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The needless attacks on Pantami over NITDA Bill

By Zeenat Sambo
10 January 2023   |   10:48 pm
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has suffered more than a fair share of abuses from ignorant folks for no other reason other than his determination to leave the digital space in Nigeria far better than he met it. Since joining public service under this administration, Pantami has exceeded…

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, during his appearance at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum at NAN headquarters in Abuja on Sunday. Photo/NAN

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has suffered more than a fair share of abuses from ignorant folks for no other reason other than his determination to leave the digital space in Nigeria far better than he met it.

Since joining public service under this administration, Pantami has exceeded expectations by working round the clock to map out innovative ideas to expand the digital space to accommodate more young Nigerians.

In other climes, people like him are referred to as and treated as treasures for their commitment to national development. The minister has however been the butt of tasteless remarks on social media by the those he is serving day and night.

Recently, Pantami became a victim of mercenary writers and paid social media influencers over the misconception that the NITDA Bill 2021 was his idea and a move to take away the regulatory functions of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Last year, a National Assembly hearing for ICT stakeholders on the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Amendment Bill was put on hold because a quorum was not formed. Since then, coordinated criticisms have been unleashed on the minister over the provisions of the bill which aims to repeal existing laws which do not empower the agency to deal with certain developments.

It is easy to decipher the sources of the attacks and their malicious intent. Using the cover of NITDA Bill 2021, they pretend to defend the NCC over a phantom superiority clash with the ministry. While their actions might create an impression that they were sponsored by the Chief Executive Officer, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, I refuse to assume so.

I can vouch for his integrity and believe he would never give in to the antics of overzealous merchants and mischief makers. The respected, jovial and unassuming CEO has contributed immensely to the telecommunication sector just like NITDA Director General, Kashifu Inuwa. The attempt to create bad blood between the agencies is very unfortunate.

One of the most scornful and irrational arguments is that the minister seeks to control citizens’ freedom through the bill. A writer claimed: “Before he leaves, Pantami seeks to give Nigerians a bill to curtail their freedoms and finally put the ICT industry under his grip and pocket.” This thinking is puerile.

I find it perplexing that the cybersecurity Professor’s sterling performance do not irk the conscience of the traducers to leave him out of their venom. As long as his vision of a digital economy for the country threatens their own selfish interests, all they desire is to see him under the bus.

Since becoming minister, he has dedicated himself to providing an enabling environment for creativity and innovation to thrive and go from an oil-based economy to digital-driven. This is no mean feat in just about four years; no ministry has achieved such accelerated reform since Independence. I stand to be corrected!

ICT is now the fastest growing non-oil sector as latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows its contribution to the Nigerian economy grew by 18.44 percent in 2022. This is the third the sector attained such accomplishment under the minister’s tenure – Q1 2020, Q2 2021 and now Q2 2022.

In comparison, the oil sector – the nation’s economic mainstay – added 6.33% to the total GDP in Q2 2022, lower than in Q2 2021 and Q1 2022 during which it contributed 7.42% and 6.63% respectively.

Under Pantami’s supervision, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigeria Startup Bill into law to the delight of industry stakeholders. The new act, which seeks to provide an enabling environment for technology-enabled businesses, has been described as a game-changer for the burgeoning startup ecosystem.

He ensured National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) establishment, through NITDA, to foster the development of emerging technologies in preparing the country for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Again, the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) establishment was approved by the President after the minister’s request. The NDPB, in line with global best practice, focuses on data protection and privacy, among others.

Pantami also signed the Artemis Accords, announcing a collaboration with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Space X will enable nationwide access to broadband connectivity way ahead of the December 2025 schedule, as outlined in the National Broadband Plan. Nigeria will be the first African nation to introduce the service.

Furthermore, NITDA has entered into partnerships with global tech giants like Google, Coursera, Domenium Blockchain Technologies, etc., to train thousands of citizens on digital skills and emerging technologies. They in turn can creates millions of jobs for unemployed graduates.

It is unfair to accuse a man who wants to position Nigeria to tap into the about $24trillion ICT market of trying to “curtail freedom”. Pantami doesn’t need to bother about the antics of sadists and cynics. All he has to do is keep up the good work, posterity will vindicate him.

Zeenat Sambo, a co-author of a book on digital economy, is a staff writer with Tech Digest, Abuja.