Danbatta: Nigeria is the Destination Haven for Investments

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Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta

MONDAY INTERVIEW

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta marketed Nigeria to foreign investors at the ITU Telecom World 2017 in South Korea. Emma Okonji who was there brings the excerpts:

Nigeria delegation, led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communication, Abdulkadir Mashi, attended this year’s ITU Telecom World in Busan, South Korea, how will this impact on country?

ITU Telecom World is an annual telecoms conference organised by the United Nations’ specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs). Every year we attend the conference to tell our story, share our experiences and borrow a leaf from global best practices to address our concerns as a nation, engage and collaborate with the global community to strengthen the growth and impact of the Nigerian telecoms industry.
The theme of this year’s ITU Telecom World was focused around smart initiative, digital transformation, and global opportunities.
There are five elements of the digital transformation ecosystem; firstly, enabling policies and institutions. So we need enabling policies and institutions put in place in order to achieve digital transformation. Secondly, we need the human capital to drive the initiative. Thirdly, we need a vibrant ICT industry. Fourthly is the necessary ICT infrastructure and fifthly, we need ICT applications and the institutional change that is needed to drive the smart cities initiative.
In Nigeria, we have a wholistic approach to defend the inter-dependent elements of the digital transformation ecosystem that are inter-dependent. For the enabling policies, Nigeria has already put that in place and also strengthened them with laws.
Currently, Nigeria has commenced the pilot phase of the smart cities initiative at the Eko Atlantic in Lagos. We have the institutions that are driving the smart cities initiative and NCC is one of them.
The National Broadband Plan has given us the responsibility to drive broadband penetration in the country and NCC is making sure that the infrastructure needed to achieve this is in place.
For the ICT applications, NCC has the most vibrant youths that are developing software applications. We took some of them to ITU Telecom World to pitch with other global SME startups and we will continue to support them to impact on the Nigeria economy. So our mission to ITU Telecom World this year was to present all these potentials that Nigeria has, to enable us turn them into money spinning venture for the country through international investments.

So what were the expectations from investors at the ITU conference this year?

The expectations were numerous. We need additional foreign investments in Nigeria, especially in broadband rollout. We went to ITU Telecom World 2017 with important message from the Nigerian government. The economic recovery and the growth plan of the federal government was unveiled recently, and we are all fully sensitised of our various roles, including that of the NCC.
We need to attract investors in order to achieve the economic recovery and the growth plan of the federal government and it is for these reasons that we were in ITU World 2017 in South Korea to attract investors.
We must always have something to sell to the investors and one of them is about our population. If a country has the right product to sell, it will be looking for the right location to sell the product and that is the reason why we went to South Korea.
We have both the population and the market, and we also have incentives and waivers to offer to investors, including the executive order for the ease of doing business in the country.
So we went there to attract investors and this was exactly what we told them during the Nigerian Investment Forum in South Korea.
The right time to invest is now because we are gradually coming out from recession and if investors are looking for which sector to invest their money, then it should be the ICT sector in Nigeria.

New technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are evolving and they are creating disruptions in the technology space, a situation that has made some group of investors to call for their regulation. What are the regulatory implications around this call?

Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are emerging technologies that are driving economies, but one thing that we must consider is to find out if the existing technologies have the capacity to accommodate the new technologies. If it does, then we must get ready to contain the issues that will arise from the new global technology development, and the solution to address the challenges of IoT, AI, Smart Initiatives, and additional innovative applications, is to build more infrastructure, especially broadband infrastructure, which will serve as a bedrock for these applications, and the NCC is on course in driving broadband penetration, through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan. So regulation of the evolving technologies might not be necessary for now.

So much has been said about IoT and AI technologies as evolving technologies. What is the level of literacy awareness created among Nigerians to adopt the new technologies?

There is need to create the awareness level because IoT and AI technologies are going to bring pleasant experience to users and the economy. As a regulatory body, we have already started sensitising Nigerians on this. But one thing that is key to these transformations, is steady electricity supply in all nooks and crannies of the country. So we must ensure that we have stable electricity supply in the country to drive the initiatives. We need 24/7 electricity supply to drive the initiative, without which, we will not be able to achieve it. Sensitisation through print media, electronic media and town hall meetings like the NCC organised consumer parliament, is key to achieving the adoption level of the new technologies.

Nigeria and other African countries attend ITU Telecom World conferences that are held in other regions of the world, and there have been calls for African countries to host the global conference. Do you think African countries have the capacity to host ITU conference in Africa?

