Interview: Adebayo Shittu
What are the key components of the ministry’s four-year roadmap for the development of ICT?
ADEBAYO SHITTU: The Federal Ministry of Communications oversees five parastatals: the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT), Galaxy Backbone, the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) and the National Information Technology Development Agency. Each serves as a focal point for our four-year roadmap. The NCC is our flagship organisation that is mandated with licensing GSM operators and creating an enabling environment that allows operators to thrive.
NIGCOMSAT is our state-owned satellite communications firm that currently maintains one satellite in orbit. Subscriptions to the satellite have not yet reached our target, as with only one satellite, potential customers often worry that if something were to happen to it, data would be lost. This is a rational concern, and for this reason we plan to have two satellites in orbit and encourage all government entities to use the national satellite company. We are actively engaged with potential investors for this initiative.
The ministry also oversees Galaxy Backbone, which coordinates the internet infrastructure plans for the government. The federal government’s numerous ministries, departments, agencies, universities and research institutes should all be linked to a central server. Galaxy Backbone aims to set up a network that can store data and ensure high-quality telephonic activities throughout Nigeria. Funding is a primary challenge, as the initiative requires billions of naira in investment. As with NIGCOMSAT, we are in contact with potential domestic and foreign financiers interested in supporting Galaxy Backbone.
Over the next four years there will also be a re-positioning of NIPOST, which administers all postal and courier services throughout Nigeria. The growth of GSM operators has drastically reduced demand for physical mail, and many observers viewed NIPOST as moribund. With over 4000 infrastructure sites, however, NIPOST boasts an extensive distribution network that the ministry intends to use as a vehicle to increase financial inclusion. Throughout Nigeria, there are many rural areas with no bank branches or access to traditional financial services. Families and individuals often have to send money via couriers, placing their funds at risk. NIPOST facilities can act as financial intermediaries to reduce risk. Moreover, we expect the postal service to play a role in facilitating the growth of e-commerce in Nigeria.
What are the challenges for GSM operators in terms of rolling out telecoms infrastructure?
SHITTU: It is the ministry’s objective to bring internet access to a greater number of homes and communities. Two challenges operators face in regard to telecoms infrastructure are taxes and the cost of maintaining towers. A common complaint from operators is they are taxed at multiple levels of government, with federal, state and local taxes constraining potential growth. We plan to address this issue by streamlining tax collection.
How can ICT facilitate employment in Nigeria?
SHITTU: Technology has a multiplier effect in every sector of the economy; it promotes greater efficiency and productivity. For example, the previous minister of agriculture and rural development introduced the e-wallet system, which allows farmers to use their mobile phones to access government vouchers. E-government services create a more effective and transparent public sector. We are engaging with countries such as South Korea to incorporate best practices in this area and are setting up two e-government training centres in Abuja. The ministry also plans to create more technology hubs and centres where young tech-savvy entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises can develop their ideas.
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