinary people can become productive and so earn a decent living.”[33]

The envisioned smart city offers opportunities in transportation, ICT, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, and sports for excellence.[34] The Lagos state government envisions the city to be the most attractive to live and do business in Africa.[35] This is an exaggeration, of course. Even so, the government’s confidence is underpinned by what Mr Ambode dubbed an “urbanisation dividend” in a speech in February 2017.[36] Despite its many deficiencies, and even before the authorities started making the needed effort to transform the city, which coincided with the birth of the country’s most recent democratic experiment in 1999, Lagos has always been attractive to Nigerians elsewhere. At 86 immigrants every hour, it has the highest inward migration rate of any city in the world.[37]

The Lagos Development Plan (2012-2025) embodies what the authorities hope to achieve over the next decade. The “smartness” in Lagos Smart City or Lagos, the smart city, is in seeing technology as an enabler for development, whether it is in the provision of infrastructure, security or investment incentives, with the goal being to make Lagos attractive to investors who would then create much needed jobs. There have been some laudable initiatives by the government with regards to transport infrastructure, like the completion of one of the phases of a city railway (albeit not yet operational), reform of the bus mass transit system, expansion and tolling of a key highway in conjunction with the private sector (at first) and so on. But the pace and reach of the government’s infrastructure programme are grossly inadequate. Strained finances are one reason why. True, the state government earns more revenue than other states. But the revenue is inadequate for the huge spending bill for needed development programmes. And the private sector has not always had a good experience with public-private partnership (PPP) projects with the state government.

To fund its programmes, the government sometimes resorts to extreme means. Recently, the state government announced a land use charge that was considered hugely insensitive. Naturally, it was met with uproar from the general public. Consequently, the state government had little choice but to revise the charges downwards. Even so, some grumbling remains. This also typifies what tends to happen when what are ordinarily acceptable infrastructure financing and maintenance measures – road tolling, for instance – are attempted. But the authorities are getting it right in other areas. Its support programme for technology entrepreneurs in the state is exemplary.

In December 2017, the Lagos State government launched “Lagos Innovates” to support tech entrepreneurs. Through the programme, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would be provided the infrastructural support, training, capital and networks they need to succeed.[38] The initiative copies similar models in Chile, India and Singapore.[39] Targeted at tech entrepreneurs residing and working in Lagos whose businesses are less than three years old, Lagos Innovates aims to facilitate access to “high quality workspaces and infrastructure”, “learning”, “early stage investment capital” and “investor and peer networks”. Bottomline, Lagos Innovates is “a set of programs aimed at making it easier to build a successful tech startup in Lagos”.[40] It is perhaps the greatest demonstration yet of the government’s recognition of the tech opportunity in Lagos.

The initiative currently has three major programmes.[41] The first, “workspace vouchers”, would enable budding tech entrepreneurs secure funding support to acquire a workspace at one of the numerous innovation hubs in the city. For access, the tech entrepreneur need only apply online. The second, “hub loans”, provides capital to hub operators looking to expand or for those looking to invest in hubs. And the third, “events sponsorship”, provides support to enable tech entrepreneurs organize events to seek talent, publicize products and so on. Other programmes to be offered in due course, include “co-investments”, “program vouchers”, and “accelerator”.[42] In early May 2018, Lagos Innovates will be sponsoring the “Secure Lagos Hackathon” event. Other upcoming events include “The Coworking Conference” in late July 2018.[43]

Cheap talent, large market
Lagos as a technology opportunity has to be seen from the angle of talent and market. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, there are more technology hubs in Lagos than in any other city in Africa.[44] Much of the tech industry in Nigeria, at least 70 percent it is reckoned, is in Lagos. [45] Compared to other tech hub cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Kigali, Lagos differentiates itself in terms of potential market size. With a startup ecosystem valued at $2 billion, it is the most valuable African tech city, overtaking Cape Town, Johannesburg and Nairobi.[46] [47] In 2016 for instance, the Lagos tech scene got most of the $109.37 million in start-up funding for Nigeria, more foreign capital than any of its African rivals.[48] (South Africa secured $96.75 million and Kenya got $92.7 million in tech startup financing in 2016.[49])

