President Buhari Approves Start-Up Bill

By Na'ankwat Dariem

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The Nigeria Start-up Bill will soon be transmitted to the National Assembly by the Federal Executive Council for debate and passage into law.

The  Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Pantami disclosed this in Lagos, during a Breakfast Interactive session with Nigeria’s innovative Ecosystem which was themed “Fostering an Enabling Environment for Start-up growth.”

The event was organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) to socialise with the Digital innovation Ecosystem to form a synergy between the government and the ecosystem.

Pantami informed participants that it was heartwarming to hear that the President has assented to the Bill for onward transmission to the National Assembly for further legislative work.

He said: “Yesternight, the first message I received from Abuja was to notify me that Mr. president has already signed and directed the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation and myself to convey to the National Assembly the Nigerian Start-up Bill.”

Shortest time frame
He maintained that he and other stakeholders involved would consult with the legislature for quick passage of the bill into an Act. “We will lobby them to ensure that within the shortest time frame, the Bill comes to life,” he explained.

The Minister, while giving insights into the provision of the bill revealed that the bill when passed into law would solve a barrage of problems confronting the Digital Economy Start-up ecosystem.

 

He stated that the Bill makes provision for the constitution of the Council for Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship that would serve as an advisory body for the sector.

According to Pantami, the membership of the council would comprise of the President as the chairman, to be supported by the Vice President while the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy deputises for him.

 

Other members of the council are, the Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs Commission, Federal Inland Revenue Service, and other institutions of government.

Start-up seed
He listed other provisions in the Bill to include; tax and fiscal incentives, start-up labeling and profiling, provision for grants and loans by the government, tax holidays, national investment start-up seed funds among others.

While commending the Start-up ecosystem for their inputs in drafting the Bill, the Minister allayed the fear that none of their input was removed during the debate on the Bill at the Federal Executive Council meeting.

He said it was a deliberate intention to seek the inputs of the stakeholders before drafting the Bill noting that “We decided to experiment with the down-top approach so the stakeholders would own the bill,” Pantami stated.

He  expressed optimism that when passed into law, the Bill would address most of the challenges facing the sector and the sector would be good for it.

Speaking on the challenges facing the Start-up, the NITDA’s Director General, Kashifu Inuwa, noted that the government recognises the disconnect that exists between it and the industry, hence ready to bridge it.

He said, “Also, we realised that there were so many funding incentives but mostly you don’t know them because there is a disconnection between the government and the ecosystem. We are working in partnership with the Lagos Business School to develop a compendium of existing government incentives which we will socialize with you to see how you can benefit from it.”

The NITDA Boss stated that a lot of efforts were currently going on to raise funds for the start-up but the challenge remains that most of them are not known.

He said:“The Last time I was with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; he said they have money at the bank, I told him our startups have challenges accessing those funds, he said the challenge is they don’t know most of the startups and how can you just come up with an idea and will give you money. However, we thought of coming up with something to enable the start-up to access the money by standing as guarantors for them.
“We need to talk to know how to access the funds and in accessing the funds, we have created a Special Purpose Vehicle called the Office of the National Digital Innovation which will help us to connect with the ecosystem to help us with the database so that we can know ourselves.”

Identify talented startups

While emphasising various initiatives of the agency geared toward developing the sector, he recalled the Minister’s directive that informed them to come up with a scheme called Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support. According to him, the scheme is designed to identify talented startups and youths with ideas, place them in a developed hub for training and motivation and at the end, “we have start-up voucher which we give them to help them with funding to develop product and services.”

He stated that NITDA is doing a lot in deploying digital infrastructure across the country. He cited the NITDA IT Hub established at the University of Lagos, as one of the examples of such.

 

“We build the IT hubs and the idea is for the start-ups to make use of the platforms.” According to Inuwa, innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, he noted that there was need for the stakeholders to work as a team in the ecosystem and to have a successful ecosystem.

“You need to have critical stakeholders on the table, like we need you, the university, the government, the investors and the corporate organizations because they’ll be the ones to use whatever product and services that you produce,” he suggested.

While assuring the stakeholders of frequent engagement, Inuwa reiterated that collaboration between them and the government would solve most of the challenges facing the sector.

“This is the first interaction session. We need to talk before we know the problems. The government needs you and you need the government. There are things the government can do and you cannot and things you can do that government cannot. Together we can achieve greater things,” he stated

The Chairman of the event, Professor Pat Utomi noted that it has become imperative for the public and private sector to seamlessly engage each other for the development of the sector in order to help the country to witness the growth of the sector.

Fortune of the country
He was optimistic that the value of the participants at the event could change the fortune of the country in particular and Africa in general, adding that the government would take advantage of the engagement to proffer solutions to identified problems by the stakeholders.

The event which was graced by the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communication Commission, Professor. Garba Dambatta; the Managing Director, Galaxy Backbone, Prof Muhammad Abubakar; Post-Master General, Nigeria Postal Service, Dr Ismaila Adewusi captains of Industry and other start-up companies was culminated with the visits to Flutterwave, Treeps and Reliance Health Management Organisation where the Minister commended them for brazing the trails and surmounting various challenges  that have faced them.

 

Lateefah Ibrahim

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