Africa – Europe High-level Forum Themed: Taking Cooperation To The Digital Age, In Vienna, Austria

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This meeting is important, desirable and timely, and Nigeria welcomes the theme, ‘Taking cooperation to the digital age.’

Given rapid game-changing developments in technology, Africa and Europe must work together to advance and harvest the economic benefits of the digital economy, and at the same time prevent a counter-productive widening of the digital gap. Investments in digital technology can make an important contribution to growth and development by fostering productivity gains from continuous innovation.

Given our fast-growing population in Africa, we are of course keen to work together to boost the job creation potential of new technologies rather than concentrating on jobs destined to disappear in the digital age. Faster growth, sustainable development and job creation are also vital for reducing irregular migration from Africa to Europe. In our globalized world, people can see disparities in standards of living across regions quite easily. This means there must be increasing openings for entrepreneurship and jobs in home countries for those who would otherwise embark on risky, dangerous journeys in search of opportunities. In Nigeria, we are taking urgent and practical steps to provide such opportunities for our rapidly increasing youth population.

Our advisory group on technology and creativity have been working to build an ecosystem for funding, training, infrastructure and intellectual property protection.

Under our social investment programme, 75,000 young people are being trained in coding, software development, hardware maintenance, animation and data management, and we’re set to train another 200,000 young men and women. Similarly, we have established 8 technology hubs to support tech startups across our six geopolitical zones and two major cities of Abuja and Lagos.

We’ve encouraged partnership to establish venture funds to support innovation and are now engaged in talks to establish a $500 million innovation funds with bilateral and multilateral partners.

We’ll be deploying digital methods and tools on a larger scale to expand learning opportunities for younger Nigerians, as conventional education through brick and mortar institution can no longer be viable given the huge numbers and limited resources. Already 200,000 out of our 500,000 young graduates in our N-Power scheme have tablet devices which we use for on-the-job training and further skills acquisition. This experience will guide our efforts as we seek to expand digital literacy at earlier stages of education.

Similarly, our education curriculum is being reworked to emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The Arts have been included because of the growing recognition of the strengths of our country, especially in the arts, music, film and literature.

With regards to e-commerce, Nigeria has firms like Jumia and Konga, while Paystack and Paga are leading in enabling digital payments. In addition, young enterprising Nigerians including those who make all sorts of commodities, have been using platforms like Instagram, Youtube and even Twitter as their marketplace.

Financial technology is being used in our efforts to rapidly scale up financial inclusion. Working with our banks, telcos and FinTech companies, we’ve used digital tools and platforms to provide interest-free microloans to up to 1.3 million Nigerians and about 300,000 received Conditional Cash Transfers by the same means. We hire, pay and train online 500,000 young men and women in the largest post-tertiary direct jobs programme in Africa. Through participation in this scheme, present and future beneficiaries would be brought into databases for unique biometric identification.

I’m optimistic that our efforts would attract strong support and active engagement of our partners in the European Union. Indeed, already, we have some good examples of that in the African Digital leaders Training programme, which is a partnership between Ventures Platform of Nigeria and Enterprise Lithuania with funding from the European Union. This innovative programme would provide digital skills training for 50 young Nigerians in Lithuania, while at the same time, relieving temporary labour shortage in that country. A reintegration component is also built into the package.

Also, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development is launching a pilot college of practical skills and start up centre in Nigeria to train a thousand Nigerian youths, including 300 women, per year in directly marketable skills. This is in collaboration with a Nigerian private university, the Godfrey Okoye University, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Wi-fi international, Modu University, Vienna, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna; and the Centre for Development Research in particular.

We invite other EU member states to similar partner with us to impart skills, raise resources, promote investment and provide infrastructure to build a digital economy in Nigeria, and indeed, the rest of Africa.

Excellencies, the conversations we have started here must continue formally and informally. We have a moment in the history of Europe-Africa relations that can yield tremendous mutual benefits. Let us seize this moment.

Thank you very much.