Emma Okonji posits that ICT could play a very vital role in the transformation of Nigeria's economy, as captured in the recent inaugural lecture of the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta
The saying that technology and data are the new oil and gas of any nation that is committed to developing its economy in line with global trend cannot be over emphasised.
Digital data for instance, is the data that represents other forms of data, using specific machine language systems that can be interpreted by various technologies.
Data gathering and analysis- the ability to collate relevant information that are subjected to critical analysis, have helped economies to understand their growth path, based on informed decision.
Nigeria, since its inception in 1960, has depended heavily on oil and gas as its main source of revenue generation; but times and seasons are changing and oil is no longer sustainable as a result of the global shift from oil consumption to renewable energy consumption, such as wind and solar energy that are constantly replenished and will never run out.
The idea of renewable energy is driven by ICT, based on the volume of generated and analysed data and this is the direction that technology savvy nations are tilting towards, in line with modern technologies, designed to boost the economies of nations.
In the case of Nigeria, the cycle of dependency on oil and gas has a solution in the telecom industry if proper emphasis and strategies are adopted to diversify and harness her ICT strategies and potentials.
Danbatta, while addressing the academic community at the Bayero University, Kano, during the recent inaugural lecture, emphasised the need for Nigeria to diversify her economy and allow technology to drive it, a situation, he said, would help the country to generate more revenue, grow its foreign reserves and compete globally.
Diversifying with technology
In his inaugural lecture titled: "Getting out of the woods. Diversifying the Nigeria's Economy through Telecommunications Sector", at the Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Danbatta told his audience that although the country's economy has been monolithic in the recent past owing largely to its dependence on oil revenues, there was a need to diversity if the country wants to get out of the woods.
"The Nigerian government has recognised the need to diversify the economy so as to attain solid and sustainable economic growth," he said.
Danbatta, as the chief regulator of the telecommunications who oversees the sector, noted the steady rise in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the last few years.
"The telecommunications industry plays a crucial role in providing the requisite tools that support the diversification of the economy through improving the knowledge economy using Information and Communication Technology (ICT)," Danbatta, a Professor of Telecommunications Engineering, posited.
According to him, the telecommunications sector has enhanced human capabilities in areas such as health, education, agriculture, finance, transportation, commerce and governance.
Listing a number of imperatives for economic diversification, Danbatta said, "efforts have been made over the years by Nigerian governments to develop the non-oil sectors of the economy by initiating various supportive policies and incentives aimed at encouraging economic diversification with different degrees of success. The policies, according to him, included:
Protectionism (1960 - 1986) import substitution industrialisation aimed at expanding the industrial base, enhancing cash crops exports;§ Trade Liberalisation (1986 Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) era) aimed at deregulation, commercialisation, privatisation and liberalisation of the economy and§ Export promotion (Post SAP period) aimed at facilitating the diversification of the economy through policy support to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) to enhance exports.
"The liberalisation of the telecoms sector in 2001 has triggered a realistic opportunity of economic diversification, as the sector is adjudged to be one of the major support services needed to promote growth and modernisation of other sectors of the economy," the NCC boss said.
Breaking distance barrier
Telecoms break distance barriers, and as such, can act in its own right as an enabler to drive socio-economic transformation, growth, developments and modernisation across all sectors of the economy. The telecommunications sector has globally brought about radical changes in the way people interact, learn, work and transact commercial activities.
The telecoms sector also acts as the fulcrum and catalyst that propel the socio-economic transformation and growth of economies of nations.
The impact of telecoms sector is evident in virtually all countries, Nigeria inclusive, and is likely to continue in the years to come, as technology penetrates and fosters vital changes in all sectors and dimensions of human life and condition. Telecommunications sector plays a dual role in economic activities, and act as a supplying means to other sectors, Danbatta said.
Addressing infrastructure challenges
At the inaugural lecture, the University Don enumerated the role played by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and its strategic vision plan in addressing the telecommunications infrastructure challenges in Nigeria and also the crucial role the telecoms sector plays in the diversification of the economy.
He listed some of the achievements of the Commission since his assumption of duty about two years ago.
Citing reports by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)/United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (2016), Danbatta said that Nigeria's active mobile broadband penetration has increased within a space of one year from less than 10 per cent to 21.95 per cent, a milestone achieved under his tenure from less than 10 per cent that he met about three years ago.
Nigeria's active Internet connection which stands at over 90 million, achieved a milestone of 47.44 per cent penetration. Nigeria is number one in Africa and ranks 10th globally.
Telecommunication contribution to GDP has been robust rising from 8.85 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 to 9.16 per cent in the first quarter of 2017. In the first quarter of 2017, the telecoms sector contributed N1.452 Trillion to the GDP, according to him.
Strategic plan for regulation
In articulating a strategic vision plan for the regulatory body, the NCC Chief stated unequivocally that the NCC, under his stewardship, has developed an NCC Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) for the fiscal years 2015 to 2020.
The process for the development of the five-year strategic vision, he said, has taken a lot of efforts and time.
"The SVP provides a comprehensive roadmap within the telecoms industry for promoting innovation, investment, competition, consumer empowerment, and improving service quality.
"The SVP responds to the policy goals of the NCC in recognising the immense socio-economic importance of ICT to national development and therefore seeks to ensure that the ICT infrastructure is to the standard necessary to provide ubiquitous broadband services in Nigeria."
He also spoke about the 8-point Agenda with broadband as its flagship. "The implementation of the agenda will further strengthen the telecoms industry consistent with the National Broadband Plan (NBP) that will in turn lead to the desired socio-economic transformation of our country by leveraging the power of ICT to drive and accelerate the process of digital transformation," he said.
Telecoms as tool for transformation
Citing telecoms as tool for economic and social transformation, Danbatta said telecommunications has been a major tool for economic and social transformation.
He listed telecoms support to include contribution to GDP; Consumer surplus; Reduction of the Inequality between rural and urban dwellers; Emergence of new services and industries; Direct job creation; Blurring boundaries of social identities; Enhanced social interactions among others.
Identifying telecoms as a critical national infrastructure, he said: "NCC has commenced activities that would lead to the establishment of a 'Telecommunications Critical Infrastructure Bill.
"When this bill is passed into law, government would designate telecoms infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure, which should enjoy priority protection in the country, as well as specify definite sanctions for willful destruction of communications infrastructure".
Access gaps in development
Glaring access gaps exist in availability and usage of the ICT infrastructure in various spheres of the economy. The distinctions are in unserved areas that not served with ICT infrastructure, as well as underserved areas with insufficient ICT infrastructure. Other gaps could be noticed in the sectors of the economy that are not maximising the potentials of ICT infrastructure.
In order to bridge the gap and promote technology development, government must consider uniform investments in ICT in all sections of the country, without leaving out the rural areas that are also important for development.
The NCC, through the USPF, bridges these access gaps by facilitating and extending broadband services to the underserved and unserved communities and groups via the connectivity programme, which comprises telecoms infrastructure projects that are implemented through a Public Private Partnership model, which includes Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs), Rural Broadband Initiative (RUB), University Inter-Campus Connectivity (UnICC) and Backbone Transmission Infrastructure (BTRAIN). All these efforts could be properly harnessed to boost economic diversification, raise alternative source of revenue for government, and as well boost the economic status of the country.