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‘Japa syndrome’ in Nigeria’s ICT sector

Started as a playful word in Lagos by youngsters and popularised by a musician, Naira Marley, Japa is now used by all Nigerians to mean…

Started as a playful word in Lagos by youngsters and popularised by a musician, Naira Marley, Japa is now used by all Nigerians to mean leaving the country to seek greener pastures abroad. In Yoruba language, it simply means ‘to run away’ or ‘escape’. And many young Nigerians are doing just that in their thousands, leaving the country in search of a better life abroad. 

Though seems comical because of how youths use it, it has also evolved into a more serious national embarrassment for the country. It is causing the country huge damage and would take years for the gaps left by the ‘japa’ population to be filled. 

From the economy, to the educational sector, and even the private sector, almost all spheres of work ecosystem in Nigeria have had a taste of the effects of this increasing brain drain, according to an expert, Abdulateef Badmus. 

According to statista, the migration rate in Nigeria stood at -0.29 per 1,000 population in 2021. The figure skyrocketed in 2022.  This means that the number of people leaving Nigeria is slightly higher than that of those entering the country. Between 2000 and 2021, the migration balance stayed negative. The exodus of young, talented Nigerians to other countries in search of better opportunities has caused a significant loss of human capital in various sectors of the country. 

Things aren’t much different in the ICT sector too. Many tech developers are either leaving the country in search of better paying ICT jobs or working remotely for foreign companies.

At the Bankers’ Committee meeting held in April 2022, it was disclosed that about 500 Nigerian software engineers secured better offers abroad that year alone – majorly in Canada and European countries, where the emolument far outweighs what they are being paid in the Nigerian banking sector as they are paid in foreign currency at a time the nation’s Naira has seriously depreciated. This is a bad news for our leaders. 

Speaking on the issue, a telecom policy enthusiast, Omotayo Azeez, said the rising skills gap challenge in the Nigerian telecommunications sector is constituting a major threat to the future of the $75.6 billion industry. 

According to Azeez, for the sector to continue to thrive, telecoms companies require professionals with skills in various areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, wireless network engineering, software development, fibre optics engineering, IP networking skills, cloud computing, and VSAT engineering among others, but which are not sufficiently available at the moment.

“The current existence of the skills gaps puts a strain on telecom firms, limiting their ability to expand, innovate, improve customer services or develop new products,” Azeez said.

According to the Convener of Policy Implementation Assisted Forum (PIAFo), while the sector is growing in geometric progression, the workforce that shoulders its day-to-day operations and support is rather depleting, a development he described as a ticking time bomb.

He said: “Available data show a high global demand for tech skilled-workers particularly in the telecoms sector. This is why the situation is even scarier for a low-middle income country such as Nigeria because high-income economies that desire similar skilled labour will always have their way enticing away capable hands and talents from here.

“This is happening already,” he said, adding that in 2022 alone, operators in the sector lamented losing over 2,000 trained telecoms personnel in Nigeria to other countries.

According to Azeez, operators are finding the gaps difficult to fill as prospective applicants often lack the required knowledge and skill set to deliver, while trained workers are leaving.

“This has hampered the rate at which operators recruit. For instance, operators across the GSM, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Value-Added Services (VAS), Fixed Services and other subsegments of the sector have only employed additional 679 workers in the last three years, which cannot serve licensees in the sector even at a one-to-one ratio.

“Whereas, the talks around 5G, edge infrastructure, internet of things (IoT) and smart city initiatives all demand more capable hands to innovate and undertake professional tasks to achieve the future aspiration of the sector.

One of the major reasons for brain drain in Nigeria is the lack of job opportunities for young people. Also, the lack of access to quality education and training is another factor that has contributed to the brain drain problem. Many young Nigerians do not have access to the necessary education and training needed to secure good jobs in the country.

In his address, Azeez, who doubles as Team Lead, Business Metrics Limited, highlighted causes of the current skills gap in the sector.

According to him, they include defective educational systems, inadequate training programmes, poor remunerations, japa syndrome, global high demand for tech-skilled workers, government policies, and rapid technological advancements.

He encouraged industry stakeholders to leverage the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector (NPPIC), among other local content policies to develop homegrown talents with skill capacities that are globally competitive.

“While effective collaboration is required between government, operators, and educational, research and training institutions to bridge the gaps, the process should begin with operators by putting in place training and internship programmes within their organisations to meet their immediate needs.

He further underscored investments in employees’ training and capacity building to maximise available talents, adding that investments in the workforce should be prioritised the same way as Capital Expenditure (CAPEX).

“It would be a gross injustice not to acknowledge young Nigerians for their ingenuity, skills and entrepreneurial spirit, but the current skills gap identified in the ICT and the telecoms sector must not be ignored and should be jointly tackled before it escalates from an operating threat to an existential one.

“Therefore, we should commit to grooming and retaining talents to attract more investments and secure the digital future of the country,” Azeez concluded.

Lagos agency, IT firm invest N3bn to tackle ‘Japa syndrome’

In a move to address the growing tech talent gap in Nigeria and tackle the japa syndrome, the Ingryd Academy has forged a collaboration with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) with investment of N3billion to drive innovation, foster tech talent, and empower aspiring tech professionals across Nigerians and Africa.

This partnership aims to provide aspiring tech professionals with the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to succeed in a rapidly evolving tech landscape, officials of both organisations said. 

Speaking in a press conference in Lagos on Tuesday,  CEO Ingryd Academy, Khadijat Abdulkadir said the partnership with LSETF envisions a future where Africa’s tech talent rises to its full potential, driving innovation, and propelling the continent to the forefront of the global tech landscape.

Abdulkadir said the Ingryd Scholarship Program, which is renowned for offering free training in critical tech skill sets such as Java, Linux, Cybersecurity, and Data Science, will now train 4,000 individuals annually. 

She said: “The program’s six-month curriculum includes a three-month paid internship, enabling participants to gain practical experience and apply their newly acquired skills. Beginning this October, the program will welcome its first cohort of 1,000 participants, followed by three additional cohorts over the next 12 months. This phased approach ensures that each participant receives comprehensive and impactful learning experience.”

The Director of Programmes and Coordination, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), Omolara Adewumi said: “The partnership represents a collaborative effort to address the skills gap in the technology sector, promote job creation, and empower Lagos residents with valuable skills for a rapidly evolving industry. It highlights the importance of public-private partnerships in driving economic development and fostering talent development in the region.

Adewunmi said the Ingryd Scholarship Program in partnership with LSETF is more than an educational initiative; it is a beacon of opportunity, offering a transformative learning experience for aspiring tech talent across Africa. 

Together, they are building a brighter, more innovative future for the continent’s tech industry, she said. 

Experts said preventing brain drain in Nigeria requires a concerted effort not only from the government but from private sectors, and other stakeholders

But Badmus said the federal government and other states should invest in the education and training of young Nigerians. This will help to improve the skills and knowledge of young people and make them more competitive in the job market.

“ The private sectors can also provide job opportunities, invest in education and training, and support innovation and entrepreneurship. Civil society can advocate for policies and reforms that promote talent retention and provide support to young people in Nigeria”, Badmus added. 

So, retaining talented Nigerians and providing them with cutting-edge IT skills and opportunities, will transform the brain drain into brain gain thus contributing significantly to Nigeria’s Global Value Chains (GVCs) as an important human capital export nation. 

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