Nigeria’s AI Aspirations: Premature Leap or Strategic Move?


In October 2023, just two months into his term, Bosun Tijani, Nigeria’s minister of communications, innovation, and digital economy, outlined his strategic vision during an interview. A standout point from the eight-minute discussion was Nigeria’s ambitious goal for artificial intelligence (AI): “We envision Nigeria as a global leader in AI.”

Tijani made a compelling argument that Nigeria should actively engage in the development of emerging technologies to address the nation’s challenges. The minister outlined plans to establish a robust national AI strategy for Nigeria, taking inspiration from the successful initiatives of other African nations like Tunisia, Mauritius, and Egypt.

Nigeria’s aspirations in the field of artificial intelligence have elicited a negative reaction from some citizens, far exceeding Tijani’s expectations. The critique mainly focuses on the country’s pressing need to tackle core issues like stable electricity supply, food security, and poverty. Critics argue that prioritizing AI initiatives over addressing these fundamental challenges is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

In a country grappling with the challenges of inflation and poverty, discussions about artificial intelligence are often viewed as misguided and premature.

It can be argued that Nigeria has demonstrated remarkable technological advancements despite facing significant challenges. The country experienced a telecommunications revolution in 2001 when internet penetration was below one percent. Similarly, Nigeria’s tech ecosystem has flourished, giving rise to successful homegrown multimillion-dollar startups.

Nigeria lags significantly in the AI race compared to global and African counterparts. While Tunisia unveiled its national AI strategy in 2019, Nigeria is yet to formulate a comprehensive one.

AI development is rapidly advancing worldwide. Kehinde Olateru, CEO and Co-Founder of Zero Complex AI, a B2B technology startup, warns that Nigeria risks being left behind if it doesn’t embrace this evolution. According to Olateru, AI progress will drive development across various sectors.

According to experts, AI has the potential to revolutionize various sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and security. In agriculture, AI can be utilized for pest and disease detection, harvesting and sorting, livestock management, and supply chain optimization. An article by TechCabal highlights the diverse applications of AI in agriculture. Notably, in Senegal, ongoing research explores the integration of algorithms with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to create sustainable automated irrigation systems.

Africa’s AI market is forecasted to soar to $6.9 billion by 2024, showcasing extensive implementation across diverse industry verticals.

There are concerns that investing in AI could shift resources away from critical areas, but data indicates otherwise. Nigeria currently lacks a well-established AI ecosystem. In October 2023, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Nigeria introduced an AI research program to offer grants to startups and researchers.

According to a recent study on the state of AI in Africa, there is a pressing need to enhance computing facilities and data infrastructure. The study highlights a stark reality – of the top 500 most powerful commercially available computer systems globally, only one is situated in Africa, specifically in Morocco. This underscores the imperative for significant advancements in technological capabilities across the continent.

Balancing ambitious AI goals with current priorities will demand thoughtful consideration.

Both infrastructure development and advancements in AI can progress simultaneously. Victor Famubode, an AI policy researcher, emphasized the importance of addressing both areas in an interview with TechCabal. He stated, “It is not a choice between one or the other.”




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