Preparing for Digital Economy 

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The inauguration of the Communications and Digital Economy Complex and three other projects in Abuja by President Mohammadu Buhari recently will contribute to Nigeria’s strive for digital transformation, writes Emma Okonji

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated four national projects in the telecoms sector in Abuja on the same day, a move that underscores the determination of the federal government to transform the Nigerian economy into a digital economy, as it is currently being driven by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami.

The projects: include the Communications and Digital Economy Complex (CDEC), the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Emergency Communications Centre (ECC), and the National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training programme, all targeted at digitising the Nigerian economy in line with the global digital transformation strategy.

Today the country can boast of 18 ECCs spread across 17 states of the country including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. The establishment of Katsina State ECC last year by NCC, brought the total number of ECCs to 18.

The National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training programme, which is an initiative of the minister, will help develop the requisite technology skills among startups that will further drive Nigeria‘s digital transformation strategy, in preparation for a digital economy.

The National Broadband Plan (2020-2025), which was also inaugurated by President Buhari, is currently being driven by the minister, which sets 70 per cent broadband target by 2025.

The 2020-2025 broadband target is sequel to the successful attainment of the 30 per cent broadband target of the initial 2013-2018 broadband plan by the NCC in December 2018.

Following the attainment of the 2013-2018 broadband plan target, the minister set up a broadband committee, which was co-chaired by the Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Broadband Company, Ms. Funke Opeke, with the mandate to develop a five-year broadband plan for the country that will target 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025. The committee had long submitted its report to the minister before it was inaugurated d last week, alongside other national information technology projects by President Buhari.

FG’s commitment 

 President Buhari described the CDEC as a building that will serve as a hub for effective coordination of the national digital economy operations. Expressing government’s commitment towards delivering on the country’s digital economy agenda,  Buhari urged mobile network operators (MNOs) to ensure full attainment of the targets set in the new National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 by giving special attention to un-served and underserved areas while deploying their services.

The president, who expressed concern about the challenges faced by operators in the country, particularly vandalism of telecommunications equipment, also directed Pantami to work with all relevant government agencies to ensure full protection of critical national infrastructure like telecoms infrastructure.

He emphasised federal government’s commitment to ensuring that all stakeholders have a conducive environment to ensure the successful implementation of the Broadband Plan, which seeks to boost broadband penetration as well as support the deployment of 4G across the country.

The president particularly commended the efforts of the minister, NCC, the Presidential Committee and all stakeholders, who participated in the development of the new National Broadband Plan in coming up with new broadband target of 70 per cent for the country by 2025.

 “NCC’s CDEC will provide a befitting coordinating centre for the new focus on the Nigerian digital economy. The inauguration  amplified the government’s desire to intensify efforts towards ensuring that Nigeria becomes an active participant in the global digital economy. The newly commissioned ECC and Toll Free Number 112, demonstrate government’s resolve to keep Nigerians safe by taking advantage of digital technologies to ensure that Nigerians in distress are only a dial away from the relevant emergency response institutions in the country.

“The Emergency Communications Centres will go a long way in supporting our efforts to improve the security of lives and property,” he said.

Digital innovation 

 In the area of digital innovation and training,  Buhari said the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training scheme  remained one of the government’s key initiatives to empowering innovators and entrepreneurs with skills required to thrive in the emerging digital economy.

The president said the digital capacity-building initiative would be part of his administration’s efforts to ensure that “our youths, women, unemployed graduates and people living with disabilities either become employers of labour or get a large number of well-paying jobs, thereby contributing to the national drive of lifting Nigerians out of poverty.”

While noting that the dwindling price of crude oil had adversely affected budgetary projections and increased the sense of urgency to diversify the economy, Buhari, however, expressed delight that the projects commissioned would enhance the development of the national digital economy and support efforts at diversifying the economy.

“The digital economy will also support us in fighting corruption through digitalisation and enabling government digital services. Digital technologies have become a useful platform for economic diversification. Having recognised the benefits of these technologies we have decided to adopt the Digital Economy paradigm early,”  Buhari said.

