Written by: Dele Salako
There are many spin-off success stories and sub-plots to the unfolding technological revolution unfolding in Osun State. State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, has described the ICT journey his state embarked upon last year in partnership with emerging tech giant, RLG Global, as “a historic monument to the power of vision”. The RLG Adulawo Technological City, which is the first fruit of that public-private partnership, launched last year in the state as an assembly plant for all kinds of technological devices and gadgets ranging from mobile phones to accessories, tabs, laptops, PDAs and more. Adulawo is modeled after America’s fabled Silicon Valley as a hub for tech talents to thrive, be tracked and tutored. It provides sufficient proof of what is possible when visionary public leadership meets and marries the ingenuity of the private sector, not just for pecuniary gains, but most importantly, for the public good.
The laudable initiative is a hymn to an emerging concept in global business, known as impact investing. Simply put, RLG Global is deploying significant investment capital into Osun State with a dual endgame in mind – to significantly address the state’s domestic social challenge of unemployment while also growing its own bottomline as a business. Beyond these two primary triggers, RLG is liberalising knowledge by kitting and empowering locals with the skill sets required to drive innovation and to engineer a resounding technological revolution not just in Osun, but in Nigeria as a whole, thus lifting many out of poverty.
RLG Communications Nigeria Ltd., like its peer subsidiaries across the West-African sub-region and Asia, is playing out the script of the altruistic and visionary mind of Group Chairman, Roland Agambire. Agambire, who has been the subject of a battle of appellations in terms of which designation best suits the tech entrepreneur – whether Africa’s Steve Jobs or Africa’s Bill Gates – is the maestro behind the revolutionary tech music playing in Osun. An avantgardist who has demonstrated a perfect understanding of the unique challenges and peculiar problems confronting the African continent, he has continued to offer himself, his vast business experience and his immense resources, as a change agent, to power his vision for an Africa empowered and transformed through technology. The magnificent “technopolis” named Hope City, a first-of-its-kind tech mecca which he is constructing in Accra, Ghana, is a monument to that enduring commitment.
The Nigerian division of Agambire’s growing conglomerate was established with a lot of promise, given the vast and expanding local ICT market and immense potential that Africa’s largest market economy and most populous nation boasts. RLG Nigeria is already translating some of that vast potential into performance. They talked the talk last year when they launched, they’ve spent the past year working the work and now they’re walking the talk, even exceeding their most sanguine expectations within just one year of launching. Having dug into the dirt to lay the groundwork for current successes, they have positioned themselves perfectly on the path to successfully establishing a global commercial profile.
This reality was brought gloriously to the fore when the Nigerian division of the world’s fourth largest telecom company, Airtel, showed faith in RLG and ordered 50,000 pieces of RLG manufactured and locally assembled mobile devices, to be marketed to their own customers. Remarkably, those mobile devices were assembled at the Adulawo Tech City by graduates of the Osun Youth Empowerment Technology (OYESTECH) scheme, who of course had been trained by RLG. Airtel Nigeria’s patronage was a commitment on the part of a multinational to encourage the development of Nigeria’s capacity to produce consumables locally. Nigeria’s leading and most significant indigenous telecommunications company, Globacom, has also followed suit with orders of its own.
Speaking at RLG’s Product Discovery Day held at the expansive tech city located along the Ilesa-Akure Expressway in Osun State, during which RLG launched a new range of innovative products, Airtel Nigeria MD/CEO, Segun Ogunsanya said, “It’s a testimony of what we believe in at Airtel. We believe in supporting local content. Two to three years ago, most of the phones purchased in Nigeria were imported and labour was transferred out of the country but with the establishment of Adulawo Technology City, locally assembled and manufactured phones can be consumed locally. We don’t have a choice but to support that which is manufactured locally. We believe firmly in this project to create more jobs and and to create more knowledge.”
Mr. Ogunsanya added, “If you marry tech with the right price, you create a vibrant market for your products and you create jobs, and with the knowledge you provide, you lift more people out of poverty,” while assuring, “We will continue to partner RLG to deepen this project and to make phone sets affordable for our customers.”
