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Exploiting NigComSat, NCC’s capabilities to drive digital economy

Despite having the largest mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa, which is supported by strong broadband infrastructure and improved international connectivity, Nigeria has minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas, leaving a significant number of the most marginalised segments of the population without internet access. This has been hindering the growth of its digital economy. The country is capturing only a fraction of its digital economic potential and will need to make strategic investments to develop a dynamic, transformative digital economy, according to a new World Bank assessment. The Nigeria Digital Economy Diagnostic says that with improvements in digital connectivity, digital skills, digital financial services, and other core areas of digital development, Nigeria can fully unleash new economic opportunities, create jobs and transform people’s lives. “As the biggest economy in Africa with one of the largest populations of young people in the world, Nigeria is well-positioned to develop a strong digital economy, which would have a transformational impact on the country,” said Isabel Neto, World Bank Senior Digital Development Specialist and co-author of the report.

“Through innovations and invest- ments, the Nigerian economy can harness digital data and new technologies, generate new content, link individuals with markets and government services, and roll out new, sustainable business models,” she added. In addition to the efforts of the Nige- rian Communications Commission, it is believed that the Nigerian Communica- tion Satellite (NigComSat) can also do a great job to promote and develop the Ni- gerian digital economy using the instru- ment in its fold. Digital economy pillars The digital economy is being built around the five pillars of the Digital Economy for Africa initiative (DE4A), which are digital infrastructure, digi- tal platforms, digital financial services, digital entrepreneurship, and digital skills—key foundational elements of a digital economy. The DE4A is part of the World Bank Group’s support for the African Union’s Digital Transformation for Africa, which aims for every African person, business, and government to be digitally abled by 2030.

Challenges

The lack of the required infrastructure has been a major challenge militating against the growth of the digital economy in Nigeria. Despite having the largest mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa, which is supported by strong broadband infra- structure and improved international connectivity, Nigeria has minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas, leaving a significant number of the most marginalised segments of the population without internet access. Aside from this, millions of Nigerians lack formal identification records to access a range of public and private services. Digital financial services About 60 million Nigerian adults are without access to a formal account, stalling the country’s journey toward financial inclusion. Whereas in other African markets financial inclusion would mostly be driven by digital financial service (DFS) providers, in Nigeria the huge potential of DFS remains untapped. Despite its large, youthful, and entrepreneurial population, digital entrepreneurship is yet to be fully exploited given its potential to become an engine of economic transformation in Nigeria. Experts also noted that the capabilities and skills required to use various forms of digital technologies remained limited to a small segment of the population.

“Increases in higher level education and the existence of accessible online training initiatives are bringing digital skills to those able to access them. “However, low enrollment in basic education and the poor quality of that education coupled with a lack of digital skills in curricula is segmenting digital skills into a slim share of the popula- tion, excluding the poorest from the benefits of the digital world,” they said.

“There is a vibrant ecosystem of digital entrepreneurship in Lagos and Abuja that is supported by the dynamic incubators, venture capital companies, digital start-ups, and the diaspora,” said Siegfried Zottel, World Bank Senior Financial Sector Specialist and co-author of the report.

“However, the growth of digital firms is not without challenges, such as a difficult business environment, lack of early-stage financing, and lim- ited market opportunities outside of those cities, which would need to be addressed,” Zottel added. NCC’s role In Nigeria, the digital economy is a key priority, as the report notes, the coun- try has made some strides to strengthen the country’s digital space. Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017–2020 (ERGP) recognises the need for a digital-led strategy to make the Ni- gerian economy more competitive in the 21st Century global economy. In 2015, the Nigeria Communica- tions Commission (NCC) proposed the transition of the economy into a digital economy through investments in digi- tal infrastructure, and more specifically broadband, which is a key driver of digi- tal economy growth. Nigeria’s interna- tional connectivity is well developed, and there are new digital platforms available such as the Central Portal for Govern- ment Services. In addition, the NCC has also com- mitted to universal education, including providing digital skills training, and it is home to several high-growth digital companies. It regulates the ecosystem to drive the digital economy.

NigComSat’s role Meanwhile, the Minister of Com- munications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, has urged the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigComSat) to explore opportunities in the local and international markets to contribute its own quota in the digital economy and industrial revolution in Nigeria. The minister said this at a work- shop on Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS), a flight demonstration within the Nigerian Airspace by Nige- rian Communications Satellite (NIG- COMSAT) Ltd using the NigComSat-1R payload, the L-Band. The NigComSat-1R navigation (L- Band) payload provides Navigational overlay Services, which have disruptive applications in the aviation and non- aviation sectors. The event was organised by the SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office (JPO) in collaboration with the ANGA programme and Nigerian Communica- tions Satellite Limited in conjunction with Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). Pantami disclosed that Communica- tions and Digital technology is the key enabler of other sectors like security, defence, health, agriculture, education, and aviation. He added that he has directed NIG- COMSAT to collaborate and reach out to the aviation sector for the application of SBAS. “I have directed NIGCOMSAT to col- laborate and reach out to the aviation sector to ensure the successful implemen- tation of SBAS in Africa.

“The satellite covers part of the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, it covers parts of Asia and Europe. “Our satellite here in Nigeria has the capacity to provide the navigation overlay services,” he said. The Minister also said satellite had the capacity to support the implementation of the Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) not only in Nigeria but in the whole 54 countries in Africa. He, therefore, urged African nations to consider the Nigerian Communication Satellite when the need arises. The Managing Director of NIGCOM- SAT Ltd, Mr. Tukur Lawal, also added that the organisation planned to contribute its quota to the digital economy and industrial revolution by exploring more opportuni- ties locally and internationally. ”For NIGCOMSAT Ltd to contribute its quota in the digital economy and indus- trial revolution, we cannot remain in the comfort zone but rather look for areas of exploring the market both local and inter- national. “We will give all the support needed and innovations that will meet and convert all weaknesses to successes,” he noted.

Collaboration He stressed the need for the different agencies of government regional and international partners to collaborate towards the success of the SBAS utilisation. He added that the programme was to boost the knowledge-sharing platform to support stakeholders’ decision-making in the creation of synergies and enable ben- efits provided by SBAS in the continent, including safety, efficiency, and environ- mental protection benefits. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, applauded the efforts of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy for its innovation that will drive the aviation industry to high standards to compete with other countries in the world. “I believe the Satellite Based Augmen- tation System SBAS, will drive Civil Avia- tion Industry to our desired goal and this Satellite navigation will bring significant contribution in terms of Safety and flight efficiency improvement while contribut- ing to economic and social development in other economic sectors in Africa,” he said. The satellite launched is expected to improve the Africa aviation industry and recover its former dynamism in the near future despite the economic backslash of COVID-19. Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd (NIGCOMSAT) is a company and agency under the Federal Ministry of Communica- tions and Digital Economy whose mission is to be the leading satellite operator and service provider in Africa. NIGCOMSAT Ltd owns and operates the Nigerian Communications Satellite. The company provides innovative and cutting-edge satellite communications solutions by operating and managing a geostationary communication satellite- NigComSat–1R, built to provide domestic and international satellite services via a 2-way satellite communications services across West, Central, and South East Af- rica, Europe, and Asia. The satellite is a hybrid Communication Satellite with a payload for navigation overlay services (NOS) system similar to EGNOS. Last line Experts have offered specific, actionable recommendations to the government and stakeholders to further the development of each pillar of the digital economy. This is expected to be prioritised to have a robust digital presence in Nigeria.

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