The information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Nigeria continues to play a pivotal role in the nation’s recovery in the wake of an economic lull during the pandemic years. Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) reported that the ICT sector contributed 9.88% to the total nominal GDP in Q4 of 2021, lower than the rate of 10.58 per cent recorded in the same quarter of 2020. The figure reflects a declining shift as foreign exchange disparity widened and most organizations returned to physical business operations.
Nigeria is regarded as Africa’s largest ICT market with about 82% of the continent’s telecoms subscribers and 29% of internet usage. Sub-Saharan Africa is also projected to be the world’s fastest growing region with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6% and an additional subscriber enrollment of over 167 million in the next five years. Nigeria is expected to account for over 55% of this. The NCC estimates that the country has about 85 million broadband subscriptions (penetration of 44%) and 206 million lines in the voice segment (teledensity of 108%) as of June 2022.
In September 2021, the Nigerian government approved 5G in Nigeria. By December 2021, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had completed auctions for the 3.5GHz spectrum, awarding 5G operational licenses to MTN and MAFAB Communications. The NCC licensed Airtel a 5G spectrum on December 5, 2022.
The four major mobile network operators in the country (Airtel, Globacom, MTN, and 9Mobile) continue to strengthen their market share. Collectively, Nigeria has over 206 million mobile subscriptions. As of July 2022, MTN dominates the GSM market with over 79 million subscribers (38.36%). This is closely followed by Airtel with about 58 million subscribers (28.21%), Globacom has over 56 million (27.28%), and 9Mobile with 12.6 million subscribers (6.14%).
The government of Nigeria recognizes ICT as the enabler for developing other critical sectors including education, healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing. In its drive to diversify the economy from oil and gas, the government is encouraging partnerships between local ICT companies and foreign investors. To promote these partnerships and grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the technology sector, the Nigerian government has supported government or private sector led incubator hubs, youth innovation programs, and science technology parks.
Much like the federal government, several states have begun to implement policies and ICT projects that may help to attract ICT investments and create an enabling business climate for their regions. The Lagos state government announced the construction of a free tech zone that would allow for growth and financing of innovative ideas and may become one of the major technology clusters in West Africa. Similarly, the Edo state government is promoting a live-work-play project that is expected to support a dynamic environment for innovation, growth, and development in technology.
Prominent among the partnerships with the private sector are collaborations with local accelerators like iDEA and the Co-Creation Hub (CC-Hub) in Lagos. These initiatives have attracted foreign investors like the Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, who recently participated in pitches by Nigerian startups, and New York ‘s Andela, which established an incubation center in Lagos to recruit and train talented Nigerians to code and subsequently outsource them to foreign firms. In 2022, Microsoft launched its first African Development Center (ADC) in Lagos. The facility is expected to recruit world-class African engineering talent to develop innovative solutions that span the intelligent cloud and edge.
The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has overall responsibility for the ICT sector. The ministry also has purview over three different agencies including the NCC as the regulator for the telecoms industry; the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) regulates the broadcast industry; and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is responsible for digital policy implementation.
The Nigerian government in November 2019 launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) aimed at repositioning the Nigerian economy toward opportunities that digital technologies provide and to diversify the economy away from dependence on the oil and gas sector. The program is based on 8-pillars for the acceleration of the Nigerian economy:
- Developmental regulation
- Digital literacy & skills
- Solid infrastructure
- Service infrastructure
- Digital services development & promotion
- Soft infrastructure
- Digital society & emerging technologies
- Indigenous content development & adoption
As part of measures to achieve this objective, the NCC rolled out the National Broadband Plan for 2020-2025.
