Nigeria at 56: A laugh-cry appraisal of the ICT industry
56 years post-independence, the industry moved from a posts and telecom regime: poor, sluggish, uninspired, through restructuring into a strictly telecom industry and after a successful liberalisation process transformed quickly into a Communication Technology industry. Here is an appraisal of the ICT industry of Nigeria at 56.
To the extent that the accomplished components of the CommTech industry development objectives have been remarkable, especially regarding voice services and density of coverage, the unfinished tasks are easy to identify.
Telecoms in Nigeria at 56
The entire industry goals have summed up into only one task: that of providing AFFORDABLE ACCESS to BROADBAND INTERNET for ALL CITIZENS as articulated in a Broadband4All Forum initiative of 2010.
In recent years, four strategic plans were scripted using entirely local initiatives/expertise and at minimum cost to Government, namely: an ICT Policy, a Broadband Plan, an Entrepreneurship Roadmap and a Local Content Development Agenda. That leaves two focus areas to be expanded and plugged. These are SUBSIDY and REGULATION.
Fragmented SUBSIDY regimes face waste and overlap challenges and the fact that they emerged from old-style but genuine decentralisation suggests that fine-tuning is required via harmonisation here and there. That quickly suggests that the industry harmonisation as envisaged in the ICT Policy (2013) which specifies a CONVERGED REGULATOR should be completed. That hope may however be dashed by the rather unclear path that government at policy level chooses to travel at this time. It is difficult not to conclude, at least for now, that the industry may be up to a lockdown for a while. Good story is: This is an industry that its Players made and Government’s (in)action can only cause, as has always, temporary setbacks. Besides, the Regulator’s 8-point, 5-years work plan is an ace that holds hope and promise to stabilise the industry.
To catch up, the existing SUBSIDY regime as articulated in the Universal SERVICE Provision Fund laws requires that a Review of the definition of ‘un-served’ and ‘under-served’ areas and communities be articulated to put a firm grip on BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS as the real SERVICE that is in focus. Good story: the managers of the Fund have identified and strengthened the Review ahead of putting it into statute. But who puts it into law and when will that be?
Much work lies with REGULATION whose true strength will undoubtedly be the quality of minds that sit on Commissions, Boards, or Agencies which regulate the industry. It is difficult to preach professionalism to politicians and that may continue to shape the success, or lack of it, of industry development until the entire choice process of leadership at all levels is keyed into picking from among the best minds.
Akwardly interesting, for example, is the fact that all recent reports on appointment into the Commission emphasised the geopolitical zone where each Commissioner comes from, which is not stated by law beyond its constitutional requirement, and nothing is said about the relevant skills and expertise which the appointee brings to the table, as directly specified and emphasised in the Law that establishes the Commission.
The dual functions of Policy Making and Industry Regulation are so thinly distinct that only a mutually progressive performance assures true development. When the latter shows lack, the industry and consumers bark. When the earlier shows lack, they don’t. They merely pay huge bills and penalties as consequence.
And that is the tragedy of today – as we celebrate Nigeria at 56 – and of the future we can foretell.
Did I make common sense?