By Prince Osuagwu
For the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof Dora Akunyili, one of the major concerns of her ministry is to see that the quantum leap achieved in telecom development in the country is sustained and surpassed in the years to come.
Akunyili atleast createdÂ that impression, as she met with ICT reporters in Lagos last week to present her one year report card in the m
inistry of Information and Communications.
She also used the opportunity to unveil to the ICT reporters, her activities in the rebrand Nigeria project she kicked off February and sought ways technology writers could buy into the project and make it a true national call it deserves.
Going through the cross fire of questions by the news men, Akunyili stated that her Ministry was determined to pursue activities that would sanitize the country through effective monitoring of the players in the ICT sector to ensure conformity with set down laws and internationally acceptable standards.
For her, the immediate areas of attention particularly in telecom development included tariff reduction, drop calls, number portability, connectivity, clearing house and infrastructure sharing. It was at this point that she announced three key policy directions in the telecommunications industry which she said the ministry had identified as critical to the development of Nigeriaâ€™s telecommunications sector and to that extent, positively impact on the economy.
â€œThe first area in which we have identified, as the hinge of a sustainable telecom development, is the Modernization of our Policy environment. Nobody could have anticipated the dramatic explosion in Nigeriaâ€™s telecommunications market. It is prudent, especially in light of the current economic meltdown, to revisit the underlying policy and supporting legislation.
To identify areas that requires enhancements to ensure parity with global and emerging opportunities and issues and to make certain that these issues are properly dealt, with. This will ensure that the Telecommunications environment is calibrated to support the attainment of MDG goals, 7-point agenda, and Vision 20: 2020.
â€œThe second area is related to the phased adoption of sustainable energy in telecommunications. Energy generation is reportedly accounting for between 50-60% of operational costs across the telecommunications service providers in Nigeria today.
With such a high cost structure, the market continues to witness cost transfer to subscribers. It is therefore critical that Government drives initiatives that will lower dependency on the current energy sources and embrace alternative energy source, like solar, bio-fuels among others, as other developing countries like Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, India, Sri Lanka, are doing.
With full implementation, this policy will deliver lower tariffs, reduce the heavy dollar component ofâ€™ energy importation which puts pressure on the Naira. This also will ultimately lower the operational costs of the operators, reduce cost and free up resources which can be used to expand networks and improve capacityâ€.
She noted that the third policy direction, was â€œdriving local content in telecommunications. The search for employment opportunities means we must think out of the box. With over 60 million subscribers we are now a huge purchasing block for the provision of telecommunications content, services and goods.
Nigeria with over 60 million subscribers must not just become consumers of foreign innovation hence the need to put in place a structure that supports local content and innovation. We must do this in such a way that Nigerian innovators have a predictable environment to invest and thrive in. Similar laudable effort has been made in the oil sector in the aspect of local content from which Nigerians continue to benefitâ€.
Akunyili noted that until this was done, Nigeria would simply continue to being a consuming bloc lubricating the coffers of innovators in other countries, and killing her own innovators and potential innovations, adding that â€œthis is critical particularly as global events compel us to diversify our economy and open up the critical potentials locked in our knowledge, as we have seen countries like Japan and more recently India, do successfullyâ€.
She promised that the ministry would in the coming months, work with all stakeholders to develop a detailed blue print on how to effect these policy directions.
On the area of rebranding Nigeria, the minister said she had covered many grounds to making it a huge success story. Besides initiating a monthly ministerial press briefing which would give the press ample opportunity to know what her ministry was doing at all times, she has also conceived a new government publication called Open Government.
This publication, would focus on one critical federal Ministry or agency every month and help create an innovative platform for presenting the activities of government to the people using the mass media.
This is even as it would highlight the Re-branding project as a hand in hand project with the 7-Point agenda the government.
The publication would be an 8-10 Page publication that will be distributed as inserts in major Nigerian newspapers on a monthly basis.
Another major achievement to the rebranding Nigeria project, according to the minister, was the recent creation of a Ministry website www.fmic.gov.ng with the following functions:
* To serve as the authoritative reference point for current information about Nigeriaâ€™s economy, politics, tourism, culture, investment opportunities and all other information on and about Nigeria.
* Promote the rich cultural heritage of the country by providing relevant pictures on culture, traditions of Nigerian peoples and other information that will facilitate the development of a thriving tourist industry.
* promote the consolidation and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria through such democratic principle as citizen participation in governance by providing access to political leadership through e-mails and public opinion poll
* Enrich government decision-making process by allowing citizens to contribute to the decision making process through on-line discussion forums, interactive e-communities, e-town hall.