The Broadband Plan is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25 Mbps in urban areas, and 10 Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90% of the population by 2025. As part of the initial broadband expansion plan, Nigerian government is seeking private sector infrastructure partners in expanding last-mile access. To deepen broadband penetration across the country, the NCC granted licenses to telecommunications infrastructure companies (infracos) to provide telecommunication broadband infrastructure across the various geo-political regions of the country, especially the rural populace. The infracos include:
- MainOne Cable Company (Lagos zone)
- IHS Holding Limited (north central and Abuja zone)
- Zinox Technology Ltd (southeast zone) BCN (northwest zone)
- Brinks Integrated Solutions Ltd (northeast zone)
Nigeria aspires to become one of the top economies in the world and the country recognizes ICT development and broadband access as critical requirements to achieve this vision. This ambition, however, remains far from being accomplished as several hurdles have encumbered broadband expansion and investment opportunities for the sector. Some of the major challenges that have affected the sector include long delays in the processing of permits; multiple taxation at federal, state, and local government levels; multiple regulatory bodies; damage to existing fiber infrastructure as a result of cable theft, road works and other operations; and right of way (ROW) charges implemented incongruously by several state governments. This typically leads to the high cost of leasing transmission infrastructure. Following criticisms and outcry by several stakeholders, the federal government has been pushing for the states to review ROW charges as part of promoting ease of doing business and attracting more investment. Currently, many states have started reviewing the charges above the federal-approved rate of $0.37 (145 naira) per linear meter. Some states are providing zero cost for laying broadband or any other telecommunications infrastructures to boost digital infrastructure rollout outside of urban areas.
Following the rapid growth and progress in the country’s ICT landscape, the country’s international connectivity improved from a single international submarine cable system with 340 GB total capacity installed in 2001 to a total of five cable systems with a combined overall capacity of over 40 terabytes. However, much of this remains unutilized because of inadequate distribution infrastructure and channels to areas of need inland. This holds huge potential for Nigeria as increasing data capacity.
The future looks promising for this segment. The Nigerian mobile network operator and owner of the GLO 1 submarine cable already announced ongoing work to launch a second submarine fiber cable – GLO 2. GLO2 is expected to have a capacity of 12 terabit per second and be the first submarine cable in Nigeria to land outside Lagos when completed. It is also intended to scale up for further expansion southwards, including to Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Angola. Meta announced its ‘2Africa’ project, laying subsea internet cables that will stretch 22,990 miles and interconnect Europe to about 16 countries in Africa with 21 landings points, including Nigeria. Facebook notes that the cable, upon completion, will provide nearly three times the total network capacity of all the subsea cables serving Africa today, as well as support growth of 4G, 5G, and broadband access for hundreds of millions of people. In April 2022, Google landed its Equiano subsea cable in Nigeria. Google’s Equiano cable is expected to have nine branching units creating room for more international connectivity. In the Nigerian terminal point, it is expected to yield about 20% reduction in internet retail prices, a sixfold increase in internet speeds, and a 6% increase in internet penetration.
There are several other huge capital projects being championed by U.S. multinationals. U.S. firm Equinix acquired MainOne, which had been one of Nigeria’s major tier-III data centers, with footprints in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Corning recently collaborated with Nigerian cable manufacturer, Coleman Technical Industries Limited, for local manufacturing of fiber optic cables. Cisco Systems got the approval of Nigerian government to develop six internet of things (IoT) labs across the country, with the focus of building the necessary skillset among students. IBM is championing its Digital Nation Africa (IBM DNA) program focused on empowering youths on the continent. The platform is designed to provide digital knowledge with practical understanding and enhance digital careers.
The growth of e-services and cloud computing has fueled the demand for data services, simultaneously creating the need for more reliable and high-quality broadband from service providers. The enterprise application software (EAS) market is currently dominated by products from Asia and Europe, with some imports from the United States, but the market segment for high quality products remains largely available.
Nigeria has been able to maintain footprint in space through its communications satellite (NigComSat-1R), which was launched in 2011. The satellite is expected to be retired around 2025. In March 2021, NigComSat announced its call for expressions of interest (EOI) for additional communications satellites from competent manufacturers, contractors, vendors, and partners in the satellite industry. Firms will be pre-qualified for consideration in the implementation of the design, manufacture, launch, in-orbit test, and commissioning of a high-through satellite (HTS). The statement from the agency notes that it intends to increase its fleet of satellites to address a broad array of the communication needs of the country in the areas of broadcasting, broadband, and internet services by procuring the manufacture and launching of an HTS.
