Omobola Johnson: Refocusing key strides of Communication Technology Minister
When the new Ministry of Communication Technology was created two years ago (July 2011) by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Mrs Omobola Johnson was sworn in as the pioneer Minister, there was a buzz of excitement in the industry generated by the fact that a round peg in a round hole had been appointed to man the affairs of the new Ministry.
Mrs Johnson, considered the icing on the cake of the new Ministry, came on board with a wealth of experience and an intimidating resume that has impacted positively on the sector in the last 24 months.
Mrs Johnson is known to be a workaholic with a knack and a passion for turning around challenged entities and making them viable. At Accenture, a world renowned consultancy firm where she worked for 25 years before she exited as the Country Manager, her legacies still speak loudly and no doubt the ICT ecosystem is benefiting from her expertise.
The creation of the Ministry was an answer to the clamour by stakeholders for the creation of a separate Ministry that will focus on and fast-track the development of ICTs in the country and transform Nigeria into a digital economy. The recognition of the growing importance of ICTs to economic development and the strategic role that ICT plays in national development, competitiveness and employment spurred the creation of the Ministry.
The Ministry has five agencies: the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) and Galaxy Backbone under its supervision.
ICTs today play a crucial role in national development. It is the bedrock of development and the leveraging of ICT tools helps in creating wealth, jobs and enables development at all levels in whatever sector be it health, agriculture, education, transport, among others.
With the ICT industry growing at an average of 30% yearly for the last two years, making it one of the fastest growing sectors of the Nigerian economy, no doubt ICTs to a very large extent is sure to help Nigeria achieve its vision 20:2020 targets.
The Minister is very much focused on helping Nigeria transform its economy via ICTs. The Ministry has raised awareness about ICT as a critical national infrastructure- in the same mould with power, roads, railways etc. In less than two years, the Ministry has achieved a number of milestones and launched and set in motion a number of initiatives that will fast-track the development of the ICT sector.
The effect of Mrs Johnson was felt immediately when in collaboration with ICT stakeholders, she set in motion the harmonisation and development of a national ICT Policy to drive the digitalization agenda of the Federal Government. The crucial policy was developed with the 100% support of stakeholders and has been approved in principle and is awaiting final approval.
This policy gives direction to where the ICT sector is headed and will drive the development of the ICT sector. This first crucial step in creating the Policy is the overarching guide that will help to actualize the Ministry’s mandate centred round her main priorities of connecting Nigeria- through facilitating the provision of a ubiquitous broadband infrastructure, connect Nigerians by providing access to infrastructure and device ownership to promote inclusive development, local content, innovation and job creation, promote local value added in the industry, promote ICT in Government- by facilitating e-Government to ensure transparency, efficiency, productivity in governance and citizen and create the enabling environment that supports the development of the Nigerian ICT sector.
With an eye on the goal of connecting Nigeria, the Ministry facilitated the creation of a Broadband strategy and Roadmap that will lead to a five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2018. Mr President has pledged full implementation of the Broadband plan submitted by the 15-member committee on the 30th of May 2013.
Mrs Johnson has also unveiled several initiatives within the last two years that will aid the digitalization of the Nigerian economy. To tackle quality of service issues bedevilling the industry, the Ministry partnered with the Ministry of Works to develop new Right of Way (RoW) guidelines for Federal Government roads to enable operators have unencumbered means of laying fibre optic cables which is critical for infrastructure development and quality of service.
The Minister for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s telecoms revolution got state governors and relevant authorities at the state and federal levels to address the issue of multiple taxations and adopt measures that will remove arbitrary charges and eradicate multiple taxations to enhance service delivery across the nation.
She obtained the commitment by state governments to collaborate on multiple taxations and regulations and negotiated a single tax payment to all state government agencies and the prohibitive and arbitrary charges states imposed on operators to procure Right of Way (procurement of Right of way in various states across the federation ranges between N690, 000 to N6,500,000 per kilometre) was revised downwards to N145, 000 per linear kilometre.
The Minister who is a strong believer in the power of collaboration to achieve set objectives also collaborated with the Ministry of Environment in 2012 to reduce approval times for erecting base stations in order to promote infrastructure deployment and improve service quality.
The Ministry has also issued an Executive Order protecting key infrastructure pending passage of a Critical Infrastructure Bill that will protect communications infrastructure in the country. This Bill is necessary because the issue of vandalization of telecoms infrastructure needs to be tackled as telecommunications infrastructures are critical national resources that must be protected by law.
The Ministry is currently extending communications infrastructure to un-served and under-served areas through government subsidies and 500km 0f fibre deployment is currently under construction through the Backbone Transmission Project while 3000 km is targeted for deployment in 2013/2014.
This is also being done via the Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion (AMPE-BTS) programme by deploying Base Stations in rural areas. So far 54 base stations have been installed while additional 28 are planned for 2013.
The Ministry is also extending communications infrastructure through the Rural Broadband Initiative (RUBI) under which wholesale Internet bandwidth is being provided to ISPs, Cyber cafes, and ICT Centres like Community Communication Centres (CCC) in rural communities. Out of 18 pilot sites selected, 12 are 95 per cent completed and transmission testing is currently ongoing in Akure and Osogbo.