On his part, Governor Aregbesola, waxed lyrical as he revealed the tremendous impact of the tech initiative on his state and people and how it had helped to address the problem of youth unemployment in the state. Describing the multi-million dollar initiative as a historic monument to the power of vision, the Governor revealed that the tech city had, in the last one year, provided direct employment to 150 Osun indigenes and is poised, within the next phase of its operations, to provide employment to 1,500 persons who would work as salespersons, manning kiosks and other sales outposts procured for RLG products.
“This plant, a public-private arrangement between RLG and our state is the biggest in Africa and the first of its kind in Nigeria. Given the potential of the electronic market in Nigeria, a firm like this is a necessity. When fully operational, it will be able to assemble all kinds of electronic gadgets from mobile phones, LCD televisions, desktop computers, laptops, palmtops, tablets, air-conditioners, refrigerators, deep freezers and electronic device imaginable,” Aregbesola said.
Referencing National Communications Commission (NCC) data, he noted, “As at February this year, there were 142.5 million active mobile telephone lines in Nigeria. Every year, not less than 10 million lines are added to existing ones in an ever expanding national tele-density. This means that if a mobile phone has an average lifespan of three years, in the next three years, there’ll be a demand for 142.5 million phones, in addition to the new lines that would have been activated then.”
“While it is practically impossible, in a capitalist world, for one manufacturer to corner this humongous market, we have the comparative advantage to capture a sizeable portion of it. No country in Europe, except Russia, has a market this big. This was our vision when we went into talks with RLG and we are happy today that the effort is bearing fruits,” the Governor added.
Highlighting the crucial role played by telecom giant, Airtel Nigeria, in the development and progression of the RLG-Osun PPP vision, Aregbesola enthused, “A significant breakthrough for the company (RLG) is that GSM service providers have also partnered with it. RLG has received and has delivered an order of 50, 000 phones from Airtel Nigeria,” while also revealing that a similar order had been received from another telecom company, Globacom.
The Governor thanked specially, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya for “boldly identifying with RLG and agreeing to do business with us. Airtel is the fourth biggest telecommunications company in the world and must have considered RLG’s products capable of competing with global brands in the market and is willing to stake its reputation with us.”
He continued, “Our vision is that this company will bridge the gap, not only to assemble electronic gadgets locally but also to increase local content until it becomes a manufacturer of finished products and supplier of basic components like panels and semi-conductors to other manufacturers.”
“It is from this company that we will begin the assembly of our flagship e-learning device, Opon Imo. Our plan is to fulfill the needs of public schools in Osun after which we will start taking orders from other states. Indeed, we have received multiple requests from many states of the federation and it stands to reason that more requests will come the moment we start taking orders.”
The Governor expressed immense gratitude to the chairman of RLG Global, Mr. Roland Agambire, for his unwavering confidence in his state revealing that while negotiations on the partnership were in the embryonic stage, the RLG chairman “stoutly” resisted the “formidable” overtures of an undisclosed governor from an oil-rich South-South state to hijack the project into his state. He also acknowledged and appreciated the representative role played by the Bola Oyebamiji-led Osun State Investment Corporation Limited (OSICOL)- the investment and business arm of the State Government – in the RLG Partnership.
At the Product Discovery Day, a range of innovative and competitive RLG devices were unveiled by the CEO of RLG Global, Mr. Alex Lu. They included the Educational Laptop EL3 also known as the Opon Imo (which operates both on Windows and Android platforms), the Smart Projector, the K12F e-Reader, the Trolley as well as three flagship mobile products and an accessory including the Uhuru Titan, Uhuru Accu, Easy 95 and Smart Charger 4.
The educational laptop EL3, designated “Opon Imo” in Yoruba” which has been adopted by several schools in Osun state and across the country, comes pre-loaded with textbooks covering a wide range of subjects, providing students with multiple learning options that deliver visual representations of theoretical lessons learned in class. The EL3 monitor is detachable from its keyboard, and can double as a tablet. Also it is built with water resistant technology and can withstand an accidental 50cm drop without damage. It also has an inbuilt censor that regulates the websites accessible by students.