The amount of funding is not necessarily reflective of activity, however. Taking a median estimate, about 500 startups worthy of note are probably active in Lagos. [50] Compared to Cape Town, which has more than 1,200, the Lagos tech scene, when looked through the activity lens, is still quite small. The lesser activity versus higher funding suggests there are many more opportunities that probably do not get funded.[51] Looked at another way, the opportunities that eventually bear fruit tend to be hard-won.

Tech companies in Lagos are beginning to realise the need for cost efficiency and patience. Take the case of Konga, the Nigerian online retailer; it could not boast of 200,000 active customers in a country of almost 200 million after operating for four years and spending a lot of money on advertising.[52] So yes, the opportunity exists but it is not easily won either. Despite this, some indigenous companies are making headway. An online retailer that did win in Lagos and is succeeding across the continent, is Jumia, the parent company of which was valued at more than $1 billion as early as 2016.[53]Established four years earlier in Lagos, the Africa Internet Group, which set up Jumia, is Africa’s first unicorn, a tech company valued at more than $1 billion.[54] Other successes are MainOne, a wholesale internet service provider with a submarine cable of its own that connects South Africa and a couple of West African countries with Europe via Portugal; Paga, a mobile money service provider; SystemSpecs, an e-payment company; and Computer Warehouse Group, a technology provider to the banking sector. These are a few exemplars of what is possible.

Incidentally, tech talent is relatively cheap in Lagos. Software engineers working in Lagos earn only 70 percent as much as their counterparts in Cape Town and Johannesburg. [55] The increased interest of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft in Lagos, is on the back of the recognition of the latent potential in such a large local market. With proper training, support and opportunities for international practical experience, many of the already quite tech-savvy talent pool could do much more.

According to PwC, the Nigerian gaming industry, which is largely domiciled in Lagos, would earn about $87 million in revenue by 2021 if its 16 percent average annual growth prediction is vindicated.[56] Still, Lagos’ gaming industry pales in comparison to that of Kenya’s Nairobi.[57] Considering Nigeria is four times as populous, the relatively smaller gaming market in the country points to opportunities for interested investors. How difficult would it be to create a model that provides access to the country’s teeming youths to have fun via games and also earn income? A virtuous loop also means more would be interested in creating new games themselves. For an industry earning revenue of about $116 billion globally, there is huge potential for the Nigeria gaming industry to take a bigger slice of the pie.[58] And the focus does not need to be on foreign markets. There is an ample market opportunity within the country itself and clearly in other African countries as well; especially for mobile phone game apps since more people own a smartphone or have access to one than they do a computer. Considering games via mobilie phone apps are expected to rival those based on consoles or played via a computer, this is probably just as well.[59]

