28 January 2013

Nigeria: 'Nation Must Move From Talking to Walking ICT'


Lagos — Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem is the Chairman of Teledom Group, an indigenous Information and Communication Technology company. He is a former President of the Association of Telecommunications Company of Nigeria (ATCON). In this interview, he spoke on how ICT could be used to tame insurgency in the country as well as advance the overall economic fortune of the people. Excerpts

There is clamour for ubiquitous broadband access. In what ways do you think Nigeria can develop beneficial digital local contents?

We must create content within the broadband pipes. This is very important. We cannot just be downloading all the time, we must also be uploading. We must have a cultural presence on the net. Excessive downloading without commensurate uploading can lead to cultural imperialism and digital colonies. We cannot afford that. Applications will create demand for broadband. We have tele-medicine and tele-health, we have video-conferencing, we have tele-education/distance learning and we have the need to automate teaching and learning processes in the academic institutions in Nigeria. How many classrooms in our educational institutions are smart? Have we made teaching and learning exciting, using ICT?

How can ICT/broadband improve security in Nigeria? We can have ICT-based automation of processes in the Nigeria Police Force, Army, Navy, Air Force, Customs, Immigration, NDLEA, Prisons, State Security Service, Road safety, and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence, among others. Have you ever seen a Nigerian Policeman bend over his laptop to have access to a criminal database to know whether the suspect is a serial offender? Do we have Gamma ray-based scanning of vehicles, VACIS, on our roads and highways to detect bombs, explosives, arms, ammunitions, light weapons and dangerous chemicals with local and remote display of scan outputs using broadband? All these acts of terrorism in our country are perpetrated by human beings who transport their terrorist equipment and tools with impunity undetected.

A good deal of citizen-to-government and government-to-citizen interactions can be done online. We are still having government-to-government, government-to-business and business-to-government interactions being done via time-consuming paper pushing. The Nigerian Communications Commission has to tidy up its broadband penetration model for public presentation in the first quarter of this year.

So, what can government do to increase ICT penetration in 2013 and beyond?

I guess by ICT penetration you mean both ICT infrastructure and ICT services. The question is what kind of services? I am sure you mean broadband services. Broadband services will flow through broadband infrastructure. What do we do to ensure rapid broadband infrastructure penetration of every nook and cranny of Nigeria so that broadband services can flow through? We need massive broadband infrastructure roll out across the entire length and breadth of Nigeria. We have Main One Cable's 1.92 terabits/sec broadband as well as those of Glo One, SAT3 and WASC at the coast. We must get these to the hinterland of Nigeria. We need massive roll out of fibre optic cables, broadband wireless (radio and light-laser) and broadband VSAT to carry terabits/sec broadband capacity from the coast into the hinterland. We cannot afford digital divides in Nigeria. There is a very close correlation between broadband capacity available to a nation, a people, a state and the level of their economic activities and productivity. The World Bank has established the fact that broadband penetration increases GDP of nations much higher than narrowband (like voice). Our voice-centric telecoms revolution has impacted positively on many lives in Nigeria and has given a boost to economic growth rate. You can imagine what will happen when we go broadband in full blast.

We need what I call secondary and tertiary fibre-based broadband backbone across the country. Let the secondary connect the state capitals to Main One, and Glo One, among others, and let the tertiary connect the local government headquarters to the state capitals. A lot of resources will be required to do that. We must have fibre to the buildings and fibre to the homes. We must have city-wide and town-wide WiFi coverage. All schools, colleges, polytechnics, universities, hospitals, hotels, airports, stadia, places of worship (churches and mosques), government offices, and military establishments, among others must have broadband Internet. We must create demand for broadband services.

What direction do you see the ICT industry to take in the New Year?

I can say that 2012 was a year of talk, talk and talk. By 'talk' here I mean very good talk. In 2013 we must begin to walk the talk. We had many stakeholders' fora on the ICT policy. The Presidential Committee on Broadband was constituted and inaugurated by the president. We had the e-Nigeria Conference and Exhibition on local content development in Nigeria. It is time to act on decisions arrived at in those events. We must launch the ICT policy as well as have the report of the Presidential Committee on Broadband released. We will deliberate on the report and have same updated for action by the presidency and the relevant agencies of government and the ICT industry. In summary, in 2013 we must go the way of use and deployment of Nigerian content in the ICT industry. We need an enabling act like the Local Content Bill of the Petroleum industry. We must aggressively pursue rapid broadband infrastructure penetration of Nigeria as well as generation of demand for broadband service delivery. We must create content. We must develop applications in all sectors of the economy such as education, health, agriculture, defence, national security, law enforcement, government, electoral processes, population, transportation, hospitality and entertainment, among others.

We have had a narrowband voice revolution from 2000/2001 to date. The next revolution, that will make a child's play out of the voice, is broadband revolution. This will accelerate our economic growth and development as well as increase our Gross Domestic Product.

How best can government increase the lot of telecom operators in the country?

By government, I guess you mean the Federal Government. In fact all governments should encourage the telecoms operators to provide good quality of service. First, we need constant electric power supply in our country. Telecoms business is not that of energy generation. We spend a hell of time, money and energy to generate electricity for our operations in the industry. It makes business not sufficiently profitable. Government should do its bit and allow us concentrate on our niche which is telecoms service delivery. Epileptic power supply negatively affects quality of service. Federal, State and Local governments must work in concert to eliminate multiple taxation, which operators suffer from. Access to telecoms cell sites in some parts of the country is nightmarish, as there are serious security challenges. Cell sites are vandalised in some parts of the country. There are right of way issues in some states where the fees are terribly exorbitant. I would prefer the states do a perpetual charge regime in which an operator pays annually to renew the right-of-way. The fee in such a situation is very little. That reduces the capital outlay needed by an operator to start or expand business in the state concerned. This augurs well for network expansion, increase in capacity to reduce congestion and sundry issues that impair quality of service. This regime is better, in the long term, than the one time high fees charged by the governments. This brings them perpetual revenue while aiding ICT development in their states.

We need a Broadband Development Fund to build what I had earlier referred to as secondary and tertiary fibre backbone. NigComSat has to quickly roll-out its broadband network across Nigeria. In fact, I expect NigComSat to give this a priority attention this year.

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