By Sonny Aragba-Akpore
With unbelievably poor infrastructure and critical disengagement of access to the internet and other telecommunications services, building a digital economy may be herculian.Less than 50% of Nigeria’s population has access to adequate telecommunications infrastructure as internet connectivity is a nightmare due to poor network infrastructure and the crippling regulatory experience that add to the crisis to achieving a true digital economy.
US economist and statistician, Thomas Mesenbourg, lists three components that distinguish the digital economy from the regular economy: Infrastructure is one of them. He said businesses have software, hardware and other technological resource that ride on specialist human talent.
On E-business he explained how Computer applications, online tools and digital platforms help carry out business processes while E-commerce requires a familiar concept, for the sales of goods and services
The digital economy is set to carry more weight in the future, as the “Internet of Things”, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, blockchain, self-driving cars, and other technology develop, offering some advantages. Consumers have more access to information — not just from manufacturers and firms, but also from other consumers in fora and reviews — to make decisions about goods and services.
Proximity is now a way of life where direct customer service channels enable customers to resolve queries and issues with a manufacturer or services provided more quickly.
With goods and services available and show global presence, consumers anytime and anywhere, companies can enter more markets.
There is adequate security now online through digital technology, like strong authentication of online payments, this makes transactions more secured and robust.
President Muhammadu Buhari initiated the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) in November 2019 primarily to reposition the Nigerian economy in order to take advantage of the many opportunities that digital technology provides.
The policy, among others, provides the direction on major activities that the ICT industry must embark upon towards consolidating on achievements already recorded in the industry and highlighting new areas that should be focused on, in order for the country to achieve a truly digital economy for the country. It was developed to diversify the Nigerian economy from over dependence on oil and gas sector.
It seeks to fast-track digital development and empower Nigerians with the right technology skills that will enable them develop technology solutions that will drive digital transformation across the country. The Nigerian Communications Commission, the telecom industry regulator, has initiated the development of ICT Parks in each of the six geopolitical zones, and the Commission is in the process completing the technology parks. When completed, the parks will boost youth digital skills acquisition, promote innovations, provide jobs for the teaming Nigerian youth and ultimately support the overall digital economy agenda of the federal government.
Beautiful policy it is but the idea of ICT parks especially in the face of poor telecommunications infrastructure is misplaced and at best seen as conduits to boost personal economies of state actors as there is no verifiable evidence of what the parks have achieved.
The ICT parks will suffer the same fate like the Rural Telephony Program and the more scandalous Infrastructure Telecommunications Companies (Infracos) for which Isa Pantami (former Minister) and Umar Danbatta (erstwhile executive vice chairman of NCC) are yet to tell the full stories.
The several proposed data centres, including the one allegedly sited in Gombe derived their funding from the Infracos funds .At best, they could be described as prestige projects that have no impact on the people including their initiators. Pantami and Danbatta may provide answers some day.
Danbatta had boasted about the four main objectives of establishing the ICT Parks which are “to provide Innovation Labs and Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fablabs) for use by ICT innovators and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into products and prototypes; provide a commercial hub for ICT capacity building and digital skills; create employment and entrepreneurial activities; and facilitate smart city deployment across the digital industrial complex.”
The ICT Parks, Danbatta said, involves the construction and equipping of fully-functional Tier-4 Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) in each of the six geo-political zones across the country.
But, where are they?
In general terms, digital economy is transforming age-old production sectors for instance. And while all these are now possible in developed economies where research has engaged development, third world countries, including Nigeria, are still thinking of what to do and perhaps how to do it.
● Aragba-Akpore, an analyst on tech trends, lives in Abuja and sent this via WhatsApp