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How ICT sector can improve economy, by experts

By Adeyemi Adepetun and Ibukun Igbasan
05 October 2016   |   3:29 am
As Nigeria celebrates its 56 years of independence, calls have again gone to the Federal Government to priotise the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
Mr Olusola Teniola, president of ATCON

Mr Olusola Teniola, president of ATCON

As Nigeria celebrates its 56 years of independence, calls have again gone to the Federal Government to priotise the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

With current statistics showing that the ICT sector contributes 9.8 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), experts have opined that the industry can actually do more if government can focus on the industry and encouraged players, especially now that country needed to diversify its economy from oil.

According to the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olushola Teniola, the key areas telecommunications and ICT in general, can contribute to the economy and especially to address recession is by government removing all inhibiting barriers to organisations, corporates and enterprises adopting business transformation to their business models and provide a digital configuration for all business processes, which integrates with best practices that facilitates an efficient manufacturing, outsourcing and development base in our economic setup.

According to him, the major areas of focus that is requisite to this happening are: cloud computing with data centers built to ensure data sovereignty and is kept within the country’s own jurisdiction, which leads to local employment for the youth and skills development that fits Nigeria’s idiosyncratic environment.

Teniola said there was need for broadband development that creates new opportunities for SME(s) and civic society and new wealth in the digital space.

“Software is the new era and Expert Systems, Artificial Intelligence (AI) are changing the way we interact with the environment and deal with new complexities in our societies. We need to quickly adopt e-Governance systems in the way we manage Government and the way Government interacts with its citizens and the building of ICT infrastructure should encompass affordability, accessibility and availability of communication infrastructure to all communities in Nigeria.

“All this requires human resources to be deployed in the roll-out, deployment, maintenance and enhancement over its life-time; which leads to employment, greater spending power of those engaged in this activity and the corresponding improvement in living standards and purchasing power parity.

“Finally, the unbanked society can be reached via mobile money platforms to allow financial inclusion and create an army of agents that are contributing taxes to the government’s coffers and productivity to our national GDP. Smart Cities is the beginning of this journey and we can learn from Singapore, Dubai and other climes, where such initiatives have propelled the society into being a significant contributor in the digital race,” he stated.

To Titi Omo-Ettu of Telecoms Answers Associates, 56 years post-independence, the industry moved from a posts and telecom regime, fledging and drab, through restructuring into a strictly telecom industry and after a successful liberalisation process transformed quickly into a Communication Technology industry.

According to Omo-Ettu, also a former ATCON President, the accomplished components of the CommTech industry development objectives have been remarkable especially regarding voice services and density of coverage, the unfinished tasks are easy to identify.

Consequently, he said the entire industry goals have summed up into only one task: that of providing affordable access to broadband Internet for all citizens as articulated in a Broadband4All Forum initiative of 2010.

Omo-Ettu pointed out that in recent years; four strategic plans were articulated, namely: an ICT Policy, a Broadband Plan, an Entrepreneurship Roadmap and a Local Content Development Agenda, leaving two focus areas to be expanded and plugged, which are subsidy and regulation.

He explained that fragmented subsidy regimes face waste and overlap challenges and the fact that they emerged from old-style faithful decentralisation suggest that fine-tuning is required on harmonisation matters. “That quickly suggests that the industry harmonisation as envisaged in the ICT Policy (2013) which specifies a converged regulator should be completed. That hope may however be dashed by the rather unclear path that government at policy making level choses to travel. It is difficult not to conclude, at least for now, that the industry may be at a lockdown for a while. Good story is: This is an industry that its players made and government (in) action can only cause, as has always, temporary setbacks. Besides, the regulator’s eight-point, five-year work plan is an ace that holds hope and promise to stabilise the industry.”

To catch up, Omo-Ettu suggested that the existing subsidy regime as articulated in the Universal Service Provision Fund laws requires that a review of the definition of ‘un-served’ and ‘under-served’ areas and communities be articulated to put a grip on Broadband Internet Access as the real Service that is in focus. “Good story: the managers of the fund have identified and strengthened the review ahead of putting it in the statute. But who puts it into law and when?,” he asked.

