That National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga

TECH DIGEST – The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has again achieved another milestone with the launch of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) as part of its contribution to the successful implementation of the digital economy.

Coming at a time when the global economy is rapidly transforming into the new economy driven by creative innovations derived from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the unveiling of this state-of-the-art technology innovation centre can be described as futuristic, in the sense that it is a remarkable demonstration of proactivity on the part of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and NITDA.

NCAIR represents government’s determination to create a suitable environment for discovering and harnessing the abundant creative ideas of Nigeria’s teeming youth population for national development through the promotion of innovative technologies.
With the actualisation of this centre, the youth segment of the population would be challenged to channel their creative energies towards preparing solutions that seek to address future problems or challenges across all sectors of the economy.

The minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, an indefatigable advocate of the digital economy has been able to infuse the chief executives of the various agencies under his watch with a renewed zeal to fervently focus on achieving ground-breaking results towards positioning Nigeria to tap into the massive wealth that digital economy holds in store.

Indeed, the NCAIR is a further demonstration of the impact of the result-oriented synergy existing between the Ministry and the chief executive officers of the agencies operating under its purview.
The high tech AI and robotic centre is birthed as a response to the directive for all agencies under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to formulate practical strategies for enhanced implementation of the Digital Economy.

Initiated by Pantami during his stint as DG of NITDA in 2018, the centre has finally become a reality under his capable successor, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.

Kashifu’s dogged sustenance of his predecessor’s vision has culminated into the successful completion of this monumental innovation environment for tech enthusiasts to churn out world class solutions to our local problems in agriculture, health, transport, education, trade and commerce, governance, security and the economy in general.
It is against this backdrop that the commissioning of the NCAIR portrays NITDA as a trailblazing agency of government with the unwavering dedication to smoothly propel Nigeria into the global artificial intelligence and robotics field.

A brief on the centre shows that it is poised to serve as the digital laboratory for advancing skills development and innovation in emerging technologies with emphasis in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) to fully exploit the power of Discovery, Incubation and Acceleration (DIA).
This first government-operated one-stop hub for digital innovation boasts of with world class equipment and facilities aimed at inspiring sustainable development and practical application of emerging technologies.
The facilities include a digital innovation laboratory; a makerspace and fabrication laboratory infrastructure; 3D printer and printed circuit board facilities.

Aside the modern equipment and facilities available in the centre, the value attached to rigorous capacity development is reflected in its choice and designation as Abuja Office of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT-REAP) to further Nigeria’s economic and social progress.

The MIT-REAP Office would provide platform for tech communities to engage MIT in evidence-based, research insights and practical approach to enhance innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems with the objective of generating massive job opportunities for the citizens.
Again, the centre has made provisions for co-working space to foster collaborations among startups and innovators with common interests in research. It would serve as forum for tech experts, entrepreneurs, educational institutions and the communities of tech enthusiasts to explore innovation programmes.
The Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship/Office for Nigeria Content in ICT, a subsidiary of NITDA is now located within the premises of the NCAIR for sustained promotion of technology growth and patronage of indigenous ICT solutions.
Thus, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics represents country’s preparedness and commitment to put in place the enabling environment to drive large scale innovation, competitiveness and growth of the economy.

Within the nearest future, Nigeria should be well-positioned to take advantage of the more than $30 trillion revenue expected to come into the global economy from the deployment of AI and other emerging technologies.
Hence, the NCAIR provides a timely platform and basis for the country to reap a substantial portion of the anticipated humongous revenue to help transform lives and communities for good.

While AI is projected to displace 25 million jobs and create about 123 million new jobs, the minister of Communications and Digital Economy assured that said the centre would prepare and position Nigeria to harvest part of the over $190 trillion global revenue generated in the emerging technologies economy.

Pantami said that the centre is going to serve as a refinery of innovative ideas where youths will be mentored to come up with future technological solutions to the country’s emerging challenges.
To ensure efficiency and optimum delivery of its mandate, NITDA is expected to furnish the Office of the Minister with monthly reports on the programmes of the NCAIR for effective monitoring and tracking of its performance between now and the end of 2021 while there is the possibility of granting NITDA autonomy to operate and manage the centre, after the probation period.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and NITDA have done well to place Nigeria on the pedestal for expansion of the digital economy to ignite the creative energies of her young productive minds.

It is left for the youths to take advantage of the NCAIR and churn out smart solutions to those problems affecting the ordinary citizens and future challenges that are likely to emerge as society continues to evolve.
Certainly, Nigerians look forward to more government investments in the development of digital infrastructure across other sections of the country. So, it is imperative for the government to provide necessary funding to expand this centre to other parts of the country.
However, adequate publicity campaigns should be embarked to direct the attention of the youths from all social and economic strata to gain access for participation in the programmes of this high tech innovation facility.

While commending the contributions of the Ministry and NITDA for this imposing initiative, all stakeholders must work in synergy to achieve the National Digital Economy Policy Strategy (NDEPS) to make innovations, digital jobs and wealth creation a reality for all to enjoy.

Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor, Techdigest writes from Wuye District Abuja.