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Digitising the Nigerian economy

With the renaming of the Communications Ministry to include Digital Economy, Nigeria signposted its readiness to embark on a new journey of economic development with technology. While government has followed this up with a policy strategy, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), as one of the agencies saddled with the responsibilities of implementation, has taken some laudable steps to put the country on track. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

Recognising that the country has been lagging in the global digital economy, the government last year took the bold step that birthed the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS 2020-2030).

This policy is designed to leapfrog the country into the $11.5 trillion global digital economy. With the World Economic Forum’s prediction that over 60 per cent of global GDP will be digitised by 2022 and that over the next decade, digital platforms will be used to create close to 70 per cent of new value, the move by Nigeria could not have come at a better time. Strategically, the NDEPS is hinged on eight pillars for the acceleration of the National Digital Economy for a Digital Nigeria.

The eight pillars include Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy & Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development & Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society & Emerging Technologies; and Indigenous Content Development & Adoption. While all the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy have been mandated to drive this policy, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is standing tall in this regard with various initiatives that are already yielding positive results for the country.

From the development of local ICT capacity through aggressive research funding, to empowering young techies through Hackathon and training, the commission has given life to the digital Nigeria project.

Building local capacity

Aside from driving efficient regulation, which is the first pillar of the country’s digital strategy, the NCC has over the years demonstrated to building innovations in the country through its research funding initiatives. This is in line with pillar six of the NDEPS, which is to drive digital services development and promotion. Just recently, the commission declared that it had so far released a total of N345.4 million as research grants to academia and as the endowment of professorial chairs in two Nigerian higher institutions. The Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who disclosed this said the grants were aimed at driving innovation through promoting local content development in the telecoms sector.

Danbatta had noted that the telecoms regulator’s commitment towards the development of indigenous solutions informed its supports and funding of research projects, adding that the commission would continue to encourage the development of innovative solutions that impact not only the Telecom industry/ ICT sector positively but also the nation as a whole. “We want to continuously support research projects that can lead to the development of new products and services in the industry as the key enabler of the nation’s digital economy.

“We are all aware of the appreciable contributions of the Nigerian telecommunication sector to the growth of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years, which peaked at 14.53 per cent in the second quarter of 2020,” he said. Danbatta stated that the commission understood that funding research and development (R&D) is fundamental to ensuring that the needs of consumers are properly anticipated and met while enabling sustainable economic growth, adding that the digital economy- based research innovations project underlined the importance of funding R&D. According to the EVC, for the year 2020, the request for proposals was tailored to providing innovations and solving challenges in five emerging areas of technology.

These include innovative clean energy technology; 5G deployment in Nigeria; Internet of Things (IoT), low power Wide Area Network (WAN) technology; advanced methods of Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) management and test mechanism as well as monitoring and localisation of drones.

These also tally with the seventh pillar of the NDEPS, which emphasises building a digital society with emerging technologies. Speaking further on the efforts of the commission in driving the digital project, Danbatta said: “We have also empowered the Nigerian youths by promoting their ingenuity and innovation on developing locally-relevant technology solutions.

“The latest of such was the NCC Virtual Hackathon, where the commission gave out N9 million in grant to three top tech startups with the most promising innovative solutions for COVID-19,” Through the Hackathon and other various training initiatives, the commission could be seen driving pillars pillar two of the NDEPS which harps on digital literacy and skills.

Effective collaborations

Danbatta said that the commission placed emphasis on growing the digital economy in collaboration with sister agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, hence, it has also created a Digital Economy Department principally for implementing programmes and policies aimed at fully supporting and promoting the national digital economy agenda of the Federal Government. “With the advent of Covid-19, ICT has become the major backbone for government activities and local businesses.

The re-direction of human traffic to online portals for major transactions as a result of social distancing also meant that cybercriminals have a larger audience and a much bigger playground to execute their nefarious activities.

The NCC, CBN, major financial institutions, and security agencies, we have diligently ensured that Nigeria’s cyberspace is secured,” he said. According to him, the collaborative partnership between the NCC and the CBN has been very effective, leading to the development of various brands of electronic transaction models, which have reformed banking in Nigeria making it possible for instant cash transfers to folks in rural areas cutting out waiting times at banking halls and simplifying online transactions.

This also addresses the fifth pillar of the NDEPS, Soft Infrastructure, which focuses on strengthening public confidence in the use of digital technologies and participation in the digital economy.

“Between 2015 and 2020, much has been done to put Nigeria on the global map of nations that are electronically driven while delivering financial intermediation. “Together with our stakeholders from the banking sector, the NCC is actively involved in the application of various electronic portals that continue to drive transactions off banking floor and onto handheld devices or personal computers,” he said.

Danbatta added that the NCC, through its interventions, had continued to lift the Nigerian economy and create momentum and hope for financial inclusion based on the seamless implementation of the Commission’s Strategic Vision Plan.

“We hope to reap the rewards of the Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) in the coming years and provide Nigerians the comfort of innovations and new ways of living. “This would imply that broadband penetration would be improved significantly through deliberate facilitation of investment in fibre infrastructure, QoS will be assured, available spectrum would be optimised with full benefits, there would be more investment opportunities in the industry, there will be access to strategic collaboration and partnerships, consumers would be fully protected and empowered, there will be fair competition and inclusive growth,” he said.

Digital economy projects

Meanwhile, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, last week commissioned some projects executed by the NCC and its subsidiary, the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) towards advancing the digital economy vision of the government. The projects include the NCC’s Emergency Communications Centre, Ado – Ekiti; the Digital Awareness Programme (DAP) for Secondary Schools, whose beneficiaries are Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, Lagos State and Bishop Okoye Girls’ Secondary School, Ukpor, Anambra State; as well as the School Knowledge Center (SKC) at Ijaloke Grammar School, Ado- Ekiti, Ekiti State, executed by the USPF. Speaking during the commissioning in Abuja, Pantami said the NCC’s ECC project was critical to enhancing the security of lives and property of Nigerians.

He also said that the DAP by USPF was an initiative designed to expose students to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) awareness and usage. According to him, “the DAP is a programme by which the NCC, through the USPF, contributes to the digital economy by ensuring inclusive growth of human capacity development as well as economic development of the Nigerian population.” Accordingly, Pantami said the SKC is very key to the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government.

“This is because FG understands that demand for jobs in the nearest future, as predicted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), would change completely. As such, job demands would be more on soft skills such as critical thinking, collaborative thinking, agility, and adaptability among others, all of which can be aided by ICT,” he noted.

Last line

With the several initiatives and projects being implemented by the NCC, it could be said that the country is on track in the journey towards digitising the economy. However, while the commission would also need to do more in this regard, other agencies of the government must also key into this project to achieve faster results.

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