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So, what exactly has Nigeria’s tech evangelist, Bosun Tijani, achieved?

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Tech Evangelist as Digital Economy Minister

By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

Having been a co- founder of Co Creation Hub (CcHub), Nigeria’s Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy Minister ,Bosun Tijani, has been described as a technology evangelist. Because of his background and influence in the technology industry, much was expected of this man who came into government brimming with knowledge of technology but one year after these promises of life abundance in technology, not much has changed and if anything at all, those promises remain on paper.
 
Although he has made several policy statements that should ordinarily bring the heavens closer home if implemented and make Nigeria a technology haven in Africa, but strangely, not much has happened in the sector that is positively shaped to compete with oil and gas as revenue spinner for the country.
  
It is not clear what his situation is as industry players claim he is inaccessible, and the Minister has become austere with statements lately or perhaps may have even lost his voice and steam in that regard.
  
The expectations were very high from a man who had stood the test of time as a private entrepreneur in the murky waters of technology, building a hub from ground zero and spreading its tentacles across Africa with meaningful footprints.
An investor with well groomed knowledge of global technology business and partnership with global technology giants, he is yet to bring all that to bear on the Nigerian situation.

Telecommunications companies are embattled as  revenues dip and nothing seems in tandem with the hype surrounding the business and this affects not just returns on investments but also taxes paid to government and the Annual Operating Levy (AOL) remittances to regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are likely to nosedive as the companies struggle to grapple with a comatose economy.
 
Quality of Service (QoS) is now a nightmare in the face of mounting inaccessibility of funds to import equipment to boost infrastructure.
  
When the Minister spoke six months after he was appointed, he explained that he was  “extremely vocal about things I was knowledgeable about and while at it, I built the largest tech hub in Africa for the benefit of our people (domiciled in Nigeria). I left very strong receipts of my motive including lives touched”.
And in what looked like a self
-appraisal he said “I am proud of my performance in the last six months and inspired to keep pushing. For those who are truly interested in the progress of our nation, you already know how to follow my work” he boasted.

While telecommunications operators (telcos) struggle for survival in the face of mounting challenges, does the Minister know “there is need to avert the grave risk looming in the industry’s horizon by taking clinical and definitive action towards repositioning the industry for growth and increased investments?”.

A thriving telecommunications sector will have far-reaching effect on:
Mobile Network Operators as they will remain growing concerns and carry on sustainable operations with the overall intention of value creation and enabling connectedness;

This will lead to maximization of consumer welfare for Nigerians who are the most critical stakeholders in the telecommunications value chain; and the government itself, given that the net effect of a sustainable communications industry is bolstered investor confidence, increased contribution to GDP and, by extension, revenue growth in the form of payment of increased direct/indirect taxes and Annual Operating Levies in that order.

Sector chieftains and critical stakeholders advise that the Minister is expected to rise up to the occasion and put aside his alleged unfavorable reception to criticisms by avoiding what will massage his ego as a Minister.

Minister sir, you don’t need praise singers because there is so much work waiting to be done.

Telecommunications serves as an ‘enabler’ for all other critical infrastructure and-infrastructure sectors-vital to-national productivity and security. To function optimally, telecommunications infrastructure relies on complex and interconnected support ecosystem consisting of fiber, satellites, towers, base stations, switches, data centers, which need to function uninterrupted for delivery of optimal QoS;

“But there have, however, been incidences of adverse cross-sectoral impact on QoS arising from damage to such infrastructure due to excavation during civil works such as road construction, deliberate/negligent vandalization  and sabotage as well as theft of cable, equipment, and supplies such as diesel, generators and batteries, undue delay in issuance of site approvals for new towers/base stations as well as harassment of staff /site access denial by state/local agencies to enforce levy payments” one player volunteered.
These are part of the lamentations of telcos which were articulated and submitted to the Minister on October,4,2023.

Minister,sir how far have we gone in creating telecommunications as critical national infrastructure?
 
On the vexed issue of Multiple Regulations and taxations there have been several instances of regulatory overlap that have arisen where sister agencies of government under different ministries issue regulatory frameworks (complete with their own set of unique rule to govern matters that fall within the regulatory purview of Agencies under the Communications Ministry and particularly the NCC.

