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Has Nigeria fared better in ICT penetration?

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DG/CEO of NITDA, Pantami. Photo: TWITTER/NITDA

As Nigeria celebrates 59 years of independence, one sector that has distinguished itself remains the Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Apart from contributing hugely to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), at 13.8 per cent as at the end of the second quarter, 2019, it’s sub-arm, telecoms have remained a “Star Performer”, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

According to analysts, other sub-sectors, including software, hardware, e-learning, e-commerce, among others are, however, struggling to live up to expectations and make Nigeria more competitive, not only in Africa but across the globe.

As of today, yearly importation of IT solutions use in Nigeria is put at over $2 billion. The country’s hardware sub-sector is 80 per cent foreign-dominated. The fact is that Nigeria is still very much a consuming nation. The country’s technological prowess is abysmally low. Nigeria has consistently, in the last seven years ranked lowest in the Global Innovation Index (GII) and had not fared better even before then. In the 2019 GII, Nigeria ranked 114 out of 129 economies. A year earlier, it ranked 118th.

Nigeria was missing among the innovation achievers in Africa, but five countries, which emerged in terms of innovation relative to their level of development, from sub-Saharan Africa include Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar.

The GII study said Africa’s largest economy performed below expectations compared with the level of economic development in the country.

The report on innovation ranking noted that Nigeria performed poorly in the areas of political and operational stability, government effectiveness, ease of resolving insolvency, general infrastructure.

Other areas of weaknesses are domestic credit to the private sector, Wikipedia edits, creative goods export, high-tech net exports, ISO 9001 quality certificates, patents by origin and university/industry research collaboration.

Painfully, Nigeria has consistently participated in global IT event, but yet to replicate some of the developments seen locally. Lately, with these challenges persisting and no formal headway in curtailing the impacts, Nigeria has also considered enthroning a 5G network by 2020. This is a country where efficient 3G and 4G networks remain a tall order to attain, where electricity remains epileptic, vandalism is rife, policy inconsistency, telecoms development bills linger for decades at the National Assembly, these and many others limitations continued to reign supreme.
ICT Policy and impact

According to analysts, the earlier the country moves against these challenges, the better for the economy.

To them, Nigeria’s ICT policy needs to perform if the country must enthrone a robust ICT sector.

Indeed, Nigeria started implementing its ICT policy in April 2001 after the Federal Executive Council
approved it by establishing the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the implementing body.

The policy empowers NITDA to enter into strategic alliances and joint ventures and to collaborate with the private sector to realise the specifics of the country’s vision of, “making Nigeria an IT capable country in Africa and a key player in the information society by the year 2005 through using IT as an engine for sustainable development and global competitiveness.”

There is no gainsaying the fact that this vision is yet to be fulfilled; despite NITDA having been led since establishment by technocrats, including Prof. Olalere Ajayi; Prof. Cleopas Angaye; Peter Jack; Dr. Ibrahim Isa Pantami and Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.

The Guardian checks showed that objectives of Nigeria’s ICT policy, include to ensure that ICT resources are readily available to promote efficient national development; to guarantee that the country benefits maximally, and contributes meaningfully, by providing the global solutions to the challenges of the information age; to empower Nigerians to participate in software and ICT development; to encourage local production and manufacture of ICT components in a competitive manner; to establish and develop ICT infrastructure and maximise its use nationwide; to empower the youth with ICT skills and prepare them for global competitiveness; to integrate ICT into the mainstream of education and training; to create ICT awareness and ensure universal access in promoting ICT diffusion in all sectors of national life; to create an enabling environment and facilitate private sector (national and multinational) investment in the ICT sector.

Others are to encourage government and private sector joint venture collaboration; to develop human capital with emphasis on creating and supporting a knowledge-based society; to build a mass pool of ICT literate manpower using the NYSC, NDE, and other platforms as a train-the-trainer scheme for capacity-building.
Struggling sector

According to an industry expert, Kehinde Aluko, nothing concrete to cheer about as far as the ICT policy is a concern. He noted that most of the objectives itemised in the policy would require determination and discipline on the part of the government if they must be realised.

Aluko picked on three areas, which are lack of computers; lack of electricity and lack or slow Internet connectivity. According to him, computers are still very expensive and despite spirited efforts by the government agencies, NGO, corporate organisations and individuals to donate computers to as many schools as possible, there still remains a huge gap among users.

He said many areas, not to talk of schools are still not yet connected to electricity. Nigeria, according to him, being a developing country, the government has not been able to connect all parts of the country to the national electricity grid; consequently, those areas are left handicapped in terms of even development.