Fiber on air and fiber to the home (FTTH) is receiving interest following the increased bandwidth capacity now available in the country. Local internet service providers (ISPs) in Nigeria are providing improved high-speed wireless to the home (WTTH) services.
Cloud computing is fast becoming a necessary aspect in the operations of large businesses and some government agencies in Nigeria. There are several data centers across the country; Nigeria currently has about four enterprise-grade and multi-tenant data centers categorized as Tier III or Tier IV. These provide any or all major data center offerings:
- Software as a service (SaaS)
- Platform as a service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
- Back-up as a service (BaaS)
Commercial activities within this segment of the market are expected to remain buoyant as the government is pursuing a data localization policy. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the Nigerian government’s body responsible for data protection, is requesting all telecommunications companies host all subscriber and consumer data in Nigeria. Further, they request all ministries, departments, and agencies of the federal government to host their websites locally under a registered.gov.ng domain, along with all sovereign data.
Fintech and digital financial services in Nigeria are gaining widespread use and acceptance as the government continues to campaign for a cashless economy. This is also being fueled by the increasing adoption of mobile phones. NCC, in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), now allows mobile network operators (MNOs) be licensed and perform mobile money payment services. The CBN issued an approval to two of the nation’s MNOs (MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa) to operate as payment service banks (PSB).
With growing interest in online commerce, Nigerian fintech operators are also gaining traction. In October 2020, U.S. financial tech outfit, Stripe, announced the acquisition of Nigeria’s Paystack to accelerate online commerce across Africa. The acquisition, worth about $200 million, is the culmination of a close partnership between Stripe and Paystack over the last several years. The CBN recently announced that Nigeria’s fintech firms attracted an investment of $500 million between 2015 and 2020 owing to improvement in the ecosystem.
So far, digital financial services in Nigeria mainly provide savings, lending, and payments. The payments acceptance market, especially merchant and bill payment services, is fast becoming dominated by third-party aggregators and other nonbanks including switch operators. Major participants in the space are Cellulant, Flutterwave, Paystack, Systemspec, WebPay, Paga, etranzact, Quickteller, and Payarena.
The viability of Nigeria’s tech industry keeps growing. With five out of seven of the continent’s tech unicorns, Lagos remains the top destination for investments going into what has been dubbed “Africa’s Silicon Valley.” Accounting for over a third of the continent’s tech investment in 2022, Nigerian fintech start-ups raised over $1.3 billion in 2022 out of the $4 billion invested in Africa. The United States remains the leading source of investment, with nearly 60 percent of all fintech investment flowing into Nigeria.
Smart mobility and last-mile logistics is another part of the tech ecosystem that has gained some popularity. Following the launch in Nigeria of Uber’s ride-sharing service in 2014, several other models have been introduced and adopted, including motorbike-hailing services. Smart mobility is a disruptive market force in the global transportation technology sector. There are huge prospects for the vehicle technology industry in Nigeria, especially within the automotive aftermarket space including GPS navigation systems, telematics, mobile electronics, camera systems, security control, and tracking systems.
There are several investment opportunities in Nigeria’s diverse information technology sector for U.S. investors. Nigeria’s cloud service market terrain is still nascent as there are only a few participants currently involved in enterprise-grade deployments. Industry analysts see activity increasing for partnerships, as well as equipment sales and technical services. Also, the digital financial services and financial tech sector is continually evolving with new participants and product launches. This is spurred by both government policy to promote a cashless economy and the high number of digital natives in the ecosystem.
