26 July 2012

Nigeria: Assessing One Year of Omobola Johnson

It has been one year that Mrs. Omobola Johnson took the mantle of leadership at ministry of communications technology. Emma Okonji and Amaka Eze examine how far she has gone in achieving her mandate

Before the Federal Government's pronouncement on the creation of the ministry of communications technology in July 2011, industry experts were having mixed feelings on the new ministry that was to come. Firstly, they were happy because the new ministry would become a reality, after several years of agitation for the separation of Communications Technology from Information and National Orientation, which was the case before the creation.

However, they were not too sure if government was going to appoint someone with core Information Technology (IT) background as minister of the new ministry, even after the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, assured them of government's determination to appoint a core IT person to sit at the helms of affairs of the new ministry. In fact, there was suspense in the air as to who becomes the minister of the new ministry, until Omobola Johnson was named. Her appointment did not take people by surprise, probably because she came from a core IT background, having graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Manchester and a Master's Degree in Digital Electronics from King's College, London. Before her appointment, she was the Country Director of Accenture Nigeria.

However, she was determined to achieve results and to surmount the herculean tasks before her as the first minster of Communications Technology to facilitate the transformation of Nigeria into a digital economy.

She saw her position as challenging, but quickly realised that as a minister, she must put things in their proper shapes and move Nigeria to be at par with technologically developed nations.

Johnson's Strategies

Shortly after the appointment, Johnson was determined to achieve results, a situation that propelled her into putting in motion, a number of initiatives in line with the ministry's mandate in order to fast track the development of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

She set in motion, the harmonisation of ICT policies by creating a committee headed by Prof. Raymond Akwule of the Digital Bridge Institute in Abuja, to collate and study all the various sector policies, with a mandate to build them into a single broad-based policy that will address all sections of the ICT sector. The policy document is expected to be the bedrock of ICT development in the country.

In a bid to ensure quality of service within the telecoms industry, Johnson, within one year, also took proactive steps to tackle the challenges militating against service quality delivery in the country. In collaboration with the Ministry of Works, her ministry was able to come up with new 'Right of Way' guidelines that will ensure good service quality delivery within the industry. The ministry is also collaborating with the Ministry of Environment to provide guidelines that will address the deployment of base stations required for wireless data and voice transmission.

The ministry is in the process of facilitating the build-out of a robust, ubiquitous and cost-effective broadband network aimed at increasing broadband penetration within the country. These guidelines will facilitate the accelerated roll-out of a broadband infrastructure that includes a connected national backbone, regional rings, metro rings and fibre to the cabinet that should increase broadband penetration from 6 per cent to about 20 per cent by 2015.

Within one year, the ministry has championed the drive to ensure the migration of all governments Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to the .ng domain. According to the ministry, "till date registered email accounts in government have hit 69,000."

The ministry is in the process of developing a national internet-based portal that will facilitate easy access to government information through publish and inform websites and by December 2014, where every single federal government MDAs will have a functioning published and inform websites domiciled on the portal.

The ministry is also focused on increasing domestic value added in the ICT industry. It is currently working on local content guidelines that will be issued in the fourth quarter of 2012, which will result in an increase in domestic value-added to the ICT industry.

The ministry said it was working to ensure that made/assembled in Nigerian brands were more favourably positioned to achieve the national objectives of job creation, domestic value-added and growth in the ICT industry.

Public Assessment

Although Johnson's strategies and score card in achieving her mandate within one year seem good on the surface, some analysts and critics have said there were more proactive steps she could have taken to achieve quicker and better results. Judging from her one year activities in office, they have picked holes in some areas of her administration like the harmonised ICT policy, bandwidth penetration, service quality and the planned ICT incubation centres for country.

For instance, shortly after the release of the Draft National Information and Communications Technology Policy by the Ministry of Communications Technology on January, 9, 2012, which seeks to harmonise the policies of all sections of the ICT industry, Nigerians reacted to the lopsided composition of the committee, faulting the ministers judgment on the selection of members on the committee, which they said, did not represent the interests of all sectors of the ICT industry.

Apart from perceived faulty composition of committee's membership, ICT stakeholders equally faulted the committees' work on content development, complaining that the contents generated in the daft ICT policy, had no set goals to achieve its mandates, and that there were no projections of achievable objectives for specific periods, from the generated contents.

Even when there was a public outcry for the re-composition of the committee, the minister said what was contained in the draft policy was not the final document, and promised to put into consideration, the complaints of Nigerians concerning the draft policy document. Five months after the first consultative forum on draft ICT policy, the final document is yet to be released by the ministry, despite promises that it would soon be released.

Broadband Penetration

Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Cable Company, Mrs. Funke Opeke, who lamented low broadband penetration in spite of the landing of several submarine cables in the country, blamed the situation on lack of a national backbone infrastructure that should take charge of distribution of broadband services from the shores of the country, to the hinterlands. Although part of the minister's strategies was the build out of a robust, ubiquitous and cost -effective broadband network aimed at increasing broadband penetration within the country, Opeke is of the view that the delay by government to build a national backbone, would continue to slow down fast broadband and internet penetration in the country.

Poor Service Quality

Despite the ministers strategy on 'Right of Way' in addressing poor service quality in the country, Mr. David Agbaje, a subscriber to MTN, Globacom and Etisalat, blamed her for delay in coming up with a solution that will address poor service quality in the country. He, however, hailed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for the recent sanction it imposed on MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat for failure of their networks to meet the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set up by NCC, as a better punitive measure to address poor service quality in the country. He called on the minister to be more proactive in ensuring that Nigerians get the best of telecoms services from operators.

Commendation for Johnson

President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, however, commended the Minister for her courage to organise a national stakeholders' meeting in less than one year in office, providing opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to issues of national interest. According to him, since 1999, no minister before her had summoned such courage. He also commended her for considering a national and harmonised ICT policy for Nigeria, and for being proactive in mediating in the face-off between the National Environmental Standard Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and the NCC over mast regulation in the country.

"Her timely intervention must be commended. She assumed office with lots of challenges, being a new ministry, and I think she is living up to our expectations," Ogunbanjo said.

He however encouraged the minister to do more for Nigerians.

Fact File

• The Ministry of Communications was created in July 2011

• Omobola Johnson became the first Minister of the ministry

• Draft ICT Policy was released January 2012

• Setting up of the policy committee was lopsided

• Low bandwidth penetration blamed on lack of national backbone infrastructure

• Minister encouraged to do more for Nigerians

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