How Nigeria Can Meet Up in the Artificial Intelligence Race

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science that aims to create intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. These tasks include problem-solving, learning, understanding natural language, recognizing patterns, planning, perception, and decision-making, among others.

AI is broadly divided into:

Narrow AI (Weak AI): This type of AI is designed to perform specific tasks with high proficiency. Narrow AI systems excel in focused areas and are optimized for particular functions. Examples include virtual personal assistants (like Siri and Alexa), recommendation systems, image recognition algorithms, and chatbots.

General AI (Strong AI): General AI refers to an AI system that possesses human-level intelligence and can understand, learn, and perform any intellectual task that a human can do. Such AI systems remain largely theoretical and have not been fully realized yet.

Artificial intelligence

The Nigerian Context 

This essay will focus majorly on the narrow AI which is more common and widely spread. 

It is important to emphasize that Nigeria and Africa in general are majorly consumers of computer products on which these Artificial intelligent systems are based.

This means that Nigeria has a lot of work to do and miles to cover before catching up in the race to proliferate AI. 

In 2022, the hotly discussed Chat GPT was released with impressive capabilities to solve complex problems. And offer a wide range of tasks at breathtaking speed. 

Using ChatGPT as a Nigerian for Nigeria’s problems does not provide a user with the most accurate and precise solutions. This is because the tool’s training data and information available on the internet about Nigeria are very scanty. 

It is therefore observed that for Nigerians to be able to derive maximum utility from AI tools such as Chat GPT, greater content with a specific focus on Nigerian realities has to be constantly published on the internet. Because it is only when the AI tools have access to reliable and locally produced data on Nigeria that they will provide users with better results.

Since AI is still in its evolving state and taking the world at an unprecedented speed, we intend to look at how Nigeria can place itself to fully reap the fruits of this revolution.

What can Nigeria do to fast-track its Artificial Intelligence Adoption?

To assess any country’s readiness to adopt AI, certain factors have to be considered. Primary among these factors is the government’s policies. As well as the country’s infrastructure, data structure, and systems. Education and research opportunities as well as private sector activities.

Due to the potential of Artificial Intelligence to reshape how people carry out their activities and how such activities can reshape societies, the need for the government to regulate such activities is essential. 

However, let us take a look into some of these factors that constitute the foundation for Artificial Intelligence. And see how Nigeria is faring and what more they can do to catch up.

Government Initiatives: The Nigerian government has expressed interest in fostering technological development, including AI. Initiatives to support AI adoption, such as creating policies, setting up research centers, and promoting digital innovation, are essential for creating an enabling environment.

Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) established policies and guidelines to promote digital innovation, including AI.

The Nigerian government launched the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to focus on AI research and development.

The need for the government to actively participate and guide the development of AI in Nigeria is essential. AI can not be left to scientists alone but the policymakers as well. This is due to the long-reaching impact AI has on societies and the way they are run.

A cardinal expectation of these policies is to be able to protect the rights and privacy of users. This report provides details on how Nigeria can achieve adequate rights protection and privacy for users.

Education and Research: Adequate education and research institutions play a crucial role in preparing the workforce for AI integration. Nigeria has been investing in technology education, and there are institutions providing AI-related courses and research opportunities.

Nigerian universities and institutions, such as the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) and Covenant University, offer courses and research opportunities in AI and related fields

The importance of these institutions is very essential. This is because it is only when Nigeria is producing adequate manpower to meet our AI needs that we can prosper.

There is a need for more universities to offer AI as an undergraduate course. As most Nigerian universities that offer courses in AI do so at the postgraduate level. When students take courses on AI as a major, it prepares them to be more grounded and specialized than at the postgraduate level.

Improved Internet and Computer Infrastructure

AI adoption requires robust internet connectivity and computing infrastructure. 

Based on available data, Nigeria’s internet penetration stands at 55.4% as of January 2023. Most of this penetration accumulated in big cities around the country.

Studies have shown that only 23% of Rural Nigeria have access to the Internet. This number is grossly inadequate and puts rural areas at a disadvantage. 

As most rural areas are where agricultural activities that feed the nation occur, AI applications in agriculture can not effectively occur without greater internet infrastructure in the rural areas.