Some other players are trying to succeed in more complex areas. Take the punishing traffic of Lagos; artificial intelligence could be used to make it better. That is the ideal case, of course. In reality, traffic lights in the city are not even reliable. That is, if they work. When they work. To power some traffic and street lights, those in critical areas of the city especially, the state government relies on solar power generating systems. Still, even if the current traffic management system in Lagos works fine, it could hardly do the job well without some human intervention. Besides, artificial intelligence would be useful to solve the traffic problem, say, only if there already existed a well-functioning infrastructure. Examples of initiatives in Lagos traffic management using artificial intelligence are mostly focused on providing information and directions to reduce the probability of getting stuck on the road. An example is Lara.ng by RP Technologies, which relies on artificial intelligence to provide directions and fare quotes for public transportation in Lagos.[60] But since artificial intelligence is the “ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings”, the user experience of Lara.ng does not meet the standard; albeit it is not yet fully developed.[61] But it definitely shows how tech stakeholders in Lagos and Nigeria at large are thinking about how to use more complex but useful technologies to solve common problems in the city. In general, though, artificial intelligence is yet to take off.[62] In the words of Emeka Okoye, chief executive of Cymantiks, “we don’t do AI in Nigeria. For now, what we have are copycats of the Artificial Intelligence frameworks adopted by the foreign-based platforms.” [63] A related field is the Internet of Things (IoT) defined as a network of physical “things” embedded with sensors and connected to the Internet.” [64] “With IoT technology, devices are able to communicate and share data between one another without manual intervention.”[65] The relationship between artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things is akin to that between the human brain and the body respectively.[66] Since both are connected, companies involved in the internet of things would also fall under the umbrella of artificial intelligence. Vacker Nigeria, an engineering solutions provider, avails its clients in the retail and manufacturing sectors with tools to monitor and manage their supply chains using the internet of things, for instance.[67] Cloud services is another potential growth area. Although a lot of Nigeria firms still prefer to have their own network infrastructure, the need for scale as they expand makes cloud services attractive. Cloud service providers like MainOne and the Rack Centre, host the networks of their clients in their own infrastructure, which they share with other subscribers to their service.[68][69] Trust remains a constraint, however.

Silicon Valley already positioning itself
Global tech giants are expectedly following up on their top management’s newfound Africa bug. In late 2017, Facebook announced plans to facilitate training in digital and business skills for 50,000 SMEs.[70] It would also be partnering with local innovation hub operators to set up tech hubs in major cities in Nigeria.[71] In Lagos, together with Co-creation Hub, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited in August 2017, Facebook announced the launch of NG_HUB in December 2017.[72] Starting in 2018, NG_HUB would provide support to tech SMEs, product developers, coders, and the tech community at large. And the hub’s incubation programmes are quite ambitious. It aims to build local expertise and products in such advanced fields as artificial intelligence and machine learning, for instance. Considering NG_HUB would be Facebook’s first tech space in Africa, it speaks to the importance the American tech firm attaches to the tech opportunities in Nigeria and Lagos specifically. It is not just intuition. There are 22 million Facebook users in Nigeria.[73] And 10 million of them log into their Facebook accounts daily via mobile devices. [74] When Mr Zuckerberg visited Lagos in August 2017, he also announced the investment of $24 million in Andela, the software talent developer earlier mentioned.[75]

Google led the way, though. Its own training initiative, launched in July 2017, aims to train 10 million Africans.[76] Its flagship programme in this regard, the Google Developers Launchpad Start,” was first started in Johannesburg in 2017. In March 2018, Google launched the Lagos leg: “Launchpad Start Lagos,” a “1-week problem-solving bootcamp for early stage startups focused on product strategy, technology, marketing, business development and presentation skills.” The acceleration programme would provide equity-free support to promising tech startups with “a minimum viable product and little or no revenue or users,” with their teams also allowed access to Google engineers for support and mentoring. Incidentally, CcHub is also Google’s partner.[77]

Conclusion
The tech startup opportunity in Lagos is promising. And judging from the recent strides of global tech companies towards seizing this opportunity, this is a fact. What is today a vibrant ecosystem, at ftrst evolved organically with little or no government support. Tech talent is relatively cheap, and the market size is potentially the largest on the continent. There are challenges, of course. Infrastructure remains problematic, for instance. Taxation could be unpredictable and draconian. But clearly, that has not stopped local and international entrepreneurs from chasing the opportunity. Besides, unlike in the past, there is now government recognition and support for the technology sector. Just as Facebook and Google are setting up accelerator programmes to support tech startups, the government also launched its own, for instance. The focus, as has been argued, and as figure 1 shows, is for the focus to be on Lagos as a smart ecosystem which the government’s “Lagos Smarty City” initiative is just one component.