The Smart Projector can perform the same functions as a computer. It operates on android technology and can be used to access the internet without connection to a PC. The K12F e-Reader is easy on the eye, lighter than a paperback and reads like a printed page. With the Trolley charging device, between 32 to 60 laptops and other mobile devices can be charged at the same time.
The Uhuru Titan which ranks alongside the Samsung S-series phones and latest i-Phone models, is the thinnest mobile phone in the world and has the world’s highest cell density with 25hours standby, 14hours talking time, 11hours video time and 24hours internet surfing time. The phone which has many attractive features and innovative applications, has a 13megapixels back camera, supports 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G LTE next generation wireless technology which guarantees 40mbps upload speed and 150mbps download speed.
While acknowledging Nigeria’s population advantage and geographical size, Mr. Lu lamented the country’s shortfall in infrastructure and industrialisation, pointing out that Nigeria’s path to economic growth lies not with what he called its “demographic bonus” but with its “talent bonus” achievable through the education of its massive population.
Lu also told press men after the event that the Adulawo initiative is one with rich rewards for the entire nation: “It is a shared advantage between RLG, Airtel, the Osun Government and Nigeria as a whole. We are now collaborating in leading the change of bringing technology to Nigeria to increase the number of units manufactured locally for the local market and creating jobs for the local economy.”
The vast amounts of untapped embedded potentials in the ICT sector considered and the immense promise held by way of job creation and empowerment for many unemployed Nigerians as well as the resultant impetus to the local economy, provides all parties involved with a lot to cheer, as confirmed by RLG Regional Director, Ilesanmi Tosin when he said: “We’ve not even begun to scratch the surface. There are several business to business (B2B) and business to customer (B2C) opportunities yet to be leveraged.”
“We’re hoping that by way of favourable policies, government can begin to look inward and encourage more Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) which will in turn multiply the impact you’re seeing now,” he added.
The Governor, Aregbesola told press men that it would amount to a lack of patriotism for other Nigerian-based telecom companies to turn a blind eye to Adulawo: “We are here celebrating the capacity of Adulawo to partner with an internationally recognised brand like Airtel and we’re also calling on other network service providers to emulate what Airtel has started. It will be totally unpatriotic if Nigerian-based telecommunications service providers refuse to patronise a company employing and training Nigerians to assemble mobile sets of various categories, thus creating jobs and boosting the local economy. I am appealing to and calling on all of them to emulate Airtel, just as Globacom has now done, to patronise RLG Adulawo.”
For Alex Lu, the tech city has an embedded capacity to match rising demand for RLG products: “I can confidently tell you that we have the capacity to meet demand. The factory is expandable meaning with more orders from the telecom companies and other organisations, we can train and employ more local hands to satisfy demand. This is an ICT hub. We can multiply the production lines. We hold the technology and that’s the most important thing.”
In an increasingly technology-shaped globe where disruptive innovations are driving development and determining the course of human history, Osun State, through its groundbreaking partnership with RLG, is in the vanguard of advancing Nigeria’s technology imperative. Perhaps, the greatest lesson out of this is the fact that nothing substantial can be gained in terms of development, if nothing is ventured. For stakeholders of Nigeria’s budding ICT industry, the need for Nigeria to get aboard the fast-moving global tech train through prescient policies and legislation that would support a thriving environment for the enhancement of local content as well as promote an unbridled inter-mingling of governance, business and innovation, has never been more pressing. For these stakeholders, particularly in the private sector, the cost of federal indifference to the dire need for legislation-backed initiatives designed to promote the development of local content in the tech context is too high.
They indeed believe that the cost of national inaction to the value of the domestic currency and its foreign exchange worth and the implication of labour and capital flight for the local economy occasioned by the almost unassailable dominance of imported global brands within the domestic market are too heavy a burden for Nigeria to continue to bear. Nigerians too, cannot continue to display a wanton preference for foreign brands over locally produced goods that are capable of competing neck-and-neck with their international counterparts.
The Osun-RLG partnership has pulled the zeitgeist out of the dark hat of inaction and is showing the way for a nation.