The minister of communications, Mr Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, in this chat with CHIMA AKWAJA, outlines some key areas of the proposed ICT road map which will support President Muhammadu Buhari’s change agenda towards connecting citizens and businesses to government.
Reduction of Infrastructure Deficit
The first step the road map intends to address is the reduction of both public and private infrastructure deficit in Nigeria’s ICT sector for substantial improvements in quality of service (QoS).
Inadequate ICT infrastructure is the bane of ICT development in the country and a leading cause of deficiencies in QoS.
From broadband penetration to last mile-fibre-optic-connectivity, this infrastructure deficit is preventing all Nigerians from gaining affordable and reliable access to ICT services.
Lack of affordability, due in part to the proliferation of taxes, fees and levies, and associated costs further inhibit investments in infrastructure.
Consequently, our priority would be to ensure effective and productive acquisition, by stakeholders, of the infrastructure required to support and grow our boisterous ICT market. It does not need stating that the availability of infrastructure has a significant impact on the development of the ICT.
In addition to catalysing infrastructural development, we will pursue government and private sector time-bound investments in good quality infrastructural facilities and services, led by our agencies, like Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), and actively supported by both local and international investors. We will also explore the investment in a second and possibly, a third backup-satellite for the NIGCOMSAT and actively engage other global infrastructure providers to invest in the sector. We are already holding preliminary talks and negotiations with potential international financiers and investors on this matter.
We will expedite action and deepen the implementation of the National Broadband Plan. Efforts will also be made to promote investments towards last-mile-access. Furthermore, improvements in the quality of existing networks would be addressed with all the seriousness and urgency that they require. Our commitment to foster the ICT industry players is that we will tirelessly advance industry collaboration for national growth and the overall expansion of the ICT sector.
SMART government to deliver ICT and broadband
ICT and broadband penetration is essential to sustaining the sector’s growth and ensuring its long term viability and competitiveness. To achieve this step, we have adopted the two-layered social, mobile, analytic, radical and trustworthy (SMART) approach. We all know that today, technology and the private sector are moving faster than government. Therefore, the logical place to begin the implementation of these reforms is within government itself.
Consequently, we are going to make government SMART for the peoples’ use. SMART is our commitment to a greater co-ordination and partnership between citizens and the government, between the private sector and government, and within government itself. The first-layer of the SMART approach is within government – a cross-agency or government-wide approach. The purpose is to migrate government to the digital ecosystem of improved e-governance.
Agency-specific SMART involves government making or partnering with others to make high impact investments to create new or upgrade existing critical publicly-held-communications-infrastructure assets (telco masts and cell sites). It will deliver unified government information platforms (via Galaxy Backbone shared services), deepen government’s technology dependence (via e-Government), establish common ICT protocols and standards for government service delivery and foster transparency in governance using ICT (via standardisation and consolidation of websites on a centrally-hosted portal on gov.ng).
Some of these proposed initiatives present opportunities for jobs and wealth creation, and for capacity development. It is envisaged that a potential two million jobs could be created for Nigerians through the ICT sector under our proposed action-plan. Our strategic goal would be to create an all-inclusive sector which will explore key under-utilised and potentially game-changing assets through the NIPOST.
The NIPOST, with facilities in over 550 local governments, provides untapped possibilities as a vehicle for socio-economic inclusion and digital access. We will, in keeping with the liberalisation policy and international best practices, offer partnerships with the private sector in order to significantly enhance its prospects of delivering services to Nigerians and revenue to the government.
Returning to the cross-agency layer, to sustain continuous innovation requires public investment in skilled workforce of digital natives or at least digital migrants. With Nigerian youth more likely to embrace technology, the digital generation in Nigeria, such as the Internet of Things, will have to be nurtured from a young age in both the home and the classroom so as to prepare for the workplace of tomorrow.
We will be working very closely with the Ministry of Education to foster digital literacy content in our national curriculum, encourage the delivery of education via the usage of smart devices, promote e-Content as well as increase the uptake of ICT as a subject. We will support educational institutions with funding and facilitate training to faculty and students. This is an area where our development partners, including those in the Non-Aligned Movement, can add significant value to.
Of course, we will start by embarking on a detailed skills-gap-assessment to inform specific intervention strategies to be adopted in the roadmap. We will also set out minimum digital literacy levels for the Nigerian workforce (both in the public and private sectors), thereby enhancing an upward mobility in their career path. With this, we are confident of producing a pool of highly skilled Nigerians that meet or exceed the requirements of employers in the sector who have stated that they find qualified human resource hard to come by in Nigeria for emerging third platform technologies such as cloud, mobility, security, and big data/analytics.
Growing revenue, reducing waste
A technology savvy workforce and SMART-government play pivotal roles in raising revenues for government, improving efficiency in governance, and in general services, eliminating waste and generating employment for Nigeria’s teeming masses. We believe that we can considerably increase government receipts within the sector.
Leakages, such as piracy and vandalism of infrastructure, result in high cost to everyone. To protect the health and viability of not only the ICT industry, but also the creative and performing arts, and to harness ICT for e-commerce, we propose to step up intellectual property protection and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that we continue to incentivise and promote creativity.
Just by way of illustration, some $287 million worth of revenue is lost annually on software piracy from Nigeria alone. Think of the jobs that could be generated, the revenue that could accrue, and the innovation stifled through such practices. Our SMART strategy of e-Government will reduce the cost of governance while making revenue generation easier at the same time. This administration would be assisted to promote online-payments and support the enforcement of the payment of taxes and levies such as stamp duties while also using technology to ensure accountability in both public and private sectors.
We would encourage and assist all agencies of our government to ensure that a medium term plan, ‘SMART Nigeria,’ a strategic digital plan (2016-2020) brings together all the policy and strategic frameworks in the sector, including updating the ICT4D plan, Broadband plan, local content policy, National ICT policy and other strategy documents within the road map.
With technology leading to convergence across every media, it is imperative that we update our legal and regulatory frameworks and design them imaginatively to be ready for regulating a fast changing industry.