The maiden Communications Sector Retreat organised by the Federal Ministry of Communications and which took place at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has come and gone, but the echo still lingers. For one, the retreat was the first of its kind in the life of the current administration and again, the caliber of stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector it attracted spoke volumes of the outcome and the impact it will have on this important sector of the country’s economy in the long and short terms.
Led by the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, other stakeholders present for the 2-day brainstorming included captains of industry, heads of government agencies and parastatals like the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Garba Danbatta; the acting Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr Vincent Olatunji, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communications, Arc Sonny Echono, the Managing Director, Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited (NigComSat), Ms Abimbola Alale.
Others are the Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone Limited, Mr Yusuf Kazaure; Sir Demola Aladekomo, former managing Director of Chams plc, Chief Exexcutive Officer of MainOne Cable,Ms Funke Opeke, Group managing Director of Omatek, Dr Florence Seriki, the Chief Executive Officer of Zinox Technologies, Dr Leo Ekeh and politicians like Senator Abiodun Olujimi, Chairman, Senate Committee on ICT, Mr Fatia Buhariand the Rwandan Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Kamanzi Stanislas, among many others.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Arc Sonny Echono, opened the floor on the first day of the retreat by welcoming participants and stakeholders alike to the forum as he outlined the essence of the retreat, saying it was to brainstorm and adopt strategies for the rapid and sustainable development of the ICT sector. He said that resulting from the full deregulation of the country’s ICT sector, that it is currently the largest and fastest growing ICT market in Africa and among the ten fastest telecoms markets in the world.
Echono pointed out that it is on record that the communications sector plays a strategic and pivotal role in the growth of many other sectors through its value added services and as an overall enabler of socio economic development as attested to by the World Bank and the World Economic Forum more than ten years ago. He stressed the fact that the forum therefore became a crucial interaction, which he said represented a new vista in the collective drive to evolve a workable synergy that would seek to reposition Nigeria’s communications sector as one of the key drivers of the nation’s economy.
The governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, while delivering his speech at the event posited that ICT is pervasive and that it is useful in all aspects of the people’s endeavours, adding that the illiterate of tomorrow will not be somebody who cannot read nor write but somebody who does not have a knowledge of the ICT and what it stands for.
The governor, while declaring the retreat opened congratulated the ministry and its officials as well as the Minister for their foresight in organising the retreat and for choosing Oyo State as the host state. He said his administration is always happy to support any activity that would reposition the country and that as such, the retreat and what it stands to achieve were all welcomed.
According to the governor, the retreat was auspicious coming at a time the country is facing dwindling oil revenue and therefore the need to have a shift in revenue and job creation policies. He said it was his belief that the ICT sector is capable of generating revenue and also arrest the menace of unemployment in the county. To this end therefore, Governor Ajimobi enjoined stakeholders to work together to ensure that the country benefits fully in the opportunities that are abound in the ICT sector of the nation’s economy.
The Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, in his speech entitled, ‘Continuing Innovation While Innovating Continuity: Creating a Smart Digital Nigeria’, at the retreat, said that the Ministry of Communications Technology under his watch is desirous of leveraging on the growth that has been recorded by past administrations in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector of the Nigerian economy by ensuring that the growth reaches every farm and factory, hamlets and homes in the country.
Shittu opines that it is common knowledge that ICT is redefining the ways of life of the people, the time has now come to fully embrace ICT to enhance the quality of lives of Nigerians, transparency and good governance if Nigerians were to fulfill the ‘change’ mandate that Nigerians voted President Muhammadu Buhari to bring about.
The Minister said the retreat with the theme, ‘Repositioning the Nigeria ICT Sector as the key Driver of the Nigeria Economy’, was about the ICT as a key element for inclusive as well as progressive diversification and development of Nigeria’s economy.
According to him, the ministry is out to create a Smart Digital Nigeria to bring about the change that the country seeks. To achieve this aim, he said five steps had been identified or elements that will get the country towards the Smart Digital Nigeria.
“We are building on the ICT sector growth by improving infrastructure and quality of service and also using Smart Government to deliver ICT and broadband penetration via government, soft infrastructure, commerce, broadband penetration, and security and information accessibility.
“We are also determined to increase revenue and reduce waste while fostering transparency and accountability and to focus more on innovative continuity for private sector led continuous innovation and growth. At the same time, we to migrate to a digitally Smart Nigeria through capacity building, job and wealth and creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurship to flourish,” he said.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Garba Umar Danbatta stated that the commission is working tirelessly to improve on the mandate given to it by the government, while also listing some of the challenges being faced in the course of doing this and how these challenges could be overcome.
According to Danbatta, the nation’s teledensity as of November last year stood at 110 per cent with active phone users standing at about 150.6 million and active internet users stand at 97.9 million. He listed some of the challenges being faced to include Quality of Service (QoS), multiple taxation, multiple regulations, insecurity, power supply, Right of Way, damage to infrastructure during construction works and vandalism.
On the efforts being made to address these challenges, the EVC said the commission has been forthright in applying the relevant sections of the QoS Regulations 2012 and that regular monitoring exercises are carried out to ensure operators stay within approved threshold. He also said the issue of multi regulation and taxation is being looked into by engaging relevant authorities to harmonise these taxes and regulations.
He submitted that the next frontier for communications in Nigeria is Broadband and that in the years to come, telecoms contribution to the country’s GDP would experience significant increase as a result of broadband availability.
The acting Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr Vincent Olatunji said the agency had identified ICT sources of job/revenue generation opportunities for government as evidence in e-Agriculture, e-health, deployment of Public Key Infrastructure and software testing among others.
He disclosed that NITDA is strategically and uniquely positioned in this dispensation to increase its inclusive development programmes for positive socio-economic development and that the agency’s ambition is to make Nigeria become the number one centre for ICT diffusion in Africa.
The following day, being the second and the last day of the retreat, was devoted to committee sections where the stakeholders were divided into groups with each coming out with proposals to move the sector forward. The minister said the committees would continue to work together in order to ensure the development of the ideas that were arrived at.