Harnessing Digital Resources for Growth

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The need for government and stakeholders in the information and communications technology sector to develop new strategies, using digital resources in promoting digital economy has become imperative, writes Emma Okonji

In line with global digital transformation strategies, nations are beginning to prioritise their needs to promote nation-wide digital economy. In Nigeria, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) experts are working with government to harness resources to grow the Nigerian economy and to achieve her digital transformation drive.

To further give boost to the Nigerian agenda for digital transformation, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), penultimate week in Abuja, organised a national dialogue on telecoms and ICT sector in Nigeria, with the theme: ‘Harnessing the Digital Resources for the Building of Our National Economy,’ where ICT experts and government representatives reassured Nigerians of their commitments to drive technology development across the country, through the use of digital resources.

The dialogue

President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola, while giving details of the national dialogue, said the digital technology growth across all the sectors of Nigeria’s economy, became exponential as a result of government’s resolve under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to drive the entire economy through digital resources and the frantic efforts being pursued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and members of ATCON.

“The National Dialogue on Telecoms and ICT sector is targeted at changing the narrative of our country’s development through the optimal utilisation of digital resources and to achieve this, state governors, ministries, agencies and sectors like Agriculture, Education, Oil and Gas, Health, Industry, Trade and Investment, Security and Defence, Transportation, Works and Housing, were invited to be part of the national dialogue along with telecom and ICT companies in order to see the strategic essence of taking advantage of digital resources to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their respective sectors for the betterment and over all benefits of the country,” he said.

The supply side which comprises telecom and ICT companies and the demand side which is made up of all the ministries, states, local governments, Nigerians and non- Nigerians, are expected to have higher level of productivity on the condition that they adopt and leverage on the opportunities presented by the digital economy to improve their output.

Speaking on the expected outcome of the national dialogue, Teniola listed some of the benefits that were likely to be accruable to both federal and states’ government to include: Unlocking of the inherent digital potential of our country, which according to him, would enable states that have bought into the Nigeria National Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025, to enjoy and maximise the opportunity that pervasive broadband penetration and other ICT infrastructure can offer as the people of these states can leverage on uninterrupted telecommunications and ICT services, which they have not been enjoying before now. Other benefits include the opportunities that telecoms and ICT infrastructure would give Nigerian youths to express their gifts and talents thereby exporting them to earn foreign exchanges in turn.

“ATCON carefully selected thought leaders in the sector who are expected to come up with brilliant ideas as to what the public and private sector can do to maximise the benefits inherent in the digital economy such that the recent fall in Nigeria’s GDP can be reversed,” Teniola said.

Broadband infrastructure

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, in his keynote presentation, spoke about the importance broadband infrastructure development across the public and private sectors as key requirement for the successful implementation of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan, which he said, would further drive digital transformation and national economic development across the country.

Pantami, who was represented by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, commended the choice of theme and sub themes that were lined up for the national dialogue, adding that they would further spur digital development in the country.

“Our digital economy journey commenced on the 24th of October, 2019, following the approval of our request by President Muhammadu Buhari, to redesignate the Ministry from the Federal Ministry of Communications to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. The redesignation was endorsed by the Federal Executive Council on the 23rd of October, 2019 and the implementation of the digital economy mandate started a day after. We have developed a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDBPS) for a Digital Nigeria. The development of our National Digital Economy is anchored on 8 pillars such as: Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy and Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development and Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society and Emerging Technologies; and Indigenous Content Development and Adoption. These pillars address the different aspects that we need to develop in order to have a vibrant digital economy, ” Pantami said.

He stressed that the digital economy would not be independent of the traditional economy. Rather, they are interdependent and a focus on growing the national digital economy, will also improve the nation’s traditional economy. It will enable us get a slice of the global gigital economy, which Oxford Economies values at $11.5 trillion, which is approximately 16 per cent of the global economy. This value is expected to grow significantly over the coming years,” Pantami said.

Citing report from the World Economic Forum, which predicted that over 60 per cent of global GDP would be digitised by 2022 and that over the next decade, digital platforms would be used to create close to 70 per cent of new value, as well as the report from Ericsson titled: “How Important Are Mobile Broadband Networks for Global Economic Development”, which also predicted that 10 per cent increase in mobile broadband penetration results in approximately 0.6 per cent to 2.8 per cent rise in gross domestic product (GDP), Pantami said most nations were prioritising the need to develop their digital economies because they realise the multiplier effects that this can have on all other sectors of the economy. “For instance, the digital economy in the United States contributed 6.9 per cent to the nation’s GDP in 2017. It also contributed 5.1 million jobs in that year. The 2019 Digital Trade and US Trade Policy also noted that almost two-thirds of all the jobs created in the United States since 2010 required medium or advanced levels of digital skills. In Nigeria, we are keen to develop a digital economy that will have a great impact on every sector of Nigeria’s economy,” Pantami said.