In a bid to ensure that Nigerians have access to affordable Internet, the Ministry is intervening to ensure that the numbers of base stations in the country increases from its 27,000 to 65,000 in 2018 to meet the national target of a five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2018.
Aware of the potential of software to foster development, entrepreneurship and innovation especially amongst youths known to be the adopters and drivers of technology, the Minister has adopted measures that will facilitate the development of Nigeria’s software sector. One of the moves she has made is the creation of incubation centres to foster innovation and accelerate the software development potential of Nigerian youths.
To achieve this goal, the Minister facilitated private sector managed-innovation centres and on the 19th of April 2013, she launched the Lagos Incubation centre tagged IDEA and the Calabar centre will be launched on the 8th of July. It is worthy to note that the goal of Mrs Johnson is for the incubation centres to create 25 successful ICT businesses by 2015.
To facilitate this goal and aware of the constraints of funding, she has set in motion an ICT Innovation Fund that would raise about $15 million for ICT entrepreneurs. The fund will be the first venture capital fund solely focused on ICT businesses in Nigeria. The initial seed capital of US$3.5m has been secured from NITDEVF and contributions from the private sector will help incubates become commercially successful.
Other initiatives of Mrs Johnson in this regard, include the TechLaunchPad Initiative geared at developing the capacities of indigenous software developers in Nigeria. The goal of the TechLaunchPad Initiative is to nurture and develop software entrepreneurs to build successful software companies that will support critical sectors of the Nigerian economy.
The initiative will enhance local content growth and deepen technology skills in the IT industry. The programme will provide mentorship and finance to incubatees and will create 10 successful software businesses before the end of 2013 that will focus on providing industry solutions for Banks and Oil and Gas in the first instance. This will increase to 30 successful software businesses by 2015 that will create solutions for other sectors of the Nigerian economy.
Mrs Johnson is also championing the patronage of Made in Nigeria products. In the last quarter of 2012, she launched a launched a Student’s Computer Ownership Scheme to not only ensures access to devices amongst students to foster innovation but to also provide captive markets for local manufacturers of ICT products. Because creating domestic value in Nigeria is a goal she strongly believes in, she has made local content in the ICT sector, a primary area of focus and is strongly collaborating with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to facilitate the development of a national local content agenda.
This collaboration has already yielded positive results as RLGCommunications is setting up a $20 million handset, PC and Tablet factory in Osun state and will commence production next month. Also Mi-Fone, a company already active in 14 other African countries is setting up a $30 million factory in Nigeria as well. These initiatives will create jobs and foster innovation.
Mrs Johnson believes that the only way to empower indigenous participation is by making sure that citizens’ benefit from the resources available in their local environment and the Ministry is developing local content guidelines that will be unveiled in the third quarter of the year to foster indigenous participation in the ICT industry.
She is also working to ensure that the import duty regime favours locally manufactured ICT products to encourage local manufacturing which will stimulate employment opportunities and bring about input of local raw materials. She is implementing initiatives to build local capacity to engage in ICT sector jobs.
The new Ministry is partnering with multi nationals to increase supply of local highly skilled talents in the nation’s fast growing ICT sector e.g. SAP program to train unemployed graduates in business management and ICT skills; Huawei is providing vocational ICT training to 1000 girls and partnership with Cisco to build Cisco Academy for highest certification.
To reinforce the commitment of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in establishing the ICT Ministry to drive amongst others internal efficiency in government and good governance among Ministries Departments and Departments (MDAs), Mrs Johnson is facilitating eGovernment to ensure transparency, efficiency, productivity in governance and citizen engagement.
The Ministry’s “Getting Government Online” initiative is geared at ensuring that government deploys technology as a mechanism to transform the way government operates and enhance the effectiveness of government service delivery and public administration for the benefit of its citizens. To facilitate government-to-citizen engagement, she launched the Government Service Portal in April 2013.
The portal is a single window portal that will facilitate efficient service delivery that citizens and businesses can access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A selection of services delivered by the Ministries of Communication Technology, Education, Health, Agriculture and Trade and Investment can be assessed from the portal. A 150 Government Contact Centre will also be launched shortly to improve citizens’ access to information and services.
The Centre will also create 1,250 jobs through outsourcing and stimulate the call centre outsourcing in the country. The two-year old Ministry is also creating an enabling environment to foster investments both at the local and international level. The contribution of ICT to the nation’s GDP has almost doubled from 3.5% since the creation of the Ministry.
The number of MDAs with effective websites has increased to 480 and by 2015; all the MDAs will have effective websites. The number of Government services delivered online has also increased to 45 from just 10 in 2011 and is expected to hit 100 by 2015. The Ministry has also improved co-ordination within the Federal Government through the establishment of the ICT cadre in the civil service and established the National Council of ICTs to extend ICT coordination to states across the nation.
