The tasks before Bosun Tijani
On Monday, President Bola Tinubu formally inaugurated his cabinet, days after portfolios had been assigned. For the Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy sector, Dr. Bosun Tijani, takes charge in the next four years, hopefully. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes on the expectations of stakeholders.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a key enabler for economic growth and development.
Recent progress in automation, artificial intelligence and access to large data is changing not only the way people communicate, but also affects most, if not all, the traditional sectors, from finance to healthcare and from agriculture to manufacturing.
The adoption of technology can improve productivity, increase efficiency, lower costs, and correct information asymmetries.
Nigeria has not done badly in technology if the success of the telecoms sector is anything to go by. But the argument has been that the country is still operating below its capacity, especially when smaller countries, including Rwanda, Botswana and Mauritius appear to be dictating the pace on the continent.
As such, unlocking the enormous potential of the country’s ICT sector, according to analysts, requires a major shift from the normal, the centre of which is the driver, now in the person of Dr. Bosun Tijani.
Tijani, Nigerian-British entrepreneur, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB), a Pan-African innovation and technology centre will be in charge of the country’s ICT sector for the next four years.
Tijani, who took over from Prof. Isa Pantami, is coming at a time much is expected from the sector. Nigeria’s economy is in dire straits. The removal of fuel subsidy has further compounded the woes of Nigeria and Nigerians.
The ICT sector
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the ICT sector comprises activities of telecommunications and information services, publishing, motion picture, sound recording and music production and broadcasting.
The sector contributed a significant 17.47 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP (Real Gross Domestic Product) in the first quarter of 2023.
According to the NBS report, this amounts to about N3.1 trillion of the total N17.75 trillion of the country’s real GDP in the quarter. This is a notable increase in the ICT sector’s GDP contribution, surpassing the figures for the first quarter of 2022, which stood at N2.86 trillion.
Among the various activities encompassed by the ICT sector, telecommunications emerged as the primary driver of growth. The telecommunications sub-sector, whose worth is put at $75.6 billion, contributed 14.13 per cent to the GDP in real terms, leading the way with a growth rate of 10.32 per cent year on year during the quarter under review. The broadcasting sub-sector followed, contributing 1.98 per cent to the overall GDP in real terms.
Not only did the ICT sector make strides in Nigeria’s GDP contribution, but it also demonstrated remarkable growth in nominal terms.
The sector contributed 13.23 per cent to the total nominal GDP in Q1 2023, surpassing the rates recorded in both the same quarter of the previous year (10.55 per cent) and the preceding quarter (10.42 per cent). This nominal growth represents a substantial increase of 41.84 per cent during the quarter, marking a 21.3 per cent point rise compared to the corresponding period of 2022.
The telecoms sector has remained remarkable, where the mobile network operators (MNOs) have connected over 300 million telephone lines of which about 220 million have been very active since the revolution started over two decades ago. Telecoms infrastructure has enabled so many developments across the country.
More worrisome gaps
WHILE the ICT sector can be commended for the progress thus far, painfully, so many gaps still need to be bridged. Bridging the gaps is important because growth in telecom access is vital to the success of the digital economy and is essential to the success of communication services in the country.
Earlier this year, the NCC had said the number of Nigerians without access to telecommunication services fell by 37.04 per cent to 27 million in 2022.
It noted that the number of identified clusters in the country without access to telecoms fell to 53.1 per cent as of the end of the year.
Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said, “We have worked tirelessly to ensure we bring telecom services to people living in rural, unserved, and underserved areas of this country, totaling 37 million people courtesy of the consultancy that was conducted in 2013.
“By 2022, we have reduced the clusters of access gaps to 97 from 207 in 2013. The number of Nigerians again has come down from 37 million in 2013 to 27 million as we speak.”
While the telecoms sector is also confronted with about 39 different taxes and levies, which have stalled upgrades and expansion of services, foreign direct investments (FDIs) into the sector dropped by 47 per cent in 2022. The industry was only able to attract $399.9 million as against $753.05 million it earned in 2021. According to analysts, the drop in telecom sector investment is a sign that the industry needs help.
The software sector, where Tijani played hugely before becoming a minister, is stressed, as there has been a huge drop in Startup funding to Nigeria, cum Africa.
The African startup space currently grapples with a funding drought that has resulted in a 37 per cent year-on-year funding decline to $4.1 billion as of June 2023. As of June 2022, startups in Africa had raised $6.5 billion according to Africa: The Big Deal.
The data paints a grimmer picture when examined critically. African startups were only able to raise $2.1 billion through equity funding, a huge decline from the $5.6 billion they raised through the same channel in the corresponding period of 2022. This means that startups are relying more on debt financing than before. Also, fewer startups are getting funding, and the number of unique investors fell to 800 from 1,100 in the prior period.
In Nigeria, it is becoming tougher for startups to attract funding into the country. Startups’ funding has declined by 77 per cent. Nigerian startups were only able to raise $470 million between July 2022 and June 2023, a far cry from the $2 billion they raised between July 2021 and June 2022.
Nigeria was not the only ecosystem to experience a slowdown in funding; 2022 was a humbling year for startups. Global venture funding fell to $415 billion in 2022 from $638 billion in 2023.
The global tech space, Nigeria included, had to lay off 153,160 in 2022, a 59.57 per cent increase from the 95,991 of 2021 due to reduced funding, a global record high inflation rate, and dwindling investments.
