We are glad to see you at the first edition of Gitex Africa – why was it important for you to take part of the event, and how is it going for you so far?
First, let me start by thanking you for having me and giving the Nigerian Communications Commission (Commission) an opportunity to say a word or two on this maiden edition of GITEX Africa and briefly describe the Commission’s activities. Now back to your question, there are several reasons for the Commission and indeed other participants to be present at this historic event. The GITEX brand is an excellent global tech event that presents opportunities for both governments and businesses as well as for networking and growth.
Secondly, for the Nigerian Telecoms Industry, which the largest in Africa, to maintain its lead and standards, it has to be abreast of technological developments, new ideas and growth areas across all tech sectors and there’s no better representative for that than the Nigerian Communications Commission who is the Regulator for the sector, overseeing over 220 million users. GITEX Africa holding in Marrakech is also an opportunity for Nigeria as a Nation to help further foster our relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco to help boost trade and cooperation amongst African Countries.
We want to see the creation of fiber optic cable link between our two countries alongside the Gas Pipeline project to help interconnect our two countries together and facilitate the digital economy as both Nigeria and Morocco belong to the Digital Cooperation Organization DCO.
For the Nigerian Telecoms Industry to maintain its lead and standards, it has to be abreast of technological developments, new ideas and growth areas across all tech sectors.BABAGANA DIGIMA
DEPUTY DIRECTOR NCC
Can you discuss any ongoing efforts to promote innovation and technological advancements within the Nigerian telecommunications industry?
There are several efforts been made by the NCC or the Commission and other stakeholders in the Nigerian telecommunications sector. We at the Commission are of course in on the forefront with policies that facilitate innovation such as been the first to license and deploy the 5G technology in West Africa based on our sole belief that it holds the key to the rapid provision of broadband connectivity which will in turn foster technological advancement. But we also promote R&D in the Universities through provision of grants. The Commission has also endowed professorial chairs in several Nigerian Universities geared towards the advancement of knowledge and scholarship.
Aside from these efforts, the Commission, under the leadership of our Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta has established the Research & Development Department as well as the Nigeria Office for Developing the Indigenous Telecoms Sector (NODITS) whose key functions include Research and Development and Manufacturing. While the R&D Department focuses on academia, NODITS focuses on the Telecom Industry Players such as the MNOs, TowerCos, Tower & Mast Manufacturers, SIM manufacturers etc., as well as the MSMEs & IDEs.
It should interest you to note that one of the Startups called Wicrypt, started life from an NCC-organized hackathon under the purview of our R&D Department has gone on to create a unique router and its OS that allows its users to create a hotspot and re-sale their surplus internet bandwidth as well as mine their unique network tokens which earned them a $150,000 price as winners in the LEAP event held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in February, and of course, their attendance of that event was partially sponsored by Commission and the organizers of LEAP. Another Startup which was equally sponsored from Nigeria called RiceAfrika/FarmEasy also won the final prize money in their category. In the same vein, the Commission has also fully sponsored three startups from Nigeria to this maiden edition of GITEX Africa, namely AMChat, Tronix Labs and SmartParcel, who are showcasing their wares and ideas in an effort to attract investment, partnerships and collaboration.
How important is cross-industry collaboration for the future of Africa and how does the Commission collaborate with telecom operators, government agencies, and international organizations, to achieve its objectives and drive positive change in the industry?
The future of Africa lies in consolidating its position not only in the technical fields but in the techno-political fields as well, empowering its people with technology, with technical knowledge and skills both in hardware and software.BABAGANA DIGIMA
DEPUTY DIRECTOR NCC
In an era where technological convergence, disruptions and patriotic and regional political interest is trending, the future of Africa lies in consolidating its position not only in the technical fields but in the techno-political fields as well, Africa needs to empower its people with technology, with technical knowledge and skills both in hardware and software. Nigerians and other Africans have proven that we can be big players in several fields take for example, in the number of Unicorns that have come out of Africa, in Innovation Driven Enterprise (IDEs), including music for example as well as other areas of human development.
The Commission, through NODITS, has also organized the first-ever Nigerian Telecommunications Indigenous Content Expo (NTICE) which brought together various players in the telecoms value chain in a two-day event that will be replicated again this year in August tentatively and will continue to be an annual event. Two out of the three Startups sponsored by the Commission in this event were discovered at the NTICE event last year.
The best way for us in Africa as developing countries is to consolidate our manpower, consumer power, finances etc., through mutually beneficial cooperation and that is what Nigeria is doing at the moment through the efforts of the Commission and its parent Ministry, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy we have supported bodies such as the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the West African Telecoms regulators Assembly (WATRA), we have signed MoUs with Algeria, Egypt and other countries and we are also amongst the founding members of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) that I have earlier mentioned whose objective is to bring about social prosperity and growth in the digital economy. The DCO currently includes six African countries including Nigeria and Morocco, out its thirteen member States is a prime example of our commitment for cooperation and support for cross-border data flows and the digital economy.
Our key priorities is in tandem with that of our government which is to better the living conditions of our populace and guarantee a better future for our citizens. Therefore, we are currently focusing areas that will boost the economy such as provision of infrastructure such as optic fibre cable, 5G deployment, provision of low- cost access devices.BABAGANA DIGIMA
DEPUTY DIRECTOR NCC
Back at home, we have established a sector-specific Computer Security Incidence Response Team (CSIRT) which works in coordination with other Cyber Security response bodies for example. We have also supported the Telecom and Technology Sustainability Working Group (TTSWG) and independent industry-driven organization comprising mobile network operators and others in the value chain.
And of course, we will also continue to support our governments by various policy contributions that relate to the industry from technology to issues of spectrum assignments, sustainability and even utilization and safeguarding of raw materials needed for Africa’s present and future development such our natural resources like cobalt, lithium, and rare-earth metals.
Looking ahead, what are the key priorities and goals for the Nigerian Communications Commission in the coming years, and how do you envision the future of the telecommunications sector in Nigeria?
Nigeria’s estimated population is currently above 200 million people, of which about 65% are below the age of 35. Therefore, the Commission key priorities is in tandem with that of our government which is to better the living conditions of our populace and guarantee a better future for our citizens. Therefore, we are currently focusing areas that will boost the economy such as provision of infrastructure such as optic fibre cable, 5G deployment, provision of low-cost access devices etc.
Although the Nigerian communications industry currently has over 227 million subscribers, a lot of these numbers use dual SIMs to compensate for lack of coverage by the MNOs. This explains our tele-density of 119%. Therefore, there is still a dearth of fibre optic cables, mobile base stations and other infrastructure, which implies there’s room for more investment in those key areas and there is need to grow our broadband penetration from 48.49% presently to 70% by the year 2025 in line with the Nigerian national Broadband Plan 2020-2025.
Nigeria’s growing and youthful population, coupled with targeted and committed government policy of infrastructure and service enhancement, means that the future is bright for the telecommunications sector in Nigeria, which presently contributes about 14% of our GDP. We are calling on investors to take a closer look at this industry as there’s still a lot of ground that needs to be covered, just as the Commission is committed to providing the necessary leadership and transparency that has made us standout in Africa and the world.