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3: Development of information technology in Nigeria

Michael A. Nwachuku

1. Introduction
2. Growth of information technology
3. IT policy
4. The computer service industry
5. Telecommunications
6. Applications of IT
7. Education and training in IT
8. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Nigeria, like most developing countries, is an "information-poor" country. The sparsity of published current information is particularly acute in the informatics area, which is still in its infancy. Ideally, this report should have been based on a recent nationwide survey, but such a survey could not be undertaken for lack of time and other resources. Consequently the author has had to rely on readily available material and on his personal observations and general impression of the informatics scene in Nigeria. It is hoped nevertheless that the picture drawn here is a balanced and reasonably accurate one.

This section supplies essential background information on Nigeria, gives an overview of IT activity in the country, and outlines the structure of the report.

Background Data on Nigeria


The Federal Republic of Nigeria is situated on the West African coast between latitudes 5N and 14N, and between longitudes 2E and 14E. Covering an area of some 924,000 km2, the country is bounded in the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and shares common borders with the Benin Republic in the west, with Niger to the north, with the Chad Republic to the north-east, and with the Cameroon Republic to the east. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa, with a mid-1985 population of 95,198,000 (one out of every six Africans is a Nigerian), and the tenth largest in the world.

The climate is wholly tropical. There are basically two seasons: a wet season lasting from April to September, and a dry season lasting from October to March. All the rainfall occurs in the hot and humid wet season. In the dry season, the harmattan wind blows from the Sahara desert, bringing a cloud of very fine dust to most areas.


Nigeria emerged from British colonial rule in 196O, and for 19 of its 29 years of existence as an independent state has been under military rule - a legacy of no fewer than six coups d'tat. The present military regime headed by a president, General Ibrahim Babangida, came to power in 1985 after toppling a military predecessor. The government has embarked on a transition programme to return the nation to civilian rule in 1992.


The major economic indicators are summarized in table 3.1. The most significant economic event in the country is arguably the discovery, in 1956, of crude oil in commercial quantity in the area of the Niger delta. Thereafter, exploration and mining operations, carried out initially by international oil companies such as Shell and BP, were intensified, and the first consignment of crude oil was exported in 1958. In 1976, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) was incorporated to engage in exploration, production, and processing activities side by side with the multinationals. Soon, oil became the nation's principal dollar earner, contributing, since the 1970s, to more than 80 per cent of total export revenue (95.1 per cent in 1984).

Table 3.1. Economic indicators

Area: 924,000 km2
Population (mid-1985): 95,198,000
Average annual growth rate of population: 3%
Labour force (1981): 38,240,000
Scientific & technical manpower (1980): 133,750
GDP (1984): US$61.4 billion
Total export earnings (1983): US$11.654 billion of which, Petroleum: US$9.24 billion

Average annual growth rate of GDP (%):

1965-73 1973-79 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984
9.7 3.9 -2.9 -2.9 -1.9 -6.4 -0.6

Currency exchange rate (1US$ = XN):

1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
X 0.55 0.61 0.67 0.67 0.79 0.89 3.3 3.3 7.2

Average annual wage (1989):

Minimum Senior civil servant University professor Managing director, private sector
N1,500 N12,000 N20,000 N40,000

Source: Europa Yearbook, vol. II (1987); UNIDO, Nigeria, Industrial Development Review Series, 1985.

However, with the collapse of the international oil market starting about 1982, the economy entered a period of rapid decline. For example, GDP per capita declined in real terms by more than 27 per cent in the five years 19801985, and export earnings fell to less than half in the same period. The nation is overburdened with a huge international debt, interest payments on which account for as much as 50 per cent of the country's total foreign exchange earnings. The national currency, the Naira, has been devalued by more than 90 per cent since 1980, and inflation is running at the rate of more than 50 per cent per annum. (The value of the Naira is subject to considerable fluctuation; in July 1989, its value in relation to the US dollar was $1.00 = N7.22.)

In 1986, the Babangida administration, in a bid to address the ever-worsening economic situation, introduced a package of austerity measures, which have come to be called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Whatever the theoretical merits of SAP, it has brought about a severe lowering of the living standards of the Nigerian wage or salary earner, a fact that triggered the anti-SAP riots that swept the whole country early in June 1989.


During the period of the oil boom, Nigeria experienced a tremendous boost in the provision of educational institutions, though this was not actually matched by the provision of relevant physical facilities. Thus, between 1975 and 1983, primary school enrolment more than doubled while the enrolment in both secondary and tertiary institutions increased nearly five-fold (see table 3.2). Today there are more than 25 universities, most of which are federally supported. There are also scores of polytechnics, technical colleges, and colleges of education.

Education has been badly affected by SAP. Institutions at all levels are today too ill equipped in terms of physical facilities and recurrent funds to serve their educational purpose with any degree of credibility.

