The task before the new Communications Minister, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, appears enormous, but also surmountable. It is surmountable because, he had been in the industry for the past four years, and had also enjoyed cordial relationship with other agencies of government in the ministry, while he held sway as the Director-General of the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
The industry needs help, and indeed someone to march policies with actions. Feelers from stakeholders in the sector on the last administration have been that the industry could have done far better, and earned some accolades, if a technocrat had been in-charge.
Putting it in the word of a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, Pantami is not new in the industry, have been privileged to head an agency in the ministry, and a close ally of the former Minister, Adebayo Shittu, ‘‘I believe he knows why the sector witnessed snail-speed development in the last four years and why he must perform going forward. His first 100-days in office as sector’s minister will greatly determine the future of the industry.’’
Aluko admitted that Pantami redefined the public service by elevating NITDA as one of the most respected agencies in Nigeria, especially by curbing corruption, ‘‘but there are still corruptions in other sister agencies, the industry as a whole needs to be rejigged. Local content is still in the papers, software importation occurs daily and capital flight is still very huge. Telecoms operators continued to offer below par services, but smile to the bank per seconds, while consumers’ complaints over poor quality of service remain, and increasing. Vandalism, theft, multiple taxation, over regulations are still very prevalent in the sector, with the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) bill left dusty at the National Assembly, almost over a decade now.’’
He observed that no major investment has entered the sector in the last few years, ‘‘Pantami needs to work on this. The sector, and indeed the country need to feel the impact of President Buhari’s Executive orders, if truly there is any.’’
According to him, Nigeria still ranks among the lowest countries innovating, ‘‘we are still a consuming nation. The country has ranked lowest in the global innovation index in the last four years, despite having a pool of talented people, especially the youths. He needs to find a lasting solution to all these challenges.’’
Like Aluko, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) Chairman, Conferences Committees, Jide Awe, noted that having been around in the last four years, Pantami must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the ministry. Unlike a complete outsider, Awe said he expects Pantami will not be learning on the job.
Awe wants the new minister to focus on improving sector governance and creates a more conducive environment that enables growth, while harnessing technology to improve performance.
The NCS chief wants Pantami to identify and share his vision for improved sector governance especially on addressing priority issues.
‘‘While his NITDA experience as DG will stand him in good stead, he should be inclusive in outlook and adopt fresh ideas and creative approaches. He should have a helicopter view of the ministry, the role of each agency and how all work together to ensure there is significant impact on government, private sector and education sector – actual mainstreaming ICT. He should promote systematic tech and enabled approaches in vital sectors to drive employment generation and economic growth,’’ Awe stressed.
According to Awe, Pantami’s vision must be bold, ‘‘the status quo is unhelpful. I suggest an intentional and inclusive approach. Ensure stakeholders are on board. Driving vision “with them not to them.” Understand their concerns, engage meaningfully and challenge them as well. Youth innovation must be a priority. The huge is still largely untapped.’’
From his perspective, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHuB), Chris Uwaje, two critical assignments should be Pantami’s target in his first 100 days in office.
First, Uwaje said the new minister should try to reposition the IT Ecosystem. He said Pantami should strive to persuade the Presidency to restructure and rename the ministry from Ministry of Communications to the Federal Ministry for Digital Transformation.
Secondly, the DSHuB DG and former ISPON president said Pantami should focus on software innovation and discovery to propel Nigeria into an e-Knowledge nation for sustainable development at all levels of global competitiveness.
‘‘The above will deliver immense impact, benefits and galvanize the acceleration of massive employment opportunities for the Nigerian youth as well as enthrone women empowerment, automate government processes, improve national health and health-care condition and above all, create wealth to make Nigerians /Africans smile again – assured of a brighter future,’’ Uwaje stated.
For the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, going by the track record of Pantami at NITDA, it is apparent that there will be significant changes that will be heralded into the Ministry of Communications.
Teniola said the industry awaits his new manifesto to gauge exactly the changes he expects to make and to his style of stakeholder management and engagement in policy and decision making.
According to him, ATCON expects the following to be addressed within the first 100 days of Pantami in office. He should put in place Nigerian Broadband Plan for 2019 to 2024; a coherent Nigerian Digital Strategy to be formulated for the period 2020-2030; a review of NCC’s NCA 2003 Act and NITDA’s Act to resolve overlaps and ‘digital’ related gaps evident in the regulatory space; ensure deeper collaboration with Ministry of Information concerning broadcast, telecoms and multimedia convergence regulations, and creation of an ICT infrastructure bank/fund for the industry.
While congratulating Pantami, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the new minister is very familiar with the industry and naturally he will bring to bear his experience and continue to work with all stakeholders for greater success for the sector.
The African ICT Foundation (AfICTF) wants Pantami to ensure patronage of made in Nigeria IT hardware and software.
In the congratulatory message signed by President of the Foundation, Tony Ojobo, it commended President Buhari for appointing a core ICT professional to manage the Communications Ministry, noting that the industry should leapfrog into a new beginning when the new minister goes into work.
According to Ojobo, the former NITDA DG has a formidable track record at the NITDA which prompted his choice for the Ministry saying that NITDA’s unwavering commitment to local content under Pantami, enhanced the purchase of indigenous brand of ICT devices by over 60 per cent within the last three years.
He said that local hosting of data doubled in value and local software consumption has significantly increased and that there was also a cumulative effect of these efforts is that ICT contribution to GDP reached an unprecedented mark of 13.63 per cent in Q4 of 2018.
While expressing the commitment of the AfICTF to the growth of the industry through its advocacy role, Ojobo said that the Foundation has been involved across Africa empowering Africans with digital skills through its programme of skills acquisition and ICT penetration.
Ojobo recalled that under Pantami, NITDA issued several policies, guidelines, and frameworks to help stimulate broadband penetration in the country such as the Framework and Guidelines for Public Internet Access, Guidelines for Clearance of IT Project by Public Institutions, NITDA Public Key Infrastructure Regulations, Framework on Data Localization and Local Content Policy.
He noted that replicating such feat through the office as Minister of Communications would facilitate the implementation such policies and guidelines adding that AfICTF is aware that under him over 660 IT intervention centers were established nationwide, Digital Divide Bridging Centers, Digital Job Creation Centers, Campus Area Networks for educational institutions, e-Learning Centers for educational institutions, Virtual/Digital Library Centers and IT hubs.