By Emeka Aginam
Despite improvements recorded in the Nigeria’s Information and Communication Technology, ICT, industry in 2014, there were a number of challenges faced by the sector. For instance, consumers of ICT products and services, especially telecoms services were hit with consistent poor quality of service.
From dropped calls, unsolicited commercial text messages to undelivered text messages, importation of substandard mobile devices, poor quality of service in the country remained unabated among service providers despite policies and regulations put in place by the regulatory agencies.
Meanwhile, telecommunications, a part of the ICT sector contributed hugely to the growth of the revised Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in 2014 which now stands at $580 billion.
Recently during the Ministerial press briefing held in Abuja, the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson had disclosed that the ICT sector contributed 10 per cent of the GDP, about $50 billion, giving the sector a huge boost.
Between 2011 and now, the telecommunications sub-sector, according to Johnson attracted additional $6 billion investment.
The minister, who said ICT contributed 19 per cent to service industry, further disclosed that the telecommunications sub-sector performed well in Foreign Direct Investment, FDI projects, as it attracted 24 per cent within the last eight years.
Even with the positive improvement in the sector, stakeholders in the Nigerian ICT sector while taking stock of the year ended 2014 said that more still need to be done in terms of infrastructural upgrade if Nigeria must join nations of the world in the global competitiveness.
Stakeholders speak: Despite rich network of professionals in the IT space in the nation, the stakeholders are yet to effectively leverage on the expertise and experience of Nigerian IT professionals.
NCS faults non inclusion of IT professionals in board of MDAs
The President of the Nigerian Computer Society, Prof. David Adewumi while faulting non inclusion of the IT professionals on boards of Ministries and departments, (MDAs) lamented non recognition of IT professionals in national honours list.
He further faulted exclusion of IT professionals from 2014 national conference, saying that such posture by the government will not in anyway contribute to national development.
ICT professionals excluded from decision making
“Though quite a number of government agencies are dependent on ICT to carry out their functions, it is disturbing to note that ICT professionals are not involved at the board level in the top level decision making and policy formulation/evaluation for most of such organizations.
Absence of ICT professionals
The absence of ICT professionals on the boards of MDAs questions the nation’s desire to be part of the 21st century. It is pertinent to note that the ICT industry and profession was not represented at the 2014 National conference” he explained.
Over dependence on foreign IT products
Even with improved access to ICT and the Internet, activity in the ICT space , according to Jide Awe, Innovation and Development Advisor, is largely foreign driven and dominated.
The prevailing funding and patronage scenario, he noted puts the local providers and industry at an extreme disadvantage. “Funding and support for ICT research and research linkages with industry also needs to be significantly improved,” he added.
NCS lists expectations for 2015: For a way forward, he suggested that Nigerian content development in ICT, software entrepreneurship, inclusion, youth empowerment, digital gender mainstreaming and research should be given priority attention .
He added that scaling up of promising initiatives would require strategic partnerships for faster, sustainable results.
Pushing for collaboration between public and private sector as key, he further said that new software development and entrepreneurship initiatives addressing issues of funding and patronage should be encouraged and promoted.
For the President of the Institute of software Practitioners of Nigeria, ISPON, Pius Okigbo Junior, the Nigerian ICT sector is still operating below its expected potential considering that several verticals are still reliant on foreign expertise and technical resources.
Although he did not provide statistics to support his position, ICT sector in Nigeria, according to Okigbo is underutilized.
“We still have a severe quality skills deficiency in the ICT sector in every possible area imaginable. Emphasis must be placed on bridging this gap. Unfortunately, this takes time,” he explained.
Going forward in the current year, the ISPON President said that there is need to aggressively improve the quality and skill sets in the ICT sector. While consumption of foreign products impact negatively on the economy, he was of the opinion that greater participation of local ICT firm in big projects would contribute to the growth of the economy, adding that more ICT adoption at every level of government is imperative.
For the apostle of software Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, the country could have done better if a more constructive and innovative strategy were deployed.
According to Uwaje who pioneered the Nigerian IT policy in the past, analysis of of national ICT landscape informs that our ICT strategy is heavily consumer oriented and import dependent.
Further analysis of national ICT landscape, according to him does not inspire and support large scale innovation and creativity, and also does not promote knowledge clusters and reward merit.
Pushing for the creation of a special IT knowledge bank for innovation and promote national IT research development and mobile innovation competition, he said that the sector is currently not concerned about the poor state of ICT in Education with respect to curriculum, teachers’ intensive training and capacity building. With the sector not challenging innovation.
For Nigeria to be part of digital economy, Uwaje suggested the reconstruction of the the National IT Policy by establishing a “National ICT Framework Bill, as the core foundation and super-layers for Nigeria’s ICT Road-map and strategic focus for national development and global competitiveness.
Calling for the establishment of the office of the Information Technology General of the Federation (ITGF), he said that there was need to encourage and promote ICT regulations that reduces foreign consumption and consciously prioritize local IT content and intellectual property.
Transformation of NYSC into a National ICT Emergency Training Camp, retooling the national ICT curriculum and massive re-training for IT Lecturers and ICT Teachers at all levels (From Kindergarten to University), making software engineering and development as national IT strategy, establishment of at least 10 Information Technology Knowledge Parks in 2015, ensuring that IT Professionals, Practitioners and Experts are represented at all board levels in Government, among others were among his recommendation as a way forward.
Speaking from telecoms point of view, the President of Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Lanre Ajayi, while giving his score of telecommunication in Nigeria said that a number of activities took place in 2014 that would drive the Broadband penetration efforts forward.
Activities that promoted broadband in 2014
Those activities like the licensing of 2.3 GHz, the commencement of licensing of the 2.6 Ghz spectrum, commencement of the licensing for the Infracos, the migration of base stations management by some service providers to collocation companies and continuous investment by service providers in the ICT sector.
Expressing optimism that phone subscription was growing to reach 100 % teledensity, he said that the broadband penetration also recorded some marginal growth but remains largely limited to urban areas.
Expectations for 2015
Going forward , he noted that there was need to put further efforts and initiatives in creating the right enabling environment for service providers which include effort at eliminating double taxation, ease of procurement of right of ways, including Telecoms services on the list of permissible services for foreign exchange auction.
Conclusion of 2.6 Ghz licensing and conclusion of Infracos licensing, commencement of licensing for 700 Mhz, according to ATCON President should be considered as a matter of national importance by the telecom regulator to further boast telecoms development.
Supporting the views of ATCON President, Adewumi noted that there was need for the implementation of the National Broadband Plan.