Interview: Why Nigerian government keyed into digital world – Obioha

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Mr. Phillip Obioha, Austin Okere, James Agada
Mr. Phillip Obioha, Chairman, Board of Directors at CWG Plc

The Chairman, Board of Directors of CWG Plc, Mr. Phillip Obioha, in this interview with ITPulse’s Martin Ekpeke speaks on his appointment, what must be done to move the Nigeria’s ICT industry forward and what CWG is doing to impact the Nigerian economy positively through technology.

You were part of the CWG’s team from inception. Now that you have been appointed as Chairman, Board of Directors, what extra are you bringing to the table to move CWG forward?

First of all, the board is the highest leadership level in an organization, and the involvement in its strategy process brings along a lot of value that would ensure the success and survival of the company, whilst creating a future for it. Having worked for the organization for more than 18 years, being involved in major corporate decisions will be of added value.  Obviously the business landscape has changed over the years, some challenges which we had from inception are very different from the ones which we are currently experiencing. Globalization has brought along with it, unique opportunities and challenges; varying technological factors have been introduced that have flattened the world, like broadband, the internet, cloud services, and the applications like outsourcing, collaboration, workflow, ecommerce and other specific internet based applications. With the benefit of hindsight, and experience as executives in the past, we in a better position to set operational guidelines and boundaries for the organization to operate optimally in; taking into cognizance the macroeconomic environment, the current business challenges and the relevant trending technologies in Nigeria.

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Your appointment as Chairman, Board of Directors at CWG is more like a reappearance into the ICT scene. What is your assessment of the present day Industry?

Incidentally, I have not been gone for long, so there hasn’t been much of a fundamental shift. But the industry has grown significantly, becoming one of the most dynamic industries in Nigeria. An industry aided by the growth and spread of our broadband infrastructure, riding on the use of the Internet as a skeletal from, on which information technology is built. A lot of

Globalization has brought its unique opportunities as well as challenges along with it. Even more interesting are those factors that have flattened the world, like broadband, the internet, cloud services

small to medium scale IT firms has emerged and are empowered to develop cutting edge applications which addresses today’s business needs. We even have developers working for US firms here in Nigeria, we see more and more of firms focusing on their core business, and outsourcing their IT needs, or benefiting from our cloud services.  As competition becomes fiercer, and the advantage of efficiencies becomes more obvious, Government as well as the private sector is forced to key in deeper into the digital world. There is a growing population of youths who are eager to learn and use the various types of ICT available to them, aided by tech hubs across the country. Technological innovation is also evident in various aspects of the economy, especially in financial solutions, e-commerce and the likes.

Abiodun Fawunmi, Philip Obioha, James Agada, Austin Okere, CWG Plc
L-r: Abiodun Fawunmi, Former Chairman, CWG Plc, Philip Obioha, Present Chairman, CWG Plc, James Agada, CEO. CWG Plc, Austin Okere, Founder/Vice Chairman, CWG Plc at the CWG 25th Anniversary Gala/auction Night in VI, Lagos last year

Is there anything you think has not been done to move the industry forward in the last 5 years?

The government will do well to improve creativity, especially among the youths by creating and supporting innovation hubs which lowers the entry barrier for startup. CWG already runs an academy where fresh graduates are trained and empowered to go and seek employment or start up their own IT firm

Though, there seems to have been some traction from the Government, the broadband policy, licensing of the Infrastructure companies and release of more frequencies have deepened the national connectivity and internet reach. Government can however do a lot more by giving tax breaks to new startups, facilitate the provision of long term loans, low cost of capital and provide technology parks where all the required infrastructure would be available to the youths.

CWG has been positioned more recently as a Technology solutions provider that enables growth. What area (s) of the Nigerian economy, do you believe is yet to be impacted by technology, and would you advise CWG to penetrate?

One cannot overemphasize that Power is one of the key drivers of any economy and that it has continued to be a big challenge to the Nigerian Government and a huge source of frustration to the survival of any business. The challenges span the value chain, from the generation through to the transmission to the distribution of this power. One of the key areas within this value            chain that can be addressed by ICT is in the metering area. A lot of power is stolen, thereby impacting the revenue assurance of investors, which results in inadequate re-investment to make the ecosystem better. CWG has already designed and developed an intelligent metering system called ‘SMART Utilities’ positioned for smarter cities; which is geared towards eliminating power theft, promote accurate metering, regulate power billings monitoring and reporting of connectivity and the meter bypass all with the aim to drive revenue assurance and improve economic growth. Asides this, CWG deploys technology solutions to improve efficiencies and enable growth in many other areas; Insurance industry; Cooperatives and much more.

You have been in the ICT for over two decades, what has been your biggest challenges?

Given the operating environment and the need to for growth, I would think asides power, another huge challenge was Foreign exchange exposure businesses were exposed to. Ninety per cent of the required infrastructure for most businesses were imported, whilst payments were in local currency, Naira. This was exacerbated in 2015 when banks refused to provide hedging services in view of the uncertainty in the Foreign exchange market.

The world is presently being driven by tech innovation and creativity, how will you rate Nigerian youths on these?

I will rate our youths very high in this regard and this is underscored by Mark Zuckerberg’s visit a while back. Recognizing this, a number of innovation hubs have been set up across the country; CWG also launched its Innovation Hub for Software development and quite a bit of support has poured in from International companies for these Millennials. I have been privileged to sit in on one of the evaluations done by Lagos Angel Networks to choose startups or young firms for growth funding and I was impressed by the creative and innovative nature of our young ones. Nigerian youths are very creative and innovative in the use of technology, especially in the creation of Apps which proffer various solutions. There is no age barrier in this, as a lot of children below the age of 12, have been known to create apps that are functional and addressing specific needs.

CWG Plc is concerned about the power challenges in the country and has designed and come up with a smart, intelligent metering system which is geared towards eliminating power theft and ultimately improve revenue

What are the setbacks to innovation and creativity in Nigeria?

The first I would say are the restrictions within large organizations that punish failure. There should be an incentive for engineers to toy with ideas without a punitive stance on this. The ideal thing is to give boundaries with which to operate. The other point is that government should enforce the protection of intellectual property rights and streamline the process of registering these rights as well. The last setback, I would mention here is the lack of basic infrastructure like power and broadband which would further lower the entry barrier of stating up business as well as allow them operate efficiently and stay focused. The alternative would be to set up Government sponsored ICT hubs, which would open up with the necessary infrastructure

What do you think can be done to improve creativity, especially among the youths? Will CWG be helping to support this?

This can be done by providing an enabling environment in which they would operate. This could come in the form of the provision of innovation hubs which lowers the entry barrier for startup. CWG already runs an academy where fresh graduates are trained      and empowered to either seek employment or start up their own IT firm. CWG also has a software development department, which addresses everyday business challenges, developing technology platform solutions that resolve them. So the best that can be done for our youths today, is to empower them and give them an enabling environment in which to operate and the rest would be history.

Although, there has been some traction from the government side, the broadband policy, licensing of the Infrastructure companies and the release of more frequencies has not really had the effect of deepening the national connectivity and the internet reach

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