The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was specifically written for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies

Notes & References
[1] Lagos as gateway to the continent: Why Lagos is the most attractive city to live in and do business in Africa” (AkinwumiAmbode, Feb 2017) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-as-gateway-to-the-continent-why-lagos-is-the-most-attractive-city-to-live-in-and-do-business-in-africa-a-paper-delivered-at-the-14th-cvl-annual-lecture-leadership-sympos/

[2] Lagos is Africa’s 7th largest economy and is about to get bigger with its first oil finds (Quartz, May 2016) https://qz.com/676819/lagos-is-africas-7th-largest-economy-and-is-about-to-get-bigger-with-its-first-oil-finds/

[3] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[4] Lagos as gateway to the continent: Why Lagos is the most attractive city to live in and do business in Africa” (AkinwumiAmbode, Feb 2017) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-as-gateway-to-the-continent-why-lagos-is-the-most-attractive-city-to-live-in-and-do-business-in-africa-a-paper-delivered-at-the-14th-cvl-annual-lecture-leadership-sympos/

[5] Lagos is Africa’s 7th largest economy and is about to get bigger with its first oil finds (Quartz, May 2016) https://qz.com/676819/lagos-is-africas-7th-largest-economy-and-is-about-to-get-bigger-with-its-first-oil-finds/

[6] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[7] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[8] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[9] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[10] Nigeria: A guide to the Nigerian power sector (Mondaq, Feb 2014) http://www.mondaq.com/Nigeria/x/292662/Oil+Gas+Electricity/A+Guide+to

[11] Ikeja Computer Village: What it was, what it will always be (Techpoint.ng, May 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/05/12/ikeja-computer-village-feature/

[12] Computer Village: Why prices of mobile phones are on the increase (Vanguard, July 2016) https://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/07/computer-village-prices-mobile-phones-increase/

[13] Ikeja Computer Village: What it was, what it will always be (Techpoint.ng, May 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/05/12/ikeja-computer-village-feature/

[14] The startup that’s harder to get into than Harvard (CNN, June 2015) https://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/24/africa/andela-start-up-nigeria/index.html

[15] What is the future of YabaCon Valley? (Techpoint.ng, April 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/04/20/future-yabacon-valley/

[16] Mark Zuckerberg’s visit gives Nigerian startups much-needed boost (CNN, September 2016) https://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/31/africa/nigeria-zuckerberg-visit/index.html

[17] Google to train 10m Africans says CEO in visit to Nigeria, following trips by Facebook, Microsoft (Forbes, July 2017) https://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2017/07/27/google-to-train-10m-africans-says-ceo-in-visit-to-nigeria-following-trips-by-facebook-microsoft/

[18] At 10 Microsoft COO visits Nigeria…restates commitment to the economy (Vanguard, Nov 2010) https://www.vanguardngr.com/2010/11/at-10-microsoft-coo-visits-nigeria-restates-commitment-to-the-economy/

[19] We’ll transform Yaba to major technology hub – Ambode (Lagos State, Jan 2017) https://lagosstate.gov.ng/blog/2017/01/12/well-transform-yaba-to-major-technology-hub-ambode/

[20] Nigerian economy: Why Lagos works (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/ff0595e4-26de-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0

[21] How is Dubai becoming a smart city? (Baharash, Feb 2017) https://www.baharash.com/dubai-smart-city/

[22] How Lagos can become smart city with technology (The Guardian, May 2017) https://guardian.ng/technology/how-lagos-can-become-smart-city-with-technology/

[23] Lagos state government signs historic smart city deal with dubai (Akinwunmi Ambode, June 2016) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-state-government-signs-historic-smart-city-deal-with-dubai/

[24] Lagos state government signs historic smart city deal with dubai (Akinwunmi Ambode, June 2016) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-state-government-signs-historic-smart-city-deal-with-dubai/

[25] How is Dubai becoming a smart city? (Baharash, Feb 2017) https://www.baharash.com/dubai-smart-city/

