Interview: Omobola Johnson
How is the government supporting information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure?
OMOBOLA JOHNSON: One of the biggest priorities of our ministry is building out a robust ICT infrastructure network. We make it easier for the private sector to make the needed investments and to overcome challenges to the roll-out of the terrestrial fibre and base stations. The first step was to engage the state governments, helping them understand their critical role in the deployment of ICT infrastructure and also the benefits of this infrastructure to their economies. Having understood these benefits, the states now grasp the importance of protecting this key infrastructure from damage, both intentional and inadvertent. Once deployed, this infrastructure becomes a part of the economy. If damaged, the state will be losing revenue.
The telecoms industry actually cuts across several state regulatory agencies, adversely affecting the ease of doing business for the private sector. These complications compelled us to implement a “pay once” philosophy, allowing just one agency to streamline the administration, levies and taxes. Secondly, we have also committed to what we call a “dig once” philosophy, whereby the infrastructure providers create permanent ducts for fibre, thus preventing the private sector from re-digging and harming the state’s roads.
These changes will divert the sector’s spending away from administrative costs (like procuring right-of-way) and channel spending towards actual infrastructure.
How can Nigeria cultivate increased activity in the software and digital content industry?
JOHNSON: The starting point for any Nigerian software development is relevance to the domestic market. Nigerian software must truly fill a gap in the market. Following that, the industry must bridge the financing gap. The ministry has created the first ICT-focused venture capital fund, with a goal to raise $50m made available to the most promising software firms. Finally, Nigeria must ensure access to markets for these software entrepreneurs. For the newly-inaugurated Tech Launch Pad, the ministry held a competition for 100 software developers to demonstrate their product to seven CIOs from the banking industry and the oil and gas industry. These CIOs selected 10 Nigerians from this group of 100 who offered solutions that could be implemented and add real value to their businesses. These 10 entrepreneurs have since joined the software incubation centres for a period of one year, where they are receiving the support of the CIOs, grants and a degree of mentorship. When they have completed the 12 months, those 10 entrepreneurs will have a ready market for their software. Those three elements – relevance, finance and access to markets – are critical to the success of local content in software and digital content. For the future, we are looking beyond banking, oil and gas to other industries like entertainment and gaming.
What role might the Nigerian Post Office (NIPOST) play in developing the country’s online activities?
JOHNSON: When we look at NIPOST today, we see the biggest retail infrastructure in the country, with over 3000 outlets. We see NIPOST at the centre of three initiatives: the country’s financial inclusion strategy, digital inclusion strategy and e-commerce strategy. From a financial inclusion point of view, NIPOST has more outlets than any bank in the country. The ministry of communication technology and the Central Bank are working together so that NIPOST can become an additional platform for any bank in the country. Private sector partners are also needed to help upgrade some of the NIPOST outlets and connect the 3000 branches with modern technology. At this point, the outlets can either provide physical banking services or virtual services, performing the role of mobile money agents.
NIPOST can play a role in digital inclusion by cultivating the demand for ICT in Nigeria. We are looking to NIPOST to serve as a digital access point for many people, with cyber cafes for citizens who cannot afford a device or an Internet connection in their own homes.
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