The Innovation Creativity Conference

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I am extremely pleased to be here today to join you as you explore ideas in innovation, creativity in and of themselves, and also technology. There is no question at all, that we are already in the 4th industrial revolution; the digital/ technology revolution. Everywhere you turn, new opportunities are being created in this new economy. We are literally living in a new age, time and daily, innovative young people are creating new technologies to solve problems faster and impacting larger numbers.

Let’s take a few quick examples from not too long ago; a Nigerian Pharmacist from the Department of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Justus Nwoga, successfully developed a solar PV panel based on the plant, Mimosa Pudica (popularly called Touch and Die plant). Despite the odds, he was able to build solar cells constructed from weed extracts which when exposed to sunlight were found to accumulate solar energy that was convertible to electrical energy.

Today, Nollywood and our music industry are acknowledged worldwide for their industry and creativity. Think of the innovation that another young Nigerian entrepreneur has brought to Nollywood films; Jason Njoku has made the Iroko brand the largest mainstream licensors and distributors of over 5,000 Nollywood films and African Music. Iroko has attracted $20 million in equity investments.

The same innovative spirit can be seen in Konga and the revolution of online shopping, or the story of Jobberman; which was listed in the Forbes Magazine Top 10 Tech startups in Africa.

Jobberman was founded about 8 years ago by 3 young techies while they were in school at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. They have grown the company into a multimillion-dollar company.  The young founders have now divested their interests in the company and are investing in other young Nigerian startups themselves. Consider also, Venture Garden Group, a data automation company founded by three young Nigerians average age of 28, focusing on big data, automation and revenue assurance systems that have taken innovation to new levels. For example, one of the subsidiaries – PowerTech, provides automation for the National power grid which now allows real-time monitoring of energy flow from generation to distribution and payment to all parties, to promote transparency and sustainability of the electricity market.

Today, we have a growing animation industry in Nigeria demonstrating Nigeria’s creativity in producing educational, entertainment and other informative resources. Companies like I was told, had representatives of one of the big Hollywood Studios looking to outsource their animation projects, came and saw these studios and were impressed with the quality of the work.  The challenge was the size of the animation workforce, and the infrastructure to render long duration and high-end animation work.  Here, the answer is to fix the scale and enable investments in infrastructure to support these companies.

Regarding the Federal Government’s plan for technology and innovation, this year we are establishing technology innovation hubs across the country. Two super hubs, one in Lagos and Abuja and 6 regional hubs in the six geopolitical zones. In partnership with several major technology companies, the hubs will be fully resourced with infrastructure and capacity building tools. Each hub will be designed to produce relevant innovative technology solutions, to a wide range of businesses, commercial and government problems. For example, alternative energy solutions, creative technology, public services delivery in health, education and government processes, import substitution, etc., and the likes. Several major technology companies are partnering with us in the provision of infrastructure and opportunity in the hubs.

Also, starting in July of this year, we have budgeted for the training of 65,000 young Nigerians in hardware and software services and more sophisticated software services such as animation. This will mean that we will be building more local capacity to build, assemble hardware, and to write innovative programmes. We also will be focusing on technology for media and entertainment.  We intend to create a reservoir of human capacity in technology that can be exported internationally. Nigeria can lead India as a market for technology and innovation talent.

Our training of 500,000 graduates as volunteer teachers also has a technology component. Each of them in phases will be given a device which will contain a variety of technology training applications, to enable them to attain varying degrees of proficiency in technology.

On June 23rd, we are launching a special presidential initiative on innovative technology. We will be bringing together to the villa, 50 of the most innovative technology start-ups. They will be meeting with major technology and innovation companies as well as venture capitalists, collaborating with the Federal Government to take their ideas to the next level.

We are also creating technology opportunities in our import substitution and diversification plan, by encouraging innovative technologies to spearhead smart domestic production. For example, in Agriculture, our extension services will map and match soil data with best crop and harvest practices, ensuring farmers get relevant and tailored advice, via cloud technology. Also, we see immense possibilities for medicine and education.

The scale and dimension of our innovation aspirations clearly demonstrate that we hope to achieve a lot in a short space of time. But we are also far-sighted. We know that at the cradle of a production-oriented society and a knowledge economy, lies a focus on education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, otherwise referred to as STEM education. This is why we are incentivizing fresh undergraduates in this area, by paying a bursary award to 100,000 STEM undergraduates. We are also going to commence a pilot across the country that tests the conditions for infusing computer programming, robotics and animation in the primary and secondary school curricula.

The goal of the Federal Government is to use innovation and technology to bring revolutionary change, to Nigerian lives at a pace and on a scale that is unprecedented. But on its own, technology is not enough. Because new technology is a tool that merely enables us to transform how services, operate better to serve citizens and/ or customers. It isn’t an end in itself, but it does unlock the door. Creative applications of innovation are also important. Not everyone will develop the life-to transform innovation, but we can ride on the backs of the big ideas for even more relevant innovation.

After all, Google didn’t invent hypertext, Apple didn’t invent the touchscreen. Uber didn’t invent GPS. Twitter didn’t even invent the hashtag.

What these modern giants did was to invent radically new ways of understanding their customers. And this is why we will continue to urge and encourage the private sector’s participation in research, development and commercialization, through funding. In this connection, we are establishing the Innovation Fund to support all downstream research, product development and commercialization activities carried out by universities, research institutes and enterprises.

I also want to challenge the Nigerian youth to creativity and innovation. You must think up and build solutions for smart electricity, smart education, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, smart artisanal delivery services and smart manufacturing and indeed the collection of government revenues.

However, I also believe that the strength of a nation lies in the capacity for deep thought and introspection. Indeed great leaders must as Faust said, be speakers of words and doers of deeds.  Which is why we also believe that we must promote Humanities and the Arts. My office will be giving a little Nobel for the best piece of poetry with a local theme, and the best inspirational short story on Nigeria. Both awards are to be made as part of the Independence Day celebrations.

I thank you for listening.