Developing Nigeria’s Digital Economy: The Journey So Far
By Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami
TECH DIGEST – I am very delighted to address this distinguished audience of the ICT Stakeholders and members of the Digital Economy family. As members of the same team, I look forward to discussing our activities as a Ministry and getting some feedback from you so that together we can ensure that the sector keeps playing a pivotal role in the growth of our economy.
I wish to start by extending sincere appreciation to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for the opportunity to serve as the Minister responsible for the Communications and Digital Economy Sector. I also want to thank you all- the stakeholders of the Digital Economy sector, for supporting in the growth of the sector.
This Stakeholders’ Forum provides a good opportunity to discuss some of our modest achievements at the Ministry over the last 688 days (or 1 year, 10 months, 18 days). I look forward to a very engaging session.
Importance of the Digital Economy
The digital economy or Internet economy has been defined in various ways by different institutions. A common denominator in all the definitions centres around the utilization of digitized information and knowledge as key inputs to the economy. For convenience, we have defined a digital economy as any aspect of the economy that is based on or driven by digital technologies. According to a study by the European Commission, digital economies are recognized as the single most important drivers of innovation, competitiveness and growth for any economy.
Today, the digital economy is widely accepted to be a core driver of global growth. According to a Report by Huawei and Oxford Economics titled “Digital Spill over: Measuring the True Impact of the Digital Economy”, in the year 2016, the global digital economy was valued at $11.5 trillion dollars equivalent to about 15.5% of the Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The report estimates a US $1.7 trillion boost to this value by 2025, culminating to an equivalent of 24.3% of global GDP. In fact, this report seems to been overtaken by events of the past year, as recent estimates suggest the Global Digital Economy is already valued at 23% of the global economy.
According to McKinsey, the digital economy in Africa is expected to grow to over $300 billion by 2025. The World Economic Forum also predicts that over 60% of global GDP will be digitized by 2022 and that within the next decade, digital platforms will be used to create close to 70% of new value. We are also witnesses to how the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the adoption of digital technologies. All these show the great value of the digital economy and serve as an incentive for countries to prioritize its development.
Nigeria’s Digital Economy Journey
Bearing in mind the importance of a digital economy, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, approved our request to redesignate the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy on the 17th of October, 2019. The change was officially endorsed at the Federal Executive Council on the 23rd of October, 2019 and the process of implementing a digital economy for the country began on the 24th of October, 2019, which was approved as the Digital Nigeria Day.
Incidentally, the 24th of October also marks the day declared by the United Nations as the World Development Information Day. The United Nations Resolution A/RES/65/141 announced this date and noted that “Information and communications technologies have the potential to provide new solutions to development challenges, particularly in the context of globalization, and can foster economic growth, competitiveness, access to information and knowledge, poverty eradication and social inclusion.”
As part of our efforts to develop Nigeria’s Digital Economy, we developed a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy for a Digital Nigeria. The Policy is based on 8 pillars we have identified as the core pillars required for the sustainable development of the sector. The implementation of the Policy and the updated mandate of our Ministry has enabled us to areas the 3 focus areas of this administration, namely economic development, transparency and security. My discussion on our achievements will be grouped under these 3 areas.
FOCUS AREA 1: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on economies across the globe and the Nigerian economy was not spared as the pandemic led to a recession in Nigeria. The Digital Economy sector served as a catalyst for enabling our country to exit recession.
It is noteworthy to mention the Digital Economy sector’s support towards lifting the Nigerian economy out of recession. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector recorded the highest growth rate of all the sectors of the Nigerian economy in both the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4 2020) and the entire year 2020. This was based on the Q4 2020 Report on Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The 14.7% growth rate of the ICT sector was greater than the combined 14.21% growth of the 2nd to 7th fastest growing sectors in 2020. The telecommunications sector also recorded a growth rate of 15.90% and this was its highest growth rate in the last 10 years. The NBS released the Q1 2021 Report and the ICT sector retained its position as the fastest growing sector of the economy. The Digital Economy sector has proven to be vital for the diversification of the economy.
In addition to the negative effects on our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic also led to a lock-down in Nigeria and across the world. This compelled many organizations across the globe to make use of virtual platforms for meetings and other interactions. In order to ensure that the machinery of government did not grind to a halt, we developed a policy to institutionalize virtual engagements in Federal Public Institutions.
