As the world moves into a new economic era driven by technology, experts have identified effective policy instruments, as well as efficient regulatory systems as the keys to enable Nigeria to maximise the potentials of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). SAMSON AKINTARO, in this report, captures regulatory activities in the telecoms sector geared towards positioning the country
With about 200 million mobile subscriptions and millions of businesses leveraging technology to drive efficiency, Nigeria has, no doubt, had its fair share of the third industrial revolution, which is hinged on digital technologies. However, the stake has become higher as the world welcomes the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), an era where technology becomes immersed in everyday life in previously unimaginable ways such as 3-D printing, quantum computing, autonomous machines, gene editing and Internet of Things, among others. Already, stakeholders, as well as industry regulators, are putting measures in place to ensure that Nigeria actively participates and harnesses the benefits of the new revolution. Against this backdrop, Nigeria’s preparation for the 4IR was the focus of the 3rd discourse series of the Advocaat Law Practice, held virtually last week. With the theme: ‘Powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Nigeria,’ key industry stakeholders, including the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) Gbenga Adebayo, immediate past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production, while the second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. And now the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is building on the third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. WEF noted that the 4IR is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It further described the revolution as “the possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge, are unlimited.” The forum added that these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.
In his presentation at the Advocaat Law Practice forum, the EVC of NCC, Prof. Danbatta, highlighted the pathways for Nigeria to latch onto the new revolution, noting that the country must ensure that no one is left behind in the evolving digital future. According to him, Nigeria can only harness the opportunities of the 4th Industrial Revolution as a nation if it puts in place effective guiding frameworks to address the various aspects of the digital ecosystemandensuretheireffectiveinterworking in the national interest. “In this regard, I am pleased to note that Nigeria is not lacking in key policy and regulatory frameworks and instruments, which will enable us to play a leading role in powering the 4th Industrial Revolution. “As an example, The National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy Policy (2020-2030) boasts of eight (8) pillars designed to, amongst others, enable Nigeria to become a leading player in the global digital economy; Provide a catalyst to facilitate the diversification of the economy; and Accelerate the attainment of the key national objectives of improving security, reducing corruption and expanding the economy,” he said.
Danbatta, who was represented at the forum by the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, noted that the Nigerian National Broadband Policy (2020- 2024), which is being implemented by the Commission, clearly highlighted the various implementation strategies that will aid the pervasive inclusion and rollout of broadband services across the country whilst also developing a robust and holistic digital economy. “The NCC’s Strategic Management Plan (SMP 2020-2024 or “ASPIRE 2024”) consolidated on the vision we earlier articulated in the Strategic Vision Plan and 8-Point Agenda. We have responded to the policy goals highlighted above to harness the immense socio-economic benefits of ICT for national development; to ensure that ICT infrastructure is up to the standard necessary to provide ubiquitous broadband services in Nigeria; and to align the Commission’s regulatory efforts with the aforementioned Policy Instruments, as well as the growth strategies of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to ensure growth, inclusiveness and sustainability,” he said. Danbatta explained that the Commission had recorded some significant achievements in this regard. These include the licensing of six infrastructure companies (InfraCos) speed up the deployment of broadband infrastructure throughout Nigeria; the provision of training and supporting public institutions with ICT interventions like school knowledge centers, ADAPTI, etc.; and the enhancement of physical infrastructure. “In the last five years, the Commission has expanded broadband penetration from six per cent to 42.06 as of February 2021; access gap clusters have been reduced from 207 to 114; Fibre Optic coverage has increased from 47,000km to 54,725 km and Base Transceiver Stations for 3G and 4G deploy ments have increased from 30,000 to 53,460,” he added. Other initiatives geared towards positioning Nigeria for the 4IR, according to Danbatta, include the creation of a full-fledged department Digital Economy at the commission to support Federal Government’s digital economy agenda. He said the Commission had also increased funding of telecom research to N336.4 million and has endowed four professorial chairs. He added that the Commission has also commenced requisite engagements on 5G deployments and some of its licensees have already carried out trials. “These strides will enable the telecommunications sector to provide the infrastructure backbone for powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Nigeria. We are firmly committed to ensuring that Nigerians in Nigeria play a leading role in Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Blockchain, Autonomous Vehicle, Drones and other innovative technologies, which are now driving growth and national competitiveness. “The question of regulation of disruptive technologies without stultifying innovation is one that we, like all other regulators globally, are carefully studying. For now, we have maintained a sharp focus on critical cross-cutting aspects like consumer protection, enhancement of competition, data protection, and enhancement of trust in digital platforms through the prevention of cybercrimes and other abuses,” he said.
Stakeholders at the forum also identified the on-going national identification project as a prerequisite for the Fourth Industrial Revolution as it is critical to the country’s digital emergence and its future growth. The Federal Government had articulated a policy that all Nigerians must possess a unique National Identification Number (NIN) issued by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and that NIN must be linked with all identity databases, particularly the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Registration database. To achieve this, government had to suspend the activation of all new SIMs in December 2020, while mandating all citizens to link their SIMs to their NINs. Giving an update on the NINSIM linkage exercise, which is still on-going, Danbatta said: “I am pleased to note that we have achieved very significant success in the articulation of a template for the activation of new SIMs linked with authenticated NINs and that the activation of new SIMs will now be carried out across the country in earnest. “This development further underscores government’s commitment to ensure that all the pre-requisites for our citizens’ full, effective and productive participation in the digital economy is guaranteed. I call on all stakeholders to support these efforts in the overall national interest for a robust citizens’ database that supports socio-economic, health, education, national security and other public interest aspirations of the country.”
In the end, stakeholders at the forum agreed that Nigeria can only maximise the potentials of the 4th Industrial Revolution if it articulates effective and forwardlooking policy instruments to guide its emergence into the future digital landscape; ensure the ubiquitous presence, the seamless operation, and the costeffective availability of communications infrastructure, which will power the digital aspirations of all sectors of the Nigerian economy and ensure that national competitiveness is guaranteed and deploy effective regulatory instruments and harness the efforts of all critical stakeholders so that it can derive the utmost benefits from the 4th Industrial revolution and not be reduced to digital laggards, spectators or merely a consumptive class. Rallying all the stakeholders to achieve the targets, the NCC boss said the Commission is keenly aware of the critical need to harness the contributions of all critical stakeholders across all industry platforms and professional groups to ensure that Nigerians fully participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as drivers and innovators. “We hope that we can continue to count on the support of all stakeholders in this quest,” he said.
As the world enters the 4th revolution, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind. While the telecoms regulator is doing all within its capacity to ensure the country is well-positioned for the revolution, collaborative efforts of all stakeholders are still required to achieve this important national goal.