The digital world is here. We are all using various digital devices –smartphones, laptops, tabletops,tablets, phamblets, etc and consuming data,which is the currency of the digital world.
Manufacturers and techies are pushing out new gadgets and appon on a daily basis tofurther drive us down the digital lane.
At the heart of all these are the telecommuni-cations networks which provide the high capacity transport infrastructure that services ride on. It is often acknowledged that telecommunications is to the digital era what electricity was to the industrial era.
Across various spheres of endeavours – education (distance learning), traditional and social media, travel and tours, shopping, entertainment, etc, Nigerians are actively harnessing digital opportunities and ways of life, courtesy of the enablement accorded by the telecommunications networks.
From growing telephone penetration from less than one percent in 2001 to more than 86 percent in 2013, the telecommunications sector now comes second only to the oil and gas sector in terms of attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Nigeria.
According to Pyramid Research, the sector contributed about 35 percent of FDI(around US$45bn)between 2001 and 2011 and its GDP input grew from below one percent to 8.54 percent between 2001 and 2013.
The sector has also been responsible for creating around three million direct and indirect jobs and a value chain that impacts millions of Nigerians across various spheres of life.
It has also been pivotal in promoting wide public access to information which is an important element for the development of democracy.
As a social overhead capital, that is, a basic service without which primary, secondary and tertiary productive activities cannot function effectively, telecommunications therefore needs to be accorded due attention by relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that Nigeria’s vision of digital inclusion is realized.
With the announcement of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) by the Federal Government last year, the telecommunications sector is set to play an even greater role in the socio-economic development of the country.
A critical success factor for the NBP was aptly outlined in the following statement “implementation of a national broadband plan requires long-term commitment and significant action by the Federal, States and Local Governments, as well as, the executive and legislative branches of government – alongside strong private sector participation.
”Riding on this, theFederal Government through the Ministry of Communication Technology is partnering with IBM, a global ICT player, to provide technology-driven solutions to resolve challenges in key sectors of the Nigerian economy and to that end has convened a ministerial roundtable to develop appropriate implementation plans.
At state level,Lagos and Osun have declared ICT adoption as an important part of their strategic development efforts and are actively collaborating with the private sector to this end.
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola,Governor of Osun State who had earlier championed the State’s multiple award-winning computer tablet innovation, “Opon Imo” (Tablet of Knowledge), recently reaffirmed his determination to make his state the ICT hub in Nigeria at a ceremony marking the take-off of the multi-million dollar RLG-Adulawo Technology City in Ileshathat that was set-up by RLG Communications, a phone manufacturing company, with support from Osun State Government.
According to the Group Chairman of RLG Communications, the technology city will play a major role in the technology revolution that is imminent in Nigeria.
The centre will be involved in the training of youths in the assembly, repair and manufacture of various electronic devices and is expected to create over 10,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly.
Aside from being a strategic tool, Osun Statehas keenly applied ICT in transactional activities as Ogbeni Aregbesola had indicated that the deployment of ICT in government operationshad blocked financial leakages and brought about an increase in internally generated revenue by 100 per cent, from N300 million to N600 million within one year and to N1.6 billion presently. Lagos State has also adopted e-payments solutions for government transactions.
The Eko Atlantic cityproject which will be Africa’s first “Smart City” is undoubtedly the most ambitious ICT project of the State to date.
While not detracting from these initiatives, the recent agreement between the Lagos State Government and the telecommunications operators which streamlines the approval processes and fees for telecommunications facilities deployment is an even more momentous development in terms of scope of impact and demonstrated alignment with the spirit and letters of the NBP’s vision on public-private sector collaboration.
TheLagos State Government was interested in protecting the sanctity of extant planning and related regulations while the telecommunications operators’ concerns were around speed of infrastructure deployment,discriminatory fees and multiple taxation/regulation, as well as the protection of their facilities from illegal lock-outs by over-zealous government officials.
In discussions leading to the landmark agreement, the parties were able to reach reasonable and legitimate compromises as partners-in-development to streamline processes leading to reduction in approval timelines for the grant of site build permits to 30 days and reduction of applicable fees by around 60 percent.
This landmark agreement will certainly facilitate the expansion of telecommunications infrastructure across Lagos State to enhance the provision of services currently on offer and facilitate the deployment of “future” services such as 4G LTE.
The CEO of Airtel, Segun Ogunsanya, certainly had this in mind when he recently expressed gratitude to the Lagos State Government and announced that telecommunications operators would reciprocate the goodwill by providing state-of-the-art services in the state.
Telecommunication has been playing a leading role in national development since the liberalization of the sector about thirteen years ago.
In addition to facilitating tele-access for over 120million Nigerians presently and making significant contributions to GDP and FDI, the sector is now pioneering a developmental partnership model that will prove useful in the consolidation and growth of all infrastructure-based industries in Nigeria, thereby reaffirming its status as ‘the goose that lays the golden egg.’
Such a specially innovative industry should be widely celebrated rather than vilified as unfortunately seems to be the case currently.
lOsondu is Director, Legal & Regulatory Affairs at Airtel Nigeria.