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It’ll be foolhardy to abandon guidelines of Comtech ministry

By Prince Osuagwu

ALl things being equal, the current Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson may not be in office after May 29. By then her appointment as the minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will have elapsed.

Unless she is re-appointed, what would remain of Johnson in the newly created ministry after May 2015, would be the legacies she left behind.

JohnsonThe minister seems to know this fact and has been keeping records of her milestones since the ministry was carved out in 2011 and entrusted to her to manage.

Four years after, Johnson has looked into her books and apparently what she is seeing is a tremendous leap from where the country used to be in terms of technological development. No wonder, she is stoutly claiming that it would be foolhardy for anybody taking over the mantle of leadership of the ministry after her to dump the developmental index and guidelines the new ministry has consistently thrived upon.

She believes that these guidelines have achieved a great deal for the country and that the Federal Government has made Information and Communication Technology, ICT, the catalyst for economic transformation.

Presenting her four-year score card to a cross section of ICT industry stakeholders in Lagos recently, Johnson predicted a prosperous future for the country; one which ICT will drive growth and development and a future where so many countries of the world would model their economies from.

However, she was quick to caution that all these things would come to pass if continuity and focus on purpose are maintained. She also added that Nigeria did not get to where it is at the moment by accident and sheer luck.

She shared some of the building blocks that have together, resulted to the level of development which sees Nigeria continually regarded as the fastest growing ICT economy in the world.

Taking a look backwards, Johnson recounted having at the beginning of her appointment aggregated efforts of attached establishments and agencies to the ministry, including the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NIGCOMSAT, Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST, Galaxy Backbone and Universal Services provision Fund, USPF among others, as well as designing ways of sustaining their single and collective achievements.

The reason for adopting the strategy, according her, was having discovered, upon resumption, that the ICT industry was dominated by telecommunication sector and multinational corporations which allowed a meagre contribution of approximately 5.46 to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP.

“There was a fragmented IT sector with small domestic players made up of approximately 350 companies. Domestic value added in key areas was sub-optimal and it was characterized by consumer preference for global brands and high levels of importation of inputs and finished products. The tariff regime and challenging operating environment for manufacturing encourages ensured that this was so. “Meanwhile, $360m was transferred out in purchase and maintenance of software on products and services” she added.

Critical interventions: With this situation, Johnson said the ministry realized there was great need to make some critical interventions. First of all it needed to lower the barriers to entry and increase the participation of Nigerian companies in the ICT industry; and stimulate job creation.

The ministry also urgently needed to increase the adoption of ICTs by government to achieve greater transparency, efficiency and productivity in governance and citizen engagement; as well as provide a predictable and stable environment that supports the development of ICT industry.

With all these in mind, the ministry said it immediately pursued the formation and implementation of a national broadband strategy and roadmap that seeks to increase broadband penetration from 6 percent to 30 percent by 2018.

It also created smart states initiatives which would significantly reduce Right of Way fees, standardize state levies and taxes on ICT infrastructure and consolidate licensing through the dig once pay once philosophy.

The minister said that through establishments and agencies attached to the ministry, a lot of achievements were also recorded.

Through NCC: The ministry was able to supervise the licensing of Infrastructure Companies, InfraCos, to provide efficient wholesale bandwidth services on a non discriminatory, open access and price regulated basis as well as provide metropolitan fibre and transmission services. It also facilitated increased investment in ICT infrastructure with the licensing of 2.3 Ghz spectrum in March 2014 and a planned 2.6Ghz auction by first quarter of this year.

Through NITDA: The ministry has created IT centres in tertiary institutions, known as Knowledge Access venue. This has seen up to 1.5 million students yearly, benefit in the 271 centres already set up. There is also the Public Access Venues, PAVs which provide shared access to ICT facilities in under served and unserved locations to various other demography.

NITDA also has about 395 Rural IT centres nationwide which have the potential to impact the lives of over 2 million rural dwellers.

Through NIGCOMSAT

The minister said her ministry has been able to complement the fibre/ terrestrial networks in Nigeria for the deployment of broadband networks in rural areas and other sectors including health, security, education, Agriculture, and other applications with wide ranging geographical distribution.

NIGCOMSAT also generates money to the coffers of the FG through the leasing of its 5 KU transponders, C-band, broadband sale and the leasing of direct to Home platform to private strategic partner.

Pushing for ICT bills: It also has a number of legislation developed and being pursued to ensure sustainability of the industry growth, like the critical national infrastructure bill, cybercrime bill and the NIPOST bill among others.

The minister contended that NIPOST bill was so important because it has a role to play in the digital inclusion the country was seeking for. It helps the rural people to access ICT easily. Financial inclusion can not also be achieved maximally without NIPOST. Currently it is providing cash management and third party digital payment services providing financial services on a PPP arrangement.

In the estimation of Johnson, these developmental strategies cumulatively has given rise to a different rating of the industry which by the end of 2014 was already viewed as critical, ranked with oil and Gas and power.

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