From his views, the former Chairman of Conferences, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Jide Awe, said much more must be done in terms of the overall impact of ICT on the nation’s development and creating a better future for citizens and the country. “But the real concern is using ICT to become a more competitive economy and a sustainable society, is still a work in progress,” he stated.

Leadership direction matters
Awe noted that the ICT landscape faces serious challenges with leadership, policies, and implementation. Leadership, according to him, is, however, the most challenging. “Competent and committed leadership must do more to ensure policies are formulated, monitored, evaluated and updated to improve the enabling environment and quality of policy impact. For policies to be grounded in reality, they must address the health of ICT in the country, regulatory challenges, inclusive policy engagement, and other issues.

“Policies are one thing. Impact and quality of implementation have to a large extent been dependent on leadership’s inability to make capacity and resources available. Leadership also addresses the critical issues of coordination, governance, and financing. Leadership must additionally be proactive and visionary for implementation to succeed. We must not reduce leadership to the management of the status quo.

“Most importantly, what makes leadership the greatest challenge is the importance of a political will. Very often, policy or infrastructure problems are not issues holding digital transformation back; very often, the political will is lacking. Broadband rollout is hindered in some states because the leadership lacks the vision and political will to resolve the problem of multiple taxation and duplication of regulation,” he stated.

According to him, Nigeria must embrace an ambitious vision of digital transformation that has people at the center, which must identify priorities for realisation.

Buying from stakeholders to Awe is fundamental, as the government cannot do it alone. He stressed that the private sector, the ICT sector (industry and services), academia, civil society, and young people are all critical.

Awe, the CEO of Jidaw Communications, wants the country to prioritise youth innovation, adding that though the young people constitute the majority of the populace, youth unemployment is huge and rising rapidly.

He stressed the need for a deliberate ICT human capital strategy in line with the nation’s digital agenda and vision. Awe said human capital is critical for competitiveness, local ICT capacity building and development is integral to sustainability and diversification of the economy.

“Digital inclusion must be prioritized not just on paper but in reality. Exclusion makes it impossible for the nation to fully utilize its Nigerian talents and potential. Location, gender, income level, age and living with disabilities should not be barriers to growth and digital contributions. Digital access gaps need to be closed by improving the availability, affordability, and reliability of ICT infrastructure. It is vital for competitiveness and maximization of potential in the digital era.

New direction
To the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, many great ideas, and policies have simply not been implemented to the word or at all. He stressed that this reflects the dearth of skills sets, lack of funding and low political will to refocus attention and resources to building the frameworks necessary that builds the blocks right from the foundation level to tertiary level together with apprenticeships that can address youths, who require a more vocational education that provides an alternative to traditional modes of studying.

Teniola appreciated the telecoms arm of the sector, describing it has been the true single development that Nigeria has recorded since the return to democratic rule in 1999. He added: “It is the only recognised positive achievement recorded and recognised by ITU, EIU, ECOWAS, GSMA, and the UN that contribution to socio-economic development has been achieved and driven by the digitisation, We need to recognise the leadership of former President Olusegun Obasanjo for allowing an enabling and conducive environment to exist for the private sector to come in and demonstrate its innovation and tenacity to drive through tremendous telephony penetration and create an industry respected the world over that allowed $70 billion of investments to be made and generated $11 billion of licensing fees to the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria in between 2001 and 2011.”

With continued investments and adoption of AI, Machine Learning, 5G, and IoT, the country should hopefully see a more sophisticated consumer society that demands higher levels of QoS and improves on the connectivity reach of current networks to serve the growing population that is projected.

From his perspective, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, Nigeria has come a long way in governance and citizens’ development after acquiring her independence and enthronement of independence.

Uwaje said the emergence of the information technology knowledge and skills build-up, which dates back since 1950-1970 brackets and currently at the digital transformation level. “The National ICT landscape suggests the country perhaps, did not take maximum advantage of the opportunities and benefits of Science and Technology – in spite of its embedded challenges. Did we fail to build specialist and Domain experts in those areas? Or leadership lacked the foresight and political will to comprehend the evolution of human development, civilization matrix, and future survivability strategies?

“With respect to ICT, we continue to beg external forces for what we already have in abundance: Human resources! We can succeed only when we reserve our science, technology and innovation policy and strategies, which have not delivered the commensurate benefits and security of our progressive future,” he stressed.

Most importantly, what makes leadership the greatest challenge is the importance of a political will. Very often, policy or infrastructure problems are not issues holding digital transformation back; very often, the political will is lacking. Broadband rollout is hindered in some states because the leadership lacks the vision and political will to resolve the problem of multiple taxation and duplication of regulation.


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