The minister, however, emphasised the centrality of broadband penetration to reviving the Nigerian economy. Pantami said it had been proven that 10 per cent broadband penetration in any country would improve its GDP by at least 4.6 per cent.

He explained that with coronavirus spreading across the globe and more people living in isolation, the digital and information communication sector is providing alternatives for people to stay in touch and institutions are providing the needed basic life-saving services to the populace.

While commending the federal government’s efforts in driving the country’s digital economy strategy, Danbatta said: “At the time President Buhari’s administration came into power in 2015, broadband penetration was hovering between four and six per cent. However, broadband penetration has now reached 38.5 per cent.”

Going down memory lane on the construction of the complex, Danbatta explained that as part of its desire to further develop the communications sector, the NCC set up the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) in 2005 and the NCC-DBI hostel and recreational facilities as part of its initiative to provide a conducive atmosphere for proposed students.

“The facility was confirmed and ratified by the Federal Executive Council at its 45th meeting held on November 22, 2006. The NCC-DBI hostel and recreational facilities were abandoned before completion and were redesigned and modified by the NCC Management in 2018 from a hostel to an office complex; and was later renamed the Communications and Digital Economy Complex in line with current realities and policy direction. The Facility provides office accommodation to the Honourable Minister, Communications and Digital Economy and four full departments of the NCC,” he said.

On the ECC, the EVC said NCC facilitated the establishment of 18 ECCs across the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the country in line with the Commission’s mandate under section 107 of Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003.

“This is to promote and enhance public safety through the use of a particular number designed as the universal safety and emergency assistance number for telephone services generally; and encourage and facilitate the prompt deployment throughout Nigeria of seamless, ubiquitous and reliable end-to-end infrastructure for emergency communication needs,” Danbatta said.

The recognition of the significant role of NCC’s ECC in enhancing security resulted in the awards received by the Commission and Danbatta in 2019. Consequently, the NCC has also been inducted into the Forum of Spokesperson of Security and Response Agencies (FOSSRA), for its achievements.

Liberalisation of ICT sector

 Speaking on the inauguration of  the projects, Danbatta said they would further lead to liberalisation of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

“The launch of these projects is a reflection of the growth and development in the ICT sector, which commenced with the National Telecom Policy and the full liberalisation of the telecommunications industry. Liberalisation brought about licensing of more telecom companies, participation of the private sector and provision of many services, which have helped to facilitate efficiency in other sectors of the economy.

“The NCC is the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry, established by Decree number 75 of 1992 and reestablished by the Nigerian Communications Act 2003. It is responsible for the preparation and implementation of programmes and plans that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry as well as the implementation of the government’s general policies on communications sector of the economy to liberalisation of the sector,” he said.

Describing the complex as a strong channel for driving the country’s digital economy strategy, Danbatta further said: “The CDEC sits on eight hectares of land at Mbora district of Abuja with two level basement floors and five floors from ground level. It has many facilities such as this 650-seater auditorium, offices, 300 mutli-level car park spaces and an additional 200 within the premises. In the same vein, the facility has a crèche for nursing mothers, industrial kitchen, a gymnasium and other sporting facilities for squash, table tennis, swimming pool and sewage treatment plant. There are also six lifts, a central air conditioning system, fire alarm and detection system, firefighting system, data and access control system, external street lights and CCTV control room and also five 800KVA generators and three dedicated transformers connected to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).”

 

Broadband for growth 

Speaking on  the importance of broadband for national growth, Danbatta said: “As Mr. President launches the National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, it is important to mention that at the time this government came into power in 2015, broadband penetration was only six  per cent. Today it stands at 38.49 per cent. We are expectant that with government support, this will increase rapidly within the coming years.

“The importance of broadband penetration in economic development is key,  as this is the main medium through which ICTs can be networked to create jobs and provide efficiency to support government and businesses. It is the platform on which all ICTs will operate and is key to the efficiency of the ECCs and the development of digital innovation.

“Telecommunications and Information Services contributed 9.2 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Nigeria in quarter 3, 2019 with information and communications making a total contribution of 11.34 per cent.  The statistics also show an increase in teledensity, active voice subscription, active internet subscription and usage.”