When you plan to bring global event like ITU World to Nigeria, or any other African country, you must look inward to know if the country has the infrastructural capacity to host the world.
If we do not have such capacity, then it becomes necessary that we begin to put the infrastructure in place. Nigeria as a country has the capacity to host ITU World, but we must put the capacity in place first. It is about commitment and the will power to do so. I look forward to my time at NCC as EVC to see Nigeria host ITU Telecom World.
Country like South Africa in Africa has the capacity and facilities to host ITU Telecom World in 2018. After South Africa, we will be looking at Nigeria to host next.

What was the attraction at the Nigeria Investment Forum at ITU 2017, and how will it translate into new business line for Nigerians?

At the investment forum, the Nigeria delegation was able assure the international investors who were willing to invest in Nigeria, of safety and protection of their investments.
I was able to raise the hopes of foreign investors during the investment forum, and told them the reason why Nigeria is a place to invest in, having the potential platform for business growth and success.
We have been able to strengthen the telecoms sector in Nigeria and we have built security and trust around telecoms investments in the country. For instance, the intervention of NCC, in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the financial crisis of one of the telecoms companies in Nigeria that threatened its business continuity, following moves by its bank creditors to take over the telecoms company for failure to pay its loan, was a clear indication of our commitment to protect investments in the telecoms industry.

What then is the value of investments in the telecoms sector, since its inception in 2001?

Investments in the telecoms sector since its inception in 2001 have grown tremendously. In 16 years since the Digital Mobile Licences (DML) were issued, the value of investments have grown from a mere $50 million in 2001 to about $70 billion in 2017, and these are key indices for business growth and success, which of course, calls for protection at all times. It is for this reason that I had to reassure foreign investors of safety in their investments, since most of the investments were Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) that needed full protection. The NCC is assuring both local and foreign investors that our doors are open and that we will do whatever we can within the regulatory mandate assigned to us to ensure that their investments are safe and secure.
As a country, we will continue to build up our reputation and provide incentives to operators and potential investors in order to sustain the gains recorded over the past couple of years in the telecoms sector and other sectors of the Nigerian economy.
Nigeria, with a population of over 170 million, is a preferred investment destination in Africa. With over 150 million active subscribers in the voice segment, over 102 per cent teledensity and a little over 92 million internet connections, Nigeria is indeed a place to invest in.

What have been the responses from foreign investors, to the investment calls over the years?

The responses are encouraging, even though gradual. We have seen some improvements in broadband investment, which has increased broadband penetration from 18 per cent in 2003 to 22 per cent in 2017, with plans to attain 30 per cent penetration by 2018, as contained in the five year National Broadband Plan.
Before we attained 22 per cent of broadband penetration in 2017, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for sustainable development, said Nigeria had about 21 per cent broadband penetration, but conscious of the reality that broadband fuels faster data transmission speed and capacity, our focus now is on how we can attract the right investments to grow this critical area of the sector through broadband coverage expansion.
As telecoms regulator, we have put in place, measures and guidelines to licence wholesale broadband service providers consistent with the Open Access Model for broadband deployment. Of the seven infrastructure companies (InfraCos) earmarked for licensing, only two have so far been licensed for Lagos which is commercial hub of Nigeria, and Abuja including the North Central zone of the country, leaving five more licences for the South west, South east, South south, North east and North west zones of the country. The process of licensing of InfraCos for these five remaining zones is about to be concluded.

NCC recently introduced a mandatory code of corporate governance in the telecoms sector. To what extent will this drive transparency and bring about an all inclusive growth among telecoms operators?

In our firm resolve to strengthen institutions of corporate governance for telcos, woo investors and guarantee returns on their investments, the NCC, in consultation with industry stakeholders introduced a mandatory code of corporate governance as guide to managers and board members of telecommunications companies. The code outlines minimum global best practices governing processes, procedures and general corporate behaviour for telecommunications industry players.

When you assumed office in 2015 as the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of NCC, you rolled out the Commission’s 8-Point Agenda. What is the implementation level of the agenda?

When we rolled out the 8-Point Agenda in 2016, it was predicated on the change mantra of the new democratic government in Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was premised on facilitating broadband penetration, improving quality of service, optimising usage and benefits of spectrum, promoting ICT investment and innovation, facilitating strategic partnership, promoting fair and inclusive growth and ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency. Because we recognise the importance of ICT to national development that is why growing this sector has been top on our agenda. But despite our modest achievements, Nigeria ICT sector is work in progress.