BY Emeka Aginam
Even in the face of many challenges including multiple taxation, ICT infrastructure vandalism, multiple regulations, poor quality of service, among others, the year 2012 has come and gone but not without success stories recorded.
While taking stock of the Nigerian ICT market in the year under review with stakeholders expressing mixed reactions, listings expectations for the year ahead, Nigeria did fairly well in 2012 with a lot of room for improvement in the current. Already, experts in the Nigerian ICT sector who spoke to Vanguard Hi-Tech with optimism believed that Nigeria has lots of potentials to achieve digital economy by 2015 if right policies and put in place.
Looking at the Ministry of Communications Technology created a year and five months ago to facilitate the transformation of Nigeria into a digital economy, a number of milestones have been achieved even as a number of initiatives that will fast track the development of the ICT sector have been put in motion.
While working to ensure that made/assembled in Nigeria brands are more favourably positioned to achieve the national objectives of job creation, domestic value added and growth in the ICT industry, the Ministry, according to report released recently has achieved remarkable progress in facilitating increased access to ICTs even as teledensity ratio increased in fixed line access from 0.51% in 2011 to 1.5% in 2012. The ratio, according to the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson would increase to 10% by 2015.
“Ratio of mobile subscriptions increased from 68.49 in 2011 to 71.54% in 2012. Ratio will increase to 97.69% by 2015. Access of rural population to ICTs increased from 1.5% in 2011 to 1.65% in 2012. Mobile phone coverage in the rural areas stands at 40% in 2012 and is expected to hit 60% by 2015 and 100% by 2017.
“Speed of broadband access has increased from 1.0 in 2011 to 1.8 in 2012. It is expected to increase to 5.0 by 2015. While cost of broadband subscription (3GB package/yr) has reduced from N93, 000 to N72, 000 in 2012. It is expected to go down by 50% by 2015.
Device ownership penetration
“Device ownership penetration shows that ownership rate in personal computers currently stands at 4.5% and is expected to increase to 12% by 2015, while ownership of mobile devices rate in the country stands at 60% and is expected to increase to 80% by 2015” she added.
By 2015, all the MDAs , she informed would have effective websites, adding that verified Mobile Money Agents currently stand at 3000 and is expected to increase to 50,000 by 2015.
“Total value of Mobile Money transactions currently stands at N228m and is expected to increase to N151bn by 2015, while total volume of non-store shopping increased from N62bn in 2011 to N77.5bn in 2012. This figure will increase to N658bn by 2015” Johnson added.
Focus of CT ministry
Increase the contribution of the ICT industry to GDP, Connecting Nigeria by facilitating the provision of a ubiquitous and cost effective national ICT infrastructure, Software development, ICT entrepreneurship and innovation and the development of a strong and vibrant ICT industry, quality of service delivery, Local content and skills development to create jobs and sustain the industry and Cost reduction, transparency in governance and citizen engagement to promote efficiency in governance, Johnson assured would be her major focus between now and 2015.
Success stories and prospects for 2013:
SIM card registration
The stage for the SIM card registration exercise was set in February 2011 when the Nigerian Communications Commission signed contract with seven registration service providers to handle the registration process in different parts of the country along with telecommunications operators. The Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card registration exercise was meant to furnish the Commission with bio-data of telephone subscribers in the country thereby reducing the rate of crime committed with mobile phones.
New interconnect guidelines
Following negative effect of accumulated interconnection bills on telecommunications operations, which has reached over N20 billion over a period of 11 years, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has begun fresh move to address the situation. One of the moves, according to NCC, is the planned release of fresh guidelines in January 2013 that would facilitate the process of getting quick approval from NCC to disconnect operators that are heavily indebted to interconnect billings, especially those that are reluctant to settle such bills.
Number Portability which allows a subscriber to switch networks while retaining his/her number is expected to begin this year. The idea of Number Portability is borne out of the need to level the playing ground, by driving competition which will in turn lead to fair pricing, network coverage expansion and quality of service improvements.
The biggest reason why a customer stays loyal to a network is because of all the contacts and connections that have been made with a particular phone number. The idea of number portability is to remove that advantage from the networks and put in the hands of the customer.
100% of the IT backbones are foreign procured
“Our financial system (banking, insurance, taxes, pensions etc) are all IT driven, the oil industry is IT driven, etc etc, unfortunately nearly 100% of the IT nervous system in terms of software and hardware are foreign procured. This is not good for Nigeria and must be triggered to change from 2013,” he said.
What to do
For the ISPON President, Chris Uwaje, predicting the future of global ICT landscape will be nearly impossible because, any country of the world is capable of mastering her ICT destiny, provided she concentrate on developing infrastructure and skilled capacities to promote her core competencies and domestic market requirements as a precondition for mastering the export market.
