Reaping the benefits of a digitised economy

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The world and its economies are going digital and Nigeria cannot be an exception as efforts are being made in that direction. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes what Nigeria stands to get from a digitised economy.

At last, what seemed like eternity is becoming a reality as the federal government is finally working towards an integrated digital economy. At a public forum last week, the director-general, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Mr. Dasuki Arabi, said plans were underway to train 500,000 public servants on digitisation and Information Technology (IT) with a view to improving service delivery in the country.

Arabi said further that the bureau was working with the United States government and other key agencies in the private sector to ensure the training of public servants on digitisation and use of IT. According to him, the federal government has approved an e-government master plan for the digitisation processes and provision of hardware connectivity that civil servants needed to work with.

“If that is done, the process and the speed of delivering service are going to be faster, cheaper and easier. The government has issued a circular directing digitisation of all processes and we are working with the private sector to build the capacity of public servants in order to understand the language.

“For instance, accountants used to raise vouchers and cheques to pay contractors and salaries, now they are doing that electronically.

“The vouchers and papers that we used to have in files have now been transferred into the data system. So, they need to understand the digitised language, eat the language and speak the language to enable them to properly sit and manage the transformation to a digital economy,” he said.

He stressed that by the year 2030, Nigeria’s public service system should be paperless and fully digitised.

At another forum, Isah Pantani, the minister of communication and digital economy, said the federal government would not relent in its efforts towards promoting digital innovation and entrepreneurship among youths. This was during the commissioning ceremony of an information technology centre named after President Muhammadu Buhari in Katsina state recently.

Pantani noted that doing so would make the youth become job providers and contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy.

He said the global economy had moved from oil and gas dominance to information and communication technology; “therefore, the ambition of the federal government is to have individuals and institutions that would attain greatness and wealth through the use of IT.”

“Nigeria needs to create a conducive environment and mentorship that would encourage talented youths in the IT sector. This informed the federal government’s decision to build this IT centre in Katsina.

“Digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship are the prerequisites for the digital economy. Leading nations today in Europe, Switzerland, Asia, South Korea and the United States that excel in digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship have a strong economy. Nigeria cannot and should not be left behind. That is why this kind of IT hub was built where our youths’ needs in IT would be monitored.

“We shall continue to mentor them so that they would end up being job providers and successful IT individuals such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates of this world.

“A centre like this would help the federal and the state governments to discover talented youths and mentor them so that they can become job providers and contribute to the nation’s economy,” he said.

NITDA’s take

In the meantime, the director-general, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Abdullahi Inuwa, has stated that Nigeria would “soon reach the stage where the digital economy will generate more revenue than oil, as according to him, the country is in the process of realising its goal of a digitised economy.”

He said this at a one-way stakeholders’ engagement in Kaduna organised by the agency to create understanding among stakeholders in pursuit of digitisation and entrepreneurial evolution of the country.

Inuwa, who was represented by the agency’s director of zonal offices directorate, Babajide Ajayi, said the meeting with stakeholders cut across public and private sectors towards realising the agency’s goal.

He said, “We are engaging the vast stakeholders because we want to get to the level of the advanced countries where we can generate more revenue from tapping into ICT than crude oil.

“We are in the process of realising our dream of a booming digital economy. You can see that our ministry’s name was changed from communication to communication and digital economy. It is not just for the sake of changing names, but to ensure we achieve all forms of digitisation in this country.

“In addition to that, there is a policy document that has been developed at NITDA headquarters called STRAP 2021-2024. That is our Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan. The document would serve as the guide to the agency in the mandate of digitisation in Nigeria.

“The agency deemed it necessary that it collaborates more with its stakeholders so that it can bring the development strides at the national level down to the states and local government levels.”

Harmonised generic internet domain

In what looks like a harmonious working development plan, Pantani said the federal government had outlawed the use of generic internet domains for official purposes. He said this while addressing journalists at the end of the weekly federal executive council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo recently.

According to him, Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the ‘National Policy on the Government, Second Level Domain,’ which mandates the migration of all official communications from generic domains to the nation’s second-level domain under government top-level domain; therefore all federal government agencies must switch to an official communication medium and stop using public email systems such as Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail, and others.