There are increasing consequence of this jurisdictional overlap that the Commission and the said agency may have differing rules that govern issues and accordingly, reach divergent conclusions on what should or should not hold. “This creates an atmosphere of regulatory uncertainty which is inherently inimical to the growth of the industry” telcos explained.

“Such Incidences of multiple regulation escalated to the NCC for intervention (which also include sister agencies) cover instruments issued by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), and the new Nigeria Data Protection Commission, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the National Information Technology Development Agency(NITDA).”

“Conversely, the industry has also witnessed the NCC issuing Regulatory Instruments which appear to be in conflict of regulatory mandate of other Agencies. “

“Recent cases include draft Data Protection Regulation, Commercial Satellite Guidelines and the Guidelines on Corporate Governance for the Communications Sector.”

Operating companies have however cautioned against the release of these Instruments by the NCC as they will further increase the administrative burden of compliance and derail from the government policy on the ease of doing business,but it is not clear if the Commission has taken this into consideration.

The Minister is expected to intervene either in his position or through a working paper to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for intervention.
  
Telcos are worried too that “the cost of doing business in the country has risen sharply in the preceding months due to a myriad of factors generally impacting businesses including macroeconomic headwinds such as inflation, currency devaluation; sustained difficulty in accessing FOREX at an affordable rate; rising energy costs; the rising cost of securing telecommunications facilities and field personnel in the face of worsening insecurity,”
 
They reason that inspite of all these “,the pricing regulatory framework has not been reviewed to account for changes in macroeconomic conditions and reflect current cost profile of telecommunications tariffs “.
  
But despite the myriad of challenges facing the sector,the Minister thinks of things differently. For instance, when he hosted in April what he termed a cutting- edge technologies  workshop to boost the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) “in raising the productivity of users for our collective prosperity” the Minister noted the increased attention on AI across the world and growth in investments in technology in Nigeria saying: “Over 1 Petabyte of storage is already being allocated to AI projects in Nigeria by Galaxy Backbone Limited and the Pilot Compute Programme that we are undertaking, which is seeing 21st Century Technologies invest over $2 million in Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), is also going to put us in a position to start building and narrating the story for why we need to invest in our computing power as a nation.”

“We all know that the strength of a network is determined by the value that each node on the network brings to it. If our world is truly connected, you are not helping Africa or Nigeria by ensuring that we can come to the table and participate. By partnering with us, you are only ensuring that our world is stronger because we have something significant to contribute to the network,”

He spoke about a number of strategic partnerships and projects facilitated by the Ministry of Communications, Innovation & Digital Economy to fast-track Nigeria’s growth in the field of AI, including:
the relaunch of new and improved capacity at the National Centre for Al and Robotics (NCAIR) to better fulfil its mandate describing the Centre as a special purpose vehicle created to promote research and development on emerging technologies and their practical application in the areas of Nigerian national interest.

“As a digital innovation and research facility, NCAIR focuses on Artificial Intelligence (Al), Robotics and Drones, Internet of Things (loT), and other emerging technologies, aimed at transforming the Nigerian digital economy. The capacity building imperative is undertaken with support from global technology company, Cisco.”

He also announced Nigeria’s Computing Infrastructure Pilot to accelerate the development of Al projects of national interest which will be managed by Galaxy Backbone Limited partnership with 21st Century Technologies to develop Nigeria’s national compute project.

“The Compute will be available to local researchers, startups, government entities working on critical Al projects that are of national interest. It will reside at the Galaxy Backbone Data Centre and accessible through NCAIR” he added.

The Minister said the Nigeria Al Collective is a community of practice collaborating towards accelerating the nation’s collective prosperity through an inclusive Al Ecosystem.

“The Collective will harness the power of Al to drive economic prosperity, accelerate innovation and social development, and position Nigeria as a leading force in AI for good globally.”

Beautiful as these initiatives may be, industry players think that the Minister should have addressed the pressing current issues before embarking on long term programmes including AI and the Compute among others.

●Aragba-Akpore is an Abuja-based analyst on tech trends.

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