Google, Microsoft, 21st Century Technologies, others commit $3.5m seed funding to Nigeria’s AI Strategy

By Stanley Iwuoha

The National Artificial Intelligence Strategy has received $3.5 million seed funding from interested partners.

The funding which is being championed by foreign and local partners like the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP; UNESCO; Meta, Google, Microsoft, Luminate; Lagos Business school and Data Science Nigeria, NITDA and other agencies under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy comprises $1.5m direct funding and another $2m invested into the pilot program by 21st Century Technologies.

Speaking at the closing ceremony and dinner night, the coordinating Minister, Dr. Bosun Tijani said with collective pool of resources by both local and foreign partners, there is nothing impossible for Nigeria to achieve with the AI strategy.

He said Nigeria desperately needs the strategy now to prepare the citizens ahead of the future.

He explained further that the AI Collective for Growth initiative led by NITDA and run by Lagos Business School will receive the funding from partners for next three years.

‘‘This is not just another workshop that ends today, your efforts in the last four days will continue to make lasting impression for tomorrow and we will by action ensure AI takes lead in Nigeria.

‘‘We have been blessed with a partnership with Galaxy Backbone with a data centre already allocated to AI. For the pilot of this program, we have seen 21st Century Investing $2m into it.

‘‘My experience over the past 7, 8 months is about supporting visions, to be able to articulate and come up with solutions. Funding resources and manpower is not a problem to Nigeria. With President we have today, Nigeria can even fund some of these things because it is willing to invest in deep infrastructure.

‘’When we come together, there is nothing we cannot do. We may not understand the significant of this event but for me, the approach to AI is to overcome the power of fear and one that is followed with extreme resources. Certain nations that were expected to participate in it did not, in collaboration with NITDA partners are funding this initiative,’’ he said.

Narrating his personal experience, the highly elated Minister said, ‘’The capacity we carry as a nation is huge. CC-HUB, my dream was funded in 2010 with half a million dollars by Stephen King Media Network. CC-Hub is being there for so many entrepreneurs like co-founder of Mabela, Budgit, men and women, old and young over the years. It became a privilege when I was appointed a minister to serve and it became my dream to propagate AI.’’

While appreciating the partners and sponsors of the initiative, Bosun said, ‘‘a Nigeria that is a super power in AI is a better future for your companies and to ourselves. The world is now extremely connected. By partnering with us is to show that we are now stronger. Because we know Nigeria has some of the best in the world.’’

In his own remarks, the Director General of NITDA, Mallam Abdullahi, expressed optimism that if gotten right, the strategy will lay a foundation and help Nigeria achieve all its blueprints, as well as help the president to deliver his priority areas.

‘‘Imagine a world without scarcity of resources, where every human being have access to basic needs, clean water and shelter. Imagine a world where death is an option, where all terminal diseases are cured, where aging can be reversed, where genetic disorder can b e corrected. and imagine a world where we do not need to do mundane things, where we have lots of machines, robots doing many thing for us, where everything we desire happen without you doing anything.

All these things are possible, that is the future is arising faster. We have innovators using AI to improve Agriculture, gene transplantation of pig to human being. This is foundation being laid.

‘‘We need to win the battle today and shape our tomorrow and we cannot afford to lose the battle tomorrow with AI revolution. AI is going to be bigger than internet.

Internet is said to have lifted more than 1bn people out of poverty over 30 years, through the kind of value created. So, if AI is more than internet, imagine what it can do. I believe this is the right time to get AI strategy and for us to be active player in the AI race.’’

He praised the minister for assembling the partners to co-create the national strategy and thanked President Bola Tinubu for identifying him and giving him the mandate to accelerate the Nigeria economic diversification by enhancing productivity in critical sectors through technological innovation. ‘

‘‘You are part of history to democratise AI in Nigeria, where we can make all these technology available to common man in Africa and Nigeria. If we have this in our country, we will address our challenges, poverty with this technology.

‘‘If we can come together, nothing is impossible for us as a nation. What the minister has thought us is that it is possible to bring government and private sector together to co-create and co-design our future, create value together, so that we can make our nation great.’’

The Minister of Communications, Innovation & Digital Economy, Dr. ‘Bosun Tijani had on Monday, April 15th announced the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy Workshop scheduled to take place in Abuja from April 15 – 18, 2024.

The workshop which is supported by Luminate gathered about 120 leading Nigerian AI researchers and practitioners, technology companies, civil societies, and other groups to co-create a comprehensive national Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy, leveraging a human-centred design (HCD) approach to formulate a strategy focused on the needs of Nigerian citizens and communities.

The minister, while announcing the strategy, said, “The need to coordinate and harness the power of Artificial Intelligence for national development is a critical element in our journey towards using technology to accelerate productivity in our country.

“Al offers us the opportunity to leverage technology to solve some of our most complex and urgent challenges in education, agriculture, healthcare and so much more.”

He went on to highlight the efforts of the Federal Ministry in engaging with experts and stakeholders from around the world in co-creating Nigeria’s AI strategy.

“The need to coordinate and harness the power of Artificial Intelligence for national development is a critical element in our journey towards using technology to accelerate productivity in our country.

“From the National Artificial Intelligence Research Scheme (NAIRS) to the Fourth Industrial Revolution Technology Application (4IRTA) Demonstration project, we have worked with several of these talented academics and entrepreneurs towards mainstreaming the application of AI in our everyday lives,” he added.

The expected outcome from the workshop will be a draft national AI strategy document defining the strategic imperatives, policies, investments, implementation roadmap, governance structures, and necessary steps to catalyse Nigeria into an AI-driven economy.

Partners and supporters of the workshop include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Meta, Google, Microsoft, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),N National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), and Galaxy Backbone.

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