Even in urban areas, there are certain locations where connectivity is better than others. The central business districts of cities where banks and other top institutions are located receive the best internet connectivity. This is understandable because the CBD is where high computing power and resources are used. 

Data Availability: AI heavily relies on data to train models and make predictions. Nigeria needs sufficient data sources, and proper data management practices to utilize AI effectively.

Nigeria has a serious data problem. The last census conducted in the country in 2006 was marred greatly by this problem. It is very hard to get accurate data about virtually anything.

For any Artificial Intelligence system to succeed, it relies on data. That is why Nigeria needs to take the business of curating and processing accurate and reliable data very seriously.

Nigerian government agencies and private companies collect substantial data, which can be leveraged for AI applications in sectors like agriculture, healthcare, and finance.

The Nigerian government has over the past 10 years been collecting data on Nigerians from National Identity Cards, Voters Card and Driver’s License. But each time a Nigerian wants to renew or enroll in either of these platforms, new sets of data have to be collected. A situation that shows the county’s clear lack of synergy in its data management practice.

This problem of multiple collections of data on Nigerians can be solved by adopting better data management and leveraging AI to enhance recognition, processing, and management.

Regulatory Framework: A well-defined regulatory framework is necessary to address ethical concerns and data privacy. And to ensure AI’s responsible use.

The NITDA is working on developing guidelines for data protection and privacy, which are essential for regulating AI usage.

The issue of data privacy has become a very serious source of concern for many governments and individuals around the world. 

Reports show how AI is used to create fake identities, manipulate public opinion and elections, and commit financial fraud and identity theft. These are primary sources of concern.

Recently, Elon Musk announced changes to his newly acquired Twitter App (now X) citing how bots are used to scrap large amounts of data on the platform. What more indictment do we need on this infringement of our privacy?

The applications we use, especially on our phones and computer sets, collect a substantial amount of data on our activities.

This is why Nigeria’s data privacy regulations are very important. It will be counterproductive to have AI systems become widely adopted but to the detriment of user privacy and safety.

Industry Adoption: For AI to become widespread and useful in Nigeria, it needs to be adopted not only in the tech industry but in any other industry that is relevant.

Already, AI is being adopted by many industries around the world. Forbes published a report on 16 industries that AI can be used. 

In Nigeria, the financial industry has shown interest in AI adoption, with some banks exploring AI-based chatbots and customer service applications.

According to report, 90℅ of businesses around the world are likely to adopt AI in their business. However, the same report revealed that only 37% of Nigerian IT leaders in Nigeria believe in their team’s ability or existing infrastructure to be fully prepared for the demands of AI.

This further underscores Nigeria’s dilemma in the quest to fully benefit from the AI revolution. The journey to full AI integration requires full synergy from all sectors of industries and infrastructure.

Funding and Investment: Sufficient funding and investment are vital for the research, development, and deployment of AI technologies.

While professional bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants are calling on the World Bank for funding of their AI project, other Nigerian startups such as are receiving grants running into millions of dollars.

Recently, the University of Lagos has won a grant from international organizations to enhance AI development and learning in Nigeria.

On the part of the Nigerian government, it is doing its own share to ensure tech start-ups. Especially those run by the youth are funded. In March 2023, $618 million was announced to support Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. This is in collaboration with other international development partners.

There is however a need for more of such investments especially across the country. As it stands, the Lagos economic corridor holds all the advantages when it comes to tech development.  This is why Nigeria needs more than Lagos to dominate the tech scene in Africa.

This can be done by the active participation of state governors in the country. By designing and funding state ministries to be strongly aligned with Information Technology infrastructure. These states can leverage emerging trends that make tasks a lot easier. 


Nigeria has shown a lot of promise in its commitment to developing and promoting information technology in the country. The problems exist at the levels of infrastructure, funding, and data availability. When Nigeria’s attitude towards data management changes and the internet infrastructure becomes widespread, the country stands to reap enormous benefits from the revolution AI brings. 

As the world waits for no one and Nigeria is a major player on the African continent, the country needs to get this right not only for its own sake. But for the sake of the African continent, most of them look to Nigeria for guidance and inspiration.

Nigeria’s quest for Artificial Intelligence development is one with lots of promises. And with the right policy guidance can change the fortune of its 200 million people for the best.

Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed

Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed is a student of policy and development studies who has passion for and interest in social and cultural issues happening in Nigeria.