“Wemust Discourage Foreigners from Developing our System”Olorogun James Emadoye, MD/CEO, BSSLTechnologies
In this exclusive interview with one of the TOP 20 CEO’s this decade, Olorogun James Emadoye, MD/CEO, BSSL Technologies shared his thoughts on ways to improve the ecosystem and move the industry to the desired height. Excerpts.
How is the software industry responding to the Covid-19 outbreak?
We are lucky that Nigeria has automated its financial and related industry. If not for that fact, the cashless adoption would not have gone substantially well. We would have drastically suffered the effects of Covid-19. The way the industry has raised to the challenge of Covid 19 seemed to have helped us to rise above the pandemic. It is left for our leaders to learn from what has happened because nobody knew that Covid-19 could happen, even the world powers could not predict the pandemic. We are only powerful if we know our enemies; Covid-19 is an enemy we don’t know.
In Nigeria, we are lucky that there are so many things helping us. Whether we like it or not, we are not carrying out sufficient Covid 19 tests to ascertain the number of infected persons. If the story is not about people who need to be tested, it is about those who need to be isolated. These stories are unpalatable. But we are generally lucky that our environment has helped us to reduce the real effect of Covid 19 but we need to think about this.
Our government ought to have put together the traditional and medical doctors to come up with vaccines to solve the pandemic but it seems we are still looking to the Western world for supports, for vaccines that are being developed in Oxford.
Are ISPON members seizing the opportunities embedded in the Covid-19?
The opportunities are there without any doubt. Between March and May, virtually all the offices were closed. It is those companies that have done a bit of cloud software that could cope within that period. Some of our clients don’t have problems because they’ve provided for that uncertainty.
It is said that software will change the way we work. We have a huge youthful population within the ages of 15 and 35. For them, it is the age to learn and emerge. It is for our government to look for everything that we need. If we need to build a bridge and your own people can’t build the bridge, you don’t need the bridge. The same applies to software. The more you challenge us the more output we will get.
Nigeria is far more developed in terms of fintech than most other countries. With my phone, I can transfer N1 million. But in the USA, I cannot transfer $10,000. To do that in the USA, you will go through stress. Our problem is in security, profiling and identification. These are problems around technology that the country must solve. In 2020, how possible is it to use people’s names to locate their addresses? Our address system must be worked on.
Our NIN system is still a problem. Can you easily register for NIN today and get your number next week? The answer is no. When you dig into the project, you will observe that much money has gone down the conduit pipe of the corruption process. Do we need foreigners to do it? The answer is no. Is it a rocket science? The answer is no. Is it difficult to do? The answer is no. The problem we have is that we cannot easily register our people and create a database of address systems for them to locate their activities in the country.
Are tech hubs set up by government agencies helping the industry?
That’s a big question. I don’t want to say what motivated the establishment of some of the hubs, and the things that are happening in the industry. We have been talking about different hubs for so many years now. How I wish the government would be serious to set up within ourselves an audit of the money spent? Let’s measure them with the output so it is very difficult to say how they are affecting the industry.
I expect the spending agencies to change their methodology and in doing that, they should work through the existing companies and the institution. They will get more results that way when they set up all these hubs. Out of the hubs, maybe in a year, we are able to get one or two projects. These projects will survive with government support, otherwise, after one or two years the projects fizzle out.
But I believe that if government reviews its strategy and work through existing companies that have sustained and maintained operations for a number of years, and work through the institutions, then, government could say we are providing sponsorship for the company. Government can lists the area it wants to focus and train a certain number of the youths, guide them to deliver. That way you have already tie a project to the value of money you are spending and the Nigerian youths who will benefits from that project.
But what we have is a contractor who sets up the hubs and buys equipment. Most of the hubs in Yaba are not working. But if we review the strategy and get the Nigerian youths from university, attach them to a company, a project, then, development will be easier. But I must say again, we must discourage foreigners from developing things for us. We must do things for ourselves. That’s the only way to go.
Does your industry have a rapport with the present government?
There is no human being or agency that is thinking about development in Nigeria. It is what is in it for them and that is why we are where we are today. It has been like that for a long while. The professional does not have a say in any agency. They can speak their grammar. They can do their recommendation. They can write their report. But if the agency refuses to listen, what can the professionals do? If you don’t take time, those in government will call you noise maker.
