• Monday, May 27, 2024
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My vision for a national economy for Digital Nigeria – Pantami

Nigerian government spends N152bn on digitalisation in 2021

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, a former DG/CEO of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), recently put in perspective his unique vision of Nigeria’s quest to attain a development paradigm based on digital economy in this exclusive interview with BusinessDay’s Bashir Ibrahim Hassan, GM, Northern Operations.

What is your personal vision for the ministry you lead?
Firstly, in summary, our vision is to create a digital economy for Nigeria. In order to implement a digital economy, which is the most respected economy globally. According to the World Economic Forum, the digital economy has, since 2016, generated over $11.5 trillion.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was forecast that by 2022, 60 percent of the world’s economic activities would be digitized.
When I resumed office as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy on 21 August 2019, after reviewing the mandate of the ministry, I discovered the digital economy was missing. With the support of Nigerians, we have been able to upgrade the ministry to a 21st century ministry in all angles.
We started the journey by seeking to re-designate the ministry. That being beyond our approval, we had to approach the president and convince him that a digital economy was necessary for our Nigeria. He approved it on 17 October 2019 and on 25th October it was adopted by FEC and we started the journey for a digital Nigeria.

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We put a policy in place that will guide us in the form of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy for a Digital Nigeria 2020-2030, which was launched by Mr. President. The policy rests on different pillars which include: environmental regulation, digital skills, solid infrastructure, service infrastructure, digital services, soft infrastructure, and indigenous content development. With every pillar, we come up with a roadmap to guide implementation by relevant ministries in compliance with the national policy for buy-in by ministries and other levels of government.
As part of the implementation and achieving digital economy, we came up with a digital broadband plan. At the time I was appointed as Minister, the penetration was only 33 percent between 2000 and 2019, a nine-year period. But since assuming office, we have been able to achieve around 9 percent in 11 months. The average penetration annually is 1.7 percent per year. If the report for August is out, most probably we would have achieved a minimum of 10 percent in a year, instead of the minimum 1.7 percent annual increase.
When you achieve 10 percent broadband penetration, it will automatically increase your GDP by a minimum of 1.8 percent and maximum of 6.8 percent. That shows that, as a result of the pandemic, our economy has declined by only -6, compared with that of the US of -19. And, if you look at the sectors, you will see that the financial institutions and telecoms did well.
Financial institutions 28 percent increase and telecoms 18 percent, but what we should understand is that the financial sector is part of the digital economy, because digital services, whether ATM, e-commerce, mobile banking, are part of the digital economy.

What are the challenges of communication and digital economy in Nigeria?
The major challenge is lack of synergy between institutions both public and private, at federal, state and local levels.
Take the issue of taxation. Authorities are imposing taxes without consulting us to know how the sector is, without knowing the global position of the digital economy sector, without knowing the regulatory instruments of the sector, locally and internationally.
Globally, promoting the economy sometimes requires that you relax taxes or even reduce taxes for people to patronize specific services, because when they patronize the services, you will be able to block leakages. But, without consulting us, you see authorities collecting taxes — even on social media. We are concerned that taxes are consistent with global standards, because we are part of the International Communication Union, which is the umbrella under the United Nations.

Shouldn’t you do a summit with other government agencies for a clear understanding to aid the achievement of the digital economy and to promote the synergy you mentioned?
We are promoting cooperation among agencies. We have achieved synergy among parastatals and all the activities of parastatals under the ministry are being done jointly to promote synergy. In our virtual commissioning of projects, you will see that all the parastatals are represented.

How much has this ministry done to help our security drive in the country?
First, let me say this. That is the mandate of the ministries of defense, police affairs and the interior. However, knowing that it is the constitutional responsibility of every government in Nigeria to protect lives and property, even though it is not our mandate, we provide the support that is needed to achieve that. When I came on board, in less than one month in office, we discovered the number of registered and unregistered Sim cards in Nigeria. It was 9.4 million. Before then, it was impossible to know the figure. But by 25 September 2019, in less than 2 months in office, I ensured that all the unregistered sims were either rectified or completely activated.
We de-activated 2.4 million Sims in Nigeria. Many operators were complaining that it would bring down their revenues, but I said, as a government, our priority is to secure lives and properties. We only talk of revenues where there is peace, but where there is no peace, you can’t talk of revenues.
We went ahead and blocked them. We notified the (security?) institutions that whenever they need the bio-data relating to the assignee of any Sim, they should fulfil the requirements and that will be released to them. We have been doing that and, today, no institution has proven us wrong by the information we provide.

What country is your role model that you think Nigeria should learn from?
I don’t usually promote countries as role models. It was the same approach that has made us spend a lot of money on CCTV cameras and the power sector without any result. It is just a matter of seeing something somewhere and copying it. I don’t encourage that. But what I usually promote is to think globally, but when it is time to implement, you need to look at your peculiarities, your culture, your policies, laws and traditions. Many policies that are being implemented in other nations are usually dead before arrival in Nigeria. It is a matter of knowing your citizens well and coming up with policies and initiatives that are relevant to the country and its people.
Even if they resist, create awareness and convince them that it is good for the country, not for personal interests but in national interest.
Switzerland and Sweden are doing well. So are India, Rwanda and China, but we need to look at our peculiar situation and see what we can do to achieve our objectives and targets.

What legacy would you want to leave behind?
As the pioneer minister of digital economy, my first priority is to leave behind a digital Nigeria. During my time we started virtual Federal economic council meetings, with connections to 15 so points. More than a hundred memos have been approved, some of them in education, some in health, agriculture, etc., through the digital platforms we provided. Without these platforms, many ministries will be shut down without the approval of the president.
Also, for the first time, we coordinated a virtual Council of State meeting chaired by the President. All former presidents and heads of states, including General Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, attended the meeting from their different locations. And I sent my technical team to coordinate the meeting, and many approvals were given that would have been impossible without the meeting.
Our president has been attending international meetings where decisions are being taken and we provide platforms. We also provide the digital platforms for the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to meet virtually and conduct their activities
So why I am happy is that we are able to keep the country running by providing the platforms for virtual meetings. That is the essence of Digital Nigeria. So, this is only one example out of many others. So I am glad and I want to leave behind a digital Nigeria which is part of the digital economy, broadband penetration and many more.

What are you doing about emergency call centres?
So far 19 have been activated out 37 we plan to achieve in all states as well as FCT.
Before we leave office, we want to believe that all will be achieved as soon as the governors key in, because it is critical that the state governments key in for it to succeed.