By Lukman Oladokun
As stakeholders in the Digital Economy sector both within and outside Nigeria gathered in Abuja to brainstorm on the path to a sustainable digital economy in the country, the Federal Government has declared that it would no longer accept the importation of any digital technological product or service into the country “until and unless the country is convinced that capacity to develop such product and service is not readily available in the country.”
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) made the declaration while delivering his special remarks at the 2022 Digital Nigeria Conference, Exhibition and Award in Abuja.
The conference which is formerly known as e-Nigeria International Conference and Exhibitions is the flagship awareness programme in the Digital Economy sector. The annual event was re-branded as Digital Nigeria to further expand the scope in line with the core objectives of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS).
The aim is to brainstorm on contemporary issues of relevance across the globe to address Nigerian challenges for sustainable socioeconomic development. It is a veritable platform for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) awareness creation, development of the appropriate framework, and setting goals for best practices.
The Minister maintained that the wisdom behind the stoppage of the importation of digital technology products and services is to give effect to Executive Orders 003 of May 2017 and 005 of February 2018 which give support to Local Content Procurements by Ministries, Department and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria” and the “Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts and Science, Engineering and Technology” respectively.
He stated further that “even in the employment position that is publicized, as long as there are Nigerians that have the capacities to take up the challenges, it is not allowed for you to bring somebody from outside the country except is an agreement for transferring of knowledge and 40 percent of our products and services must be retained for Nigerians.”
Prof. Pantami disclosed that the sector has been performing creditably well in the last three years which makes it the fastest-growing sector and the highest contributor to the Gross Domestic Products of the country. He said, “Digital Economy has in recent times recorded three unprecedented records. The sector contributed 18.44 percent to the GDP in the last quarter according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
While listing the achievements of the sector, the Minister informed that all the ministry scored high grades in each of the eight ministerial deliverables he signed with President Muhammadu Buhari. He noted that the ministry scored an average of 173.86 percent.
He gave the scores for each deliverable recorded as the implementation of broadband connectivity – 134%; deployment of 4G across the country – 127%; digitalising government functions and processes – 99%; development and implementation of a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy – 103%; implementation of a Digital Identity Programme – 86%; improvement and optimisation of revenues from all operators and licensees in the agencies under the ministry’s supervision – 594%; active collaboration with the private sector to create jobs – 111% and empowerment of citizens – 137%.
According to the Minister, on remittance of funds to the government’s coffer, the sector used to contribute an average of N51billion quarterly to the government coffer but in the last three years, the sector remittance to the government coffer averagely stands at N408 billion quarterly. “And you cannot appreciate this until you know how difficult to generate funds for the government. We remit all that we generate to the government while others spend without generating,” he noted.
The Minister revealed that the under the service infrastructure pillar, the IT project clearance alone has saved the Federal Government over N44 billion in the last year with the clearing of over 1,600 projects which have to do with the automation of government processes in order to save fund, improve precision and accuracy and promote accountability.
Prof. Pantami expressed that the vigor in the implementation of the various pillar of NDEPS is facilitating the unprecedented achievements the sector is recording since the policy is approved in October 2019. He listed the eight pillars to include, Developmental regulations, Digital Literacy and Skills, Solid Infrastructure, Service infrastructure, Soft Infrastructure, Digital Service Development and Promotion, Digital Society and Emerging technologies and Indigenous Content Promotion and Adoption
He said, “In order to simplify the implementation of each of the pillars, we have developed another implementation policy under each pillar; and under some pillars, we have developed three to four policies. Within the last three years, we have developed 19 national policies and at least 17 of them are being implemented today and this is unprecedented.”
While noting the ministry’s achievements in capacity building, Prof. Pantami disclosed that 863,232 Nigerians have been trained on “cutting edge and highly demand digital skills” adding that “the trained identified global vacuum on the digital sector and focused on the provision of skills to our citizens so that they could be able to fill up the vacuum. In addition to this, according to the Minister, over 2,000 IT centres have been established across the country.”
He said the development of many regulatory instruments by the ministry and its parastatals has led to the passing into law of the Nigeria Start-Up Bill by the National Assembly and consequently assented to by the President last week.
While commending President Buhari and National Assembly for the speedy passage and assenting, the Minister described the legislation as organic because inputs were sought from the Start-Up ecosystem and all their challenges were accommodated. He said the passage of the Bill has attracted commendation globally, especially from Massachusetts Institute of Technology which indicated interest to learn from.
Meanwhile, the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) Kashifu Inuwa, CCIE has expressed optimism that with the several initiatives the ministry and all its parastatals are putting in place, Nigeria can become the global talent supplier in the tech ecosystem in no distance time.
He said Nigeria is doing a lot in trying to position itself in the area of talent development because technology has two components; the technology and the people side of it-talent which we have in abundance in Nigeria.
