By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
The Communications Technology Ministry, created in 2011, appears to be a more critical ministry, particularly to Information and Communications Technology, ICT, practitioners, considering how technology has clearly introduced a new world, creates new wealth and shapes world economies.
At creation, Former President, Goodluck Jonathan, recognising the huge the ministry was meant to play, declared that “the new Ministry would be headed by a Minister who is very versatile in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT), to give it the desired focus in view of the critical importance of ICT in driving a modern economy”.
Since then, the appointment of ministers into the ministry has attracted serious attention and the ministers have drawn critical reviews. From Omobola Johnson appointed by Jonathan and Adebayo Shittu who took over from her in 2016, industry stakeholders laid out blueprints that formed thresholds to whatever successes they achieved.
So it was not surprising that when the announcement was made, of the appointment of Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Pantami, Wednesday, as Minister of Communications, it attracted mixed reactions.
Pantami was the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, before his new position.
Although his appointment sparked off a debate bordering on his competence and why all top ICT appointments should go to the north, industry stakeholders were united in laying for him, a roadmap that could lead him to success. They specifically warned him of banana peels that often results from working in isolation of the yearnings of the industry and its stakeholders.
Secure presidential order on ICT infrastructure
Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, Engr Gbenga Adebayo said it was a good development that someone who has been actively participating in the sector was also brought to head the communications ministry.
He said: “We are very confident that he is very familiar with the industry and naturally will bring to bear his experiences, and work with all stakeholders for the success of the sector” He said that the first thing Pantami should do immediately to hit the ground running was to work towards securing a Presidential Order, classifying ICT Infrastructure as Critical National Security and Economy Infrastructure as well as ensuring that ICT infrastructure is accorded necessary protection for the sustainability of the sector considering that Telecommunication is the infrastructure of infrastructures and very important to economic development.
Resolve RoW price debacle
Another stakeholder and, Secretary, governing board, Association of Information Technology local content, ICTLOCA, Mr Adebunmi Akinbo, appeared to corroborate Adebayo. He believes that the first thing the new minister should do to reignite activity in the ministry is to immediately ensure compliance in the harmonised right of way, RoW price between the states and the federal government.
Akinbo said the continued price disparity has created untold hardship for the telecom operators and frustrated the level of broadband penetration in Nigeria. “The earlier the new minister impressed it upon the states that this is a developmental issue for all tiers of government, federal state and local government level and see them desisting from fixing arbitrary Right of way levies, the more he is sure of impact as a Communications minister. Nigeria cannot afford to miss any global deadline on digital or broadband revolution.
“The new minister should also make policies in such a way that every Nigerian, no matter his or her level, should not only know the access points but find it easy to understand ICT issues in Nigeria. If he continues with what he did at NITDA, becomes more accessible and operates an open-door policy, there is no doubt he will make the difference in the ministry”
Reposition ICT ecosystem
For Dr Chris Uwaje, generally described as the Oracle of ICT industry, and DG Delta State Innovation hub, “the appointment is good for the industry but the two things he has to do immediately are to reposition the Information technology, IT Ecosystem and persuade the Presidency to rename the Ministry from Communications to the Federal Ministry for Digital Transformation. “Again, he should focus on Software Innovation and discovery to propel Nigeria into an e-Knowledge nation for sustainable development at all levels of global competitiveness” he added.
Ensure policies are woven around innovation
Meanwhile, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion and digital rights Mr Gbenga Sesan didn’t see the appointment of Pantami as a surprise but hopes he will take advantage of his industry knowledge, especially while overseeing NITDA, to plug existing gaps and focus on either supporting innovation with policy or making sure government doesn’t hinder innovation through repressive tendencies that negate the essence of online environments.
He said: “The ministry must stand for the sector and ensure that the administration weaves policy around innovation in such a way that instead of standing in the way of those who are working tirelessly to introduce cutting-edge applications of ICTs, the government encourages them.
“Any nation that gets its Information and Communication Technologies, ICT act right holds the potential of enjoying socio-economic benefits. There’s a reason why the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) and the Human Development Index (HDI) have similar curves. If you plot a graph with NRI on the Y-axis and HDI on the x-axis, you will see that almost all countries with high NRI are above 0.8 on the HDI scale.
“It has also been established that an increase in broadband access can add up to 0.3% gain to any nation’s GDP. The new minister must pay attention to this opportunity, and maximize it for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians,” he said.