Ijeh: Nigeria Needs to Play a Role in Decision-making at Global Level

William Ijeh

Nigeria is seeking re-election into the International Telecommunication Union. In this interview, Mr. William Ijeh, explains why he is seeking to head the development bureau of the union. Jonathan Eze presents the excerpts:

What role are you currently playing at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)?
I work with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). I have been with the ITU for over 21 years now. I work at the radio bureau as the head of administration in management and strategic affairs, handling all the operations and dealing with basically the administrative issues also. I have worked in different areas at the ITU with the general secretariat under the secretary general and I moved from there to the development bureau the place where I am vying for the leadership and thereafter I then moved to the radio bureau which is the field that deals with frequency. So, I have seen ITU more from the global perspective, worked in the different sectors that have provided me the platform to understand better the ITU as well as understand critical issues with the development bureau.

Nigeria is currently seeking re-election in the council while you are seeking an election as the Director of the bureau, what does this mean for the country and for the telecommunication industry?
First of all, the important thing is for us to know is that Nigeria is seeking re-election into the council. Nigeria has been playing very active role in the ITU since independence. Nigeria has been the first African country to chair the conference since the 152 years of ITU existence. So it is important for Nigeria, it is important for the telecommunication industry, the ICT industry in Nigeria. The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) is also very active with the ITU. It also helps us to be able to meet the world standard, exchange views, understand what is happening in other areas and it helps us to negotiate issues like frequencies to be able to discuss our platform where the world is debating on how to use the global frequency in different areas. In terms of my particular election, this will give Nigeria a better platform and also will help Nigeria to a limelight and come to a decision making body of the ITU and I think Nigeria at this point in time with the ICT development and the different sectors ranging from agriculture to schools and aviation, television broadcasting, Nigeria deserves a place as an important African country. As we all know, our population is quite large, so the use of ICT in Nigeria is extremely important and we need to play an important role in the decision making at the world level.

Last year, your organisation ranked Nigeria 15th in Africa in terms of ICT and 143 out of 176 in terms of ICT adoption, what were the criteria for this ranking?
We have to look at the issue of indicators before the proportion of the population of the country. This is statistics; it set challenges for countries also. The issue there now is that NCC is working on that to ensure that we have data penetration with better coverage within the country and this is something that ITU will collect data and provide data and it is a way of providing those figures putting it out to get the regulators to work harder in pushing further the penetration in terms of rural area coverage.

What is your vision for the global telecommunication’s industry?
My vision is to be able to provide access to every world citizen and this why I will like to promote broadband beyond where it is today in order to allow everybody, every living citizen in the world to have access to ICT.

Are you the only person from the continent vying for this position?
Am not the only one unfortunately, we have a gentleman from Zimbabwe and also a gentleman from Congo who has put his candidature forward, I have never seen him but we hope to be able to resolve it. But I want to specially thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Communications and the NCC. They have been pushing hard for my election and their campaign is putting the country at a vantage position. However, I would like to say my focus is to ensure that the telecommunication bureau provides value and it is actually delivering what it is meant to do based on the constitutional convention of the ITU. The telecommunication bureau is the implementing arm of the ITU of the United Nations in terms of ICT and that is something I will like to get back to, to ensure it is been actualised, seeing tangible values from the telecommunication development bureau.

Can you talk about cyber insecurity and how to manage information and the issue of consumer privacy?

This is an issue where ITU will play an important role because there are several ways of looking at it. To look at it from an advance point of view where we can advise countries on how best to work on it, respective countries would work on their national security boundaries and control. Having said that, this is not just an issue of Africa, I think there has not been any election around the world, without mentioning a particular country, in which some of the ‘big countries that have the technology have not being a victim. One of the things that we need to do about privacy is that the European union has come up with a privacy policy which a lot of countries in different part of the world are adopting using that as a benchmark to be able to set their own privacy with some restrictions.

Africa may have to do the same to be able to catch-up with what is happening. In terms of Africa, Nigeria needs to work on that, we also need to work on the issue of data control but we have to be able to work with the operators, find ways of keeping up data and protecting it especially child online protection security. The ICT we are talking about ranges from security to school protection to the set of information that is put out also to the world. So our role is to be able to advise to work in partnerships with countries with the different ICT stakeholders around the world to be able to ensure maximum security and protection for people. It will be difficult to say you will have 100 per cent security because you all know that as we are working, some of the unfortunate people are also working to breach the security but we would do our best to ensure maximum security around the world.

Why are you keen at running for the office of the Director of the Development Bureau?
The development sector is to be able to help developing countries to be able to build their own capacity and once you begin to build capacity, you will see the impact automatically, taking example of Nigeria, we have to school, we need to get to the grassroots level in terms of capacity to be able to build the critical match. The capacity we are going to build doesn’t mean everyone is going to be an IT person but they will be able to understand how to use IT in the different ways. Talk about security, health, communications in different schools, we can go further but something now that is growing is the artificial intelligence, which is supposed to help in production. What we can do is to see how we can use it for good of the people, assist people to be able to build their own cyber security to improve production, to improve whatever they do and that’s some of the telecommunication development bureau would work on.

How will countries like Nigeria and other developing countries benefit from your representation?
If you look at my background in investment banking, one of the thing I will like to do is to set up a structure that addresses some of those issues. Because some of the projects that we had or most countries produced today are un-bankable, so I will like to set up a system that will address and revise those issues to make the projects more bankable and then we can now be in a position to approach much more investment institutions, private investment organs and possibly donors and organisations who will like to assist countries in providing them access to ICT and like I said broadband is one of the key area that I will like to promote to be able to make it more affordable for people for them to have access and probably work on getting that into their local languages so that people will understand because if you look at the case of Africa and some other countries, the level of education is to some degree segmented. You have people with little or no education, basic education and people at advance level. So if we have local content to encourage people to work on, kind of a set up in their local content to allow them to understand better how to use it on a day to day level.