CommTech Minister: Our future will be tech-enabled

CommTech Minister: Our future will be tech-enabled

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OMOBOLA JOHNSON

Minister of Communication Technology

 

INTRODUCTION: THE TECHNOLOGY-ENBALED FUTURE

If we extrapolate based on current trends in the adoption and assimilation of technology, and in particular Information and Communication Technologies, our conclusion would be that our future will be technology-enabled.

In the future, people who do not have access to ICTs, and who do not have the capabilities to utilise them, will have significantly limited experiences and lifestyles to people with access and the capacities to make use of technology.

The majority of us in this hall this morning are already witnesses to this enabling characteristic of technology.

Yesterday morning, Dr Ndemo quoted the often cited statistic of broadband-enabled GDP-growth: “a ten percent (10%) increase in broadband penetration can result in a one point three eight percent (1.38%) increase in GDP”

And most of us here have heard stories of traders, who through having access to ICTs are able to gather and analyse information that helps them take better and timelier decisions.  We have also read their testimonials of how their trade has thrived through using ICTs and how the future of their businesses has become that much more secure and predictable.[blockquote right=”pull-right”]The ultimate aim of our policy in this area is to create “Companies; not code”. Lower entry barriers and significantly increase the size of young local companies in the sector as well as facilitate their sustainability.[/blockquote]

Such stories, at first published as anecdotal evidence, are increasingly holding up to the scrutiny of scientific investigation.  We are now beginning to determine the extent to which these anecdotes are representative of “typical” experiences.  This validation is important due to the pressures it brings to bear on governments to make ICTs available to their populations.

There can be no denying that the mobile phone and the Internet have literally transformed the lives of billions of people across the World; and they have done so in a relatively short space of time (about two decades).  This transformative power will grow in influence particularly as the meaning of connectedness expands in application – beyond describing human interaction, to include communications between machines.

The GSMA reports that currently about half of the World’s population (3.5 billion people) has access to a mobile phone; and that within a decade over 50 billion machine-to-machine connections will be supported over the (mobile) Internet.

This accelerating connectedness, facilitated by access to ICTs, is moving the World to a state in which not being connected will equate to having a limited future.

THE GOAL FOR THE FUTURE: INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT

This prognosis keeps policy-makers awake at night.

Government, as the developer and implementer of policy and regulations, plays a critical role in defining and securing the future of its citizens.  The overarching challenge this year’s CTO Forum has focused on is how to expand connectivity and make it accessible and affordable to increasing proportions of the World’s population.  The primary purpose for wanting to do this can be summed up in one word: inclusion.

A country’s economic and social goals can only be said to have been met when a substantial proportion of its population is included in the benefits that accrue from the successful implementation of its policies.  Unless this occurs, any development that is recorded cannot be said to be inclusive.

The exciting thing about ICTs is that they are tools whose utility can lead to economic as well as social benefits.

ICTs lead to improved efficiency, effectiveness and productivity – benefits that are displayed in economic terms.  ICTs also facilitate improvements in welfare and the meeting of basic needs – benefits that are more social in orientation.

Therefore, government policies and regulations must go beyond establishing and maintaining an environment that is conducive for the development of the ICT sector in a business sense; to consider and/or incorporate factors that will promote inclusive development.  In real terms this means being mindful of the implications our policies and regulations have for access to finance, health, security, education etc.

POLICIES THAT IDENTIFY AND FILL-IN THE GAPS

I will provide examples in three areas in illustrating how the Government of Nigeria is promoting broadband deployment and technology innovation in the country.

FIRST – CONNECTIVITY IS THE PRIMARY CHALLENGE

SECOND – MAKE ACCESS A REALITY TO THOSE THAT WILL BENEFIT THE MOST FROM ICTS

Meeting the connectivity challenge is only one half of the task.  Policies also need to be implemented that will help to ensure that the products and services over the communications infrastructure are accessible, relevant and affordable.

The rate of adoption of ICTs by Nigerians is low.  According to a survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2011:

  • 0.9% of Households owned a PC, and a further 3.6% had access to one
  • 0.5% of Households owned the device they use for accessing the Internet, and a further 3.1% accessed the Internet through other means

Our policies are aimed at making access to devices (PCs and handsets) easier and more affordable.

Whilst promoting ownership of internet-enabled mobile phones (in recognition of research suggesting that the majority of people in Africa will access the Internet via their mobile phones) the Nigerian Government is also promoting a more streamlined deployment of Public Access Venues.

As a number of agencies are involved in the deployment of PAVs we are ensuring that duplication is reduced through better coordination.  We have issued Guidelines that specify minimum standards for PAVs deployed in the country and are working with other Ministries to ensure that they incorporate the country’s PAVs into their technology-enabled projects – thus driving people/traffic to them and thereby increasing their sustainability.

We are also embarking on a campaign to increase digital awareness and literacy amongst the population.  The campaign is aimed at increasing familiarity with ICTs and confidence in living a digital life.

The Nigerian Government has also declared increasing connectivity amongst its student population a priority.

Nigerian students of all ages need to be connected to the same resources as their global counterparts.  When they graduate they will be joining a global market and competing with others that have been exposed to technologies that will drive future economies.  At the secondary school level, the Ministry has continued to implement initiatives that have so far resulted in the completion of 1,335 internet ready computer labs in Government public schools across the country; and over 667,000 students make use of these labs.

In the past year, seventy four (74) computer labs were created in tertiary institutions across the country, bringing the total number of such labs in tertiary institutions to 204.  The Ministry has also collaborated with other stakeholders to ensure that 27 Federal Universities are now connected to each other and the world via a high-speed (fibre-optic) internet connection.  Furthermore, the Ministry (via the USPF) is establishing intra-campus connectivity between 17 main campuses/medical schools and their Teaching Hospitals.

THIRD – CREATE A PIPELINE OF CONTENT AND FACILITATE “INNOVATIVE” DELIVERY

Policies that increase access to ICTs invariably result in greater demand for content.  In some cases, the Government is engaged in the production and distribution of this content (i.e. e-Governance) whilst in others Government policy facilitates the creation and delivery of content by other stakeholders (e.g. Open Data).

The added advantage of such policies is that its output relate directly to job creation.

Most new jobs in Nigeria are being created in areas where ICTs overlap with the services sector.  The country is increasingly being recognised for innovations that are making it easier for people to live, work and play.  Government policies are facilitating the growth of innovation in Nigeria particularly by young people in a number of ways:

Government has developed and implemented an IT Incubation Programme that will help Nigerian ICT entrepreneurs create successful businesses.

Often when people have a good idea for a technology product or service they do not have the resources to build prototypes, nor the business acumen to sell their innovations.  In the past year, the Government has launch two centres where people can develop and test their ideas and get the support that they need to turn these ideas into a commercial success.  The two centres – known as “Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator” (iDEA) – are in Lagos (Yaba) and Cross River (Tinapa) States.

Innovators that have a marketable product or service also need funding to kick-start their venture.  Young people and their businesses struggle to raise the capital they need particularly from traditional, conventional sources of funds.  Interest rates are prohibitively high and those looking for capital often do not have the collateral that financial providers demand for.  Learning from the successes of countries such as Israel, India, Ireland that have built globally recognised ICT sectors, the Government has created the first Venture Capital(VC) Fund, in which the Federal Government is a seed funder, that focuses specifically on the ICT sector – and in particular software development.

The Government has also provided a platform through which competent software developers get to meet and develop products for major Nigerian and International companies.  The Tech Launch Pad Initiative matches key players in pre-defined industry sectors (and the specific problems they are trying to solve) with local software companies.  The first round of this initiative focused on the Oil and Gas and Financial Services industry and resulted in the selection of 10 finalists who are now fine-tuning their software with mentorship and advice from their future customers.  Without such an initiative these major Nigerian and Multinationals will continue to rely more on software developed outside the country.  Planning for phase two of this initiative has reached an advanced stage.

The ultimate aim of our policy in this area is to create “Companies; not code”. Lower entry barriers and significantly increase the size of young local companies in the sector as well as facilitate their sustainability.

I would like to end this presentation with a slide that I believe encapsulates the Federal Government’s policy direction for the ICT sector and the anticipated impact in the wider society.

By addressing the infrastructure deficit we aim to bring much needed connectivity to Nigerians in an affordable manner.  We believe that creating and maintaining an environment where supply can meet (increasing) demand will strengthen the emergence of a New Economy – one that will have economic/livelihood as well as social benefits.  The more ‘prosperous’ the society becomes, the more it will demand for infrastructure, connectivity … and the cycle continues.

At the core of this virtuous cycle, motivating it and sustaining it is Governance.  The more the cycle is reinforced (or the more iteration there is) the greater the expectation on Governance.  As I said at the start of this presentation, the responsibility of the Government as policy maker is truly critical.

 

*Omobola Johson, Minister of Communication Technology, delivered this keynote at a gathering of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation Forum 2013 held in Abuja 

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