Counting the gains in Nigeria’s drive for digital economy – By all accounts and estimation, the recent news from the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry in Nigeria is heartwarming. The sector is steadily but more aggressively this time around, taking its rightful position as a front-liner in Nigeria’s drive for economic prosperity and the welfare of the citizenry. The world is currently one large IT-driven entity, it is on a march that Nigeria, as Africa’s largest economy, cannot afford to lag behind. Recent happenings show that with a result-driven leadership, we are matching along with the rest of our peers.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that, the contribution of ICT sector to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2020 (Q2 2020) was unprecedented 17.83%. This was whooping and meant a lot not only for the economy or the ICT sector drivers but, especially, for the nation’s socio-economic future.
In a report titled ‘Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product Report’ for Q2 2020’, the NBS said while Nigeria’s GDP decreased by 6.10% (year-on-year) in the second quarter of 2020, ICT’s contribution rose disproportionately. The contribution of ICT increased by 20.54% in comparison with the figures a year earlier. The figure also jerked up by 3.79% from the previous quarter (Q1 2020). This calls for rolling out the drums.
To many, the coronavirus pandemic was an apocalypse. But as the saying goes, there are often blessings in disguise; it was the case for the Nigerian ICT sector. The unfortunate health pandemic, with its resultant economic downturn were turned into opportunities, thanks to the visionary and focused leadership of Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. Setting the pace for the fruits the country now reaps was the conscious and strategic decision taken from the beginning to alter policy directions by re-designating the Ministry of Communications to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. And, to avoid the culture of groping in the dark and rudderless journey, the ministry prepared and unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, which had the blessings and support of key development partners.
With a compass in place and a visionary sailor in the aisle, it is a little surprising that one year down the line, Nigerians are regaled by gale of developments and achievements recorded by the ministry. In the telecommunication sector, the last one year witnessed significant increase in broadband penetration. The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy followed up its visionary policy document, the National Broadband Plan, with a robust stakeholder engagement leading to unprecedented success.
In July 2020, the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) announced a phenomenal rise in broadband penetration in the country to 42.02%, translating to an increase of almost double digits in less than one year. The target set for this important communication parameter is 70% and wider coverage of 4G by the year 2025.
Through most of last month, the agencies under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy came together for a galore of achievements. A number of events, mostly virtual, were held to either commission projects or unveil milestones recorded in the last one year of the ministry under Dr Pantami. The agencies fell over themselves, literally, in exhibiting their activities and successes. Earlier in July, the minister started what was the early harvest of the projects commissioning ahead of the August anniversary of his appointment.
From Communications and ICT sectors are stories of value addition, ICT integration, education, policy improvement, improved services, new infrastructure and support to education institutions, youths and artisans for more knowledge and capacity. It is an all-rounded success story that touches on governance, policy, skills and investment climate.
Some of the digital projects commissioned during the different phases of the event included the School Knowledge Centres, Tertiary Institution Knowledge Centre, ICT Innovation Hubs, Digital Skills for Entrepreneurs and Innovators, Community IT Training Centres, Virtual Examination Centres, and the newly completed Emergency Communication Centres.
On August 11, the minister led heads of agencies to the virtual commissioning of eleven projects spread across the country.
The projects commissioned in what was the second phase of the commissioning exercise include the Tertiary Institution Knowledge Center (TIKC) in Delta state, New Neighborhood Post office also in Delta state; Remodeled National Mail Exchange Centre in Bayelsa state; e-Health/Data Sharing Center in Bauchi state; Virtual Examination Centre in Borno state; Information Technology Innovation Centre in Kogi state; Information Technology Capacity Building Centre in Jigawa state; Information Technology Capacity Building Centre in Imo state; Emergency Communications Center (ECC) in llorin, Kwara state; Emergency Communications Center (ECC) Calabar, Cross Rivers state and School Knowledge Center (SKC) in Gombe state.
Six days later, the minister visited the headquarters of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Garki, Abuja, for the first time since his elevation from the CEO of the IT regulating agency to a minister, to commission the remodelled NITDA headquarters, a project he started as the DG of the agency. Pantami also unveiled a new Digital Studio for Virtual Learning and Computer Emergency Response and Readiness Centre sited in the same building. It was not only physical rebranding for NITDA as the minister also unveiled a new logo, mission and vision statements for the agency.
In the next round of similar activity, Dr Pantami was assisted by three fellow ministers and the Jigawa state governor, Badaru Abubakar, at the commissioning of 12 projects and flagging off training exercises for artisans. They were not mere mechanical projects, but initiatives with organic links with the people and their needs and connection with the government’s agenda of economic diversification and opening up of new frontiers. For example, the E-Health Centre seeks to improve access to healthcare service delivery at medical facilities and the E-Accessibility Project that promotes digital inclusion of persons with disabilities through the provision of ICT and assistive technologies for healthcare facilities.
For human capital development and sustaining the gains made in digital economy drive, there is a deliberate promotion of learning and skills development. Aside from the many schools-based projects and training for various groups, the ministry through NITDA came up with the innovative concept of the Virtual Academy (digitalnigeria.gov.ng) in response to the restrictive COVID-19 pandemic. An initiative of the minister, the academy has grown in leaps and bounds and liberalised education for all segments of the society—students, civil servants, IT enthusiasts and techies.
With these strides within a year, there is no empty promise by the minister to push the contributions of the ICT sector to Nigeria’s GDP to be double that of oil in short while from now. The march is on.
Modu writes from Abuja