For a strong and sustained digital economy in Nigeria, the Federal Government, through it’s regulatory agency, the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC), set policies to guide the sector. In this analysis, ABOLAJI ADEBAYO reviews the implementation and effectiveness of the policies and the policy agenda set for the growth of the sector
Digital economy is taking the space, turning around the economies of countries across the world. With its value put at $11.5 trillion, it is contributing 15.5 per cent of global GDP, which has grown two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past 15 years, almost doubling in size since the year 2000. Nigeria is not lagging behind in the development as its digital economy continues to grow. As the biggest economy in Africa with one of the largest youth populations, Nigeria is well-positioned to develop a strong digital economy. The country is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of the digital economy, accounting for 47 per cent of West Africa’s population. It is said to have the largest mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa, supported by strong mobile broadband infrastructure and improved international connectivity; yet minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas is leaving a significant number of the most marginalised segments of the population without Internet access. Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) Diagnostic Report highlights the challenges and opportunities of the digital economy for Nigeria. It argues that accelerating access to digital technologies spurs innovation, efficiency and productivity and, as a result, brings about choice and opportunities for greater growth and inclusion. The report shows that many Nigerian citizens and businesses remain excluded from the digital ecosystem as a result of limited access to broadband and non-availability of adequate devices (mobile devices and computers) to fully utilise the Internet. It also highlights the progress in digital infrastructure, finance, skills, and entrepreneurship, among others. Similarly, Nigeria is home to several high-growth digital companies that provide hopeful examples of the country’s digital potential. However, the country is yet to fully tap the potential of digital financial services despite its active ecosystem with dynamic incubators, venture capital companies, digital start-ups, and private services via digital platforms. In order to reap the benefits, Nige-ria needs to focus on accelerating improvements in five fundamental pillars of a digital economy: digital infrastructure, digital platforms, digital financial services, digital entrepreneurship and digital skills.
By 2025, companies around the world are expected to use cloud technology in some way, with 85 per cent of business applications predicted to be based on it. In UAE, for example, the share of cloud-related digital transformation spending is expected to increase to 30 per cent in 2024, up from 22 per cent in 2020. The digital economy is the worldwide network of economic activities, commercial transactions and professional interactions that are enabled by information and communications technologies (ICT). It can be succinctly summed up as the economy based on digital technologies. It is the single most important driver of innovation, growth and job creation. The digital economy has transformed the way businesses operate and has created new opportunities for them. It has also changed the way consumers behave and has given them more power. In adapting to the digital economy, there is need to put attention into the components of digital economy, such as infrastructure, e-business and ecommerce to be backed by favourable policies.
Various digital economy policies put in place by the Nigerian government, which are amenable to implementation by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), have been instrumental to the successes and milestones so far recorded in the nation’s telecommunications industry including digital economy, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, has said. The digital economy policies were backed by NCC’s 5-Point Agenda for easy implementation. Danbatta, at a forum recently, reinstated NCC’s commitment to the implementation of the policies through the agenda. The EVC declared that the articulated policies have served as necessary springboards that helped the Commission to leapfrog in the achievement of its mandate through the objective implementation of roadmaps and the set targets stipulated by the various policies to enhance the nation’s digital culture and socio-economic developments. According to him, the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, where the Commission derives its regulatory power and independence, as well as series of other laudable policies emplaced by successive administrations in Nigeria, and more importantly, under President Muhammadu Buhari, have bolstered Commission’s capacity to attain regulatory efficiency and operational excellence. “Consistent provision of policies by the Federal Government that are amenable to and flexible for implementation by NCC to grow the sector have assisted the Commission greatly in attaining the heights that we have achieved and we are grateful to the president and the minister of Communication’s and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, in this regards,” Danbatta said. He recalled that he initiated the development of the Strategic Vision Implementation Plan (SVP) when he assumed office in 2015, as the implementation roadmap for all the various telecoms and broadly, digital economyoriented policies put in place by the government.
Strategic vision plan
“In 2015, we developed the first Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) 2015-2020 with 8-Point agenda, which encapsulates the various policies such as the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2013-2018, the NCC’s Strategic Management Plan (SMP), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s Strategic Vision Plan focusing on Availability, Accessibility and Affordability (3As), as well as other important policies of government that are connected to telecom industry development,” the EVC stated. According to Danbatta, the highpoint of the implementation of the NCC’s first SVP was meeting and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration target by 2018 as specified in the NNBP 2013-2018. He said: “We were able to recorded 31.25 per cent broadband penetration as of December, 2018; raise the bar of telecom consumers protection, improve quality of service, ensure effective deployment of our scarce spectrum resources, deepened local ownership of telecom investment through the regulatory directive to MTN to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (now Nigerian Exchange Group NGX). Ultimately, we improved the contribution of telecom sector to the Nigerian’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” Speaking on the new Strategic Vision Implementation Plan (SViP) 2021- 2025 instituted by the Commission and unveiled on September 8, 2021, Danbatta stated that it was NCC Management’s decision to streamline and serve as compass for the implementation of other digital economy policies of the government. These policies include the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP); the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030; the new NNBP 2020-2025; NCC’s Strategic Management Plan 2020-2024; and the ITU’s Strategic Framework 2020-2023, focusing on five goals, including Growth, Inclusiveness, Sustainability, Innovation and Partnership. However, he said, unlike the first SVP, which has eight agenda, the current Strategic Vision Implementation Plan of the Commission has five agenda. The five agenda include Organizational Renewal for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Excellence; Facilitating the Provision of Infrastructure for a Digital Economy which fosters National Development; Promoting Fair Competition, Inclusive Growth, Increased Investment and Innovative Services; Improving Quality of Service (QoS) for Enhanced Consumer Quality of Experience (QoE); and Facilitating Strategic Collaboration and Partnership. Meanwhile, Danbatta expressed the commitment of the Commission to further deepen connectivity, affordability and increased consumer protection, through diligent implementation of the new SVP’s 5-Point Agenda. He said: “We understand that through on-going diligent implementation of the 5-Point Agenda will the Commission be able to bridge the access gaps in the country. Consequently, we would leverage new technology such as the Fifth Generation (5G) network, accelerate the execution of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) project, encourage investment in commercial satellite services in the country to deepen broadband penetration through fibre connectivity, especially in the rural and hard-to-reach areas. “It is our staunch belief that if connectivity is guaranteed, and affordability is possible, NCC would have helped in advancing Federal Government’s vision for a digital economy. Accordingly, individuals and businesses and organisations across all sectors of the economy will be able to leverage this digital edge to be more efficient at what they do and consequently, add greater value to our national economy.”
To ensure strong commitment to its implementation, Danbatta said the new SVP also had inbuilt initiatives, key performance indicators developed from inception and activities tied to an implementation responsibility matrix. According to him, it also incorporates timelines and a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism. “It is equally outcome-based and recommendation-driven with follow-up actions to guide the Commission in operationalising the plan and assessing its performance over time. “The new SVP, no doubt, embodies several innovative elements deliberately designed to re-invent and transform the telecom ecosystem within the context of regulation,” he said.
To deliver on the 2030 aspirations of greater access to the digital economy and meet the bold objective of creating 100 million jobs in Nigeria, the country needs to increase investment in infrastructure, create an enabling regulatory environment for the digital economy to grow (e.g., regulatory enablers of DFS), pursue radical reforms that bring about improved skills and a more competitive digital job market, support public-private partnerships to stimulate and sustain demand for the use of digital platforms, and improve the current business climate to boost more investment opportunities.