By Obike Ukoh
Unarguably, the Federal Government changed the name of the Federal Ministry of Communications to Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in order to be in tune with global trends and reality.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), predicts that by 2022, 60 per cent of the world economy will be digital.
According to WEF, an estimated 60 per cent to 70 per cent of new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled platforms.
About 50 per cent of the world’s population does not currently participate in the digital economy at all, and growth in internet adoption is slowing, the WEF noted.
Companies need to re-imagine how to create, distribute and capture value in this new environment. Closing digital divides is not only conducive to economic growth for all sectors but also critical for social and political stability in the decade ahead, it added.
The World Bank in a 2019 report noted that Nigeria is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of a digital economy.
According to the report, Nigeria accounts for 47 per cent of West Africa’s population, and half of the country’s 200 million people are under the age of 30.
Nigeria has the largest mobile market in Sub-Saharan Africa, supported by strong mobile broadband infrastructure and improved international connectivity.
Yet minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas is leaving a significant number of the most marginalised segments of the population without internet access, the report further revealed.
The report shows that many Nigerian citizens and businesses remain excluded from the digital ecosystem as a result of limited access to broadband and non-availability of adequate devices (mobile devices and computers) to fully utilise the internet.
The bank says for Nigeria to meet the bold objective of creating 100 million jobs, the country needs to increase investment in infrastructure, create an enabling regulatory environment for digital economy to grow.
When President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, he directed the Ministry to ensure seamless and coordinated implementation of projects, programmes and policies.
The aim of the policy is to enable Nigeria maximise the benefits enunciated by the World Bank and WEF from a digital-driven economy.
The unveiling was performed during the e-Nigeria Conference, Exhibition and Awards 2019, held in Abuja.
As part of key requirements of the e-government master plan, Buhari directed government institutions, “to create a digital transformation technical working group that will work with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to ensure seamless and coordinated implementation of projects, programmes and policies.”
He reiterated that, the digitalisation of key activities such as the Bank Verification Number (BVN), Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) have enabled government to save cost and fight corruption.
In his words: “Nigerian ICT start-ups are leaving their mark on the global stage. At the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), a Nigerian Artificial Intelligence (AI) Solutions Provider, Chiniki Guard, beat 750 contestants from 76 countries to clinch the number one spot.
“We shall continue to encourage and support such digital entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions for local and global challenges.”
Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, who spoke, solicited support to enable the Federal Government achieve a digital economy by 2023.
He stressed the need to deploy Information Communications Technology (ICT) in the fight against security challenges, corruption, among others.
Pantami in his maiden press briefing had explained that following the re-designation of the Ministry’s name, it was directed to develop and implement a national digital economy strategy.
Pantami said that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are connected to the strategy in view of the centrality of ICT to the overall development of the economy.
He emphasised that the role of the Ministry is to coordinate the implementation of the policy and the strategy.
The minister said that the implementation of the strategy had started, adding that by the end of the decade, the Federal Government expects every Nigerian to be computer literate, own a digital device, have access to the internet, own a bank account that can be accessed and operated digitally and online.
Besides financial services, the minister said the Federal Government hopes to see majority of the citizens undertake many activities electronically.
Pantami also listed the pillars of the policy as: Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy and Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Promotion of Digital Services; Software Infrastructure; Digital Society, and Emerging Technologies.
The minister said that the policy is conceptualised “to encourage start-ups to support our innovators, so they can deploy their inventions in Nigeria.”
The minister emphasised that digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship are particularly important in ensuring increase in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
He stressed the importance of entrepreneurship, adding that certificates are important when spiced with skills because that will trigger innovation.
To demonstrate the paradigm shift to skills rather than mere certification, Pantami said China is at the threshold of “converting 600 universities to skills centres” having realised that skills validate certificates.
The minister said that Nigeria must leverage on entrepreneurship to ensure her teaming youths acquire enduring “skills that will make them to be potential employers rather than potential employees.
“Let us use our skills positively to promote digital economy because the World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that by 2022, 60 per cent of the world economy will be digital,” he added.
The strategies deployed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, has started yielding the desired results.
Statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), showed an improvement in the contribution of the ICT sector to the nation’s GDP).
Pantami who spoke on the issue, said ICT contributed unprecedented 14.07 per cent to the nation’s GDP.
He said he was delighted to hear of the growth of ICT’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020.
The minister said that the NBS released Nigeria’s GDP report for Q1 2020 on May 25.
”The report observed that the country’s GDP grew by 1.87 per cent year-on-year in real terms in Q1 2020.
”The non-oil sector contributed 90.50 per cent to the nation’s GDP in Q1 2020 as opposed to the 9.50 per cent contributed to total real GDP by the oil sector.
”It is noteworthy that the ICT sector contributed 14.07 per cent to the total real GDP in Q1 2020, higher than its contribution a year earlier, which was 13.32 per cent and in the preceding quarter, in which it accounted for 13.12 per cent.
”This contribution is unprecedented,” he said.
Pantami said that the growing contribution of the ICT sector to the GDP, was a direct result of the focused and committed effort of the Federal Government.
The minister noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had shown how critical the ICT sector was to the growth of the country’s digital economy and by extension, the general economy.
He called on all sectors to take advantage of the government’s new focus on digital economy and improve their use of ICT.
“This will enhance the output of all the sectors of the economy and boost Nigeria’s GDP,” he said.
Stakeholders also say that the recent approval given by President Muhammadu Buhari for provision of security for telecommunications infrastructure across the country would deepen Nigeria’s drive for a digital economy.
Buhari gave the approval based on the request of Pantami.
The minister said that the president had directed that necessary physical protective measures be put in place to safeguard telecommunications infrastructure across the country.
He explained that the Nigerian telecommunications industry, depended on a number of infrastructure that played critical roles in the smooth delivery of telecoms services in the country.
He said: “These are part of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) because of the important role they play in ensuring security and in the delivery of other essential services.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive migration to digital platforms and has increased the level of importance of critical national infrastructure to the sustenance of our economy and the security of the nation.”
Pantami said that the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Defence Headquarters, Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Department of State Service, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, had been notified of the president’s directives.
The minister urged all the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to ensure that they further reduce the prices of data and calls for the citizens, as a way of reciprocating the Federal Government’s gesture.
He also requested the MNOs to submit a comprehensive list of their facility locations all over the country.
“We are also working toward the reinforcement of these directives through appropriate regulatory instruments
“The implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) and the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, both unveiled by the president, have repositioned the ICT sector.
“This is evident by the recent Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which showed that the ICT sector contributed an unprecedented 14.07 per cent to the total GDP in the first quarter of 2020.
“We are confident that this will address the challenge of vandalism of our critical national infrastructure.
“It will also go a long way in supporting the implementation of the National Broadband Plan (2020-2025),” the minister said.
Undoubtedly, with the right policy in place, Nigeria will reap the gains of digitally-driven economy envisaged by the World Bank and World Economic Forum.