Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a transformative force across the globe, and Nigeria stands out as one of the biggest adopters of AI technology in Africa. A 2022 report by AI Media listed Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, and Kenya as the biggest adopters of Artificial Intelligence technology in Africa. Interestingly, these are still the biggest adopters of technology in on the continent. This also collaborates with Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO statement during his recent visit to Lagos Nigeria, where he noted that Nigeria is one of the biggest adopters of AI globally. With over 2,400 AI organisations operating on the continent, Nigeria has the potential to drive economic development and technological advancement through A.I. However, to ensure maximum utilisation of AI for the country’s common good and to mitigate potential risks, a robust governmental policy framework needs to be established.
Furthermore, Nigeria, as the most populous nation in Africa and the largest economy on the continent, stands to benefit immensely from embracing A.I technology. It has the potential to expand Africa’s economy by $1.5 trillion, with Nigeria capturing a significant portion of this growth. It can drive productivity, efficiency, and innovation across various sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, finance, edtech, and manufacturing.
In agriculture, AI-powered systems can optimise crop yields, improve supply chain management, and enhance decision-making for farmers, leading to increased agricultural productivity, food security, and economic growth. Similarly, A.I-enabled healthcare solutions can enhance diagnostics, improve patient care, and reduce healthcare costs. It can also revolutionise the financial sector by enabling personalized services, fraud detection, and efficient risk management.
Also, AI has the potential to reposition Nigeria’s education sector and drive industrial automation, increasing manufacturing output and competitiveness. By integrating A.I technologies into Nigeria’s industries, the country can strengthen its position in the global market, attract foreign investment, and create employment opportunities for its growing population.
National AI Policy
To fully harness the economic potential of AI, Nigeria needs a comprehensive governmental policy framework.
Although Nigeria is yet to have a stand-alone national AI strategy, in November 2019 it published the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) PDF that identified AI via its “Digital Society and Emerging Technologies” Pillar and through which it created The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). Unlike the likes of Mauritius, who was the first country in Africa to publish a national AI strategy. In 2021, Egypt launched its national A.I strategy to deepen the use of AI technologies and transform the economy. Kenya, on the other hand, has an AI task force that is creating guidance on how AI technologies can be used to further the country’s development. Tunisia has created an A.I-focused industry association. In Botswana, the government encourages organisations to set up research labs in the country and gather A.I talent.
Again, to fully harness its economic potential, Nigeria needs a comprehensive governmental policy framework that promotes responsible AI development, addresses ethical concerns, and ensures the technology benefits all segments of society. According to the 2023 AI Index Report released by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, policymaker interest in A.I is on the rise: an analysis of the legislative records of 127 countries shows that the number of bills containing “artificial intelligence” that were passed into law grew from just one in 2016 to 37 in 2022.
Key considerations for effective policy implementation include:
National AI Strategy: Nigeria should develop a national A.I strategy that outlines a clear vision, objectives, and implementation roadmap. The strategy should focus on research and development, talent development, infrastructure, and industry collaboration to drive coordinated efforts towards A.I-driven economic growth.
Talent Development: Building a skilled A.I workforce is crucial for successful adoption and utilisation of the technology. The government should invest in its education and training programmes, bridging the AI skills gap and ensuring a pipeline of talent through partnerships with academia, industry, and international organisations.
Ethical and Legal Frameworks: AI systems should also be developed and deployed in a manner that safeguards privacy, addresses bias, and ensures transparency and accountability. The government should establish ethical guidelines and regulatory frameworks governing A.I applications, data usage, and algorithmic transparency, collaborating with international organizations and experts to reflect global best practices.
Infrastructure Development: Nigeria needs a robust digital infrastructure to support AI implementation, including high-speed internet connectivity, data storage facilities, and cloud computing capabilities. The government should also prioritise investments in digital infrastructure to ensure reliable access to the technologies across the country.
Industry Collaboration and Innovation: Fostering collaboration between A.I startups, research institutions, and established industries is essential. Again, initiatives like innovation hubs, incubators, and public-private partnerships can facilitate knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and collaborative research, stimulating innovation and creating job opportunities.
International Cooperation: Nigeria should actively engage in international discussions and partnerships on AI governance and standards. Likewise, collaboration with other African countries, regional organisations, and global initiatives can leverage shared experiences, exchange knowledge and best practices, and contribute to the development of a harmonised regulatory framework for the technology.
Mitigating AI Associated Risk
In addition to harnessing the economic potential of AI, Nigeria should also prioritise mitigating potential risks associated with AI adoption:
Data Privacy and Security: Adequate safeguards should be in place to protect individuals’ privacy and secure sensitive data. The government should also establish regulations governing data collection, storage, and usage, ensuring compliance with international privacy standards. Robust cybersecurity measures are also essential to protect A.I systems from malicious attacks.
Ethical AI Practices: AI development and deployment should adhere to ethical principles to prevent bias, discrimination, and unfair outcomes. The government should encourage the adoption of ethical guidelines and establish mechanisms for auditing and certifying A.I systems for their adherence to these principles. Also, transparency in its algorithms and decision-making processes is crucial to building trust among users and stakeholders.
Job Displacement and Skills Gap: As AI automation becomes more prevalent, there is a concern about job displacement. The government should proactively address this by promoting reskilling and upskilling programs to equip the workforce with AI-related skills. Also, collaboration between the government, educational institutions, and the private sector can help identify emerging skill requirements and develop relevant training initiatives.
Social Equity and Inclusion: It is essential to ensure that A.I technologies are accessible and beneficial to all segments of society. The government should focus on bridging the digital divide, expanding internet access, and promoting digital literacy programs in underserved communities.
Continuous Monitoring and Evaluation: A robust monitoring and evaluation framework should be established to assess the impact of A.I implementation and identify any potential risks or unintended consequences. Regular assessments can inform policy adjustments, address emerging challenges, and ensure that A.I technologies continue to align with the country’s developmental goals.
Nigeria has recognized the immense potential of AI in driving economic and technological development. With the right governmental policy framework in place, Nigeria can maximise the benefits of A.I while minimising risks.