Arts & Entertainments

Broadband Infrastructure as catalyst for Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Transformation

This is a book that has a total of 531 pages including 27 preliminary pages. It is well organised in eight sections with each section corresponding fairly with eight-point Agenda of the Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) of the EVC’s first tenure. The organisation of the book in time sequence makes for excellent reading and clear understanding of the activities of Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC in the last five years.

The forward is beautifully presented by the late quintessential elder statesman, Ahmed Joda, CFR. It is unfortunate that he didn’t live to witness this great occasion. I shall proceed by looking at content of the book in eight sections corresponding to the 8 SVPs.

Section 1 exposes the meaning of broadband and broadband ecosystem and their benefits in enhancing socioeconomic development (including GDP improvement), particularly in a developing economy like ours. It explains in diverse ways that the broadband referred to here is; available, affordable and sustainable broadband.

The section compares Nigeria’s performance in broadband access and penetration with the rest of the world and sets the tone for what NCC had intended to achieve in subsequent years as not just a regulator but as a vehicle for “transporting” Nigeria’s digital economic growth. The major challenges bedevilling the telecommunications industry, which have impact on the quality of service are identified and the efforts at addressing them are discussed. It also describes the structure and mandate of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), including its enabling laws and sources of funds.

The major milestones and current/future critical projects and connectivity programmes of USPF have been listed. Section 2 deals with the technical and non-technical issues to be tackled in order to improve the Quality of Service (QoS) in Nigeria.

It also identifies those factors that degrade the quality of service and explains the efforts of NCC to tackle the problems, including the existence of QoS task force in the commission. Section 3 deals with optimal use and benefits of (radio) frequency spectrum.

This section also explains the decisions and measures taken by NCC under the watch of Prof. U.G Danbatta to ensure better and more efficient use of radio spectrum. It identifies and deals with roles of “disruptive technologies” like mobile internet, cloud computing, “autonomous” and “non autonomous” vehicles in changing the world and the need to effectively prepare Nigeria for the emerging global competitiveness. This section also identifies some of the landmark achievements of NCC so far. Section 4 exposes the imperative of using ICT to improve innovation and promote economic growth.

It explains a lot of the NCC’s interventions in the education sector. These include capacity building efforts using USPF support programmes and the activities of Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). It also showcases the role of NCC in ensuring the deployment of ICT tools in the health, financial services, transport sectors etc. In section 5, the book explains in detail the collaborative efforts of NCC and the various stakeholders. This section succinctly lists the partners to include the three tiers of government and government functionaries, the licensees, different sectoral regulators, law enforcement and security agencies, investors in the industry academia, the media and other professional groups. It describes the efforts of the Danbatta administration to initiate and manage inter-relationships with these relevant interests in order to sustain growth in the sector.

These “strategic co-operation and partnership are also needed to prepare the nation for other emerging technologies in the ICT sector. The EVC explains the efforts of NCC to enhance “research and development” in our educational institutions and consequent linkage with industry. In section 6, Prof. Danbatta explains the centrality of the consumer to the work of NCC by the declaration: “Consumer is king”.

The consumer is entitled to and desirous of a safe environment to live his or her life free from telecom and cyber harassment or e-fraud. NCC has been diligent in taking measures to stem ‘epollution’ which includes unsolicited messages, consumption of sub-standard devices, regulation of e-waste, prompt and efficient handling of consumer complains etc.

This is even more relevant now that consumers are increasingly relying on telecommunication networks for financial transactions. NCC, therefore sees the need to ensure and assure the consumer of the safety of personal data through constant and continuous consumer engagement. This section also explains the efforts of Professor Danbatta to tighten SIM registrations and curb such practices as call masking/ refilling and SIM boxing, which are avenues for perpetuating e-fraud. Section 7 deals with the role of fair competition in stimulating growth in the telecommunication industry and ICT.

The benefits of instilling the spirit of fair, firm and forthright practices amongst the staff have also been cardinal to the work of EVC, these are practices that instill confidence in the cyber space, which in turn attract both local and national investors.

Here, we are given a new definition of poverty (information/ digital poverty) according to Subbiah Arunachalam as “lack of access to the internet in the developing world”. It explains that ICT on its own doesn’t imply development but is an enabler of development provided the environment is conductive and non-restrictive to youth, women and all vulnerable groups. When we improve ICT penetration and accessibility (including affordability, there will be stimulated growth in Agriculture, Trade, Finance, Transportation, Insurance, Educational delivery etc. Indeed, this is a necessary condition for growing the knowledge economy.

In the last section, Prof. Danbatta exposes the imperatives of ensuring regulatory and operational efficiency in achieving the “public good”. It is clear that “public good” means achieving socio-economic upliftment of the average citizen. This is actually the essence of the Nigerian Communication Act 2003 which followed the previous associated laws or decree. But it in noteworthy that this is encapsulated in the NCC mission: “to support a market driven communication industry and promote universal access” and its vision: “To be a responsive world class communication regulatory organization”.

In my opinion, Professor U.G. Danbatta exposes himself as an unrepentant intellectual. On assumption of office he sets up a committee and articulates his vision and publishes it for all to see. At the end of his first tenure he has published a book that clearly says what his ambition was and does a self-assessment of his mileage in that extra-ordinary leadership journey. In this book he has given a lot of credit to his predecessors, his directors and other workers, members of the board and all others who in one way or the other have impacted on his leadership.

In a country where leaders not only jettison the projects of predecessors but cancel previous projects, this is unprecedented. Also, the government of the day deserves some commendation for appointing Prof. Danbatta, a core professional as the EVC and renewing it for a second term. When a round peg enters a round hole the result is a fitting production orifice. Finally, who is this book for? I am convinced that it is more than a collection of speeches and presentation. It contains so much data, graphs, sketches, plots etc.

The list of useful abbreviations of phrases relevant to the industry is provided. Furthermore, the language is very simple while the organization and the printing are superb. It will be a very handy document for all industry players, international partners and all telecom enthusiasts who need a lucid explanation of the interplay of forces between the telecommunications and ICT arena. For my colleagues in academia and fellow students (postgraduate and undergraduate), it is a practical handbook and guide to telecommunications and ICT in Nigeria and their relationship with global practices. I sincerely recommend this book to all.

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