They have the voice. They have the power. If I am to go to Abuja to make noise, how long will I survive? I am using my hard earned small resources to have a space in the Nigerian economy. So the power is in the hands of the government .The knife is in their hands. The yam is in their hands.
What do we need to make technology grow in Nigeria?
We need power. We need broadband. I am sure if we have this interview 10 years ago, I will be telling you those are the critical things to our development. In 2020, I am still telling you they are critical to our development. During the last government, we were told that we were generating between 6,000 or 7,000 megawatts. Today, we are still generating the same megawatt but billions of money has gone down the drain.
What is wrong with us? Are we so deficient in wisdom that we cannot build or coin something to come out of the challenges we are facing? The professional association cannot do much. They can only try. You cannot force the hand of a ministry to give a project to your company. There were times that they excluded Nigerians before a project was advertised. They advertise a job that they say that you must have implemented a job worth a $500 million software project. Or they tell you that they want to deal with an international company.
What is the motivation? Is it to solve the problem that our children can solve or to channel funds from our country? But we must find a way to be involved. Though I am not a government official but you and I know someone in the government. What are we telling them when they come home? Do we sit down and hail them? So this is the challenge.
Looking ahead, what are the solutions to our challenges?
We are starting another decade now but I don’t know if we should be looking for a miracle. We shall continue to struggle in our space but it is left for all Nigerians to start looking inward. The industry will grow right before our eyes and we shall start to export goods to other countries. People should not consume any software that cannot be produced in Nigeria.
If we are able to stand firm with our software, then we will have resources to invest in other areas just as China did. China used Microsoft and WhatsApp but modify it to suit their own environment. That way we will develop the local technology and the people. You are not totally dependent but you can easily be stopped with a single code. It can hurt you. For us in the new decade, we should be looking inward. If you are fortunate, you can become a minister. Any proposal coming to your table should serve the interest of Nigerians and not foreigners.
If you can wait for one year, that fund you need to set up a hub, funnel the money to set up university, get students, and the people that will supervise them to collectively pursue a project. This is what we want. Until we start doing that, we are not going anywhere. In this new decade, we need to look at our educational system. No system can develop without a sound education.
How do we ensure that the issue of strike does not exist again? How do we remove the overbearing control of government from our educational system? How do we make sure that our vice chancellors do not roam the national assembly for budgetary allocation? These are some of the things we need to do if we are to make a better impact in the university. We cannot continue to have our universities as freebies. School fees must be introduced to our universities system. That way you will remove the universities from the ministry of education.
They should be on their own, fully autonomous. The same money they are budgeting for universities every year should be given to the education bank for about four to five years and to give loans to students who say they can’t pay for school through the education bank. And when you graduate, they will be ready and be more responsible for life. That is the only way to return our educational system.
When you do that, the school will not beg people to buy their research equipment, pay their lecturers, and all sorts. A professor will have a fund to get graduate assistants. Once you try that for about five years, you can stop funding the education bank because the bank will start getting recycled money. The government’s intervention in the school system will only happen when there is a need for a special project.
Professors will no longer go to the ministry of education and National Assembly for intervention. They will sit in their schools to do their work. I hope Nigeria will be able to have leaders that will say enough is enough to change the way we are living.
How do you feel being chosen as one of the Top 20 CEOS of the Decade (2010 -2019)?
I don’t know what I may have done to deserve this honour. I am not going to take it for granted. I always wake up every day to think of what I can contribute to the development of Nigeria. I thank God that I am able to sustain the company to pay some Nigerians that are working for us. It could be better if the patronage and the pricing are right; patronage in the sense that, Nigerians are still patronising foreign products; pricing in the sense that, even if they choose to patronise local companies, what they should pay $2 million, they will want to pay N20 million.
That means when the man that’s selling foreign product gets $2 million, he will attract new staff and pay him N500, 000. The local company will be praying to pay N200, 000 to a staff. These inequalities are some of the challenges we have in the industry. We hope that it will be better but government policy could speed up the whole thing. The policy should be buy Nigeria, be Nigeria and live Nigeria.