[26] How is Dubai becoming a smart city? (Baharash, Feb 2017) https://www.baharash.com/dubai-smart-city/

[27] Lagos expedites plans on Smart City initiative with wifi connectivity (ThisDay, May 2017) https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/05/15/lagos-expedites-plans-on-smart-city-initiative-with-wifi-connectivity/

[28] Lagos CBD repositioned for lagos smart city status (Lagos State, Jan 2018) https://lagosstate.gov.ng/blog/2018/01/15/lagos-cbd-repositioned-for-lagos-smart-city-status/

[29] Lekki Seaport to commence operations in 2020 (Business & Maritime West Africa, Aug 2017) http://businessandmaritimewestafrica.com/maritime-development/lekki-deep-seaport-to-commence-operations-in-2020

[30] SmartCity: Where lifestyle meets innovation (SmartCity) http://smartcityplc.com

[31] $300m smart city rolls off in Lagos (The Sun, Mar 2017) https://sunnewsonline.com/300m-smart-city-rolls-off-in-lagos/

[32] Towards a Smart City: Preparing for the next 50 years of prosperity (LagosAt50, May 2017) http://lagosat50conference.com

[33] How to make Lagos a 21st century city – Oxford Professor (Premium Times, May 2017) https://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/ssouth-west/232288-how-to-make-lagos-a-21st-century-city-oxford-professor.html

[34] Smart City focus areas (Lagos@50, May 2017) http://lagosat50conference.com/focus-areas/

[35] Lagos as gateway to the continent: Why Lagos is the most attractive city to live in and do business in Africa” (AkinwumiAmbode, Feb 2017) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-as-gateway-to-the-continent-why-lagos-is-the-most-attractive-city-to-live-in-and-do-business-in-africa-a-paper-delivered-at-the-14th-cvl-annual-lecture-leadership-sympos/

[36] Lagos as gateway to the continent: Why Lagos is the most attractive city to live in and do business in Africa” (AkinwumiAmbode, Feb 2017) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-as-gateway-to-the-continent-why-lagos-is-the-most-attractive-city-to-live-in-and-do-business-in-africa-a-paper-delivered-at-the-14th-cvl-annual-lecture-leadership-sympos/

[37] Lagos as gateway to the continent: Why Lagos is the most attractive city to live in and do business in Africa” (AkinwumiAmbode, Feb 2017) http://akinwunmiambode.com/lagos-as-gateway-to-the-continent-why-lagos-is-the-most-attractive-city-to-live-in-and-do-business-in-africa-a-paper-delivered-at-the-14th-cvl-annual-lecture-leadership-sympos/

[38] LSETF launches ‘Lagos Innovates’ for Tech Startups (ThisDay, Dec 2017) https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/12/19/lsetf-launches-lagos-innovates-for-tech-startups/

[39] LSETF launches ‘Lagos Innovates’ for Tech Startups (ThisDay, Dec 2017) https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/12/19/lsetf-launches-lagos-innovates-for-tech-startups/

[40] What is Lagos Innovates? (Lagosinnovates.ng) http://lagosinnovates.ng

[41] LSETF launches ‘Lagos Innovates’ for Tech Startups (ThisDay, Dec 2017) https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/12/19/lsetf-launches-lagos-innovates-for-tech-startups/

[42] Lagos Innovates Programs (Lagosinnovates. ng) http://lagosinnovates.ng/section/programs

[43] Lagos Innovates events (Lagosinnovates.ng) http://lagosinnovates.ng/section/events

[44] Lagos leads rest of Africa in tech hubs, but not funding (BusinessDay, Mar 2018) http://www.businessdayonline.com/lagos-leads-rest-africa-tech-hubs-not-funding/

[45] Lagos leads rest of Africa in tech hubs, but not funding (BusinessDay, Mar 2018) http://www.businessdayonline.com/lagos-leads-rest-africa-tech-hubs-not-funding/

