The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, has stated that the disruption caused COVID-19 has strengthened federal government’s resolve to focus on digitalisation as a means of diversifying the country’s economy.
Pantami, said this during a webinar organised by the Nigeria Economic Society Group (NESG) on the topic: “Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian Digital Economy and Post Pandemic Strategies.”
He said the importance attached to digitalisation by the federal government was demonstrated recently, by President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that the protection of the country’s digital infrastructures would now be the collective responsibility of all the security formations in Nigeria.
“It was predicted in 2016 that 60 per cent of world economy is going to be digitalised by 2022. And with this pandemic, that prediction has also been challenged because by looking at the way digitalisation is taking place globally it is clear that 75 per cent or thereabout of the world economy is going to be digitalised,” the minister said.
He also called on all the stakeholders to come together to encourage the journey that would fast track the enthronement of digital economy in Nigeria.
“The responsibilities are collective one and all stakeholders must come together to ensure that we achieve digital economy in the country,” he said.
The minister identified education as one of the sectors that have been severely hit by COVID-19, especially schools in the rural communities of Nigeria.
He said: “Furthermore, if you look at it carefully you will see that this pandemic has disrupted many of our activities in this country, especially in the educational sector. If you look around, most schools in the urban centres have been conducting virtual classes.
“But this cannot be done as of today in our rural areas and local governments. Some places do not have sufficient broadband penetration or maybe insufficient in digital literacy and skills required.
“This brings about the need to transform digital literacy and skills and at the same time our broad band penetration. This is key because today those in the cities have the privieleges of having access to virtual classes and meetings. But if you go to our local governments and rural communities this is difficult.”
According to the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, COVID-19 has made stakeholders to look inward for initiatives that would enable Nigeria to contain the challenges the country is faced with.
Danbatta, identified content development, innovation and entrepreneurship as the three key areas to focus on in providing digital solutions that would support the country’s economic and social development.
He said: “When we talk about driving local content, innovation and entrepreneurship, we must first of all put necessary things in place that will ensure that we have the infrastructure that will cause innovation, local content and entrepreneurship. We have to do this quickly and within the shortest possible time. We must address the infrastructure deficiency that is manifest in this country.”
According to the Country Director of Google, Ms. Juliet Ehimuan- Chiazor, the pandemic has underscored the importance of a digital economy as the companies that have shown resilience and thriving during this period were largely tech enabled businesses.
Ehimuan-Chiazor said: “I firmly believe like many stakeholders in the industry that digital technology can play a very important role in growing the economy and help to ameliorate slump in economic activities as a result of the pandemic. But this will require a concerted effort and a sense of urgency.”
She noted that a successful digital economy in Nigeria would require a robust and reliable infrastructure, a thriving digital ecosystem, digital skills and an enabling environment that is provided by the government, adding that there must be concerted effort to drive investments in the digital sector.
According to her, digital economy would also drive the growth of other sectors like agriculture that is the largest contributor to the country’s GDP and employs 60 to 70 percent of Nigeria’s population.