ICT as Key Driver of the Informal Sector


Information and Communications Technology has become a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development and a key driver of the informal sector growth of the Nigerian economy, writes Emma Okonji

Nigeria, like most developing nations of the world, has come to realise the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development. This recognition is well captured in the country’s National Development Plan- Nigeria’s Vision 2020 and ICT Strategic Roadmap 2017-2020.
The increasing globalisation driven by ICT makes it imperative for Nigeria as an emerging market to irreversibly consider the application and promotion of ICT strategy to facilitate its rapid growth and development in both formal and informal sector of the economy.

The period of erratic service offerings from telecoms providers is gradually giving way to improved service offerings.

The expansion of telecoms coverage areas, increase in the number of lines and connectivity, as well as the 22 per cent broadband penetration level in Nigeria, are all testament to the fact that ICT is fast transforming the informal sector and the entire Nigerian economy.

ICT contribution
It is on record that the contribution of ICT to the informal sector of the Nigerian economy has not been captured unlike the formal sector that has data to show for its activities.

Although one can quickly and correctly say that the country is not where it is supposed to be in terms of ICT development, but it is evident that the rapid adoption of digital technology, coupled with the rising number of telecoms subscribers and internet users, which is put at 165 million active lines and 100 million internet connectivity respectively, are signs of the importance of ICT in driving the informal sector of the Nigerian economy.

Nigeria has a huge population and ICT is consistently contributing about 10 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) thereby showing the world that there is potential in telecom market in the country.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umaru Garba Danbatta, had said that telecoms investment to GDP was $70 billion as at 2017, but explained that the figure has since been surpassed, following the steady growth in telecoms contribution.

He added that telecoms contribution to Nigeria’s GDP rose to 10.5 per cent in 2018, up from the initial 9.1 per cent in 2016.

ICT has been silently promoting friendship and unity among numerous tribes, thereby engaging the informal sector of the economy despite the isolated crisis in some parts of the country. Just as the game of football which breaks barrier across board regardless of demography and geography, ICT is equally playing a major role in uniting the informal sector of the Nigerian economy.

It has immensely aided trade and building confidence among different tribes, loyalty and dedication on the part of people in commerce and industry especially in the informal sector.

ICT and Trade
The use of ICT in trade has brought smiles on the faces of many businessmen, women and households, which could be likened to a call made to the owner of goods to claim at designated point in which both parties from different background share happiness through GSM.

The use of Facebook and WhatApps, which represent new media for business transactions, have gained traction in the informal sector of the economy which has provided income opportunities to many Nigerians.

Not only that, it serves as displayed shops for numerous sellers that do not have capacity to rent a shop.
The power of ICT has manifested in both urban and rural areas that have internet connections, thereby providing platform for people to share their joy and happiness through exchange of video chatting and thereby reinforcing family ties in the country.

ICT infrastructure has brought about the fastest means of exchanging ideas, educating the populace and also serve as a drive-in knowledge sharing among the people of Nigeria.

On our highways, people traveling can transact businesses while in the car, through the use of mobile phones because there a strong presence of telecoms network on routes outside cites like Lagos-Ibadan road, and Lagos Abuja road, among several other long distance routes.

ICT and government regulation

The determination of the present government through regulatory agency like NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) and Galaxy Backbone (GBB) as well as stakeholders in the ICT sector, to meet up with the 30 per cent broadband penetration, has opened opportunities for Nigerians to be engaged in business activities, reinforce family ties, promote inter-ethnic relationship and engender unity in the country.

However, the impact of these efforts is lost on shallow memories of human beings because more ground still exists for stakeholders and regulatory agencies to cover the expanse of land in the country. But be that as it may, Nigerians must learn how to applaud the efforts being put in place to serve the unserved areas in the country.

ICT roles in schools

Schools, including tertiary institutions are provided with Base Transceiver Station (BTS) project, Community Resource Centre Project (CRC), E-Accessibility, Information Resource Centre, Innovative ICT Solutions and Services, School Knowledge Centre, Stakeholders’ Initiated Projects and University Intercampus Connectivity thereby improving access to ICT service in the country, through schools.

That is why the forthcoming National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT), which has its theme as: ‘Leveraging ICT as a Vehicle for Economic Recovery and Growth,’ is apt for the present situation that gives room for ICT education and potential opportunities derived from adopting digital operations in all facet of our economy in the country.
The NCCT is a consultative body for the government in matters pertaining to ICTs with a view to achieving some degree of uniformity in the ICT sector and to provide a pool of information on all ICT matters for the government.

Government’s support for ICT
It is imperative for the states and local governments to move and be on the same page with the federal government and stakeholders in the ICT sectors in order to fast-track the digital system in Nigeria.

The knotty issue of the harmonised Right of Way (RoW) has to be permanently thrashed out and implementation strategy commence in the first quarter of 2019 to advance the effort of stakeholders in the provision of infrastructure in the country.

The Ministry of Communications’ harmonised RoW charges and implementation strategy should be supported by stakeholders especially the state government in the country.

The harmonised RoW strategy will involve the utilisation of a shared duct strategy to deploy all public utility infrastructure such as gas pipeline, power cables, optic fibre cables, among others. The benefit of the share duct strategy includes economics of scale, reduced cost of infrastructure deployment and fast network deployment.

Also, a firm commitment has to be obtained from state government on the establishment of State Information Technology Development Agency (SITDA) in order to accelerate development in the federation through collaboration between NITDA and different states in Nigeria.

Additional critical decisions that stakeholders need to pursue to logical conclusion is the implementation of e-Government programme and setting up Digital Centres by all tiers of government in Nigeria in order to promote capacity building in the country.

Other initiatives that stakeholders in ICT sector need to promote and ensure full implementation are development of National E-Health, improving access to education through ICTs, optimising ICT local content, use of ICT in agriculture and deployment of ICT for transport development.

The development of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) technology will tremendously improve conventional transport systems and services by making them safer and more effective.

Industry Position on ICT Devt

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, who spoke on the impact of telecommunications and ICT, told THISDAY that ICT and telecoms have contributed immensely to economic growth as well as to the informal sector of the economy. According to Adebayo, from 2001 to 2017, the telecoms industry significantly impacted on the Nigerian economy in the area of GDP growth, infrastructure development and job creation, despite being a late starter in technology investments.

He said the progress made by the Nigerian economy since 1960, largely depended on ICT investments.
“Governments at all levels and the private sectors, all depend on ICT for their growth and development. This is true because ICT has since become the fundamental and most reliable public infrastructure that we have in the country today,” Adebayo said.

He, however, called on government to guard against wilful destruction of telecoms facilities and urged the National Assembly members to facilitate the passage of the telecoms bill that is before it, which seeks to make telecoms infrastructure a critical national infrastructure that must be protected by law.

There is no doubt that ineffective ICT infrastructure and service delivery will take Nigeria back to primitive era, a situation that calls for full protection of telecoms facilities across the country.

The Nigerian ICT sector has recorded significant growth over the years which is as a result of deliberate policies and programmes developed by the government, targeted towards the citizens of the country. It is therefore important that Nigerians and the Nigerian government consider the importance of ICT in driving growth of the Nigerian economy and make haste to protect and promote ICT development in the country.