[46] Lagos set to overtake Nairobi as Africa’s startup capital (Quartz Africa, Nov 2017) https://qz.com/1137474/facebook-google-mest-opening-tech-hubs-in-lagos-nigeria/

[47] Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem is also the least lucrative for software engineers (Quartz Africa, Mar 2017) https://qz.com/943613/lagos-is-africas-most-valuable-startup-ecosystem/

[48] Lagos set to overtake Nairobi as Africa’s startup capital (Quartz Africa, Nov 2017) https://qz.com/1137474/facebook-google-mest-opening-tech-hubs-in-lagos-nigeria/

[49] Lagos set to overtake Nairobi as Africa’s startup capital (Quartz Africa, Nov 2017) https://qz.com/1137474/facebook-google-mest-opening-tech-hubs-in-lagos-nigeria/

[50] Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem is also the least lucrative for software engineers (Quartz Africa, Mar 2017) https://qz.com/943613/lagos-is-africas-most-valuable-startup-ecosystem/

[51] Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem is also the least lucrative for software engineers (Quartz Africa, Mar 2017) https://qz.com/943613/lagos-is-africas-most-valuable-startup-ecosystem/

[52] Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem is also the least lucrative for software engineers (Quartz Africa, Mar 2017) https://qz.com/943613/lagos-is-africas-most-valuable-startup-ecosystem/

[53] Goldman Sachs Invests in Africa’s ‘First Unicorn’ (Fortune, Mar 2016) http://fortune.com/2016/03/03/goldman-sachs-africa-internet-group/

[54] Goldman Sachs Invests in Africa’s ‘First Unicorn’ (Fortune, Mar 2016) http://fortune.com/2016/03/03/goldman-sachs-africa-internet-group/

[55] Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem is also the least lucrative for software engineers (Quartz Africa, Mar 2017) https://qz.com/943613/lagos-is-africas-most-valuable-startup-ecosystem/

[56] Nigeria’s game designers fight for their cut on mobile (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/0d4a9852-17df-11e8-9c33-02f893d608c2

[57] Nigeria’s game designers fight for their cut on mobile (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/0d4a9852-17df-11e8-9c33-02f893d608c2

[58] Nigeria’s game designers fight for their cut on mobile (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/0d4a9852-17df-11e8-9c33-02f893d608c2

[59] Nigeria’s game designers fight for their cut on mobile (Financial Times, Mar 2018) https://www.ft.com/content/0d4a9852-17df-11e8-9c33-02f893d608c2

[60] Startup Profile: Lara — get step-by-step public transportation directions to any destination (Techpoint.ng, Apr 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/04/17/lara-profile/

[61] Artificial intelligence (Encyclopedia Britannica, Mar 2018) https://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence

[62] Experts answer 9 questions on the state of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria (Techpoint.ng, Sep 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/09/26/artificial-intelligence-nigeria/

[63] Experts answer 9 questions on the state of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria (Techpoint.ng, Sep 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/09/26/artificial-intelligence-nigeria/

[64] Emerging Trends: Internet of Things (IoT) (KPMG, Jul 2017) https://home.kpmg.com/ng/en/home/insights/2017/06/emerging-trends–internet-of-things–iot-.html

[65] Emerging Trends: Internet of Things (IoT) (KPMG, Jul 2017) https://home.kpmg.com/ng/en/home/insights/2017/06/emerging-trends–internet-of-things–iot-.html

[66] The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning (Medium, Dec 2017) https://medium.com/iotforall/the-difference-between-artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-and-deep-learning-3aa67bff5991

[67] Internet of Things (IoT) (Vacker Nigeria) https://en-ng.vackerglobal.com/divisions/automation/internet-of-things-iot-nigeria/

[68] CloudOnGround (Rack Centre) https://rack-centre.com/cloud/

[69] Cloud (Mainone) https://www.mainone.net/cloud/

[70] Facebook to launch a hub in Lagos early in 2018 (Techpoint.ng, Nov 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/11/22/facebook-nigeria-initiatives/