Additionally, there is huge potential in the country’s fiber optic and broadband market given the continued expansion of Nigeria’s international submarine cable system. The landscape currently has a combined overall capacity of over 40 terabytes with other projects proposed to be launched soon. Further opportunities may be explored in the satellite internet and television white space (TVWS) segments as the roll out of terrestrial fiber across the country may not provide the much-needed nationwide coverage, hence the need for alternative technologies. U.S. information technology companies, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and internet service providers (ISPs) may also consider the emerging needs for supply of required devices (antennas, solar kits, cabling, diverse range of wireless communication, and radio products for high-capacity data and voice delivery) in this space.
The Nigeria Startup Act initiated by both the Presidency’s Office of the Chief of Staff and Office of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy was signed into law October 19, 2022. The Act oversees policy guidelines and regulations in the Nigeria tech space and aims to create a conducive environment for Nigerian startups to launch and scale products, attract foreign capital, and prevent setbacks from events that have occurred in the past like the ban on cryptocurrencies.
In 2020, Lagos State began their Smart City implementation, a that project entails the deployment of metro-fiber infrastructure, intelligent transportation systems, and digital workflow systems for the state government. In a bid to drive further civic digitization and technology outcomes, Lagos state signed an MOU with Microsoft in December 2022 to partner in technology development. This agreement will see Lagos leverage opportunities on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to develop technology solutions in the healthcare, education, and energy sectors. Additionally, Lagos and Microsoft propose to explore technical collaborations in data Analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and privacy solutions.
Though Nigeria remains a major ICT powerhouse on the continent, there have been reports of a recent slow-down of the sector caused by rising exchange rates and constrained access to the foreign exchange necessary for the import of inputs. Downstream effects include foreign exchange scarcity, wide disparity between the dollar and the local currency (naira), impacted investment, and increased cost of equipment procurement.
There has been ongoing debate regarding the Nigerian government’s plan to regulate the use of social media. Nigeria currently ranks 120th in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, down from 115 in 2020.
Significant and frequent policy shifts in Nigerian government’s positions toward ICT are common. Ride hailing services including Uber and Bolt have continued to face threats of stiff regulations in some of the country’s regions. In 2020, Lagos state government, citing safety and security concerns, imposed a ban on the budding two-wheel ride-hailing platforms – Gokada, Max.ng, and ORide. These firms were banned from operating in the city’s central commercial and residential areas. Most of the affected operators now focus on deliveries and other logistics businesses.
In February 2021, the CBN cautioned all banks and financial firms against facilitating the use of cryptocurrency and reminded them that “dealing in crypto currencies or facilitating payments for cryptocurrency exchanges is prohibited.” CBN’s notice also required all recipients to identify persons operating crypto exchanges and ensure their accounts are closed immediately. After sustained chaos in the crypto market, the CBN clarified that the notice did not constitute a total ban, nor was it meant to discourage people from trading cryptocurrency. Instead, the Bank argued, it was merely reiterating a pre-existing ban on banks facilitating crypto transactions that was implemented in 2017, and which was part of the government’s drive for Nigeria to become a cashless society. Nigerians, however, still remain among the most active cryptocurrency traders in the world. In June 2021, the Nigerian government imposed a ban on the use of Twitter in the country, accusing the site of not curtailing content from a successionist movement. Media reports connected the ban to the company’s removal of a post by the President. Twitter’s service was restored in January 2022 with a requirement to appoint a local representative, register with Nigeria’s Corporate Affairs Commission as a legal entity, comply with tax obligations, and abide by regulatory and legal demands. This injunction also applies to other interactive computer service platforms and internet intermediaries.
Local Industry Events
- Digital Africa Conference; Location: Online (https://www.digitalafrica.com.ng/)
- NigeriaCom Conference; Location: Online (https://tmt.knect365.com/nigeria-com/)
- Social Media Week; Location: TBD (https://www.smwlagos.com/)
For further sector information, e-mail: Ambrose Thomas, Commercial Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, Lagos, Nigeria at: Ambrose.Thomas@trade.gov