In this interview, the President of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) and the CEO, Precise Financial Systems Dr. Yele Okeremi speaks on the activities of the government and academia in fragmenting Nigeria Software Industry. Bukola Olanrewaju brings the excerpts.
In few words, kindly describe the Nigerian software industry?
The industry is so fragmented that it rarely exits. It is so fragmented because we don’t have many players with sound impact in the economy.
It’s a shame that the software market in Nigeria remains fickle due to lack of patronage of local software. And this is mainly because the market persist that the quality is not high enough.
The Nigerian software industry is rightly put as a market of unstable equilibrium.
The capital involve for software production is more of intellectual, not cash and our today graduates, are they industry ready?
The few who are coming out to be industry ready are non computer science graduates; they basically taught themselves. This get worse because the industry is not progressive.
In fact, majority of this category of people find their way Overseas making one to realise that the intellectual capital needed for this industry is now heavily impair.
The deficit of Intellectual capital makes it difficult for software developers to raise enough financial capital. This is because Financial Capital will only follow when you already have a product (Software).
In a way without our awareness, we have a system that is set up to virtually subsidize our intellectuals going abroad to countries like Europe, America and Australia.
We have so much challenges in Capital and Labour.
Speaking of challenges of entrepreneurship as another factor of production in the software industry, even though we might have a good number of entrepreneurs but sustainability is the Key.
Entrepreneurship in this industry is also impair, so much that it’s easier for one to be a Government contractor than starting a business in IT market.
Although there are pockets of firms with ISPON recognition, but ordinarily this should be an industry with thousands of thriving firms.
With the out-dated tertiary education scheme leading to graduates being intellectually impaired as you have said, what is ISPON doing to help these students possess the right skills needed in the industry?
ISPON is doing its own bit even though it’s very challenging. Years ago, the association has helped quite a number of universities by making sure they are in the software clubs. These clubs also involve them in productive competition.
Of a truth, we want to do more. One of the things am looking forward to is to have more partner between the academia and industry where universities professors come to serve either on the board of industry and industry performers go to the universities as professor/adjoined practiced professors to teach the students.
But the (NUC) law rules that probability out because it states that no one can teach in the university without a PhD (Doctorate degree). Why these objectives may sound good, these practice has no logic. Why? Because even in the United States, they have practice professors who do not have PhD and they are allowed to teach in top schools.
There is need for more collaboration between the academia and the industry. Because the industry recognized that the universities produces the raw materials(graduates) they need, they will deem it fit to help fund the universities faculties.
But, why can’t NUC give the industry practitioners the grace to teach since they already have huge experience?
I won’t blame anyone, but one of the challenges in this continent is that we have allowed people in government to have careers. We have career politicians everywhere and these people are disconnected. They have never tried their hands on any enterprise. They are not even going out to understand what’s going on in the market place.
We do not have many people in this sector who appreciate or know what should be done.
The day Nigeria begins to have people who have created value before going to serve in places where they can make policies that influence people, you will see a major turnaround.
It is a common thing to refer to India when discussing software in Nigeria, where did Nigeria missed it?
When you see nations doing great, they do not happen by accident. Progress cannot be actualised by doing nothing or assuming the natural forces will help you.
The same thing (Exodus) happening to Nigeria happened to India. This was when the United States became a very fertile land to get the best of brains to study and work. But India created a system that allows their citizens go in search for the right knowledge while creating an enabling environment back home. They also that the market was ready for them by stimulating local demand.
Nigeria missed it by not understanding that we have to make the move work for us.
When you create local demands, people practice more because the market is asking for more.
These are deliberate policies made by the government in order to promote the market
Speaking of Policies, how effective is the Executive order 003 and 005?
There is a lot of heavy lifting that happens to make Executive order effective. Executive Orders are meant to create opportunities but looking at our budget today what product do our Government buys?
Yearly Government spends billion purchasing foreign software at the expense of the local market.
If Government really want the Executive Order to be effective, they should have engage the industry players who will rightly inform them on specific areas of opportunities to grow.
Does this account for the failure of the banking sector to embrace local software?
Yes, those are the issues. Government have institutions with sufficient capacity to help improve local software acceptability. What the banks are spending on software is not up to a fraction of what an ordinary government parastatals will spend.
By patronising local software in its daily running of governmental activities, Nigerian banks will have no excuse not to purchase local software.
What do you think about the idea of software companies raising capital in the stock market?
When you look at the IT ecosystem that are successful, they are very deliberately done, and they are woven intricately. If you want to create a successful ecosystem, the first thing to do is have established players. People talk about the Silicon Valley being successful. They are successful because they have well established players who are all in the capital market; the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ.
When companies list in the stock market, they create another currency which is their shares. Because of that currency (shares) they can use it to acquire other companies. That’s why you hear about many acquisitions. Big figures, but not everything is in cash. The first thing to do, if you want a viable IT ecosystem, is to create mega companies, and this can only happen when companies are listed in the capital market.
# Are there any efforts by ISPON to see these software companies listed?
It is a difficult one, because to be listed is to become a public company. It imposes a lot of burden on you and except your business is really solid, do not think about it.
Your company, PFS is about two and half decades as an incorporated company. Looking back and analyzing now and then, is there any huge difference?
The industry at that time was only budding and emerging, and if you look at it globally then, the software superpowers of IT world today were not superpowers then. The US was a superpower in technology. Microsoft was already existing, but in broader aspect, it was a mole. UK, Ireland were big tech markets too because English is the language of software. Remember at that time there was no internet, so the market was very finesse.
You have to target your market one on one and to reach them mechanically on a Business to Business. Back then, to be a giant in software industry was a game of brick and mortar. Today, it is a lot more fluid.
Your tenure at ISPON is just two years, what do you want the Nigerian tech market to remember you for?
I had only one agenda when I assumed the office, and it is creating capacity. The industry is very fragmented before now. Many of the players have no interest in the association. What I am trying to do is to see software practitioners see that I am capable of creating value and protecting them. These are the biggest agenda that I have.