Driving economic growth through ICT
Connectivity—whether the Internet or mobile phones, is increasingly bringing market information, financial services, health services—to remote areas, and is helping to change people’s lives in unprecedented ways.
New information and communications technologies (ICT), in particular high-speed Internet, are changing the way companies do business, transforming public service delivery and democratizing innovation. With 10 per cent increase in high speed Internet connections, economic growth increases by 1.3 per cent.
According to World Bank economist, Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, “the mobile platform is emerging as the single most powerful way to extend economic opportunities and key services to millions of people.”
Indeed, ICT provides economic opportunities to both urban and rural populations. One common contribution is that it increases productivity and makes the market work more efficiently, although the magnitude of the impact on economic growth is likely to be different.
The fact that virtually all-new mobile customers in the coming years will be in developing countries, and more specifically in rural areas, means that the ICT platform is reaching population with low levels of income and literacy.
As a result, ICT is becoming the largest distribution platform of providing public and private services to millions of people in rural and poor areas. Market information, financial services, education and health services had largely been unavailable in those areas in the past due to lack of connectivity of any kind.
Now the wireless platform is promoting new economic and social opportunities at all levels for the poor population.
Market watchers have stressed times without number that the Nigerian telecommunications sector has the potentials to take the country’s economy back to recovery; to get it out of economic downturn. This assertion has been an‘old song’. 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 telecommunications industry has recorded over $32 billion investment, about 150 million subscribers 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 rebasing report tagged the telecommunications sector as a ‘Star Performer’.
Consequently, the NCC said it is confident that the resultant broadband era will spur more sector’s contribution to GDP.
Considering the present cash crunch faced by the Nigerian government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, it is safe to say that the ICT 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, 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) eight-point agenda for the industry for the period 2016 to 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.
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), Lanre Ajayi disclosed to Shittu, at a reception held in his honour in Lagos.
Ajayi, an engineer, listed issues ranging from National Broadband Plan; e-Governement, national critical infrastructure; frequency management; secondary spectrum market; 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.