By Chiweta Igwe
Nigeria’s exploitation of the information and communication technology (ICT) space received a huge boost on Thursday, May 6, 2021, with the launch of two policies that will impact massively on the industry and the economy. These are the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector and the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration.
With the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector now in place, Nigerian start-ups will have the benefit of handling more government contracts. It is in line with the eighth pillar in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) document, which President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled in November 2019. That was just three months into the tenure of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
With the coming into force of the national policy, jobs that are currently being outsourced will be identified and support provided for them to be repatriated to digitally skilled Nigerians. A key implementation pillar of the new policy is that government will increase the patronage of digital start-ups by enabling them to access a minimum percentage of government-funded jobs.
Making ICT a key driver of the nation’s socio-economic growth has been the driving strategy of Minister Pantami. No wonder the sector has recorded stride after stride, made possible by initiatives that he spearheaded and implemented, notably the Digital Economy Projects for Digital Nigeria, and his ability to resolve some lingering key issues that had stifled the sector for decades, including resolving the right of way (RoW) logjam.
Pantami’s sound understanding of his ministerial assignment started immediately he assumed office when he persuaded the President to rename it the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, to reflect the realities of the times.
That move has galvanised the sector into contributing more to Nigeria’s economy. A case in point is that statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics shows the ICT sector recorded the highest growth rate of all the sectors in both the fourth quarter of 2020 and the entire year 2020. Within two years, Pantami has driven the contribution of the ICT sector to the gross domestic product to more than 18 per cent.
The National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy for a #DigitalNigeria has provided a framework for a sustainable stronger digital economy for the country.
One can say that the Nigerian economy has progressively moved from analogue to digital economy across sectors, principal of which is the Central Bank of Nigeria-led financial inclusion and cashless economy policy and programmes.
The policies of the ministry have led to the birth of fintech firms and the rise in technology applications that are enabling faster and convenient mobile banking and Internet-based transactions. Endless long queues in our banking halls, malls and shops are fast disappearing as many people transit online.
Before now, building a national database has been a problem that successive administrations could not surmount. As a leading crusader for a harmonised national database, that problem is being solved. With Pantami’s support, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the lead implementing agency in the Presidency driving the National Identification Number (NIN) has, of today, reached record 54 million enrolments. For the first time ever, Nigeria can now have a reliable platform to account for the identity of its citizens, making it lot easier for government to plan and distribute infrastructure and enhance the welfare of citizens.
The revolutionary NIN-SIM data linkage being implemented by the Nigerian Communications Commission, a key agency of the ministry, is aimed at enabling Nigerians to access social services faster. This integration has also helped government to correct the past haphazard manner in which biometric data collection of mobile phone users in the country was done previously, beside the loss of huge funds allocated to the project.
Now, everything is linked. You are only required to supply your NIN for passport processing, tax or UTME registration, thus eliminating loss of man-hours.
Gone is the era when Nigerians had to go through the repeated rigour of multiple data capturing to obtain vital documents such as applying for, or renewing travel passport, driver’s licence, voter’s card, or registering SIM cards or transacting business with government. Know Your Customer documentation by banks was another trouble. These often consume precious time.
With SIM-NIN linkage, our security and intelligence system is poised to be better. Security and intelligence agencies can now easily profile, track and arrest criminals. As a good case in point, the minister has ensured the de-registration of about 9.2 million SIMs, making it impossible for criminals and terrorists to use mobile networks undetected.
For those worrying about safety of personal data, truth is that no single individual is in a position to tamper with data in the national bank. The minister is sufficiently educated and well-informed about the sanctity of personal information in our database. As a member of many respected A-list global institutions, he is avowedly committed to strict data protection.
Being well informed of the strategic role of youth in national development, with Nigeria noted for a higher youth population of more than 50 per cent, Pantami has been the lead driver for the establishment of ICT start-up centres across the six geo-political zones to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs.
Just recently, his ministry finalised the training of youths in digital jobs with beneficiaries drawn across 12 states, representing the six geopolitical zones.
One thing is outstanding about Pantami: he is a man with uncommon passion for the ICT sector and seeing it make the most of positive impact on the growth of Nigeria across all strata.
No wonder that despite President Buhari’s busy schedule last week, he made out time again as the special guest at the launch of the ministry’s two policy documents. That was no small acknowledgement of Pantami’s contributions to digitalising Nigeria.
•Igwe, an ICT, transformation and innovation specialist,
contributes this piece from Abuja