The Policy was jointly developed by our Ministry and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. It was then approved at the Federal Executive Council on the 14th of October 2020 and the implementation commenced immediately after its approval at the Council. We also recommended and facilitated the transition of Federal Executive Council, National Council of State, National Economic Council, and other statutory meetings to online platforms. This ensured that government activities could go on unhindered even during the lock-down.
The National Policy for Virtual Engagements in Federal Public Institutions has the potential to tremendously improve service delivery and reduce the cost of governance, as overhead cost elements such as avoidable local and foreign tour/travel for training and capacity building meetings will be reduced. It will also cut down expenditure on hosting and servicing of meetings.
The formulation of Policies is a strong part of our mandate and we have developed a significant number of policies aimed at driving the growth of the Nigerian economy. Some of the policies developed include the following:
National Digital Economy Policy & Strategy 2020-2030 (NDEPS);
Roadmap for the Implementation of the NDEPS;
Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025;
SIM Card Registration Policy;
Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration;
National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector;
National Policy on Virtual Engagements in the Federal Public Institutions;
National Digital Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Startup Policy (Draft undergoing review);
National Policy on Digital Identity for Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria;
National Policy on VSAT Installation Core Skills for Nigerians;
Rule Making Process of NIPOST;
National Dig-Once Policy (Draft and undergoing review and stakeholder engagement); and
National Policy on Communication Satellite (Draft and undergoing review).
Expanding Broadband Connectivity Across Nigeria
Broadband connectivity is very important in the 21st century economy and we have made arrangements to ensure that Nigerians have access to broadband at a reasonable price. We have developed the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, which was unveiled and launched by President Buhari on the 19th of March 2020.
The Plan is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90% of the population by 2025 at a price not more than N390 per 1GB of data (2% of median income or 1% of minimum wage).
In order to achieve the objectives of the Plan we had to address the main obstacles. The main one was the Right of Way (RoW) challenge which had lingered for over a decade. My engagement with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) on the 22nd of January 2020 inspired several state governments to adopt the Right of Way (RoW) fees of N145/linear meter, while a few of these States have waived the fee altogether.
Examples of amounts charged per linear metre in the past include N4,500 and N5,500, some states even charged about N16,000! To give a better illustration, for a particular State, the estimated cost of connecting two Local Government Areas ran into hundreds of millions of Naira before the implementation of the RoW resolution but it now costs just N150,000!
Mr President also approved the designation and protection of relevant telecommunications infrastructure across the country as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and this supports the implementation of the Broadband Plan.
Furthermore, when I assumed office on the 21st of August 2019 and we began the process of drafting the Broadband Plan, the official broadband penetration figures stood at 33.72%. As a result of the implementation of the new plan, the broadband penetration significantly increased to 45.07% by November 2020, which translates into more than 10% increase in just over a year.
There has also been a significant reduction in cluster gaps of unserved and underserved Areas. These have reduced from 207 cluster gaps to 114 cluster gaps (or from 36.8 million people to 31.16 million people). In addition, based on a Report sent by the Nigerian Communications Commission to my office, the average cost of 1GB of data has reduced from the January 2020 cost of N1,000 to N487.18 in November 2020, surpassing our target of achieving N700/1GB by 2023.
We are supporting the development of the digital innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. To this end, we have developed a National Digital Innovation Entrepreneurship and Startup Policy (NDIESP) to accelerate the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition, we are establishing a National ICT Park and a National Digital Innovation Centre which was approved at the Federal Executive Council meeting in November, 2020. The primary objective of these is to create an atmosphere that would usher in innovation-driven culture among the Nigerian populace.
As part of our efforts to promote indigenous content, we have developed the National Policy for Indigenous Content Development in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector. This Policy was approved by Mr President on the 8th of March, 2021 and will promote indigenous content in the telecommunications sector by focusing on key areas where the development of such capacity will have the greatest level of impact. This is important to stem the tide of capital flight, amongst other things.
In addition to these efforts, we also set up a Digital Job Creation Programme to empower Nigerian youths with digital skills and tools and to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship to help the trainees to focus on creating jobs, rather than staying as job seekers.
We recently provided online learning platforms to enable Nigerians receive training in diverse digital skills. Such platforms include the DigitalNigeria.gov.ng platform and NITDA Academy for Research and Training. Over 210,000 Nigerians have enrolled on these platforms and a great proportion of them have taken courses and obtained certificates.