Challenges/opportunities

Identifying some of the challenges and opportunities of the digital economy, Pantami said they would always serve as triggers for a robust discussion at every conferences like the ATCON organised national dialogue conference. He listed the challenges to include: Rapid evolution of technology and widening inequalities between the digital “haves” and “haves-not”; Need for new regulations; Cybercrime and other threats; Low level of digital literacy; and Need for infrastructure.

The minister also listed some of the opportunities to include: economic growth and productivity; increased transparency; growth of digital innovation and entrepreneurship; digitization of work; and useful insights from big data.
Analysing some of the challenges, Pantami said Cybercrime could threaten citizen’s adoption of the digital economy and this is why we are taking advantage of the Global Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is October to educate Nigerians on how to stay safe online.

“Regarding the need for new regulations, it is often said that cybercrime moves at the speed of light while cybersecurity moves at the speed of law. Through the developmental regulation pillar we aim to proactively create regulations that will help us be a step ahead of cybercriminals. On the opportunities, according to the QZ ‘2020 GDP Report by the National Bureau of Statistics, ICT contributed an unprecedented 17.83 per cent to the GDP. The digital economy encompasses ICT and all digital services, which includes all online activities in financial institutions, eCommerce, online tax payment, any form of online payment, online banking. When we consider these, the contribution of the digital economy could be up to 45 per cent or even more,” Pantami said.

He therefore stressed that technology and partnerships would no doubt play an important role in the development of the digital economy, including how we access opportunities and overcome challenges.

State governments’ resolve
Recognising the fact that the telecom and ICT sector stand to gain a lot from the development of the country’s digital economy and the public and private sectors need to partner to maximise the impact, state government representatives that were present at the conference, resolved to harness the digital resources in their respective states to promote national economy.

Some of the state governors who were present at the national dialogue conference, explained how they were leveraging technology to boost the economy of their states, in line with the federal government’s drive for digital transformation through digital skills development.
The Director of ICT, Nassarawa State, Shehu Abdulahi, who represented the state governor, said the state was already using technology tools to empower public servants in the state.

The Director of ICT, Katsina State, Dr. Babangida Abubarka Alibaba, who represented the state governor, said the state was already working towards achieving ICT skills compliance for all civil servants in the state.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, who was also represented by the State Commissioner of Science and Technology, Hakeem Fahm, said Lagos State invested so much in ICT to drive education and Internal Revenue Generation (IGR) for the stage, and is in the process of making Lagos a smart city, driven by technology that will further promote digital economy and national economy growth.

The Secretary to the State Government of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, who represented the state governor, narrated how the states’ investment in ICT has helped developed the health and education sectors of the state, to the level that medical doctors now leverage technology to attend to patients from remote parts of the state. The ICT Director, Kaduna State, Mr. Gerald Illukwe, who represented the state governor, said investments in ICT helped the state to promote state government online activities, thus making government processes easily accessible to the people of the state.

Promoting ICT innovation
Danbatta, who also presented a keynote paper at the national dialogue conference, said in recognition of the fundamental role of research in innovation, in 2016, the Commission created a Research and Development Department.
“The department has continued to collaborate with the academia to support the development of innovative services and life-changing solutions with the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to promote Indigenous Content Development.The Commission has, so far, awarded the sum of N336.4 million as research grants to the academia and has endowed professorial chairs in two Nigerian universities,” Danbatta said.
He added that NCC empowered Nigerian youths by promoting their ingenuity and innovation in the development of locally-relevant technology solutions.

“The latest of such was the 2020 NCC Virtual Hackathon, at which we awarded N9 million in grant to three top promising tech startups for solutions aimed at addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and epidemic diseases in the thematic areas of health, community, productivity, economy and transportation. The commission recognises that the key to the survival and growth of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria is sustained investments. In the last five years, the Commission has deliberately and consistently engaged investors in different fora to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). We showed investors the Commission’s roadmap for broadband, which includes the Open Access Model Initiative, the Infraco Project, our 5G readiness and the Access Gaps for market opportunities that new entrants could leverage on in Nigeria’s telecoms space,” Danbatta further said, adding, “Our regulatory interventions in the area of issuance of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) Short Code to banks and other Financial Institutions (OFIs) have helped in deepening financial inclusion in the country.”

Danbatta said NCC would ensure that in the next five years, the Commission would leave no stone unturned, and would not rest on its oars until it achieves its goals.
“The commission is placing emphasis on growing the digital economy in collaboration with sister agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy,” he said.

“We hope to consolidate on spectrum trading to ensure maximum and efficient usage of available resources; continuous SIM registration audit to provide security and curtail incidences of banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery; completion and commissioning of Emergency Communications Centres (ECCs) in the remaining states to enhance security and provide succor to citizens in distress,” Danbatta added.
Nigeria no doubt is on the path of achieving her digital economy vision, but collaboration and government’s commitment are needed to achieve it fast.