Stakeholders set agenda
UNLIKE what happened in the previous regime, where regulatory capture was very visible, which saw the telecoms regulator, the NCC deeply controlled by former Minister Pantami, in a chat with The Guardian, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said for now, “on the top is the independence of the industry regulator, NCC.”
On its part, sister telecoms body, the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), while congratulating the new minister, appreciate President Tinubu for appointing a person with an IT background to the post, saying the fact that he is relatively young shows that a dynamic approach to the industry is being targeted.
ATCON, which noted the addition of “Innovation” to the title of the Ministry, described it as a further pointer to the direction the current government intends to take in the communication industry, especially considering one of the promises of a million digital jobs, a lot of innovation is truly required.
On areas of focus, ATCON in a statement signed by its president, Tony Izuagbe Emoekpere, there are still fundamental challenges facing the industry, especially at the physical layer – “infrastructure, which if unresolved will not allow success in the application layers where most of the digital jobs reside. There is a great need to develop, secure and enable further expansion of communication infrastructure in the country. With a solid infrastructure base, innovative digital services, which can take advantage of the growing digital economy can be further developed and expanded to all areas of the country, especially the unserved and underserved areas.”
Emoekpere said issues ranging from funding, security and permits still bedevil the industry, stressing that although several strides have been made especially by the regulating bodies chiefly NCC as well as NITDA and now the NDPC.
He listed areas of focus to include the creation of a special FX window for operators in the industry; passing into Act Critical National Infrastructure Bill; implementation of the agreement on Right of Way and multiple taxation/regulation.
“The success of the new minister is our success. A recommendation is to constitute an Industry Think-Tank team to help him fast-track growth and development in the sector. He needs expertise of industry associations to embark on projects and programmes that would speed up the growth, efficiency and effectiveness of the Nigerian Telecom and ICT Sector,” he stated.
On his part, the Chairman, Mobile Software Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, who also congratulated the minister, said he does not doubt his experience and audacity to apply the design-thinking model to reimagine and strategically restructure the mission of the ministry – which was a digital wake-up call, promoted by the nation’s information technology vision-bearers/stakeholders and established by the Federal Government in 2011.
Uwaje said available records showed that the nation’s ICT ecosystem is still under-performing below global expectations of her endowed creative capabilities and innovative capability.
He said the above is worthy of note within the context of the need to ensure that the nation focuses on its core- competencies in pursuit of its objectives to attain the digital promise.
“And above all, that software is the central pillar of the nation’s digital innovation and core commerce. This fact remains undisputable. But Software Nigeria is still at a crawling stage. Alarmingly Nigeria is yet to establish a specialised Software Engineering Institute (SEI), which represents the backbone of digital innovation and transformation.
“In furtherance to the above reflection, available records inform that in the previous year, Nigeria ranked 115th in innovation inputs, the same as last year but higher than 2019. And concerning innovation outputs, Nigeria’s global ranking is 124th. This position is lower than both 2020 and 2019. It goes a long way to demonstrate that our IT sustainability strategy is weak, non-inclusive and/or not resilient enough to scale through global competitiveness in the Innovation Olympiad.
“Therefore, connecting the missing links effectively becomes the central challenge for the new Hon. Minister. And I am sure that he is very conscious of the above significant signpost,” he stated.
Uwaje posited that perhaps, one of the most dynamic strategies would be the fusion of the Diaspora and local ICT eggheads into one robust innovation engine. “Call it a digital Innovation Advisory Brainbox, which is critically required to assist him deliver the herculean task before him and the nation.
“In other words, he needs to retool the national workforce as the digital accelerator and powerhouse – equipped with the creative potential to deliver trustworthy solutions to the world and secure our digital IP going forward.
He said 5G and the deliverables of Smart Cities might remain a hollow dream unless the Critical National Information Infrastructure and related network operators are urgently mandated to adopt the IPv6 and further move to IPV6-only operational environment.
According to him, most of the nation’s digital transformation infrastructure still runs its operations on IPv4, and this is worrisome concerning its vulnerability and cybersecurity-related concerns.
On his part, Co-founder, The Nest Hub, Peter Ogedengbe, the minister needs to leverage the support of the tech and digital ecosystem to form more collaboration across many agencies and organisations that operate within the digital space, galvanising them towards achieving the objectives.
Speaking on data consolidation, Ogedengbe said the country has been pulled in different directions on the issues of a non-centralised database, multiple data entry points and non-syncronisation between government agencies and initiatives for national identification.
He said the minister should focus on unifying the different silos of data points, converge and synchronise the existing databases.
The Nest Hub co-founder said there is also the need to, as a matter of urgency, provide new frameworks and policies to protect the nation’s digital economy against cyber-related attacks, from within and outside. The ministry should focus on enforcing the appropriate laws.
IN his immediate reaction on X (Twitter) to the announcement as Minister by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Tijani said this would be done by working with all stakeholders to raise the level of productivity across the economy.
“I look forward to working with all stakeholders to raise the level of productivity across our economy through the smart application of technology. It’s an exciting time to build a bigger and better future for all Nigerians. Grateful to the President @officialABAT for the opportunity to join his team working to deliver a more inclusive and prosperous Nigeria,” he said via his official Twitter handle @bosuntijani.
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