[71] Facebook to launch a hub in Lagos early in 2018 (Techpoint.ng, Nov 2017) https://techpoint.ng/2017/11/22/facebook-nigeria-initiatives/

[72] Facebook launches community tech hub in Nigeria (CNN, Dec 2017) https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/22/africa/facebook-community-tech-hub-in-nigeria/index.html

[73] Facebook launches community tech hub in Nigeria (CNN, Dec 2017) https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/22/africa/facebook-community-tech-hub-in-nigeria/index.html

[74] Facebook launches community tech hub in Nigeria (CNN, Dec 2017) https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/22/africa/facebook-community-tech-hub-in-nigeria/index.html

[75] Facebook launches community tech hub in Nigeria (CNN, Dec 2017) https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/22/africa/facebook-community-tech-hub-in-nigeria/index.html

[76] Google to train 10m Africans says CEO in visit to Nigeria, following trips by Facebook, Microsoft (Forbes, Jul 2017) https://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2017/07/27/google-to-train-10m-africans-says-ceo-in-visit-to-nigeria-following-trips-by-facebook-microsoft/

[77] Lauchpad Start Lagos (Google) https://events.withgoogle.com/launchpad-start-lagos/

Ghanaians shouldn’t worry overmuch about the American military

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

It came to light in late March that Ghana would be hosting the American military from time to time. That is putting it mildly. The louder headlines were that the Americans would be setting up a military base in Ghana; the birthplace of pan-Africanist and leader of the independence movement, Kwame Nkrumah. Naturally, Ghanaians would have none of it. They made their feelings known on the streets. Such was the outcry, President Nana Akufo-Addo had no choice but to address his country men and women to set the record straight. The Americans would only be using existing Ghanaian military facilities for joint exercises and so on. They could land their fighter jets and other planes at designated airports, for instance. They would also be able to use the country’s radio channels. What would Ghana get in return? Its military would get $20 million worth of equipment and training, courtesy of the American government. This is pittance, of course. A better deal could have been struck.

Easing in
Ghana has long cooperated with the Americans on military matters. This much the U.S. embassy in Accra said in a statement on 20 March 2018: “The current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United State of America and the Republic of Ghana is approximately 20 years old. It does not cover the current range and volume of bilateral exercises and assistance.” So why the outcry now; especially as under the new Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), the U.S. asserts its military would only be able to enter Ghanaian territory with permission of the government and that “…it has not requested, nor does it intend to request, the establishment of a military base in Ghana or the permanent presence of U.S. troops in Ghana.” The government accuses opposition parties of making mischief by playing politics with the matter. There is some truth there. Still, there is a genuine aversion to any foreign military presence in Ghana and perhaps elsewhere on the continent.

To put blame on the Americans would be unfair, though; especially as a previous Ghanaian adminstration is believed to have actively sought the increased military cooperation. Even so, America’s military expansionism in Africa has taken on a new dimension in recent times. It used to be that it only needed these military bases to fight terrorist elements scattered across the continent. It also sought access to ports along key sea routes for its military ships, aircraft carriers and so on for proximal logistical support for its operations. But now there is an additional motivation: China. Hitherto, the Asian nation’s interest in Africa was largely economic. That has changed, it seems.

More the merrier
But why is it important now for America to have broader access to Ghana’s military infrastructure? The United States already has military facilities in Niger in west Africa, from where it carries out drone attacks, and Djibouti in east Africa, which has locational advantages from being by the sea and at the horn of the continent. What the American military did not have in west Africa hitherto was unfettered access to a port. Since neighbouring Nigeria has always shown stiff resistance to any military arrangement that puts American equipment or boots on the ground in its territory and is clearly not an option, Ghana is a natural alternative. In the agreement, the American military would be able to bring in equipment via the sea and store them in a designated area; with permission, of course. Still, how unlikely is it that it desires and might actively seek more permanent arrangements in the future? That said, outside of a desire to preserve their independence, is there really cause for Ghanaians to be concerned? A guest with connections, who the head of the house decides to give a proper room, and would be bringing along his dog in future visits, could hardly be considered threatening.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/ghanaians-shouldnt-worry-much-american-military/

