Telecoms sector under Shittu: One year of growth scorecard

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(Last Updated On: 2016-05-31)

There is no doubt anymore that the Nigeria telecommunications sector has the potentials to support the country to get out of economic downturn but, what has always constituted a clog in the wheel is the political will and policies to drive these potentials to fruition.

Regarded as the fastest growing sector of the Nigerian economy, the telecoms industry has recorded over $32 billion investment, over 152 million subscribers as at November last year and close to 100 million Internet subscriptions according to available statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which is the industry regulator.

Results of the 2014 rebasing of the country’s economy indicated that the telecoms industry was contributing 10 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The NCC said it is confident that the resultant broadband era will spur more than triple because broadband is a development enabler.

Considering the present cash crunch faced by the Nigerian government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, it is safe to say that the industry stands in a strategic position to provide a lifeline for the economy.

If well supported and managed, it could provide additional jobs and other value addition to stimulate growth in the economy.

The minister of communications Adebayo Shittu who is a lawyer by training assumed office more than six months ago to face the task of consolidating the gains already made in the industry.

He visited telecoms operators’ facilities to have proper understanding of the sector, rallied round the players to identify issues and challenges confronting the Industry and define ways of addressing them.

This led to the 2016 Communications Sector Retreat in Ibadan where stakeholders were able to list ways for accelerated growth of the Industry.

The Minister also unveiled the Telecoms Sector Roadmap as guidelines on government plans for the Industry. Worth to mention is also the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) 8-point Agenda for Telecommunication for the period 2016 – 2020 all aimed at ensuring that the federal government’s objective of tapping into the opportunities in the sector are achieved.

Shittu also embarked on some foreign trips to familiarize himself with how countries around the world have been able to use ICT to better their lots and find a way of domesticating some of the models. For instance, Shittu was in China and South Korea and the trip brought about certain commitments from South Korean government to partner on Smart Nigeria initiative, training of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as other schemes.

Industry stakeholders have praised the Minister for his dynamic steps and approaches in ensuring the ICT sector become the Nigerian cash cow.

Some players are of the view that the Minister is on course to help rebuild collaboration among stakeholders and that he started on a good note by convening the Ibadan Retreat that brought all ICT stakeholders to pursue a common goal.

However, there was need to resolve challenges facing the industry which the immediate past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Lanre Ajayi catalogued in a welcome speech at a reception held in honour of the Minister by the association recently.

Ajayi listed issues ranging from National Broadband Plan; e-Governement, National Critical Infrastructure; Frequency Management; Secondary  Spectrum Market; Free Spectrum; Infraco; Numbering Plan; MTN fine; and NCC independence for the minster to address in order to move the industry forward.

Other concerns raised were on facilitating low-cost financing for the development and production of local ICT products; leveraging Public-Private Partnership to accelerate infrastructure development; and reclaiming and releasing of unused spectrum for trading or re-farming, passage into law the Critical National Infrastructure Bill; implementation of the National Economic Council’s Resolution on Multiple Taxation, Levies and Charges on ICT infrastructure in Nigeria; review and amendment of the Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act (Amendment) Order, 2015; implementation of the ‘Smart State Initiative’ in all the states of the Federation in order to create sanity and properly streamline fees and levies chargeable from states and need to further educate the general public of the legal implications of sites lockup as stated under the Criminal Justice Provision Act 2004.

 Also, former President of ATCON and TIAC member, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu at the inaugural TIAC meeting called the industry stakeholders’ attention to certain policies and developments that required urgent intervention in order to consistently put the industry on the growth path.

One of the documents, according to him, is the apparent wait-and-see attitude by industry players in the communication technology industry while the second is about two documents, which are currently in public domain regarding the roadmap that the industry may travel under the current dispensation.

 The two documents are the Communiqué of the 2016 Communications Sector Retreat in Ibadan and the EVC’s 8-point Agenda for Telecommunication 2016 – 2020.

 Meanwhile, the Minister had on several occasions informed stakeholders of the federal government’s commitment to leverage ICT to achieve digital economy through creation of ICT University.

 Shittu had pledged: “this government is committed to converting the Digital Bridge Institute in Lagos and other cities into a multi-campus ICT University, the first of its kind in Africa.”

He believes that if ICT is properly harnessed, it can create two million jobs in the next six months while adding that the time has come for Nigeria to redefine its economic strength away from crude oil sales by diversifying the productive base of the national economy.

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 The slow growth of the ICT sector is a result of people’s apathy towards indigenous products and services, the Minister says noting that this had undermined patronage of local players in the Nigerian ICT sector.

 The country is said to losing about $2.8 billion yearly to the continued importation of ICT hardware and services as capital flights from the country.

Addressing this challenge apparently necessitated a parastatal under the ministry, the National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) to establish software testing laboratory as well as a scheme to train 1000 software testers across the country with plans to also come up with framework for local software standards.

The industry under the present dispensation is striving to encourage international brands to establish factories in Nigeria or partner with local operators by buying components of their systems that are produced by local manufacturers as well as maintaining in-country research and development departments for the purpose of product conceptualization, innovation, adaptation and design development.

The Minister said this was to be part of measures to implement local content development policy to protect indigenous players in the industry, including the Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs).

On the Smart Cities initiatives of the Ministry, Shittu had said the government was working with all telecoms companies to remove all the bottlenecks militating against deficiency in broadband penetration in Nigeria.

 He said: “Some countries like Rwanda have already embraced the smart city initiatives and they are already reaping its benefits. I would want to enjoin the remaining states to also key into the initiatives that would ultimately make their states smart.”

For the first time in the industry, the minister waded into the groans of telecoms consumers by calling operators to order on the series of subscribers complaints from poor quality of services, frequent congestion of network, getting unsolicited text messages, paradox of spasm messages from service providers, unnecessary deduction being done without the consent of the subscribers, under declaration of tax and under payment of tax by companies which had impacted negatively on consumers’ satisfaction.

The Minister invited the operators to Abuja some six months ago to end the menace of unsolicited text message or face sanctions. This in a way has instilled some discipline in the way operators go about Value Added Services (VAS).

On regulatory function, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta said while the growth in the telecoms industry has continued to drive further growth in the economy, especially in financial services and e-commerce, the Commission has embarked on initiatives to further accelerate the growth into the future in addition to working with government at all levels to address the identified challenges facing the operators.

He said the acknowledgement of the various challenges being faced by the industry has also informed the recent unveiling by the Commission of a Roadmap for 2015-2020, expected to finally take Nigeria to the next level in telecommunications where quality of service and access would be top priority.

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