By Chinenye Anuforo, [email protected]
As the country opens for business in the new year, information, communication and technology sector (ICT) experts have started setting agenda for 2021.
Top on their priorities include how to fund expansion of ICT infrastructure, access to funds, digitisation amongst others.
For instance, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) in a telephone interview stated that, it is expected that the telecom operators introduce more valued added features, new technologies and consolidate on the gains that have made in times past. In essence more areas that have not been covered as regards 3G and 4G, would be expanded and grow very quickly.
“We also think that if the policy is right and we have an enabling environment, the telecom sector will continue to be one of the largest contributors to our GDP and as well as foreign direct investment. We expect that the sector will continue to play its role in FDIs but for that to happen, the regulatory and policy environment has to be right. We will also expect that once the regulatory approvals are obtained, we should begin to have a free trial on 5G this year and we hope that it will translate to commercial launch either towards the end of the year or early part of 2022. We expect that telecom will continue to be the most reliable sector of the economy”, he said.
The ALTON boss also expects the government to look into the issues of multiple taxation. He said, “the issue of multiple taxation remains a problem because the state and local government need to change their focus away from telecoms as a source of IGR. They should begin to see the socio-economic benefit of telecom services in their state than the IGR benefit. Security is an aspect that remains a problem that needs to be solved too among other things, if we can tackle these, then we think that the sector will be better and the economy will be better on a global note.”
According to the President Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) many people will still work remotely which means that there will be increased demand in telecom and ICT infrastructures and digitisation of services to ensure people can continue their lives even if there is restriction of movement and lockdown. “From an infrastructural standpoint, we are expecting that infrastructure will be in high demand. Hopefully, if we can contain the spread of COVID-19, then we should see reduction in demand as people would have adjusted to be able to work remotely and handle things in a digital format. What we anticipate is that there will be more expansion of infrastructure across the country and this will call for more collaboration among states and the local government across the country.”
Continuing, Nnamani said that another key focus is financing for the telecom and ICT sector because to put down infrastructure, you need a lot of funding and government support in place for proper financing. “ We are looking at the type of financing models in Manufacturing, Agriculture among others so that we can have more structures in place.”
As for Jide Awe, an ICT guru and academia the tech sector needs to be strengthened to build a prosperous digital nation that works for everyone. Consumption is not enough. 2021 calls for better leverage on technology. “A vibrant technology sector is critical to becoming a more competitive economy and a sustainable society that will excel in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
In 2021, we must ensure the sector is better aligned with the aspirations of the country’s developmental agenda. The sector is essential to prioritizing the digitization of critical sectors such as education, health and agriculture. There are still too many manual and outdated processes in such important sectors.”
Awe explained that, the need to rethink processes and explore how technology can enable performance and create new opportunities for growth is pressing. “This entails focus on developing and deploying digital technologies to add value, create new value, enable remote work, learning and other tech enabled activities. For example, organizations can harness data to improve performance, drive activities and open up new operating models. In addition to continuity of operations, the technology sector’s role is major in assisting with speed, agility, relevance and even mobility in all facets and sectors of society. Getting this right will boost job creation, improve overall efficiency, performance and competitiveness in society.”
Essentially, the ICT guru said in 2021, the environment must be more supportive of the sector. Deliberate strategies, policies and incentives are needed. Support and patronage of indigenous technology solutions providers is essential in line with the government’s executive orders for local ICT development. There should be concrete local involvement in major tech enabled projects and e-government projects and activities.
“It is important to measure policy impact, put feedback mechanisms in place and cut out the messy and overly bureaucratic nature of processes and governance that is totally out of tune with driving innovation and fitness for the 21st century.
Relevant and realistic approaches also requires active stakeholder dialogue and consultation. The sector and environment must be inclusive and open to new ideas and suggestions from all stakeholders – tech SMEs, disruptive startups, established industry players – not just from government and traditional stakeholders.
The hope of Nigeria’s technology is its people especially the youth. The sector must be used strategically to realize this huge youth potential. Promote tech innovation through better utilization of young minds and graduates to drive tech in Nigeria. But it is not a job for the technology sector alone. Industry must connect better with academia, education and research.
A strategic mix of partnerships, initiatives, investment programmes and incentives that covers Digital education, skills development, remote learning, technology internships, emerging technologies, digital entrepreneurship and capacity building is needed. From an early age, the country should promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) education approaches for practical, critical thinking, collaborative and project based learning. It is important to recognize and foster non formal education and promote a culture of lifelong learning.
Continuing he said, “Digital exclusion should no longer be a reality in 2021, but it is. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the poor access and lack of digital inclusion in society. Inclusion is critical to expanding the digital economy. Rural location, gender, income level, age and living with disabilities should no longer be barriers to growth and digital contributions. Exclusion affects and limits everyone, not just those who are being excluded. In 2021, infrastructure quality and availability must improve for tech stakeholders and consumers. More effective measures should be put in place to close the gaps. Financing is critical and should be part of holistic strategic interventions to improve digital inclusion. Creative incentivizing of providers and investors will need to be explored. Furthermore, rural digital inclusion has to be a priority of the National Broadband Plan.
Technology is not an end in itself. People must be at the centre of digital development. Going forward in 2021, the focus of digital transformation through the tech sector should be to boost job creation, business development, social exclusion and overall quality of life. Clarity, transparency and leadership are critical.”
As for the Founder of Technology Times Mr. Shina Badaru there are three key activities that are expected in 2021 that will be geared towards unlocking the Nigerian economy.