Table 3.2. Growth in enrolment in educational institutions, 1975-1983

Year Primary Secondary Tertiary
1975 6,165,547 745,717 44,964
1980 13,760,030 2,345,604 150,072
1981 14,111,608 2,880,280 176,904
1982 14,654,789 3,393,186 193,731
1983 14,383,477 3,561,207 208,051

Source: Europa Yearbook, vol. II (1987).


The prosperity brought about by the oil boom stimulated a high level of demand among the Nigerian populace for modern consumer goods. This in turn led to the setting up of a large number of manufacturing industries operating on an import-substitution basis. By 1980 there were well over 3,000 industrial establishments engaged in a wide spectrum of activities, ranging from the extraction and refining of minerals, through food processing and brewing, to the manufacture of a variety of intermediate goods.1 The impressive list of goods manufactured in Nigeria includes: dairy products; canned fruit, fruit juices, and preserves; refined vegetable oil; processed foods; beers and stout; sugar and confectionery; tobacco products; drugs and medicines; textiles and leather goods; paper products; industrial chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides; paints and cosmetics; rubber and plastic products including tubes and tyres; cement; structural steels and other metal products; motor vehicle assembly and spare parts; electrical appliances, electrical cables, radio and television sets.

In the prevailing climate of economic recession, marked by scarcity of foreign exchange and a rapidly depreciating value of the Naira, many industries have had to either close down, or operate well below capacity, for want of raw materials or spare parts. A recent survey carried out by the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria showed that the average industrial capacity utilization in the second half of 1988 was 40 per cent, compared with 35 per cent in the first half of the same year.2


Agriculture, which in the 1960s used to be the mainstay of the economy, suffered a considerable decline in the 1970s and early 1980s as a result of the expansion in the oil sector. In 1982, agriculture contributed only 1 per cent to total export earnings. The decline in agriculture was accompanied by a massive growth in the food import bill. Ironically, the vast majority of Nigerians still live in rural areas and are dependent on peasant farming. Successive governments have, since the 1980s, sought to restore agriculture to its former role and make the nation once again self-sufficient in the production of the staple foods. The importation of grains such as rice and wheat has been banned, without viable alternatives in some cases, e.g. wheat.

IT Overview

For the purposes of this report we shall adopt Drew's definition in chapter 1 of this volume (p. 10) of the term information technology (IT) to include all those computer-based activities that derive from the convergent disciplines of micro-electronics, computing, and telecommunications, and that have led to the reorganization of the processes of production, distribution, and circulation in society. Implicit in this definition is the notion of information as an important resource that may be generated, shared, and utilized in decision-making. Drew further groups the application of IT into four categories summarized as follows:

(1) applications that introduce computing power to the industrial process;
(2) use of digital techniques in communications;
(3) office automation including banking;
(4) micro-electronics in consumer products.

In Nigeria hitherto, the first category has not occurred in any innovative, self-reliant way. Advanced factory installations built in Nigeria, usually on a turnkey basis, frequently involve process computers as an integral part of the plant. Examples are found in the oil industry and in the iron and steel plants. Their influence on indigenous technology had until recently been fairly limited. There are signs however that, pressed by SAP, industries are beginning to show more interest in this area.

Public data communication services have not yet arrived in Nigeria. Private companies are meeting their needs for data transmission on a "do-it-yourself" basis using the analogue facilities of the Nigeria Telecommunications Co. (NITEL), the nation's postal, telegraph, and telephone administration.

As for the fourth category, namely consumer electronics, there is as yet no autonomous electronics industry in Nigeria. Consequently, in the context of innovative and self-reliant uses of IT in Nigeria, this report will, in the main, be concerned with the first and the third categories.

Outline of the Report

Section 2 of the report discusses the growth of information technology (really, the growth of computer usage) in Nigeria. Information is given on the diffusion of computers in various sectors of the economy, the number of installations, and the types and brands of computers in common use.

Section 3 discusses the issue of a national IT policy. It is shown that, while the use of computers has been growing steadily in the public sector and government has from time to time made pronouncements on computers and related subjects, there is no IT policy in Nigeria that can be properly so called.

Section 4 is devoted to a discussion of the status and prospects of the computer services industry in Nigeria. Ideas being floated on the manufacture of computers or related hardware components and the setting up of a software industry in Nigeria are also discussed.

Section 5 is devoted to the telecommunications infrastructure. Data on the current state of the telephone network are given, as are current developments in the area of data networks in the banking and the oil industries.

Section 6 focuses on the pattern of application of IT in the various sectors of the economy with special emphasis on industry and the service sector, and section 7 deals with the important issue of IT education and training in Nigeria.

Section 8 contains the summary and the main conclusions of the report.

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