Wednesday, August 2, 2017 3:40 pm
The communication sector is witnessing a positive change despite the general economic downturn. Abdul-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, has been given a big assignment to make ICT an alternative revenue source for the Federal government. In this interview with AROME ATTAH, the minister outlines key components of the ministry’s road map for the development of ICT
Q: What has been your experience, challenges you met on assumption and how have you been tackling these challenges?
On assumption, we met poor legal regulatory authority and this was drastically addressed. Consequently we revitalized the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) for better and efficient administration. But on the whole have inadequate infrastructure, lack of adequate funding, even when opportunities abound for people who want to invest in many ways. There is poor human capacity; we have not had enough training institutions for the workforce in our agencies. With the volume of activities in the communication sector, one expects a network of skilled manpower to manage and handle the industry.
Challenges clearly define our day to day activities. When one is solved another emerges. The telecommunications sector is very close to the heart of Nigerians. One of the major challenges that are being addressed is ensuring that Nigerians, both in urban and rural areas have access to telephone, data and wifi connectivity. This is not fully in view now because of inadequate investment and funding. Also, rural people are ignorant as they are not fully familiar with the opportunities within the system and some do not even have the capacity to contribute meaningfully. Nigeria is one nation where investment in the communications sector can yield dividends within a short time but the basic infrastructure is inadequate and that is being addressed. Recall that we had less than half a million lines prior to 2001 but that has changed as we currently have more than 155 million lines.
What new developments will Nigeria witness from the ministry of communications in the years ahead that would make it a major revenue earner?
Ministry of Communications oversees five parastatals and we are re-strengthening them for robust service delivery. The Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, the agency mandated with licensing GSM operators is currently creating enabling environment that allows operators to thrive. The Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd, NIGCOMSAT, a state owned satellite communications agency, maintains our satellite in orbit and because we are not satisfied with only one satellite, we decided to put machinery in place for a second satellite in orbit. The Galaxy Backbone, which coordinates the Internet Infrastructure plans for the government, ministries departments and Agencies, universities and research institutes ensures that all are linked to a central server. When this becomes fully operational, other Non Governmental Organizations can buy in as Galaxy can store data and ensure high quality telephone activities throughout the nation.
Currently there is a repositioning of NIPOST to make it more commercially oriented and a platform through which employment can be provided for our citizens. The growth of GSM operators has greatly reduced demand for physical mail but with over 4,000 infrastructure sites, NIPOST boasts an extensive distribution network that the ministry wants to use as a conduit to increase financial inclusion so that many areas without banking facilities can go through NIPOST.
In what way can ICT and communications be used to diversify the economy and create growth?
Our plan is to make Nigerians use ICT to develop themselves, make their business easier, be more cost effective and for government to use ICT to make administration more transparent and convenient. With proper education, we are working towards migrating the nation into ICT sector and through NITDA, life can be changed considerably with access to ICT in the rural areas.
Funds from oil and gas are dwindling by the day and even though we have depended on petroleum for more than 60 years, the time has come for us to realize that oil and gas requires extraction, and lots of capital and energy before profit while ICT depends on human resourcefulness and lesser resources. Even though we are late starters, we would diversify the economy in no time, with proper private partnership.
How do you view the Etisalat financial problem was resolved, especially the pull out of the major foreign investor in the midst of the crisis?
No nation would be happy over the departure of an investor, foreign or local. The task before us in such a situation was clear: Bearing in mind that this government came into office two years ago with the aim of creating millions of employment opportunities, and considering the huge socio-economic impact that the collapse of Etisalat would have on millions of Nigerians, should we let that happen? Obviously not. We as a government therefore felt duty-bound to intervene the best way we can and that’s what we have done. Thankfully, following the exit of the foreign financiers and the takeover of the outfit by a group of Nigerian entities, Etisalat (now 9 Mobile) has been rescued from dire strait.To that extent, I believe we have intervened in the best way possible in Nigerians’