Nigeria: Buhari and the Senate should sheathe their swords

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In the past few weeks, the Nigerian Senate has suffered desecration and a couple of its members endured humiliation. Hoodlums made their way into the red hallowed chamber of the Senate and carted away its mace, the symbol of its authority, with little resistance. The senator suspected to be behind the incident is apparently unperturbed, even as he was initially “questioned” by the police. Another senator, who pointed out the impropriety of the action of the executive arm of government in recently buying military aircrafts from America without legislative appropriation, was mobbed in his home state afterwards. Another more colourful senator was recently driven in an ambulance for arraignment in court for what have largely been adjudged to be politically motivated charges. And before then, a colleague of his barely escaped murder charges after his accuser recanted his confession. To say the Nigerian Senate is under siege would be an understatement.

Unhappy chief
Although President Muhammadu Buhari is not likely happy with the Senate for the many griefs he has suffered from them, it is doubtful he sanctioned these actions. Even so, they were almost certainly done to further his interests. This is because all the now “persecuted” senators have in one or way or the other, either by their words or actions, been antithetical to the president’s interests. It then begs the question of what the president wants from the Senate. He would like the longsuffering 2018 budget to be passed, for sure. It is probably the most he can hope for, though. Otherwise, had the relationship been rosier, he would probably have wanted to do much more with them. Take the example of the military chiefs that are becoming increasingly unpopular in light of myriad killings going on unabated across the country. Were the president to fire them, he may find it extremely difficult to get their replacements confirmed in the Senate. And he certainly could not now fire any erring member of his cabinet for the same reason. And with politicking for the 2019 elections now in high gear and a couple of the potential presidential contenders being members of the Senate, he may as well jettison the idea of getting much cooperation from the chamber.

Reproach but overlook
But if that is the case, why alienate them even more? The Inspector General of Police has shunned the Senate’s summons twice already. And it does not seem like the police chief worries about any potential punitive action against him by President Buhari; after all, when he supposedly disobeyed the president’s orders to relocate to Benue State in the middle belt of the country to quell the still brewing herders-farmers clashes there, he was largely left alone. These actions by appointees of the president towards institutions like the Senate and individuals who are vocal in their opposition to him create unnecessary difficulties for the president and his desire to get re-elected. It is thus imperative that he calls his appointees to order. True, Mr Buhari’s purchase of urgently needed military equipment without appropriation is reprehensible. But it is similarly reproachful of the Senate to even attempt to politicize the great matter; that is even as Mr Buhari likely had ample time to intimate the Senate about the purchase beforehand. Senate President Bukola Saraki could have been held in confidence, at least. It is doubtful that had Mr Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara been informed, they would have created unnecessary complications after the fact. Still, to even suggest an impeachment of Mr Buhari at this time would be foolish. Our democracy is hardly stable as it is. With myriad killings and altercations all about, a move to remove a president who is extremely popular in the most volatile part of the country is hardly wise. Even so, Mr Buhari should be formally apprised of the infraction he committed. In the same vein, mechanisms available in law and the constitution should be deployed to “forgive” his error.

Assess fairly, act responsibly
That said, the public and the media should be fair in their criticisms of the president. Take his recent trip to America; there were quite a number of unfair criticisms of the aging leader. As I personally followed the proceedings of the trip in the media, especially those that relate to his meeting with Donald Trump, the American president, and assessed the president did relatively well, I was more than a tad astonished by the scathing rebukes that came from what are ordinarily respectable people. We should all just start acting responsibly. The Senate should pass the budget and stop being a pain in the neck of the president. Mr Buhari should also call off his men from the backs of those “distinguished” people.