We are supporting our startups to embrace emerging technologies and we already have some success stories. One example was when I led the Nigerian delegation, on behalf of Mr. President, to the 2019 Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) that took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. At that event, a Nigerian tech solution (Chiniki Guard) beat 750 other startups from 73 countries and went on to win the overall best Startup in the Artificial Intelligence category and was given a cash award. Chiniki Guard is a Nigerian Artificial Intelligence based security solution for retail stores and supermarkets to monitor, detect, and alert shop owners of shoplifting and suspicious behaviour in real time.
We have also set up the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to serve as the digital laboratory for advancing skills development and innovation in emerging technologies in Nigeria and mentoring startups on emerging technologies and deploying their solutions. The Centre is already in full operation.
Parastatals under the Ministry have implemented programmes such as: Tertiary Institution Knowledge Centres; E-Accessibility Centres; E-learning Centres; Digital Capacity Training Centres; IT Hubs; IT Innovation and Incubation Centres; School Knowledge Centres, etc. Over 300 ICT centres have been established across all States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory from August 2019 to date.
We have initiated the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) empowerment programme for farmers across the country. NAVSA is designed to use ICTs support the Federal Government in its drive to create more jobs for the youthful population and attract them into agriculture, improve food productivity, increase wealth and income of farmers and agricultural value chain players, improve food security, promote access to international food markets and host of other agricultural products.
We have also launched the National Adopted School for Smart Education (NASSE) at the Garki Secondary School, Abuja. The NASSE is a model of catching our young ones early enough and introducing them to the world of technology in an engaging and innovative way.
FOCUS AREA 2: ANTICORRUPTION – FIGHT CORRUPTION AND IMPROVE GOVERNANCE
The Policy on Virtual Engagements in Federal Public Institutions supports is in improving governance. We have also developed an IT clearance portal to support interoperability, eliminate duplication and ensure value for money in the implementation of ICT projects in the country.
I had the privilege of initiating the IT Clearance in 2017 (while I was the Director-General/CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency). From 2017 to March 2021, the IT Projects Clearance programme has registered 727 users, cleared 325 projects and saved N22,459,306,220.96 billion for the Federal Government.
FOCUS AREA 3: SECURITY
Support Emergency Communications Centres and the implementation of a Digital Identity Programme
Furthermore, we have launched 23 Emergency Communication Centres in states across the country and 112 Emergency Communication Number. This is to ensure that there is efficient emergency response to cater to the needs of our citizens. By 2022, we plan to have an Emergency Communications Centre in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The recent presidential directive for the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to be moved to the Ministry is part of government’s efforts towards accelerating the implementation of Digital Identity Programme and enhancing security in the Nation. We have coordinated the development of a Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration. This Policy makes the use of NIN mandatory for all SIM registration in the country.
Significant progress has been made in the NIN registration process across the country. For example, as at 2019, the NIN database had only 38.3 million entries. Based on the updates of the NIN-registration process, over 58 million people have now been assigned NINs. The current number of monthly enrolments has increased significantly (by about 500%) to over 2.6 million registrations.
With the transition to digital platforms, it is crucial that we ensure privacy and the safety of online transitions. To this end, we are partnering with the Office of the National Security Adviser and other institutions to ensure that our cyberspace is more secure.
We are also addressing privacy concerns through the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) 2019 and the Guidelines for the Management of Personal Data by Public Institutions 2020. The Guidelines were released bearing in mind the need to use personal data to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular and other situations where the need arises. We are also currently developing a Data Protection Bill.
The NDPR performance report showed a lot of success stories, including the creation of 2,686 direct job roles, creating massive opportunities for young Nigerians to be recruited as Data Protection Officers, Data Protection Compliance Organizations (DPCOs), Compliance officers among others. The DPCOs have also earned over N2 billion naira in the first year of implementation.
I wish to thank His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari for his unwavering support, this has had an immense impact on the success we have achieved. I also want to thank all the ICT Stakeholders and the Digital Economy family for all the support and constructive criticisms. We believe that the progress we have made is just the starting point and we reiterate our commitment towards redoubling our efforts as we develop the National Digital Economy for a Digital Nigeria.
I thank you very much for attending this Forum. Thank you also for your kind attention.