Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Nigeria.

Earlier this year, I came across a ranking of the most technologically advanced countries in the world by Global Finance magazine, and I’ve been thinking about the ironies the list revealed. The magazine ranked Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark at the top of the list accordingly, with the United States ranked fifth. The United Kingdom, which was the origin of the Industrial Revolution, was ranked behind the United Arab Emirates, and its old colonies like Singapore. The reason, of course, isn’t far-fetched. There’s nothing a visionary leadership can’t drive.  

But what’s even more ironic than the overtaking of the UK was the position of Kazakhstan. Such a small country, with population less than that of Kano state or Lagos, was ranked above Italy. I thought: Napoleon and Mussolini must be turning in their graves. But then Kazakhstan was also ranked above the fast-rising China, and the Oil-rich Saudi Arabia. What did the Kazakhs do differently to warrant such flattering review? The government, the Magazine observed, took a decision in 2012 to prioritize digital technology, and granted massive internet access to the people, along with smartphones, while boosting competitiveness in the digital market. There’s indeed nothing a visionary leadership can’t drive.  

The Kazakhs, Singaporeans and Emiratis didn’t climb up such lists by chance, and neither were they managed by prophets. They recognized the vast opportunities offered by the global competition for capital, investment, knowledge, and innovation and explored it.  Nigeria’s ladder to this height is technological revolution, but our enthusiasm towards achieving this had been mostly unremarkable. But the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences seem to have re-ignited our interest in the digital technology. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen various governments and organizations move to virtual platforms to stay in order to continue operating. The global economy is in crisis, and this has resulted in historic job losses worldwide — and more people are expected to lose their jobs. 

…the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences seem to have re-ignited our interest in the digital technology. 

Our governments at national and state levels have all learnt some hard lessons in the pandemic, and had to improvise and leverage on technology to continue their operations via online platforms. This is the direction we should’ve taken even without the virus, but the concern now should be sustaining this tempo. The ICT sector in Nigeria has been slowly growing over the years and has currently established itself as an integral part of the Nigerian economy. The 2019 Q2 report by the National Bureau of Statistics for 2019 clearly highlights the significance of the sector to the economy — it indicated that the Information and Communications Technology sector contributed 13.85% to the GDP of Nigeria.

The ICT sector in Nigeria has been slowly growing over the years and has currently established itself as an integral part of the Nigerian economy.

To build on the gains of the ICT sector in the Nigerian economy, the Federal Ministry of Communications was renamed to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and also mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari to develop and implement a harmonized and well-coordinated digital economy policy and strategy for Nigeria.

This clearly shows the readiness to finally explore the potentials of the ICT sector towards contributing to the economy through job creation and economic diversification. To drive the implementation of the digital economy policy and strategy, the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, under the leadership of Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, outlined 8 key pillars for the acceleration of the National Digital Economy for a Digital Nigeria. The 8 pillars are:

1. Developmental Regulation;

2. Digital Literacy & Skills;

3. Solid Infrastructure;

4. Service Infrastructure;

5. Digital Services Development & Promotion;

6. Soft Infrastructure;

7. Digital Society & Emerging Technologies; and

8. Indigenous Content Development & Adoption.

These pillars also align with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of the Federal Government and also address the three key focus areas of the government, which are economic development, anti-corruption and security. Previous digitization policies of the Federal Government in the past have yielded some positive results in the fight against corruption and to curb government spending. Some of these policies are the Bank Verification Number (BVN), Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

During the pandemic, the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy through its Agencies has provided technological support to the Federal Government to aid in the smooth operation of governance. Galaxy Backbone, the information technology provider of the Federal Government has provided virtual platforms where the Presidency and other executive arms now operate. The National Information Technology and Development Agency (NITDA) also unveiled the NITDA Academy, an online learning platform for young Nigerians to acquire new skills and knowledge. 

There is a need to continue with this technological advancement in governance and incorporate permanently in all tiers of government. With the aid of a comprehensive training for all government workers, equipping them for the digitized economy and incorporating technology in government services, it will immensely benefit the country and economy in the future. The recent decision of some Governors to implement the Right of Way (RoW) resolution adopted by the Nigeria Governor’s Forum is highly commendable and a much needed development — the RoW charges has been pegged at a maximum of N145 per linear meter of fiber by the Govermors. That decision will significantly make broadband penetration across the country easier and faster, and subsequently the implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), that was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020.

Nigeria can’t afford to take the hard lessons already taught by the pandemic for granted, even though we are yet to see its end. It is imperative for the executive to work with the legislative arm to invest in upgrading the digital infrastructure in the country in the bid to reposition the country. Speed and accessibility of the digital infrastructure, particularly in rural and low-income communities are vital for the technological development and advancement. Such decisive policies by the government will position Nigeria to emerge as a global leader as the world compete for digital advancement.

Abdulrahman Usman Leme, a social commentator and advocate, lives in Abuja and tweets from ‪@Abdulrahmanleme.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary