Mr Ugochukwu Obi, Partner-in-charge of ICT Law at Perchstone and Graeys LP, a leading Commercial Law Firm in Lagos that partnerted IT Consultancy, Knowledge Resources, to organise the Technology As A Catalyst: Ease of Doing Business Conference (TAAC 2018) scheduled to hold Friday at the Federal Palace in Lagos, speaks on the event and issues relating to adoption of technology for business in Nigeria.
What about technology in Nigeria inspired the conference?
Information Communication Technology (ICT) plays a critical role in enabling the diversification of a Country’s economy and is the catalyst that can drive the socio-economic growth and transformation of Nigeria in the 21st century. Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed an accelerated socio-economic development resulting from the penetration of technology into all facets of its society. Technology does not operate in vacuum but rather acts as an enabler for business and economic growth of every nation of the world. Technology improves business operations and also lowers considerably the cost of doing business. It allows for seamless interaction and engagement between government, individuals and businesses.
Digital services in government otherwise known as e-Governance are no doubt very critical in delivering effective and robust services to citizens. E-Governance has indeed remained the cardinal focus of this administration for driving effective and efficient public service delivery; reinforcing same with the proclamation of Executive Orders particularly Executive Order No. 0001 of 2017 on the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency in Business Environment signed by then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, SAN. The adoption of e-governance would allow for quicker dissemination of government information, reduce the costs of government operations, and make Government Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs) to be more transparent and accountable. Its adoption enables individuals and businesses to pay for government services (e.g. registration of business and taxes) online from the comfort of their homes and offices. This would indeed enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
Nigeria has had success stories since the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and Integrated Personnel Information System (IPPIS). Both TSA and IPPIS have, to a large extent, reduced corruption and leakages in the collection of government revenues. The recent World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index Report for 2018 has also alluded to the contribution of e-governance to the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Mr Ugochukwu Obi, Partner-in-charge of ICT Law at Perchstone and Graeys LP
Nigeria has had success stories since the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and Integrated Personnel Information System (IPPIS). Both TSA and IPPIS have, to a large extent, reduced corruption and leakages in the collection of government revenues. The recent World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index Report for 2018 has also alluded to the contribution of e-governance to the ease of doing business in Nigeria. The nation witnessed an improved ranking in the ease of doing business; from 169th to 145th place. These important achievements bear the imprint of a collective effort of both the private and public sectors, leveraging and maximizing available technology solutions. These are in addition to other successes achieved through the implementation of Government Information and Geographical Systems (GIGS); e-taxation; e-custom; e-passport; e-wallet; etc.
Inspite of these achievements, there are still issues stemming from a lack of co-ordination of e-governance amongst the various MDAs. Some of these MDAs operate in silos rather than having a coordinating agency that would ensure that implementation among them is interconnected, as it is the case in developed jurisdictions. However, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has now taken the bold lead to harmonize the E-governance Interoperability Framework dubbed Ne-GIF. The idea of harmonization, according to NITDA is to provide a seamless e-governance operation within the entire governance process, knowing that information technology projects cannot be executed in silos. The Framework Interoperability, if successfully implemented, would further strengthen the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
Therefore, it is against this background that this conference (Technology as a Catalyst for Ease of Doing Business) is being organized by Perchstone & Graeys and Knowledge Resources Limited (in conjunction with PEBEC) with the aim of providing a veritable platform to birth solutions that will expand the frontiers of technology as a catalyst for the ease of doing business in Nigeria. More importantly, it is hoped that the discussions at the event will expose the gaps and challenges that currently inhibit this objective. The conference will also seek to spur and lead to the adoption of policy reforms with the aim of increasing foreign direct investments in Nigeria.
What is your view about technological developments in Nigeria? are we moving as expected?
Nigeria has recorded significant technological developments in the last 5 years. These technological revolutions are being witnessed in all sectors of the economy – education, banking, agriculture, manufacturing, Information Communication Technology (ICT), media & entertainment, e-commerce, etc. Virtually, all sectors are maximizing and leveraging technology for optimal performance. This is seen/evident in the financial services sector, where e-banking is now the vogue, the agricultural sector, where government allocates farm inputs through mobile phone to farmers; the consumer goods sector where online stores and e-commerce have transformed the operations of retail business in Nigeria.
Despite these gains, Nigeria is still lagging behind some other African countries in terms of adoption of technology. For instance in the ICT Development Index of 2017 published by the International Telecommunication Union; Egypt, Namibia, South Africa and even Ghana rank above Nigeria on all measurable components of the index. It is indeed regrettable that till date, Nigeria is yet to enact any legislation that regulates e-commerce and protects online transactions. Also, there is no single Data Protection Act in Nigeria that specifies the minimum guaranteed security standard for data protection and privacy; rather what we have is the NITDA Guidelines on Data Protection. The absence of a comprehensive law on e-commerce regulating online transactions, often times, affects the confidence of merchants and consumers to partake in electronic business transactions. Even in the area of Financial Technology (Fintech), particularly payments system, activities are typically governed by guidelines and regulations issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which in most cases are not adequate and comprehensive enough.
The absence of a comprehensive law on e-commerce regulating online transactions, often times, affects the confidence of merchants and consumers to partake in electronic business transactions. Even in the area of Financial Technology (Fintech), particularly payments system, activities are typically governed by guidelines and regulations issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which in most cases are not adequate and comprehensive enough.
What can the legal sector in Nigeria do to advance the growth and adoption of technology in Nigeria?
The legal profession has a major role to play in advancing the growth and adoption of technology in Nigeria. particularly with respect to advocacy and ensuring the speedy passage into laws of these Bills – the Electronic Transaction Bill, National Payment Systems Management Bill, Data Protection & Privacy Bill – which had long been pending before the National Assembly. The passage of these Bills into law would reinforce trust, confidence, transparency and certainty in e-commerce and payments system in Nigeria. These would certainly lead to greater adoption and use of e-payment channels by Nigerians in online business transactions.
Tell us some of the role Perchstone & Graeys has played in this direction?
Perchstone & Graeys has been a strong advocate for policy reforms and new laws that would have a positive impact on the economy. The firm was instrumental to the enactment of the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Act 2017 (otherwise known as Collateral Registry Act). The Act allows MSMEs like artisans and barbers to access micro-credits from commercial banks and other financial institutions with their working tools as collateral. The firm has in recent times initiated and championed some key Bills which are currently pending before the National Assembly for passage into law. These Bills – the Securitization Bill & Factoring Bill – when passed into law would revolutionize the financial sector of the economy.
In the last decade, we have annually convened a conference, the Annual Law Series (ALS), primarily concerned with creating a better understanding between the business community, leaders of government and legal community.
In June 2013, we crossed a significant frontier by becoming the first Nigerian law firm to open a pathway of engagement with the organized private sector of India when Perchstone & Graeys organized the inaugural edition of its India Africa Business Series (IABS) in New Delhi, India. In 2015, we continued our tradition aimed at expanding the commercial space for interaction between companies from India and Nigeria, by hosting the India Nigeria Business Forum (INBF) in Mumbai, India; with unique business matchmaking opportunity to attending businesses. In 2016, in collaboration with the office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the firm led a 25-Man Delegation (and 3 sector Ministers) to the CII-EXIM Bank on India-Africa Project Partnership, in New Delhi, India; being the 11th edition, organised with the support of the Ministries of External Affairs and Commerce and Industry, Government of India; and Nigeria as the ‘Country Partner’. In 2017, the firm hosted an Employment Law Seminar, on Labour Law and Emerging Trends, with the panel being led by Hon. Justice Benedict Bakwaph KANYIP, PhD, of the National Industrial Court.
On December 11, 2017, the firm received a PEBEC Impact award presented by His Excellency, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Hon Speaker of the House of Representatives, in recognition of its contribution to the 2016-2017 Ease of Doing Business Reforms at the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) Impact Award ceremony. The award recognizes the firm’s commendable role in assisting PEBEC in Nigeria’s recent elevation by 24 points in the World Bank’s Comparative Analysis of the ease of doing business in various countries. By the ranking, Nigeria holds the 145th position out of the 190 countries on the global ease of doing business rankings compared to the 169th position which the country occupied in last year’s report.
The firm is assiduously working with the relevant stakeholders and MDAs of government to ensure that the afore-mentioned Bills or some of them are passed by the National Assembly before the end of this administration.
Considering the slow level of broadband penetration in Nigeria, do you think implementation of e-Governance framework at all levels of government is feasible in Nigeria?
Relying on available statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission, I do not think that Nigeria’s broadband penetration has been too slow. Although there might been some challenges (such as high cost of obtaining right of way from State Governments; high cost of constructing and installing broadband infrastructure; vandalism and destruction of fiber ducts, duplication of fiber infrastructure, etc.) inhibiting the realization of its full potential target in line with the National Broadband Policy of 2013. The policy has a-5 year implementation timelines. Broadband penetration plays a critical role in the increase of the GDP growth of any nation. There are indicators that internet is fast penetrating all sectors of Nigerian economy. MDAs are also increasingly using and leveraging information communication technologies such as WAN, internet and mobile solutions to deliver online services to Nigerians. It is reported that Nigeria has over 162 million internet users with tele-density at over 116%. Nigeria has so far achieved 22% broadband penetration out of the targeted 30% before the end of 2018.
NITDA has begun the process of harmonizing the seamless implementation of e-governance across all MDAs of Government to ensure improvement in the ease of doing business. At the State levels, the Lagos State Government, for instance, has significantly adopted e-governance in the delivery of services to its citizens. It has also collaborated with the private sector players to dig, lay and deploy the latest broadband infrastructure; fibre optics cables, in order to generate high bandwidth and fast internet services to individuals and businesses in Lagos.
However, there is a little or no adoption of e-governance services at the local government levels in Nigeria. The reason is not far-fetched; penetration of broadband services in these rural/underserved areas has been very low.
However, it is recommended that the Government should take a bold lead in the adoption of internet to provide services. This would not only offer an efficient platform for improved service delivery but increase demand for broadband services and create the necessary local traffic. The future outlook of broadband penetration appears fruitful, if the right environment is created in network roll out and demand is created for broadband access through creation of local content and e-services like e-governance, e-Learning and e-Commerce.
Are there enough local Legislations that adequately protect technology innovations & infrastructures in Nigeria?
The promotion and protection of innovation and creativity are an integral part of economic development of any nation. Nigeria has a body of Intellectual Property (IP) laws [like the Copyright Act 2004, the Patents and Design Act of 1971 (cap. 344)(1990) and the Trade Marks Act (cap. 436)(1990)] that protect IP rights in creativity and innovation; but these laws are overdue for legislative reforms. Many of the provisions in these laws are no longer in tune with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)-administered Treaties, to which Nigeria is a member.
Given that these laws were long enacted years ago and had not been amended; they do not contain provisions that deal with the protection of IP rights arising from digital innovations. The foregoing therefore presents a serious drawback to the effective exploitation and enforcement of IP rights in Nigeria. Put differently, our IP laws are not suited for emerging commercial and technological development.
Also, Nigeria does not have any robust and comprehensive legislation that protects technology infrastructures (like telecom facilities and infrastructures) in Nigeria. On a regular basis, telecom base stations are shut down by either local or state government without any prior notice to telecommunication operators/service providers and this usually result in poor quality of GSM/mobile internet services in Nigeria. More importantly, the investors’ confidence is seriously eroded when base stations are shut down intentionally and telecom infrastructures are vandalized without legal consequences.
The Cybercrime Act 2015 treats telecoms infrastructure as a critical National Infrastructure in Nigeria but it is yet to be implemented and enforced. It is the consensus of the industry stakeholders that the Nigerian government should, as a matter of urgency, pass into law the Critical National Infrastructure Protection Bill which is designed to protect telecoms installations, facilities and infrastructures in the country.
Further developments in the ICT have made storage and usage of sensitive or private information a valuable commodity that could be easily abused or exploited for commercial gains. Regrettably, Nigeria in this digital age is yet to have a single and comprehensive Data Protection Act that regulates the collection, storage and handling of data across all sectors that engage in processing of individual data. What we have in Nigeria is a sectoral model-data protection regulation like the NITDA Data Protection Guidelines 2017. Put differently, regulatory agencies and bodies in different sectors issue sector-specific data privacy regulations or guidelines to regulate data processing in their respective sectors. However, the National Identity Management Commission has, pursuant to its mandate, commenced the integration of the existing database of other government agencies such as CBN, FRSC, Customs, Immigration, NYSC, etc. into its National Identity Database. This is a welcome development that would pave the way for the speedy passage of the Data Protection Bill. Thus, to entrench e-governance into Nigeria’s public institutions, the Nigeria government should implement the legal framework of e-Governance.
What are some of the current challenges to national information infrastructure in Nigeria and how best can those challenges be quickly addressed?
Global digital economy is built upon Information Technology and telecommunication infrastructure and networks which serve as a platform for socio-economic development and growth of any nation. The contributions of Nigeria’s telecom sector to the growth of the economy and GDP have been phenomenal in the last 10 years.
However, the country has witnessed serious setbacks to its National Information Technology Infrastructure. First, there is no secured investment climate for investors to invest in critical National Infrastructure. Government should implement strategic policies that would guarantee the investors’ security and trust and also provide tax holidays (for a limited period) to foreign investors with respect to import duties payable on telecom equipment imported into the country.
Also, the imposition of multiple taxations on telecoms operators and infrastructure service providers has had a negative impact on foreign investment in national information infrastructure. The operators and infrastructure service providers have also decried the spate of theft and vandalization of their facilities/equipment at different parts of the country. Theft and vandalism of telecoms infrastructure have been described as the greatest challenge to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Nigeria. To solve the problems of theft and vandalism, it is recommended that the host communities should have a sense of ownership of the telecoms sites because the infrastructure enhances their lives and businesses. Moreover, our law enforcement agencies should be proactive (and not reactive) in dealing with the issues of theft and vandalism of telecom infrastructures. There have been consistent calls from different quarters on the need for the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill. The bill, when passed into law, is expected to criminalize any act of vandalism against ICT infrastructures since they would then be classified as CNI. Investments in critical National Infrastructure in Nigeria have been on the decline in recent times and these had been as a result the constant threats to infrastructures’ vandalism, in addition to multiple taxations and regulations, power/electricity constraints and the generally unfriendly business environment. However, this administration is doing quite a lot through the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) to provide the enabling business environment for foreign direct investments. This is evident in the number of Executive Orders signed by then Acting President, Prof. Yemi sometime in May 2017.
The number of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) in Nigeria is estimated at about 30,000. This figure is grossly inadequate to meet the communications needs of over 150 million active mobile subscribers in the country. It is reported that about 3% of Nigeria’s BTS are shut down at any point in time, due to vandalism, resulting in a loss of about $50million to $100million yearly.
Again, it has been a daunting challenge for telecoms companies in Nigeria to achieve an increased broadband penetration via roll-out of fibre optics infrastructure. This challenge is worsen by the overlapping taxes and sundry levies imposed on them by the 3 different tiers of government as well as the absence of uniformity in Right of Way (RoW) charges across the States and the bureaucratic delays that come with it.
In the end, uninformed and arbitrary levying of Telecom companies by various tiers of Governments at the point of providing infrastructure will imply higher service costs to the consumers. It is suggested that these charges should be uniform across the country, not arbitrary done, and should even be reviewed downwards to make any commercial sense for an operator to roll out infrastructure requiring RoW permission. If it remains high, it acts as an inhibitor to ubiquitous Broadband roll-out.
How well are government ministries, departments & Agencies embracing technology to enhance service delivery to Nigerians?
E-Governance demonstrates the application of ICT to facilitate the operations and dissemination of government information and service delivery. To achieve seamless e-governance, it should be an inter-network of ICT infrastructures, internet and software applications to aid the operations of government.
Whilst it could be appropriate to state that the level of adoption of e-governance by some MDAs in Nigeria have not been encouraging; in other MDAs like FIRS, CAC, Custom, they have been tremendous strides in the adoption of e-governance to deliver e-services to Nigerians. According to investigations by NITDA towards the end of 2017, over 30 government agencies and Parastatals are yet to migrate from their international and local domain names to gov.ng domain. The need for government agencies and Parastatals to adopt the gov,ng domain name is in line with the drive to use ICT for efficient service delivery and improve the ease of doing business in the country. The Director-General, NITDA, Dr. Isa Pantami, had in June 2017, conducted an assessment of the websites of the federal ministries and identified that they lacked feedback forms, reachable phone numbers and email addresses and other information necessary to facilitate ease of doing business.
To achieve optimal adoption of e-governance by MDAs, the following are recommended as policy imperatives:
creating the legal framework for e-Governance that would make it mandatory for all MDAs to adopt e-governance;
- ensuring all Government services are online;
- ensuring all Government forms are available online;
- adoption of various e-payment channels that would enable the MDAs to accept payments online; and
- making it mandatory for all MDAs to create an online portal and upload all non-classified records and documents on the portal.
What are the Guarantees that discussions & recommendations arising from this conference would be translated into relevant policy reforms by the Government?
This conference is being organized in conjunction with PEBEC. PEBEC was established as a key driver of the theme and objective of this conference which is using technology to facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Therefore, unlike other Conferences, the communiqué derived post conference will be closely monitored by the organizers (Perchstone & Graeys, Knowledge Resources, and PEBEC) for effective implementation.
What are the topics that are expected for this conference?
In order to attain the objective of the Conference, discussions will focus on three sub-themes broken into three panel sessions:
Taking Governance Online: Highlighting Key Initiatives – Discussions will highlight some of the key initiatives and policies that have promoted e-governance in Nigeria, current challenges impeding the implementation of a robust e-governance platform, and preview future plans and strategy.
Towards an Improved National ICT Infrastructure – The panel will be brainstorming on the possible ways to institute state of the art relevant information technology infrastructure to boost the economy and distill the existing and emerging challenges and bottlenecks in this sector with a view to providing lasting solutions.
The Future of e-Tax and e-Payment in Nigeria – Discussions will be centered on the roles and interrelationship between institutions, instruments, procedures, standards, and technologies that make ePayments possible; as well as the way forward to capitalize on the advantages of ePayment ecosystem in delivering key financial services to Nigerians.