Nahimah Ajikanle Nurudeen
Nigeria, undoubtedly, is in dare need of multiple streams of foreign exchange with the unpredictability of international crude price, sometime ago as low as $17 per barrel. The Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has witnessed the worst dwindling revenue so far in the country hereby giving Nigeria’s economic poor outlook.
Information and Communications Technology, the ICT, sector has been in focus as one of the sub-sectors that is capable of repositioning of the Nigerian economy if its huge potential is harnessed and efficiently managed. Indeed, experts I economic planning believe that driving economic advancement requires a strong leadership with the political will and proper framework to leverage opportunities in ICT for social-economic advancement.
Barrister Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu was saddled with the enormous challenge of unlocking the potential in the nation’s ICT sector when he was appointed the Minister of Communications in November, last year.
The Minister upon assumption of duty convened a well-attended industry stakeholders retreat in Ibadan in January. The retreat, which served as a platform for the newly appointed Shittu to engage key industry players, also provided an opportunity for the minister to interrogate germane and critical issues impacting the industry.
Coming with diverse experience, the minister appreciated the need for the industry to have proper guidelines that would serve as action plan towards actualizing government objectives of not just creating jobs and wealth from the sector, but also to increase ICT’s contributions to the national Gross Domestic Products. The forum produced an all-inclusive roadmap, a four-year national guideline for the ICT sector from 2016 to 2020 with a view to repositioning the industry as a major revenue earner for the federal government in its quest to diversify the economy.
The minister had identified the philosophy of the new thinking as “Continuing Innovation and Innovating Continuity: Creating a Smart Digital Nigeria”. He listed five steps to get to a Smart Digital Nigeria as, building on ICT sector growth by improving infrastructure and quality of service; delivering ICT and broadband penetration; raising revenue and reducing waste; policy of innovative continuity for private sector-led continuous innovation; and migration to a digitally-native Nigeria through capacity, job and wealth creation.
To fast track implementations of the five steps itemized in the roadmap, Shittu created time to visit major indigenous ICT firms to share experiences, understand the challenges facing them as well as brainstorm on the way forward.
He also visited a few countries which have excelled in ICT deployment with a few to appreciating best practices for the improvement of the local ecosystem. The minister visited Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China to share experiences.
Twelve months down the line, the minister has been working vigorously to realize set objectives which from all indications are beginning to manifest in the sector performance.
Recently, the National Council on Communications Technology which met in Kaduna provided a platform for the minister to give account on the progress made so far.
Shittu identified the Nigerian ICT sector as one of the fastest growing despite the economic recession, contributing 9.8 per cent to the GDP in 2014. But latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that the sector contributed 11.98 percent to the GDP in first quarter 2016. The minister and his team have expressed confidence that ICT will contribute up to 20 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP by 2020.
Shittu noted that the challenge in the country was how to harness and leverage the opportunities thrown up by the new economy, powered by ICT to address the issues of revenue, investments and cost savings. With the ICT Roadmap, the ministry has identified priority projects that can have a strong positive impact on the economy. One of them is the establishment of a multi campus ICT University, and a National Digital Literacy Council.
Indeed, the government, through National Information Technology Development Agency has stepped up its intervention in the area of infrastructure development, capacity building and job creation. One good example is the establishment of over 250 Knowledge Access Venues (KAVS) within two years in addition to sponsorship of 129 students to the United Kingdom to pursue ICT related courses at post graduate level.
Through the Galaxy Backbone, government has provided internet access to about 400 MDAs, over 11,000 nodes of wireless LAN to all MDAs at the Federal Secretariat, over 40,000 email addresses for government officials under the gov.ng, and mil.ng domains. The project has ensured that government data was hosted locally on a secure website with data back-up to MDAs and 200 servers hosting 94 MDAs.
Following its success in conceptualizing 1-gov.ng, government is now focusing on cost saving in service delivery and leveraging economies of scale by prioritizing services that have direct bearing on the administrations’ priorities and classifying them as shared services to be provisioned from the National Shared Services Center.
The minister listed other initiatives introduced for a more modern, efficient and effective workflow process as Government Document Management System GDMS, Government Revenue Collection and Payment Systems, Identity Verification and Authentication and e-procurement. This is without prejudice to the collaboration with the South Korean Government for the successful implementation of the e-government master plan.
Industry statistics underscore the fact that the performance of the telecommunications industry has improved significantly in the last year. As a matter of fact, there has been a rise in the number of active telecoms subscribers. Subscription jumped from 148.7 million in August 2015 to 152.28 million in August 2016, an increase of 5.9 per cent. Teledensity rose from 107.67 per cent in August 2015 to 109.14 per cent in August 2016, thus recording an increase of 1.47 per cent.
The industry under Shittu also attracted more investment. Foreign Direct Investment jumped from $32billion in 2015 to $38billion in 2016 as broadband penetration reached 20.95 per cent, while the percentage of internet penetration hit a milestone 47.44 per cent, making Nigeria second only to South Africa in the continent.
Also, to broaden broadband penetration in Nigeria, government has licensed six slots of the 2.6MHz Spectrum for the deployment of 4G-LTE services just as processes have commenced for the licensing of broadband services on the 5.4 GHz Spectrum Band and the allocation of 70/80 GHz band (E-Band). This is a bold move to increase the quality of services enjoyed by subscribers on voice and data.
On the quality of telecoms services across the country, the ministry raised a taskforce to identify all the issues affecting the provision of excellent services. Its report, the minister assured, is already being implemented.
Going forward, Shittu has vowed that government will not relent in efforts at promoting research in higher institutions and building synergy between the academia and the industry. This is manifest in the sponsorship of some Nigerian youths to compete at the 2016 ITU World summit in Thailand.
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