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President Buhari is not enthusiastic about infrastructural issues

President Buhari is not enthusiastic about infrastructural issues

If it is true that what you say, and how you say them expose and unveil the condition and attitudes of your heart, it is safe to say that the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari is not enthusiastic about infrastructural issues and definitely not interested in technology in Nigeria, at least not in 2018.

His New Year Day Speech comprised exactly 2004 words. Word after word, phrase after phrase, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, there was no mention on technology. Despite a recent clamour for broadband proliferation by industry players and the press, the President did not offer any encouragement that he would tackle any infrastructural issues. And this is happening barely twelve months before the expiration of the target of the National Broadband Plan of 30% fixed broadband penetration in the country. Depressing.

For an industry that only last year attracted the attention of the world’s biggest technology giants by revenue and size including Microsoft, Google and Facebook, Nigeria is not paying much heed to technology. For industry experts, it is depressing that the Executive President could not see the opportunities available in technology penetration via employment generation, productivity gains, creation of consumer surplus, economic growth, cost savings, and reducing inefficiencies. Nothing in the President’s 2018 speech focused on elements to leverage technology to address healthcare delivery, citizenry engagement, or educational revamp.

To really achieve “global economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”, the President should not only focus on rail, road, gas, and power infrastructures, but should also focus on the fourth line of a modern economy: fiber line (broadband). Broadband infrastructure in Nigeria is in deficit. It needs to be urgently addressed. In fact, a proactive government should declare a state of emergency on broadband infrastructure in Nigeria. This is why the National Broadband Plan was introduced by the last administration. The policy goal is to increase Nigeria’s fixed broadband penetration to 30% by 2018 and also attain the country’s Vision 2020. Unfortunately, this Administration has been unable to follow through. On the contrary, the Nigerian Information and Communications Sector (ICT) seems to have stunted, especially in 2017, characterised by harsh operating environments,  inability to access FOREX, and shrinking revenue generation which impacted on financial health status of operators and killed a few operators including Etisalat Nigeria (revived as 9Mobile). Other challenges that stalled telecoms growth in 2017 include refusal to Right of Way (ROW) harmonisation, manifesting via multiple taxation across government agencies, insufficient investment in broadband infrastructure, among others.

Improving broadband penetration in Nigeria has huge benefits for its growing, youthful population. Improved broadband penetration will significantly accelerate growth in the economy, creating business and job opportunities in the country. According to a 2009 World Bank study, broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38% in low-or middle-income countries; a growth estimation also confirmed by McKinsey (10% increase in broadband household equals 0.1%–1.4% GDP boost). The critical role broadband plays is best appreciated in the telecom sector. When the Nigerian economy was rebased in 2014, the telecoms sector contributed up to 10% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When the chips were down during the just-ended economic recession, the telecoms sector was one sector that experts believed had the capacity to pull the country out of recession. This is not in doubt. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms sector recorded over $32 billion investment, 152 million subscribers, and about 100 million Internet users.

In the President’s New Year Day Speech, His Excellency expressed hope that the “massive public works [road, rail, and power-plant infrastructures] should spearhead the recovery and lead millions back to employment”. But without addressing the country’s broadband-penetration challenges, job creation and economic development would be greatly limited.

In today’s knowledge economy and digital age, no change-driven government relegates broadband infrastructure. Broadband is critical to the growth of different sectors of the economy. It is an enabler. The purpose of the National Broadband Plan is to guide each successive administration’s steps towards the attainment of the goals stated in the plan. This presupposes that at every point in time, the government should be taking actions towards the realization of those goals, not leaving the plans to gather dust on paper.

The government must realize that broadband is one critical enabling infrastructure that accelerates other sectors of the economy like no other; from e-governance to trade, commerce, and investments; from education to telecommunications; entertainment to security. As rightly captured in the National Broadband Plan, “broadband is to the 21st century Information Age what electricity was to the Industrial Age.” Broadband powers the modern economy.

To power the Nigerian economy, this administration must urgently plug in the National Broadband Plan. And considering the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan with its diversification policy, integrating the National Broadband Plan will help the Buhari government achieve greater results across various sectors of the economy. Broadband will benefit the country in various ways and address some of the concerns raised by the President in his New Year Day Speech.

From governance to agriculture, security to enterprise, broadband enables them all. On governance, broadband will help improve e-governance, significantly cutting down cost of government, corruption, extravagance, and waste; three problems President Buhari raised in his speech. In agriculture, President Buhari is “highly gratified that agriculture has picked up, contributing to the government’s effort to re-structure the economy.” This is great to hear. But what the President may not have fully realize is broadband’s role in enabling the growth of agtech whereby many farmers now have access to farming information, attract investors from different parts of the world, and market and sell their farm produce through online platforms such as FarmCrowdy and other agtech platforms.

Finally, just as the President has rightly noted in his speech, “great nations are built by enterprising people”. To build that great nation, the Federal Government must create the enabling environment for enterprise in Nigeria. Broadband is the enabler. We urge the Presidency to urgently give attention to the full implementation of the National Broadband Plan.

The time is now.

Credit: BusinessDay

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