The benefits of liberalizing the telecom and ICT sector would not accrue to Nigerian teeming population until the necessary action is taking by the Nigerian government at all levels. Many years back, Nigeria as a nation embarked on indigenization policy to increase the stake of Nigerians as well as solve the challenge of unemployment but this policy did not last because of lack of tenacious vision and dogged implementation on the part of the federal government.
To reduce or eradicate the continuous unemployment of Nigerian youth (skilled and unskilled) there is an urgent need to reintroduce the indigenization policy in the form of local contents policy and our government should as a matter of urgency encourage knowledge and the skills (the know-how) transfer.
Ghana as a case study, has one of the most protective policy for her citizen in terms of employment and investment and majority of the developed countries do not play lip service to the issue of employment of their citizens. As a matter of fact, they make sure that their nationality is considered for any employment opportunity before any other nationality is considered as goes for South Africa.
Nigeria as a nation, needs to quickly stop the idea of her citizenry not being given the first consideration even in their own land. And Nigeria should rework her investment and employment policies.
The liberalization of the sector has attracted some Large investments to the country but the country needs to develop the sector by making it less import dependent and to do this, the then Honourable Minister of Communication Technology, Dr Mrs Omobola Johnson created an office under NITDA called the office of the Nigeria Local Content which is charged with the responsibility of making the ICT and Telecommunication sector less dependent on importation.
What is the way forward?
From ATCON point of view, we have the following recommendations:
1. Draw a plan to comprehensively develop the ICT sector
ATCON noted that since the inauguration of the Office of the Nigerian Content (ONC), there is little or no productive activity to drive the guidelines that were published. ATCON would like NCC and ONC to come up with short and long term plans. This plan would enable the entire ICT ecosystem to know the area where they can invest their ‘investible’ funds.
2. Speedy implementation of the plan
NCC and ONC should as a matter of urgency implement the plan they have developed to increase the active participation of Nigerian Content in the value chain of telecommunications business in Nigeria.
3. Creation of Evaluation, Monitoring and Enforcement Unit
The NCC and ONC should establish a joint evaluation, monitoring and enforcement department that would see to the adoption of development and Implementation of Nigerian Local Content in the ICT and Telecom ecosystem.
4. Establishment of ICT Park
NCC and ONC should pool resources together for the establishment of ICT Parks. The ICT Park would be given the mandate to encourage the manufacturing of some ICT inputs like microwave radios, switches, routers, mobile phones, Telecom Cables and Connectors etc
5. ATCON Programmes for Local Content
ATCON as a patriotic and professional telecoms and ICT Association have the following programmes to accelerate the participation of Nigeria in the telecoms and ICT ecosystem:
a. Professional Apprenticeship in Telecommunication Engineering.
b. Professional Apprenticeship in Telecoms Regulatory Affairs
c. Professional Apprenticeship in the production or manufacturing of Telecommunications equipment’s
6. Government At All Levels Must Make the ICT Sector A Top Priority In Nigeria
It is surprising that the Federal Government does not give priority to the ICT sector when planning for the country budget despite our huge contributions to the Gross Domestic Product. We all know that more than 70% of ICT components are currently being imported from abroad. It has been established that this sector is contributing about 8% to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our members can no longer buy USD$ directly from CBN designated banks which has significantly pushed the cost of doing business higher.
Though the recent introduction of flexible FX mechanism is more than welcome, it is already too late for some of our members!
To stem the imbalance in the supply and demand of foreign exchange, what the Federal Government needs to consider is to encourage and implements local content policy which would encourage import substitution as this will give birth to the establishment of companies that will start the manufacturing of these components (or even assemble them) in Nigeria with some incentives from the government like different tax relives, direct purchase of these devices by the government at various level.
7. Educational Policies must be Refocused
Today in Nigeria, the number of people who want to study science related courses are small (and in most cases they are reducing) in relation to students who want to study commercial or social science related courses.
The trend painted above can never solve our challenges, therefore, we need to begin to redirect the focus of students on the need to study science related courses.
The Federal and State government schools should all be rehabilitated and make studying of science courses interesting by providing a conducive learning environment and state of the art laboratory for students with a view to encouraging local content policy.
8. Government should Increase the Budget of ICT
The Federal Government should begin to focus more on other alternative means of generating income and their focus should be on increasing government spending and budget allocation to funding the ICT sector for the purpose of making its products and services exportable, thereby allowing it to contribute to our foreign earnings.
9. Enactment of Appropriate ICT Policies
In order for the ICT sector to supplement or replace the Oil and Gas sector, policies which favour the sector must be put in place. It should be emphasized that the petroleum industry which used to be the cash cow for our nation (from a foreign exchange earning perspective) is not doing so well right now and this is a global issue that will take some time to recover. The direct implication of this is that we may not be able to finance our budget without resorting to further government borrowing. ICT can as a matter of fact serve as the new cash cow for the country provided the right polices are put in place.
ATCON would like to use this opportunity to seek the cooperation of NITRA in information dissemination of the need to fast track the implementation of local content framework.
We are certain and confident that with all these proposed interventions we have shared and solutions being put in place, we can safely say that the ICT sector would contribute more significantly to the nation’s GDP if framework on local content is allowed to see the light of the day.
Thank you for your attention.
2nd Vice President, ATCON