Last weekend in Lagos, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communication was honoured by the Association of Telecommunications Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON).
In his keynote address, Mr Shittu sad Telecommunications is the infrastructure of the emerging global information society. “As we enter the 21st century, our challenge is to rapidly grow our telecommunications industry as a way to emancipate our people economically. The challenge of our leaders is therefore, to come up with policies that will rapidly build Nigeria’s capacity to compete effectively with other economies.
He noted that without a solid telecommunications infrastructure, the country will not attract the needed local and foreign investment to build our economy.
“Telecommunications and information technology, therefore, present copious opportunities for the creation of unprecedented wealth for the nation. What is required is the political will to create the right environment for investment in this sector”.
He continued: “With a population of over 170 million people and its economic potential, Nigeria still remains Africa’s most important market. We cannot tap the full potential of this market without a sound telecommunications and information technology base. For the enterprise in today’s highly competitive world, the strategic components in developing and maintaining competitive edge are telecommunications and information management. The expansion of our telecommunications network will therefore accelerate development across the nation. Even for the rural or previously disadvantaged areas, access to telecommunications will contribute a great deal towards improving education, developing businesses and creating jobs”.
The Minister maintained that Africa is looking up to Nigeria to take advantage of its vast human and material resources and become the catalyst for economic emancipation of other continents.
“Government will encourage the ubiquitous deployment of broadband across the country; this will help Nigerian youths to take advantage of the opportunities of the internet, especially in e-commerce business.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, Technology, particularly ICT, is the critical driver of the knowledge-based economy of this our post-modern world. As many notable pundits predicted in the course of the 20th Century, emphasis and global relevance in today’s 21st Century world, has shifted from nations with huge natural resources to nations with developed human resources that can technologically explore, exploit and manage natural resources for the benefit of mankind.
“Today, as the price of crude oil daily goes nose-diving in the International market and foreseeable national revenue generation nosedives with it, the above-mentioned reality of global relevance is coming evermore into sharper focus in Nigeria. The time has come for Nigeria to redefine its economic strength away from crude oil sales by diversifying the productive base of the national economy. This diversification, as His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR has pointed out severally, can only be best driven today by ICT. ICT offers Nigeria the best hope of employment generation for the youth. It offers the best hope of increasing the productivity of our national workforce through train and re-train. It also offers the best hope of activating positive revolution in promising sectors such as: Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Entertainment, Textiles and others,” he said.
Furthermore, he noted that the government will leverage more on the communication technology sector to solve the problem of unemployment in the country because the revenue from the oil and gas sector has been on a steady decline since early 2015.
“The Nigerian telecoms market is reputed to be about 150 million subscribers and has produced Africa’s most subscribed network.
But beyond these positive indices lie a spate of consumer-related issues that are seriously requiring our attention.
“Top on the list of these challenges which I want the Council as well as ATCON to address is the paradox of SPAM messages; charges for unsolicited services, alleged under-declaration and underpayment of taxes. Again, poor voice quality and frequency of drop calls have been the bane of telecoms services in the country. The networks experience frequent congestion at peak periods.
“These failures combine to reduce customers’ satisfaction and make them unable to receive value for their money”.
The Minister noted that while he wants to tap from the wealth of experiences to move the industry forward he would wabt the following to br addressed.
“SPAM: Charges for unsolicited services is becoming rampant these days. Spam messages can put consumers at risk in two different ways: Financial and Privacy Risks: Because most spam is designed to solicit financial data or personal data from users, that data can then be used for identity theft, credit card fraud, and a host of other crimes. These messages, no doubt, invade the privacy and sensibilities of the customer/subscriber. The network operators need to address these spam messages issue, very very urgently”.
“Under declaration and underpayment of taxes: Most companies are allegedly fond of under-declaring and under-paying the prescribed taxes to the government. This trend must stop in line with the change mantra of the present administration.
“Job creation – Creating 2million jobs in the next 6months: I want to charge you to come up with implementable outcomes on this. How best can we fit in the current skill gap? I believe we have the enabling environment and laws needed to foster the required growth.
“Local content: I have observed that one of the major challenges to growing Nigeria’s ICT sector has largely been apathy towards indigenous products and services. This challenge had bedeviled the business of local information technology players in the country, from hardware to software and to services; it had been the same story. Reports reaching me show that the country is losing about $2.8billion yearly to the continued importation of ICT hardware and services as capital flights from the country. We would like to see international brands establish factories in Nigeria or partner with any local operators or by buying components of their systems that are produced by local manufacturers as well as maintaining in-country research and development departments for the purpose of product conceptualization, innovation, adaptation and design development. The local content development policy would be implemented to protect indigenous players in the industry and the ministry would galvanize the right policies that would see to the need of Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs). Let me emphasize here very strongly that government’s role is to provide an enabling environment within a free market economy”.
“Creation of ICT University (DBI): The country does not have a dedicated institution for ICT awarding degrees. I want to advocate for one. It is the policy of this government to convert the Digital Bridge Institute in Lagos and other cities into a multi-campus ICT University, perhaps the first of its kind in Africa.
He noted that other modest challenges, include
(i) Human capital development;
(ii) How to facilitate low-cost financing for the development and production of local ICT products;
(iii) Usage of PPP to accelerate infrastructure development;
(iv) Inclusion of ICT as critical and eligible for Central Bank infrastructure fund;
(v) Reclaim and release unused spectrum for trading or re-farming;
(vi) Develop and enforce last mile deployment plan with targets by focusing on underserved cluster for the next 6 months;
(vii) Harmonization of right of way fees across federal and States government and tackling the incidence of multiple taxation; and
(viii) Facilitate local production and development of local capacity.
Also, he maintained that the American Chambers of Commerce recently visited Nigeria and invited the Nigerian ICT business community to also visit their business community in the US for collaboration in advancing ICT development in Nigeria.” I would want ATCON to be part of the Nigerian delegation to the US on this exploratory visit.
“Government will work with all telecommunications companies to remove all the bottlenecks militating against deficiency in broadband penetration in Nigeria. Some countries like Rwanda have already bought into the smart city initiatives and they are already reaping its benefits. I would want to enjoin the remaining states to also key into the initiatives that would ultimately make their states smart,” he concluded..