“This policy has been approved and it focuses more on mandating federal public institutions, ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) and all institutions as long as they are for the government. They should migrate from using generic domains in their websites and their emails to our second level domain under government top-level domain.

“For example, you will discover today that some government institutions would engage in official communications using private email:

“And it is an official communication and someone may retire or would complete the tenure or the tenure can be terminated, and the person would go with the same email. And in that email, there are many official documents.

“This would not be tolerated by the government anymore. Any official communications must be using an official email and that email should not be a generic one, it must be ‘’ What is most important is ‘.ng’ that is our national identity.

“There are many categories of the second-level domain, some are for military, you will see like ‘mil’ is a short form of for Nigeria. You can see — gov for government and ng for Nigeria.

“So, there are categories of the second-level domain. Our country’s top-level must be there in our websites so that whoever gets access will know that this website is from Nigeria. For email, it must reflect the official name.”

‘It’s enormous blessing’

While commenting on the benefits of a completely digitised economy, a newspaper columnist, Mohammed Modu, had said the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) report that the contribution of ICT sector to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2020 which stood at 17.83 per cent was heart-warming.

“This is whooping and means a lot not only for the economy or the ICT sector drivers but, especially for the nation’s socio-economic future.”

Modu, while making further reference to the report said while Nigeria’s GDP decreased by 6.10 per cent (year-on-year) in the second quarter of 2020, ICT’s contribution rose exponentially. He said the contribution of the ICT increased by 20.54 per cent in comparison with the figures a year earlier.

“The figure also jerked up by 3.79 per cent from the previous quarter (Q1 2020). This calls for rolling out the drums. To many, the coronavirus pandemic was an apocalypse, but as the saying goes, there are often blessings in disguise; it was the case for the Nigerian ICT sector.

“The unfortunate health pandemic, with its resultant economic downturns, was turned into opportunities, thanks to the visionary and focused leadership of Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the minister of communications and digital economy,” he said.

President Buhari’s assurances

President Muhammad Buhari had in 2019 during the #eNigeria NCC sponsored programme noted that all over the globe, digital economy is expanding at a very fast pace.

“In just a few years, this platform has transitioned from being a luxury to an absolute necessity. It is in recognition of this fact that we decided to re-designate the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy with a mandate to develop and implement a harmonised and well-coordinated digital economy policy and strategy for Nigeria.

“The second quarter report by the National Bureau of Statistics for 2019 showed that the Information and Communications Technology sector contributed an impressive 13.85% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria. This clearly shows the importance and potential of the ICT sector to our job creation and economic diversification agenda.

“Already, Nigerian ICT startups are leaving their mark on the global stage. For example, at the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), a Nigerian Artificial Intelligence solution provider, Chiniki Guards, took first place, beating 750 contestants from 73 countries. We shall continue to encourage and support such digital entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions for local and global challenges.

“In public service, the digitisation of key activities such as the use of the Bank Verification Number (BVN), Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) have enabled us to save cost and fight corruption.

“Of course, as we celebrate the successes and explore the opportunities in this sector, we must remain mindful of its threats. We all know how the use of unregistered and improperly registered SIM cards by terrorists is a key national security threat.

“Today, I am informed that over 9.2 million SIM cards have either been normalised, blocked or deactivated in less than 40 days due to improper registration. We encourage all Nigerians to ensure that their phones are properly registered. As a government, our priority is to protect the lives and properties of all Nigerians.”

He added: “You will all recall that at e-Nigeria 2018 conference, we directed that all government funded ICT projects must be reviewed and cleared by National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Our goal was to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government procurement processes. Today, I am informed that through this directive, the government has saved over N16.8 billion. I want to encourage the Ministry and NITDA to sustain this tempo.”

According to Isabel Neto, World Bank senior digital development specialist and co-author of ‘Nigeria’s Digital Economy Diagnostic’, “As the biggest economy in Africa with one of the largest populations of young people in the world, Nigeria is well-positioned to develop a strong digital economy, which would have a transformational impact on the country.”

She said, “Through innovations and investments, the Nigerian economy can harness digital data and new technologies, generate new content, link individuals with markets and government services, and roll out new, sustainable business models.”

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