The Nigerian tech ecosystem may have celebrated one of their own, Bosun Tijani, who has been appointed as the minister of communications and digital economy, but operators in telecommunication are eager to see how he will resolve many issues that bedevil the industry.
Tijani has spent most of his adult life in the technology space, but for many telecom operators, he is still an outsider, without the requisite experience unlike the previous minister, Ali Isa Pantami.
Tijani, an economics graduate of the University of Jos, holds a master’s degree in information systems and management from Warwick Business School and a doctorate degree in innovation and economic development from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. He is the co-founder of what used to be Nigeria’s biggest tech hub, the Co-Creation Hub (CCHub).
Prior to establishing the CCHub, he worked as a development lead (Africa) with Hewlett Packard Global Micro-enterprises Acceleration Programme for about a year. He managed the ODel Learning Centre at the Africa Virtual University in Kenya and completed the deployment of the HP, IEEE and University of Ibadan telecentre in Nigeria within the period. He also worked with the International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO) as the ICT consultant responsible for the design, implementation and management of ICT for trade development-related projects in developing countries between November 2005 and May 2007.
Running CCHub is arguably his most impactful work in the technology ecosystem in Africa. CCHub has expanded beyond Nigeria to countries like Kenya, Rwanda, among others.
“Someone with a telecom background primarily would have been fine as everything rides on it really and if its needs are not met other services will suffer,” said a telecom operator who would want to remain anonymous. “But still, it is good to have someone who speaks the communication language, albeit from a user perspective.”
Although Tijani’s primary mandate would be to actualise the President’s ambition of creating one million jobs from ICT, he needs the active buy-in of the industry that owns the infrastructure on which the country’s digital economy is anchored.
Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, in his manifesto and also in his inaugural speech, made a pledge to create one million digital jobs in the first two years of his administration. The President, who is almost completing three months in office, has less than 20 months to fulfill his pledge. Hence, it is expected that the new minister will want to hit the ground running. In that sense, he would need the immediate impact of the telecom industry, which is the highest-performing industry in terms of contribution to GDP.
The telecommunications and information services sector contributed N2.508 trillion in value to the GDP, representing 14.13 percent, in the first quarter of 2023. Notwithstanding, the industry faces different challenges such as multiple taxation, lack of progress in uniform right of way charges, inflationary forces, excessive import tariffs, policy flip-flops, and insecurity.
Last month, two of the largest operators, MTN Nigeria and Airtel, reported revenue losses as a result of naira devaluation and petrol subsidy removal. Subscriber numbers have also struggled to stay stable. Between February and May, the industry saw a subscriber drop of almost 6 million. Internet penetration remains below 50 percent despite teledensity hitting over 200 million subscriptions. This means that individuals and businesses continue to grapple with poor-quality internet and speed is not improving with the country’s ranking at 89th. Nigeria is among the countries with the lowest ranks on the global innovation index at 113th.
Tijani will also need to decide what to do with the over 100 million Nigerians with National Identification Numbers collected by the NIMC. Harmonising the data and creating a national database can unlock many opportunities for many sectors of the economy. This is where his collaboration skills will be tested as he would need to meet with other data-collecting agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria, which keeps the Bank Verification Number; the Nigerian Immigration, which houses the passports; and other agencies that hold custody of different identity forms belonging to Nigerians.