NIGERIAN COMMUNICATIONS AND DIGITAL ECONOMY SECTOR: A PARADIGM SHIFT
By Uwa Suleiman
An African adage says, “What a nation hopes for is always better than what it has.” Inspired by this maxim, especially in exploring the global communications and digital economy sector, President Muhammadu Buhari on the 21stof August 2019, appointed a man of letters and deep knowledge in the global cyber spectrum, Dr Ibrahim Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. Ever since, the sector has witnessed astounding progress.
Envisaging the rapidly changing global ICT sector which is worth over 11 trillion dollars, Dr. Pantami expanded its mandate to capture the goals of digitalization of the Nigerian economy in line with the government’s Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP). He reviewed the portfolio of the sector and integrated the digital economy space.
Seeing the rapid transformation in the sector, the President transferred the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. This was in consonance with the 8-pillar agenda of the administration which includes: Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy and Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development and Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society and Emerging Technologies; and Indigenous Content Development and Adoption.
To further achieve this, the Communications Ministry in November 2019 launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) aimed at repositioning the Nigerian economy in order to take advantage of the many opportunities that digital technologies provide and to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil and gas.
As part of measures to achieve this objective, the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC rolled out a new National Broadband Plan for 2020-2025. The new Broadband Plan is designed to deliver data to remote parts of Nigeria to boost digital inclusion. This is to further tackle poverty and illiteracy.
Already, positive impacts have been recorded as broadband penetration has soared reaching 43.3 percent in the last one year from 33.3 percent. The commission waded into the hitherto high cost of data in Nigeria leading to a downward review of the cost of data by at least 50 percent. An intervention that was greeted with widespread commendations cutting across all social strata. The Ministry under Pantami intends to train at least 500,000 youths in various skills.
The most prized ambition of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, is the exploitation of ICT in effectively tackling security challenges in the country. This became necessary, especially considering the number of violent crimes and terrorist acts carried out with the aid of telecom connectivity and devices.
With the array of security challenges in country the ministry, demanded that mobile and smart phone operators’ Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card be registered while unregistered ones are to be disconnected. Furthermore, the Ministry also directed all Nigerians to register for National Identification Number (NIN) with NIMC and connect it to their SIM for effective identification and tracking.
Already, this has achieved far-reaching results as over 50 million Nigerians have been registered with their SIM-NIN connected. On Friday April 23rd 2021, seven projects were commissioned across the six geo-political zones of the country. These include Emergency Communications Centers in Enugu and Abeokuta, three Digital Economy Centers in Abuja, Lagos and Owerri and an ICT hub at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, ATBU, Bauchi.
This brings to a total of over sixty fully functional facilities that drive innovation, entrepreneurship, capacity building, digital job creation and a burgeoning knowledge-based economy. Every state in Nigeria has been a beneficiary of one or more digital economy initiatives, programmes and project.
Going by the latest report of the National Bureau of Statistics and all other indices the current Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Pantami has led a revolution in a once nearly comatose sector. Similarly, the sector has been described as the most performing sector in line with global trends.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, security matters, corruption issues and the need to drive the economy into prosperity have taken the front seat.
The mission of the government to lift one hundred million Nigerians out of poverty is definitely on course and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy remains one of the driving forces for achieving that goal.
Mrs. Uwa Suleiman is the spokesperson of Nigeria’s Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.