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Service quality, regulator’s autonomy, software development top 2023 agenda

By Adeyemi Adepetun
04 January 2023   |   4:04 am
The technology industry largely thrived in the year that just passed, contributing significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and remaining the backbone of the other sectors. In 2023, stakeholders have chart path to a more sustainable sector, with call for a truly independent telecoms regulator, amidst urgent need for the 218 million subscribers…

Danbatta

The technology industry largely thrived in the year that just passed, contributing significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and remaining the backbone of the other sectors. In 2023, stakeholders have chart path to a more sustainable sector, with call for a truly independent telecoms regulator, amidst urgent need for the 218 million subscribers to see improved services.
ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, reports.

Over the past 10 years, information and communications technology (ICT) has maintained steady growth in Nigeria and a major boost to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Except in 2013, when there was a slight drop, ICT’s contribution to GDP maintained a steady growth rate between 2012 and 2022.

Beyond its numerous economic benefits, ICT has also been instrumental to the development of nearly every sector. Even in social activism, ICT has revolutionised participation, the End SARS is a typical example.

Indeed, for the third consecutive time, between 2021 and 2022 ICT floored the oil sector in boosting the GDP. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the oil sector contributed only 6.63 in Q1 2022 and 6.33 per cent to the total real GDP in Q2 2022, while ICT’s unprecedented contribution pushed the non-oil sector to contribute 93.67 per cent to the nation’s GDP in the Q2 2022. In Q2 2021 and Q1 2022, the non-oil sector led by ICT also contributed 92.58 per cent and 93.37 per cent respectively.

The tech sector contributed 18.44 per cent to Nigeria’s real GDP in the second quarter of 2022, surpassing the contribution of the fourth quarter in 2021, which was 15.21 per cent. In Q3, 2022, the sector contributed 15.35 per cent to the economy.

The ICT sector has no doubt contributed immensely to the sustainability of the economy, serving as a key catalyst in driving productivity in all sectors of the economy, including Agriculture, Education, Manufacturing, and Healthcare.

Interestingly, the telecoms sector has been at the forefront of these contributions. For instance, telecommunication and information services contributed N4.84 trillion to the nation’s real GDP in the first two quarters of 2022, data from NBS is a witness.

The figure is 10.76 per cent increase from N4.37 trillion the sector contributed to the GDP in the corresponding period of 2021. In terms of nominal GDP, the sector contributed N7.94 trillion in the first two quarters of the year.

The NBS calculates the sector’s contribution by adding up gross outputs such as revenue from telephone, telex, facsimile, telegraph, and other income from satellite and Internet services. It also considers intermediate consumptions such as transit fees, operational expenditure, minor repairs and maintenance, and other expenses.

Going by these figures, it will seem the telecoms sector, which is under the supervision of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is not going through any stress, especially in the year that just ended.

Painfully, the NCC is said to be under regulatory capture. In fact, some industry analysts claimed that the supervising ministry is on the verge of castrating the commission, especially with the controversial NITDA Bill 2021.

Be that as it may, at the very of end of 2022, the about 218 million telecoms subscribers were not spared as they were subjected to poor quality of service, ranging from drop calls to undelivered SMS, which culminated into series of failed electronic transactions. These are some of the things the industry is expected to move against in 2023.

Independence of NCC is sine qua non
Like the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA); UK’s Ofcom; National Communications Authority (NCA) of Ghana and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States of America, among others that are truly independent and devoid of any political interference, Section 1(b) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 also empowers NCC to be truly independent and devoid of any external aggressions.

Gbenga Adebayo

The independence of NCC, according to stakeholders would be crucial for the betterment of the industry.

In a chat with The Guardian, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTON) Gbenga Adebayo, stressed that independence of the NCC, the industry regulator is key to unlocking further sector’s growth. He said NCC must remain free of all forms of political interference.

Recalled that in August 2022, telecoms lawyer, Ayoola Oke, had cautioned that the independence of the NCC must remain sacrosanct if the country hoped to strengthen the economy with the contributions of telecommunications sector.

Oke, a Principal Partner at Ayoola Babatunde Oke & Co; and former Special Adviser to the former Executive Vice-Chairman, NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, also said if the reports that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy was interfering in the management of the NCC were true, it could spell doom to the growth of the entire economy.

The telecoms lawyer, who admitted that the ministry has some form of supervisory role to play in the activities of the commission, but however, said it was strictly on policy directions through the board.

As regards the industry in 2023, Adebayo said tariffs must reflect cost of providing services. He stressed that the industry is pricing below its costs.

According to him, contract between players must reflect reality of market prices; diesel supply by infracos must be reflected on their pricing to mobile network operators (MNOs), adding that service contracts must reflect actual market prices.

The ALTON boss, who assured of improved telephony service in 2023, said interconnects and shared services settlement debts, must be addressed.

Dwelling on the N80 billion USSD debt owed telecoms operators by banks, the ALTON boss said the debt by deposit money banks (DMB) to operators is a major threat to cashless economy.

