Vice President, Government Affairs, Huawei Technologies, Detlef Gerd Eckert, spoke with Onyebuchi Ezigbo on the need for the federal government to come up with a robust and ambitious digital agenda that is of national interest and cuts across all sectors of the economy, among other issues. Excepts:
Huawei recently organised a one-day conference on ‘Africa-China Cooperation in ICT and Digital Economy’, which held in Abuja recently, designed to improve Nigeria’s economy. What are the likely benefits for Nigeria?
I am from Germany, but I worked one year for Huawei in China. Before I used to work for the European Union and in the commission, I was responsible for digital telecommunication and I am a big fan to digital policies. To your question on the importance of having an ICT or digital agenda in this conference and the benefit for Nigeria, I will like to say that that Nigeria should have a robust digital agenda which is very ambitious, and Nigeria should have the ambition to become a leader in Africa in this field because without ambition there will always be excuses of not catching up and not being better connected. But the truth is that nothing prevents government from analysing the situation and setting up ambitious objectives, which must of course be realistic. In order to be ambitious, government needs to have a mapped-out strategy, the digital agenda must be a national priority, which means there is need for presidential commitment behind it and in other wings there must be a concrete step where government can move from strategy to implementation which I believe should be the big difference.
I am really interested in how Nigeria can benefit from a digital economy as you said. How can this be felt in other sectors?
The importance is mainly on the other sectors and not on the ICT sector. It is important in other sectors for instance, agriculture which of course is linked to rural development which will help to increase productivity, open new markets, better connected to the world through e-commerce to sell better. The farmers can get more information about the latest development and with Internet of Things (IoT), you can use sensors on the crops, on the cattle and many other production facilities in agriculture. I think agriculture should be the number one priority for digitisation in Nigeria.
We know that this won’t come easy because infrastructure has to be put in place to support this. So what kind of infrastructure is needed to support the digital economy?
We are creating an infrastructure exclusively for one sector. We are making an overall basic infrastructure, which we call connectivity and wireless networks to move our communications and this means the private sectors needs support to roll it out and this means in the first place the government can help to reduce the cost, the time and effort of the process which is the basic step.
China is already operating a digital economy. What can Africa especially Nigeria learn from the experience of China as a case study. What is the key success?
China has made it cheaper for the telecommunication operators to roll out their networks. Spectrum is cheap, site authorisation is very fast and affordable. So, this is something that China has done well in terms of allowing new IoT networks to come out without difficult authorisation. For instance, Byte share is a billion US dollar business in China and this has been done without a major regulatory obstacle. They didn’t put any obstacle to develop mobile payment to the banks and this was a huge success and now China has forty times more mobile payments than the United States.
As a private company how is Huawei encouraging digitisation in Nigeria economy?
Nigeria has one of the most important markets in Africa, which is due to the size and also due to the potential in the country. And the most important contribution of Huawei is to work together with the local industry to develop an eco system, to develop infrastructure and to develop the digital service on top of it like for instance IoT. As an example, how we worked together with MTN to develop how to better connect with the local community in the border to Benin Republic to get mobile access. A technology which is affordable to connect to rural regions which is one of our priorities, in addition Huawei has also developed training centres. Over the last year 20,000 students have been trained in ICT. I think this is something the government can approach more in collaboration of development skills.
Beyond the partnership with Chinese embassy and NIIA in organising this conference, which other way is Huawei supporting the Nigerian economy?
We will like to continue to invest because it is important to exchange information just as your question implied to develop more co-operation. We need to have more of these events and work closely with the Nigerian government on the digital plans and as I said, the three most important points for the digital plan that we will like to work with the government; the first is on the goal setting, and the second is on the partnership with the local eco system and the third is to really get into implementation, support the project in order to drive the development.