Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem is the Chief Executive of Teledom Group, a major player providing hi-tech solutions in the telecoms and ICT sector of the economy.
He is also the National President of the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). In the interview below with ADEKUNLE ADEKOYA which held at Teledomâ€™s offices in Lagos, Dr Ekuwem reviews the ICT and telecom industry in Nigeria in the past year, previews it for the new year, and predicts that Nigeria is on the verge of reaping a digital harvest by 2015,Â which will play a major part in the realization of Vision 20-2020. He also added that the furore between the Ministry of Information & Communications, and the NCC over the 2.3GHz licensing process was a setback for Nigeria. Excerpts:
How would you assess the Nigerian ICT industry in the last year?
The Nigerian ICT industry in the last one year has continued to witness steady growth in the number of subscribers. That is those in normal subscriber line that have been introduced to the Nigerian telecom space.
The number of subscriber lines do not necessarily transmit into number of telecom consumers, since some may use multiple SIM Cards. So, you can get two or three cards now and may be you came into Nigeria, you acquire new Sim pack for reason of the coverage of the operators network. That is only youÂ as a person. So, 2009 witnessed that steady growth.
Secondly, 2009 witnessed an increase in the introduction of data; I mean broadband introduction to our respective network operator companies. Now, people have begun to see the need for data and that telecom is not only for voice services but for data and a lot of other things ICT can do to Nigerian people and the nation as a whole. That is boosting productivity and this will in turn lead to increase in GDP. 2009 witnessed the initial processes that will lead to two extra sub-marine cables being available to Nigeria from Europe, that is Glo One and Main One Sub-Marine cables. These are high capacity broadband infrastructure of high speed.
The third company has just been licensed by Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), that is South African Link-Age, and is working hard to put that infrastructure into Nigeria. We will say that broadband connectivity, by way of availability of high capacity infrastructure provided by Glo One and Main One was moved forward in 2009. It is really splendid..
2009 witnessed some setbacks in respect to this broadband, when the licensing of the 2.3 Ghz spectrum was not successful. The government has not cancelled the license and cannot do that. The issue remains the licenseÂ process. The license remains for qualified companies. What government has done is to ask NCC to reconduct the licensing exercise. The license remains the property of the Nigerian nation.
The exercise was not acceptable to government and the NCC is working hard to carry out the process again. The whole year cannot be all glorious without some setbacks. We have to be honest in our analysis of the industry activities in the last one year. Our assessment of the ICT industry in 2009 cannot be complete if we do not mention that unfortunate incident. So, that is the way we describe the activities of the Nigerian ICT industry in 2009 in a nutshell.
How about this year?
This year will be the commencement of the immediate available broadband services. Main One is supposed to be operational this year, and Glo One also is supposed to be operational this year. The telecom operators themselves; MTN and Globacom are doing interconnect broadband connectivity. The broadband connectivity is still at the ocean; at the Bar Beach, Calabar, Ibadan, Warri, and in all the coastal cities of Nigeria, and they canâ€™t be used by Nigerians until they are linked with pipes into Nigeria. Until we do that, we canâ€™t say broadband is copiously available in Nigeria. So, we are looking at the Nigeria digital harvest in 2015.
The Nigeria digital harvestÂ is when broadband service would have been everywhere. In fact, in all nooks and crannies of the country. That is when you are in your house, office, and you have broadband, in your car broadband, in the train or bus, broadband. Even church and bus stop broadband will be there. So, that’s what I mean by digital harvest. It is having broadband sufficiently available. Why do we call it a harvest? It is because it is going to bring goodies. The carpenter, bricklayer, barber, driver, panel beater, mechanic, lecturer, lawyer, engineer, soldier, trader will have his or her productivity boosted.
How will that happen, one may ask. Do not forget that we are in the global knowledge economy, where your ability to boost your knowledge as well as your ability to boost the acquired knowledge into productive venture is where you are. It is what boosts your productivity, gives you a competitive advantage in any field of human endeavour. If any Nigerian worker from the President to the common man in the street has his productivity boosted, national productivity will also increase; thus an increase in GDP.
From my personal experience, someone can make money from different sources at the same time with the aid of broadband service, without necessarily being present, but only if you can access the right knowledge.
Before now, there was no internet access in Nigeria, but today, and with the broadband coming in its ubiquity: Wi-Max; Wi-Fi, GPRS for broadband, 3G network, you can have video conferencing, telemedicine, video clips, telehairdressing and distance learning. All these are possible with broadband infrastructure.
I repeat, with the availability, each individualâ€™s productivity will be boosted. Imagine the increase of individual productivity nationally, and what it will do to the Nigerian economy. That is why I call it the Nigerian digital harvest in 2015 and digital banquet in 2020. In year 2020, broadband will be in its ubiquity and be sufficiently available in all nooks and crannies of this country.
But we need patronage of made in Nigeria ICT products. We canâ€™t claim that the Nigerian ICT industry will be sustainable where we do not develop the local capacity. Right now, we are suffering from the result of insufficiency of patronizing made in Nigeria products. An example that pains me so much is the software developed in Nigeria. There is no piece of locally made software used in Nigeria today that cannot be developed by the Nigeria software industry. There is none theÂ Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) cannot develop, but there is no way they can be perfect without continuous patronage by Nigerians.
As a user, if you have any complaint about any of the locally made software, send it to companies concerned and to National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and they will make amends. Rome was not built in a day. Before, people were discouraged from patronising made in Taiwan products. But today, they are not complaining again because their machineries had gathered the complaints both global and local and went back to correct them. If you do not patronise them, how will they know the mistakes and correct them? And how will they improve upon the quality?
But some of these local software have not been visible, from a marketing point of view. Do you agree with that?
I agree with you, but not as a result of product scarcity. The lack of market resulted because the local companies like banks have continued to patronize foreign software. There is no country that has not protected its products.
Banks, oil companies, government establishments etc must give total support and encouragement to the locally made software. European countries, USA, etc have done it. With this, you take boys and girls off the streets, not to lay off staff as we are witnessing today in banks. It will also strengthens the Naira and increase our foreign reserves. The statement that the market is not there is correct, but because of the patronage of foreign software.