NCC: Regulatory independence is non-negotiable – Gbenga Sesan
Telcos: Last mile investments should be CSR – Adebunmi Akinbo
Govt: Accord telecom sector high-level protection – Gbenga Adebayo
Restructure existing digital institutional frameworks – Chris Uwaje
By Prince Osuagwu – Hi-Tech Editor
The Information and Communications Technology, the ICT industry in 2019 recorded a tremendous leap. Going by the statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the sector contributed 10.11 per cent to Gross Domestic Product, GDP in the first quarter of the year, 11.39 per cent in the second quarter and 11.34 per cent in the third quarter.
In general, ICT contribution to GDP increased from about 10 per cent last year to 13.8 per cent currently. Yet, the sector has shown this consistent progression, despite several challenges, including disputes, fines, double taxation, difficult Forex policy and quality of service issues that dotted it in the year under review.
MTN Nigeria spearheaded telcos’ contribution with listing in the Nigerian stock exchange and carrying out a massive 5G trial.
Continuing in the same positive trajectory, the telco combined efforts to move active mobile voice subscribers from 174,012,136 to 180,386,316, Teledensity, to 94.50 per cent in October and increased internet subscribers from 114,306,598 to 123,559,596.
Meanwhile, there were also other developments that signposted improvements in the year. They include the inauguration of a Broadband Plan Review team, the ease of doing business, massive government support to fintech and ICT start-up ecosystems, among others.
However, despite all the enviable strides, industry practitioners still believe there are loopholes to plug and a disruptive future to contend with. They imagined that since technology is fast becoming the bedrock that will power new economic growth, gloating on statistics without strong sub-sector supports and a virile advocacy body/environment, would only leave the country with a silo approach, which will be suboptimal to challenge the future.
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Looking for ways forward for the ICT industry in 2020 and beyond, enthusiastic industry practitioners including Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, Secretary, Governing Board, Association of Information and Communications Technology Local Content, ICTLOCA, Mr Adebunmi Akinbo and Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion and digital rights, Mr Gbenga Sesan, among others, spoke on different ideas that could sustain the giant strides already made and position the country solidly against a looming disruptive future.
Reviewing 2019 and looking for innovative ways of approaching 2020, Sesan said: “The inauguration of a Broadband Plan Review team is a major win in the outgoing year because it will help us realise the lie we lived when NCC announced that we beat the 30 per cent target by the end of 2018. We didn’t, and we didn’t even come any close to terrestrial access targets even though mobile made progress. I also think that the improvement in the NCC-NITDA relationship is great for the industry. Maybe we can build on that to finish the work of harmonisation started in 2006. It should ideally allow NCC to focus as a converged industry-wide regulator while NITDA focuses on its real mandate of development instead of trying to be another regulator.
“It is also important that the NCC becomes a truly independent regulator, which it should be by law, and not the lapdog of a supervising minister. In the same way, NITDA must realise that it stands in a very great place where it could lead Nigeria’s ICT development efforts, including rallying around three key issues – aggressive education to reduce the industry manpower gap, enabling environment for tech StartUps, and working with financial institutions to fund the tech ecosystem” .
Sesan argued that most of the successes that happened in 2019 were as a result of policy and therefore if the government wants the tech ecosystem to continue adding massively to the GDP it must deliberately learn and understand the way 2019 successes happened and then allow the policy to deepen the innovations that are already happening.
He also advised telecom operators to grow up this year and stop hoping that voice will continue to play a major role in their revenue. He said that as access improves, phone users will depend more on IP-based services and if they keep banking on voice, they will start fights they can’t win. He feels the telcos should double down on quality Internet access so that each subscriber can bundle voice for free, access a metered data and devices that can be paid for over a period of time via airtime and other services.
For Akinbo, 2019 will be remembered for its efforts in encouraging ease of doing business, leveraging on an automated system to register initiatives, deployment of support for hubs and focusing on policy developments.
However, in 2020, he said: “ It’s critical to focus on the need for a policy on national critical infrastructure. Denial to right of way is not just wrong but criminal for any state government that took an oath to grow and develop its a constituency.
“With the renaming of the Communications Ministry, comes more responsibility. More synergy is expected between MDA’s to properly address access, affordability and available services without infringing on business rights and privileges. The average user is less concerned as long as the feedback is equal to satisfaction.
“Government should focus on investing in Infrastructural Development and Maintenance. Inter-Ministry synchronization is key to successful actualisation. Technology without Power is equal to stagnation on an indifference curve. They should be perfect complementary products,” he added.
He also advised telecom Operators to understand that Corporate Social Responsibility is not a profit-making venture, and therefore embark on last Mile Initiatives in Rural Community to boost the penetration of technological services and reduce stress on Urban Infrastructures. He urged them to partner with NGOs, FBOs and CBOs to help grow local content and security.
High-level protection for telecom facilities
Also responding to what the ICT perspective should be in 2020, Chairman of ALTON, Engr Gbenga Adebayo said that first of all it would be imperative to highlight that the telecom sector which champions growth in the whole ecosystem, provided uninterrupted services throughout 2019.
According to him, “there was no telecom downtime or outages throughout the year. We supported all other sectors critical to the nation’s economic development such as banking and finance, stock market, Government and all agencies and entrepreneurs, thought the year. That was in spite of the several environmental challenges that we faced.
Meanwhile, we met and surpassed the 30 per cent broadband penetration target in the same year.
We shall continue to improve the performance of the sector in the year 2020.”
Adebayo challenged the government to provide the sector with enabling environment and expect better performances in 2020. “ Government should as a matter of urgency, classify the telecom industry as Critical national security and economy sector and accord us the high level of protection required to sustain our infrastructure.
Re-thinking existing institutional frameworks
For Mr Chris Uwaje, the country still needs to re-think the frameworks of existing digital institutions, else the country will still be operating a likelihood of Okada economy.
According to him, the National ICT/Digital ecosystem gained tremendous constructive awareness through the invigoration of Fintech in 2019.
However, looking at 2020, “there is need to be conscious of the underlying fact that indeed, the advent of Fintech benefited foreign economies more than the country because it only helped to accelerate our consumption appetite and subjected us to a growth dynamics devoid of constructive development. This is better described as Okada economy.
There is a great difference between economic growth and economic development! In clear terms, the situation aided the suffocation of indigenous content with regards to Science, Technology and IP-based Innovation in the digital space. My position is that a nation does not succeed by consuming digital devices and products while she is grossly deficient in scientific knowledge, literacy and creativity. The above development patterns and mindset is not productive nor sustainable and must be reversed going forward into 2020. First is to craft and implement a five -year National Software Strategic Plan.
“With this in mind, a fundamental restructuring of the existing ICT/Digital Institutional Framework becomes a strategic imperative – at Federal, State and LGA levels. The government can also Strategically encourage ICT business Community to go into mergers and partnerships to build strong and successful digital corporations capable of employing a minimum of 500 skilled employees.
To help achieve greater margins in 2020, Uwaje advised the telcos to think less of marginal growth and focus more on constructive/Sustainable development of indigenous content anchored on software, scientific techniques and research.