Within the context of this evaluation, Nigeria, Uwaje noted has a great chance to compete with the rest of the world – viewed from the perspective of her potential resources in high school and university graduates coupled with her ability to speak and communicate in English Language.
Nigeria’s core competence is in software knowledge industry
This also means that 2012 can be seen as a blessing for Nigeria to rethink her ICT development Strategy as an urgent, critical imperative. No nation succeeds in her ICT development without a central Focus on its core competence. Nigeria’s core competence is in software knowledge industry and not in heavy technology industry” he explained.
Speaking further on ICT in 2012, Lanre Ajayi, the President of ATCON said that the ICT industry in Nigeria did fairly well in 2012 but with a lot of room for improvement. The teledensity, according to him, continued to grow, the number of telephone lines in Nigeria exceeded a threshold of 100 million lines during the year.
“However, the internet bandwidth continue to witness appalling utilization with capacity utilization less than five per cent. Our capacity to develop software applications particularly for export has not been impressive but there are isolated success stories. Our desire to develop the outsource industry, remains unfulfilled” he added. According to Uwaje, Nigeria national ICT model and strategy must change from the 95% wireless model to fixed line priority equilibrium.
“We need to re-wire Nigeria in readiness for Cloud computing and total e-economy, e-knowledge society. 55% fixed line on broadband and 45% wireless is a better infrastructure strategy for the future survivability.”
Broadband penetration and sustainability
In the opinion of Lanre Ajayi, the ATCON President, a major way to fastrack Broadband penetration was to stimulate demand for broadband access by promoting the deployment of applications that were relevant to Nigerian users and add values to their life.
Such applications, he added may include ones that make commerce available online (e-Commerce), ones that make Government services available online (e-Government), ones that make health services delivery available online (e-Health), ones that make learning available online (e-Learning) and so on. Government should take a lead by making Government services available online, he added. But the industry regulator, NCC has made spirited efforts to develop the broadband sub-sector.
After developing a broadband plan, NCC also put in place a strategy to develop and actualize the plan, an initiative commended by Secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union, Dr. Hamadoun Toure. In addition, the regulator has taken the Nigerian broadband vision to many local and international fora, including the ITU Telecom World 2012 which held in October in Dubai, UAE.
Strategy for the ministry and operators
Nigeria, Uwaje warned was undergoing a massive information crisis because our national content, from e-Government to National Database, to Digital Education, Digital Litigation process, Digital Transportation, Digital Urban planning and Residency Data/ National Identity Information system were in crisis, adding that the crisis can only be resolved by software.
“India has recognized that long ago and is woking to resolve the crises. If Nigeria does not accelerate her engagement to promote and develop Indigenous Software (Software Nigeria), our information crisis with multiple into what I had described many years back in my book “e-Knowledge – time is Running Out” as ‘Information Overload’
“The Ministry should therefore make software strategy, policy and legislation the highest priority. This will create an estimated three million jobs and fire the national economy. With over 100million mobile phones, we may have failed if we cannot fire the sector with Nigeria content/software,” the ISPON President explained.
Challenge for CT Ministry
The most robust way the CT Ministry can be more effective in the penetration of ICT in the country, Uwaje continued is to make software strategy, policy and legislation the highest priority. With over 100million Mobile Phones, we may have failed if we cannot fire the sector with Nigeria content/software.
In the opinion of Ajayi,“to increase PC usage, there must be a deliberate effort to facilitate Computer ownership for Nigerian students. I believe it is most appropriate for government to provide all Nigerian students from primary school university level with a mobile computer (e.g tablet) which could be used not only to access the internet but to store the electronics version of the books they need in schools. This should be a priority for government.
“The potential impact on the future of the students and by extension on the future of the country is enormous. I believe this is the fastest route to leapfroging Nigeria into a developed country. Our developmental growth rate is largely determined by the level of development of our human capacity. Contrary to what some people may think, funding may not be as difficult as it looks. There are a number of funding sources that could be re-directed to the project. These include funds from USPF, NITDEF, SURE-P, PTDF, among others,” he explained.
As the year ended, a controversy engulfed the entire ICT sector. The cntroversy was ignited by a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to make NigComSat an independent corporation that would operate outside the purview of the communications regulator. What many saw as surprising was the fact that the bill had virtually been passed by the Housee of Representatives (it had passed the third reading), awaiting only the imprimatur of the Senate to become law. The Senate, has since held a hearing, at which the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission opposed the bill. Further developments in this regard will unfold as the new year progresses.