Inuwa expressed this in Abuja at the ongoing Digital Nigeria International Conference with the theme “Digital transformation: A Path to Sustainable Digital Economy.”
According to the Director General, if Nigeria could harness her talents in the tech ecosystem, it does not need anything again “because talent alone is estimated at 8.5 trillion USD market value and Nigeria has the capacity to fill the global talent gap.
He assured that “We have done it in the sports industry. We have done it in the music industry and we are going to do it in the tech industry. He added that the country would also explore how to use Emerging Technologies to create and capture value from the tech ecosystem.
While recalling that the Minister recently signed a Memorandum of understanding with the Microsoft Incorporation to train 5 million Nigerians, the NITDA boss disclosed that there are “other several initiatives like the training of 1 million developers in the next 18 months which are geared towards positioning Nigeria so that we can bridge the global talent gap”
He described digital transformation and sustainability as increasingly important and intertwined phenomena that are full of promises and pitfalls. “To achieve sustainability, you need a strategy to realise the promises while avoiding the pitfalls,” he observed.
Inuwa noted that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Pro. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) has designed an approach to succeed in the digital economy sector. He stated that the Minister used the three-part gain which is to unleash creative offense to position Nigeria as a leader in the digital economy; initiatives to strengthen the midfield in terms of processes, policies and legal framework and thirdly, initiatives to tide up the defense which is to explore and that is why we have initiatives that explore technology to enhance processes and services which include the e-government master plan, initiatives around infrastructure to connect the unconnected.
On the recent passage of the Nigeria Start Up bill which has now become an Act after the President’s assented to it, the Director General averred that the Act would provide a legal instrument for Nigeria to become a start-up nation.
He said, “With the president assenting to the bill, it will help us position ourselves to disrupt and not to be disrupted because it is through start-up you can come up with the disruptive ideas with innovations to create Innovation Driven Enterprises and we are implementing several initiatives to achieve that.
“We have MIT REAP programme; we are working with JAICA and we have other several initiatives aim to strengthen the ecosystem that is why Nigeria’s ecosystem is the most vibrant ecosystem in the whole of Africa. Out of seven unicorn companies in Africa, five originated from Nigeria and we have three more to join soon,” he added.
Inuwa however solicited the cooperation of others because digital transformation cannot be achieved in silos. “We believe digital transformation needs collaboration. We need everybody on board. Government has its own roles; to create policies, and to intervene in terms of regulations and legal framework and you all have your own roles to play. The academia produces the human capital; we need the innovators to come up with innovative ideas, we need the venture capitalists to invest and we need you our guests from abroad to learn from your experience.”
“At the end of this, we are looking forward to ideas that will promote what the government is doing so that Nigeria can have a sustainable digital economy,” the NITDA boss concluded.
One of the keynote speakers at the conference and Gambia’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, His Excellence, Mr. Ousman A. Bah enjoined African countries to embrace digital transformation stating that “digital transformation required the need for visionary leaders that have purpose and purpose that has destiny and destiny has to address.”
He noted that the adoption of blockchain technologies would speed up the continent’s drive for digital transformation which will promote other emerging technologies such as data protection, cyber security, digital inclusion and entrepreneurship.
While acknowledging that Blockchain has many benefits such as financial inclusion and nurturing of small-scale businesses, he stated that the technology comes with its challenges.
He reiterated that there are significant challenges to overcome before the benefits of Blockchain could be realised. According to Mr. Bah, consumer protection and system network risk can slow down the pace of being recorded.
He noted that Central banks in African countries need to be proactive to explore the technological advancement that Blockchain offers to promote digital inclusion advising that many countries need to embrace financial inclusion. “Countries in Africa are at the different stages of progress when it comes to allowing financial privacy from other sectors like the telecom sector other than the banks.”
In her keynote address, the Secretary-General of, the Digital Cooperation organisation, Deemah A. Alyahya sued for bridging the gender digital divide that exists. She maintained that access to information should be all-inclusive.
We need to promote digital inclusion and ensure that we bridge the digital gender divide that is prevailing because women occupy very important roles in our journey toward digital transformation.
In his goodwill remark, the Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Muhammed commended the ministry and parastatals under the leadership of Prof. Pantami for deepening digital inclusion in the country through many of their initiatives.
He stated that the sector remains the fastest-growing sector which has been helping the nation in its drive for economic diversification.
Other dignitaries at the conference were the Chairman, the Senate Committee on ICT and Cyber Crime, Senator, Yakubu Oseni, a representative of some ministers of Special Duties, the Minister of State for Health and Service Chiefs, captains of industry, IT enthusiasts, tech start-ups and innovators.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of a book titled “Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami: Advancing Nigeria’s Drive Toward a Digital Economy,” published in honour of the Minister.