No new data price reduction, we’ve exceeded target for 2025 – Pantami

Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Communication and Digital Economy of Nigeria, was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to attend the second and the first in-person General Assembly of the Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO). In this brief interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya who also attended the event, Pantami speaks on Nigeria’s benefits from being a member of the DCO and participating in all the organisation’s activities. He also spoke about the clamour for internet data price reduction.

Nigeria was at the DCO LEAP conference last year where some initiatives were announced involving Nigeria and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What has been the outcome of the initiatives, particularly the Startup Passport?

There are many initiatives that Nigeria is the leading beneficiary of with regard to our membership in the Digital Corporation Organisation (DCO). Last year, Nigeria happened to be the first African country to join the DCO. The DCO organised a conference during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where foreign direct investments were specifically mobilised for Nigeria. Investors were brought together by this organisation to indicate their willingness to invest in Nigeria. Since then we have been in touch with many of them. Many have come to Nigeria and others are in the process of coming. Some of them have registered their corporations as well. There are so many initiatives and to me, it is one of the leading initiatives that we have so far benefitted.

Secondly, we have also benefited from being with other member countries. As I earlier mentioned in my response, there is no monopoly on wisdom and knowledge. You will discover that each and every country has its own strength. So when you collaborate together you complement each other. Besides being in DCO, we established a very strong collaboration with member countries and we are working together particularly we share with them our area of strength and they reciprocate with their area of strength. The one you have cited as an example is the startup passport, Nigeria is a major beneficiary and most probably among all the countries because in DCO no country has benefited from Startup passports like Nigeria. This year we brought around 16 startups. Last year we brought many startups as well. All of them are being supported by the DCO and they are assigned that Startup Passport.

What percentage of the new target set by DCO of 30 million jobs by 2030 do you think would be coming to Nigeria?

When it comes to giving statistics, I am a mathematician and also a computer scientist I know the implication of statistics. You have to do your homework. I don’t just cut figures anyhow and say them. I know that Nigeria and Pakistan have the highest population among the DCO members so far. By implication, we should work harder to leverage our population, secondly leverage our Nigerian startup strength which we are among the very few countries in Africa to have a law in place that will support startups and also we are blessed with talents in Nigeria. What we only need to do is to mentor and harness that talent. I believe by doing that we will be able to get a much higher number that is equal to the proportion of our percentage compared to other DCO members.

Read also: DCO membership to accelerate collaboration between African digital economy ministers

There is this issue that data price is still on the high side and there has been clamour by consumers for a reduction. What is your view on this?

If you ask about the price of data, I have already exceeded the target given to me even before 2025. We assembled a team of experts from government, academia, industry, and civil society groups that developed the Nigerian Broadband Plan 2020-2025. At the time that we crafted the plan in 2019, up to early 2020, the price of one average gigabit of data was N1,200 according to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC). In that plan, our target by 2025 was that the price of one gigabyte of data should be brought down to N390. But today it is N350. That is N40 lower than the target of 2025.

So which price are you talking about? Should we give data for free? That is the next target and we are not yet there. But if it is the target of 2025, we have exceeded it by reducing it to N40. We reached the target and we exceeded it in 2022.

It is because of this that I do not think there is a need to reduce data price because of the cost of production. These companies within the internet communication sector are managing 32,800 generators every day in Nigeria. Second, fuel consumption, IHS was in my office the other day telling me that every day they consume one million litres of oil to sustain their infrastructure and facilities because of our challenge with the national grid. We have to acknowledge though that President Buhari has many initiatives today that are being implemented to increase the generation and distribution of transmission of our national grid.

Another statistic to share with you is that the average cost of one gigabyte of data in selected countries in the world shows that among 15 countries with the cheapest price globally, Nigeria is No 7 out of over 193 countries surveyed in total. So only a few countries have cheaper data than us. Our price is given at $0.60 per gigabyte. This is calculated with the official foreign exchange. It is similar to what I have told you.

You cannot compel companies to operate at a loss. They are for profit. If they operate at a loss, the government will not get revenue, citizens will lose their jobs and the economy will crash. This is not what we are after. We are only providing an environment where the price will be affordable. We believe it is now affordable. The government has been providing broadband to some institutions for free. Just last year, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the provision of unlimited broadband to 18 higher institutions of learning – 17 universities and 1 federal college of education. The implementation is being carried out by NCC today. The President also approved the provision of 20 markets with unlimited broadband to support commercial activities. These are the major markets in Nigeria. The universities are among the top in the country with the highest population. This is unlimited for both staff and students. A second phase is already in place and set to commence in the next few weeks. These show that the government is very responsible. Regarding the price of data, I think we have reached where are supposed to be, at least for now.

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