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Where is Nigeria on Digital Economic Transformation Journey?

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Where is Nigeria on Digital Economic Transformation Journey?

Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.

Information and Communication Technology can stimulate and accelerate socio-economic growth across sectors when properly harnessed. Moses Abenemi in this piece reviews steps taken by Nigeria in bid to leverage ICT for socio-economic transformation.

The power of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an enabler of innovation and economic growth has been well documented.

As a result, countries strive to diversify their economy by transitioning into digital/knowledge economy to take full advantage of the enormous potentials and opportunities in the ICT space to propel rapid economic growth, provide social services and drive inclusion.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its Digital Economy Report 2019 titled Value Creation and Capture: Implications for Developing Countries, indicated that the size of the digital economy as of then ranged from 4.5 to 15.5 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the United States and China combined accounting for almost 40 per cent of the figure.

ICT sector was the largest in Taiwan Province of China, Ireland and Malaysia while global employment in the ICT sector rose to 39 million in 2015 from 34 million in 2010.

Nigeria is not left out of the ICT revolution. The country has made and continues to implement policies that support maximisation of ICT benefits.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy under the leadership of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has implemented numerous policy initiatives under the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2020-2030, the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025 and several other policy initiatives developed by the Ministry to ensure effective digitisation of the Nigerian economy, both from public and private sector perspectives.

Upon being made the Minster of Communications and Digital Economy, Pantami approached President Muhammadu Buhari explaining why the Ministry should be renamed from Ministry of Communications to Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, to reflect the realities of the time that we are.

By implementing Digital Economy projects for Digital Nigeria and resolving some key issues that had been lingering for over a decade, the ICT sector, under the supervision of the Minister, has recorded commendable achievements.

As the chief driver of ICT maximisation in Nigeria, Pantami’s foresight has galvanised the sector into contributing more to the Nigeria economy. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), ICT recorded the highest growth rate of all the sectors in both the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4 2020) and the entire year 2020, contributing more than 18 per cent to the GDP.

President Buhari, while acknowledging this feat recently, said: ‘‘The Information and Communication Technology sector was the fastest growing sector in both the fourth quarter of 2020 and the entire year, based on the report by the National Bureau of Statistics.

‘‘The sector’s 14.70 per cent double digit growth rate played a principal role in supporting our country to exit the recession triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The growth rate of the sector exceeded four times the next fastest growing sector of Q4 2020, ICT which had a growth rate of 3.42 per cent. This is truly commendable”.

The ICT sector is also expanding the digital frontiers with the implementation of numerous digital projects by the ministry pan-Nigeria. These include ICT Innovation Hubs, Digital Skills for Entrepreneurs and Innovators, Community IT Training Centres, Tertiary Institution Knowledge Centers (TIKC), School Knowledge Centres (SKC), and completion of Emergency Communication Centres (ECC).

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy also established ICT start-up centres across the six-geopolitical zones to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs, while it has finalised the training of youths across 12 states representing six geo-political zones of the country on digital jobs.

In further efforts to boost local content, Pantami has secured President Buhari’s approval leading to the launch of the revised National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in Nigerian Telecom Sector, which now makes it mandatory for Ministries, Departments and Agencies to use locally produced ICT content.

Launching the policy on May 6, 2021, Buhari said the policy was in line with government’s determination to ensure that Nigeria consumes what it produces locally, not just food but other things including ICT assets.

The Ministry, under Pantami, has equally revolutionised the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to Covid-19 and save public funds, with the Minister initiating the first virtual edition of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, coordinating the technical backend. Today, many government businesses are conducted virtually.

For example, President Buhari holds online participation in numerous landmark events such as ground breaking ceremonies, launches and inauguration of projects and initiatives, chairing or participation in sub-regional meetings of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Meetings of the National Economic Council, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, and private institutions, as well as large gathering events like matriculation and convocation by universities and colleges, also hold virtually, taking inspiration from Pantami’s initiative.

As important as the ICT sector is, there are myriad challenges the sector has faced over a period of time. The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy under Pantami has successfully resolved many of such key issues.

One of the challenges was the Right of Way (RoW), which had hindered broadband penetration for over 12 years. The Minister’s efforts, commitment, and engagements with relevant stakeholders were able to unravel the challenges associated with ROW.

In this regard, the Minister met with the Nigeria Governors Forum to address the lingering challenges on RoW levy in Nigeria. The outcome of this stakeholders’ engagements led to a downward review to the agreed maximum of N145/linear meter by some states, while other states completely waved the ROW charges.

He has also ensured the de-registration of some 9.2 million SIMs, making it impossible for criminals and terrorists to use mobile networks undetected.

Another knotty issue is that of the charge against illegal deductions of data and pricing, which often pitted subscribers against telecom operators.

The controversial Stamp Duty collection was another serious concern now resolved by fighting for the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) to regain its rightful mandate to collect Stamp Duty, a function which the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) had usurped.

The decade-long efforts to have a harmonised national database have also been bolstered by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, thanks to the mandatory linkage of the National Identity Number and Subscriber Identification Module (NIN–SIM) innovated by the ministry under Pantami.

As a result, NIN enrolment has reached record 54 million, with over 12 million enrolments recorded within six months due to NIN-SIM integration. This was a project that has dragged over the years, denying Nigeria the wherewithal to account for the identity of her citizens, and thereby making it difficult to plan for the welfare of the citizens.

President Buhari, while launching the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration, on 6th May 2021, commended Pantami for making that feat possible.

Pantami attributed the achievements of his Ministry to the various digital initiatives that have been formulated and implemented. “Our efforts have culminated in impressive 17 per cent ICT contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the second quarter of 2020,” he said, adding that this is a testament to ongoing effective implementation of the digital economy policies already put in place.

Not resting on his oars, the Minister stated that the digital economy as a sector could contribute as much as 45 per cent to the nation’s GDP, because services in other sectors are being digitised leveraging on ICT infrastructure that the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy is enabling.

Favourable policies and continuous investment in the ICT sector are indeed, sine qua non to driving the frontiers of digital economy for Nigeria’s socio-economic prosperity.

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