According to him, much work lies with regulation whose true strength will undoubtedly be the quality of minds that sit on commissions, boards, or agencies, which regulate the industry. He stressed that it is difficult to preach professionalism to political systems and that may continue to plague the success, or lack of it, of industry development until the entire choice process of leadership at all levels is keyed into picking from among the best minds.

He posited that the dual functions of policy making and industry regulation are so distinct that only a mutually progressive performance assures true development. “When the latter shows lack, the industry and consumers bark. When the earlier shows lack, they don’t. They merely pay huge bills and penalties as consequence. And that is the tragedy of today!”

From international perspective, the Managing Director of Huawei Nigeria, Frank Li, observed that, to fast track the nation’s development through ICT, governments should lead by example in digital transformation for enterprises and citizens, and increase spending on ICT infrastructure to benefit the public.

Li said countries need to introduce and train a skilled ICT workforce to unleash the full potential of a digital economy, adding that capacity building is a key, “We would love to see that the government can encourage ICT professional trainings. If more and more talented Nigerians are trained in ICT and they become very skillful workforce, this can really benefit the industry. It is clearly an incentive for growth for the industry if the market has more talented and skilled ICT people who have the understanding and deeper knowledge of ICT; this can help the industry to develop.

He stressed that Nigeria should partner with more stakeholders to lay a solid digital foundation, encourage cross-domain cooperation, and collaborate with the private sector and financial institutions to create an ecosystem for digital transformation.

For the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSIHUB), Chris Uwaje, moving forward, in both government and the business worlds, the understanding is that the organizations, which will benefit most from the transformative role of IT are those which treat IT as a key strategic resource for achieving organisational goals rather than as a purely technical input.

Uwaje said infinite passion and commitment to deploying science; inventions and technology for national development and wealth creation should be the highest priority of government and stakeholders without boundaries.

“The foot-dragging or better ‘mind-dragging ‘attitude at the desk of policy makers are probably not background on lack of good intension, but indeed on Techno-phobia and perhaps deep ignorance within the decision-making value chain. Above all, the other critical factor that has slowed down the innovation accelerator component of the process is the seeming silent disconnect between academia, industry and government at critical points of the ICT development Ecosystem.

“This is a serious concern which calls for urgent consideration for the enthronement of a National IT Framework Bill (NITFB); and the enactment of an Act to establish the Office of the IT General of the Federation (OITGF),” he stated.

According to Uwaje, a former President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), a nation that has exponential growth, driven by excessive import-based conspicuous consumption without reciprocal and meaningful innovation-centric development strategy and handsome revenue from that source, has no future – especially when her population growth index is over 4.2 per cent yearly compared to the 2.5 per cent growth of the economy!

“With a vibrant population surging at the edge of 200 million people with a very rich history, the Nigerian nation seems to have been submerged in the ocean of globalization and currently experiencing the impact of the cumulative challenges of converged centrifugal forces at the corridors of innovation, technology, creativity, internationalisation of trade interests, power, leadership and directionship.”

For the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, though democracy is gradually getting stabilised in the country, “in terms of ICT penetration, we not there yet.”

Ogunbanjo, to move forward as a country, there was need to harness all the leakages in the system of governance for revenue to be able to get out of recession on time.

While calling for the step down of the proposed Communications Service Tax bill, which seeks to impose additional nine per cent taxation on usage of ICT in Nigeria, the NATCOMs observed that some countries including Ghana and some North African nations are rather reducing taxes, which are targeted specifically at ensuring deeper penetration of ICT.

Ogunbanjo, who urged that youths should be urged to develop solutions that will solve social problems, pointed out that regulation, especially in the telecoms segment, should be to favour subscribers. “We still are still bombarded with unsolicited SMS; operators have refused to roll back unused data, among others. I think regulation is still weak from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). I don’t know why subscribers cannot be compensated.”