“Priority access to forex for operators to service foreign contracts and procure equipment is highly required. Care should be taken in any overnight amendment and or changes in legislation that can affect the frame, which has made the sector record significant growth over the years,” Adebayo stressed.

Chris Uwaje

Software devt crucial to economy
While the telecoms sector remains a star performer, other sub-sectors, such as the hardware and software, have been tapped to live up to their bidding in 2023, the year, which is equally expected to usher in a new government by May 29. Stakeholders said software development should be a national economic recovery strategy in 2023.

Chairman, Mobile Software Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, said in 2022, Nigeria performed far below the expectations of global development metrics based on the huge knowledge resources at her disposal – both at home and in the Diaspora.

According to him, the main reason is due to the neglect and/or lack of understanding for constructively aggregating and utilising Nigeria’s digital core-competence as strategic response to global competitiveness.

Uwaje said the major missteps are misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the distinguished difference between digital economy and digital transformation.

He said digital transformation is about building digital citizenship at all levels because jobs that existed 60 years ago are no more available today, and tomorrow’s jobs in the next 50 years require new skills to create digital wealth.

Uwaje called for digital brain production strategy, which he said would help achieve and deliver the digital transformation goals,

He said the central pillar to achieve the above goal in 2023 is recognising and adopting National Software Core-Competence Strategic Masterplan as the transformational agenda.

The mobile implementation plan for the above, according to Uwaje, will require the establishment of a National Software Commission as formidable institutional framework to develop 500,000 smart software capabilities in three phases.

He listed them as Phase 1 (18 months program): Assemble 150,000 digital Youths from Home and Diaspora in 2 Centres of 75,000 each. Phase 2: 200,000 data scientist and ethical hackers in two centres of 100,000 each.

According to Uwaje, the audacity of the human brain of the youths to adapt and master the challenges of 2023-century national development resides in mastering the requirements for the future of work and production processes.

He said the current digital strategy is incapable of leveraging global competitiveness, stressing that Nigeria requires new models of learning, training and institutional framework to manage the processes and achieve the desired results.

Jide Awe

New government and STI priority
From his perspective, the Founder, Jidaw Systems, Jide Awe, said while there has been increased digitisation and exploitation of digital technologies, going forward in 2023, there is a need for increased focus on leverage of ICT and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) to create and expand social and economic opportunities.

Awe said greater attention should be on education, health, agriculture and security. Young people and youth-led organisations should be involved in such activities, projects and interventions.

According to him, the nation needs to focus on a sustainable human capital strategy for innovation that takes technological developments (especially emerging technologies), global tech trends, global talent developments and demands.

Awe said people are the nation’s most important asset and are critical in the age of disruption and innovation. He said to effectively diversify the economy away from oil, achieve its potential and break away from the unsustainable development model of resource extraction, investment in a human capital innovation strategy is crucial, adding that such a strategy should also be based on expanding the national digital economy and meeting sustainable development needs.

The Jidaw Systems boss said digital inclusion needed to be prioritised to leverage ICT to create social and economic opportunities in a widespread manner and to build a truly sustainable 21st-century nation. In this regard, the implementation of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 should be prioritised, especially concerning the rural areas and the traditionally disadvantaged.

Further, he said there is need for effective and independent monitoring and evaluation of national STI and ICT policies and strategies.

According to him, the National Data Protection Bill should be passed into law, as it is essential to fostering innovations and stimulating economic growth.

Awe also wants the issues around the current draft National NITDA (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021 addressed adequately well.

“As a new government will emerge in May, the nation needs to review and take stock of ICT impact and set the agenda with stakeholders. The government leadership of the sector will be very critical; vision, leadership quality, knowledge, understanding of the issues and innovation promotion are imperative. It is also important to key into and leverage African initiatives and strategies such as Agenda 2063, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) for STI opportunities that advance sustainable development,” Awe stated.

More from 5G and other technologies
Executive Secretary, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude, said the focus should be centered on how to further grow the sector astronomically.

Olude said issues that can slow down the pace of the industry must be avoided by all means, stressing that the government should release policy on Dig Once policy and other related policies that have potential to make the industry grow better.

Olude

He appealed to states to key into the FG’s policies to grow and develop the industry in their respective states by implementing the N145 per liner meter for right of way.

“NCC should try and release the Mobile Virtual Network Operators license so that services can get to undeserved and unserved areas. The Federal Government through Central Bank of Nigeria should facilitate the payment of N80 billion owed by the Nigerian Banks to our members without further delay,” he added.

For Kehinde Aluko, a telecoms expert, success or failure of government in ICT depends on greater business preparedness, competence in change management and effective process re-engineering, stressed that there must be a change in the approach to ICT implementation.

Aluko wants Nigerians to see the benefits of the Fifth Generation (5G) network, stressing that consumers deserve the best of service in 2023.

He called on the Danbatta-led NCC to oversee the full deployment of the technology in the country especially as election beckons in few weeks time.

According to him, Nigeria should also move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution so as to be able to compete favourably.