One other key objective the Minister is driving is the reformation of NIPOST. Her goal is to transform NIPOST into a financial and digital inclusion tool that will reduce the proportion of adult Nigerians excluded from financial services from 46.3% (2010) to 20% by 2020. Currently postal outlets (numbering over 3,000) are being developed to transform postal outlets to become venues for financial and economic inclusion. The Ministry paved the way for private sector investment in NIPOST and the beauty of the reformation of NIPOST is that it is now a key pillar in CBN financial inclusion strategy.
The Ministry is empowering Nigerian students by collaborating with the Ministry of Education, theNational University Commission (NUC), World Bank, USPF to deploy a fibre optic based network to connect 27 Nigerian Universities, 12 Medical colleges, 28 off campus sites and nine Federal Universities to the wider research and education universe.
Through the Tertiary Institutions Access Project TIAP, the Ministry has provided desktop computers, printers, and wireless network facilities to tertiary institutions. The Ministry has also through its School Access Project (SAP) provided Classmate PCs with e-learning content and accessories, solar power solutions, high speed Internet connectivity and wireless network deployment to public schools across the country (218 schools in 2013).
Mrs Johnson is also championing the global advocacy to get girls into ICT in Nigeria to bridge the career gap between the male and female gender in ICT. On the 25th of April, she presented schools girls from different schools with made in Nigeria PC Computer Tablets to encourage the girls to embrace careers in ICT.
Abused children who have for years suffered in silence will soon find succour as the Minister took the bold step of inaugurating a Child Helpline Steering Group that will drive the creation of a national toll free line that children can access for help when abused or in a crisis.Working in collaboration with the Minister of Women Affairs and other stakeholders, Mrs Johnson is working to ensure that a toll free three digit line that children can call when in need is launched before the end of the year.
To facilitate job creation for youths via ICTs, the Minister launched a job creation scheme tagged ‘’Microwork for Job Creation-Naijacloud’’ to reduce unemployment and create wealth for youths of Nigeria. Since the launch in April, more than 2000 youths have been logged on to the platform and have earned more than $120,000. The potential of this initiative to create jobs easily is unprecedented and Nigerian youths are taking advantage of the platform to create wealth for themselves. The Ministry is growing local participation in the ICT industry and in the last two years, we have witnessed increased local representations in the ICT industry. A new crop of young Nigerians are rising and running successful companies and most of them are below the age of 40.
The Ministry has also secured the approval of the Federal Executive Council on the adoption of shared services, establishment of Chief Technology Officer Cadre in civil service to bring efficiency into annual budget process for MDAs IT projects, advisory services on e-government projects to all MDAs, independent programme management on systems integration projects above N100m, stimulation of local industry through government procurement, central repository of all major government ICT projects and collaborative approach to content development and maintenance that will lead to the delivery of a connected government, informed citizenry and online service delivery.
I could go on and on to enumerate the milestones of the Ministry and several initiatives championed by the Minister but due to space constraints I will limit myself to a few more.
The Ministry in just two years has launched for the first time in Nigeria, mobile number portability to give subscribers the choice and freedom of porting from one network to another while still retaining their original numbers. The Ministry has contributed to improving security through the establishment of emergency communication centres, entrenched regulation of quality of service with appropriate sanction for default, reduced interconnect rates to ensure ultimate reduction in tariffs, reduced cost of SMS , launched NigComSat-1R satellite on 19th December 2011, signed MOU with STM Networks Inc. to commercialize all Ku-Band on NigComSat-1R, featured young ICT entrepreneurs at the ITU World 2012, facilitated the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan to facilitate the merger of three CDMA operators: leading to the deployment of one of the first 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband networks in Africa and the rescue of over 2,000 jobs and promoting ICT use by SMEs bysupplying websites to all pioneer YouWIN! Awardees.
But it is worthy to note that the creation of an enabling environment by the Ministry is a key ingredient that has increased the ease of doing business in the telecommunications and ICT infrastructure sub-sector.
No doubt, the Minister has impacted positively on the affairs of the Nigerian ICT sector since the creation of the Ministry in 2011 and in the next two years Nigerians will witness the birth of more innovations and initiatives that will fast-track the transformation of Nigeria into a digital economy. The focus of the Mrs Johnson for the next two years is to continue to enhance the enabling environment already created and ensure that the Broadband Plan is successfully implemented for the benefit of Nigerians.
She is also focused on ensuring that the right environment that fosters creativity and innovation, more opportunities for job creation, capacity development of Nigerians, more access of SMEs to ICTs, enhanced local production of handheld devices, smart cards, simple network elements, improved use of hybrid power and reduced dependence on diesel by network operators,increased local content, increased ICTs in Government to increase efficiency and effectiveness of governance both internally and externally is created and sustained.
The Ministry between now and 2015 will also continue to collaborate with relevant Ministries to make the Nigerian ICT sector attractive for investors and increase the adoption of ICTs in attaining national development goals and fostering the creation of a new economy driven by ICTs.
*Efem Nkanga is SA (Media) to Mrs Omobola Johnson, the Minister of Communication Technology