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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sesan to Johnson: Connect ICT dots

The Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) Mr. ‘Gbenga Sesan has tasked the newly appointed Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson to connect the dots in the nation’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

Mr. Sesan, a social commentator with focus on ICT in an open letter to Mrs. Johnson, made available to ITRealms Online entitled ‘Madam Minister, It’s Time To Connect The Dots’ noted that a journey towards an independent ministry for Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting started a long time ago, but it reached a crescendo in 2006 when President Obasanjo set up a 26-man committee to work on the harmonization of the Nigerian Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting sectors, due to obvious overlap in functions and expenses.

Sesan cited an instance of the overlap in functions, stating that what comes to mind was a frequency spectrum dispute between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), who both issued the same band to an Internet Service Provider and a Television station respectively.

This, among others, he said, escalates to inclusion of budgetary allocations for the same activities or project, which invariably led to the committee’s recommendation of a ministry that allowed the synchronization of ICT efforts in the age of convergence.

He pointed out that while the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) already draws funds of about 2.5 per cent of annual turnover from telecommunications companies through the Universal Services Provision Fund (USPF), the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is also empowered by law, via the National Information Technology Development Fund, to levy companies that have annual turnovers of over N100 million and are heavy users of Information Technology tools.

“So, NITDEF also affects all telecommunication companies again and cyber cafes, if ever they get close to that turnover,” he declared, adding that the Internet Service Providers, Pension Managers and related companies are not left of the confusion.

Sesan emphasised that now, “you see the need for harmonization as earlier advocated, later recommended and hopefully now being implemented.”

He recalled that former Ministries of Information and National Orientation were renamed Information and Communication to accommodate the recommendations at the time, but it became evident that no minister could handle propaganda and ICT at the same time.

“And then, there is the confusion of names for the new ministry, which is not new. There is industry politics between IT conservatives and those who wish to go with the global ICT nomenclature,” he asserted, stressing that the only people that could put this to rest are the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who handles portfolio distribution and madam minister, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, who is leading the vision behind the new ministry.

He argued that the latest addition to Ministries in the country – Communication Technology would reduce the cost of governance.

Sesan, who was a former Nigeria IT Youth Ambassador, warned that the new ministry should not have been created so that nominees could have a portfolio, otherwise, it makes no sense, but if this was done to lend credence to Nigeria’s quest to use ICT towards Vision 2020, then it’s easy to admit that the new ministry will add value.

He recalled that the 2006 ICT Harmonization Committee recommended that the Ministry of Science & Technology should be stripped of all ICT-related functions, especially as it is the current oversight ministry for NITDA.

“We also suggested that the Ministry of Information – before it was renamed Information and Communication – should focus on propaganda which, if used to a good end, is undeniably a required instrument of state in its own right, image-related issues and National Orientation,” he said.

For economic investment, Sesan outlined some agenda for Mrs. Johnson, comprising the imperativeness of knowing how many Nigerians that are online from the government’s effort rather than waiting for the like of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva to tell us.

NCC, he said, must assume a better regulator, one that could tell all telcos that claim to offer Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) to stop making BS of the contract by removing the I(nternet) or making Nigerians plug-and-pray each time they need to access the electronic mails or social networks.

Additionally, he urged Johnson to ensure that NCC enforce only policies that would make consumers enjoy the new submarine cables currently being read about, even as vehicles such as USPF must be used to resolve the issues facing operators.

“... Why pay 2.5 per cent plus 1 per cent and then spend another X per cent to buy diesel, Y per cent to protect your infrastructure and Z per cent to pay the unbelievable taxes that state and local governments extract from attractive companies,” he wondered.

Mrs. Johnson, he said, must fire any current agency Director General who has not met expectations without in the last four years; to at least, send a message that a development agency like NITDA, must not only be read only through the pages of newspapers.

“Ensure you engage the missing link, that thriving youth-led ICT space that is now beginning to gain the attention of the world and has the twin potential of providing jobs and addressing the menace of cybercrime,” he urged, stressing that Nigeria needs cybercrime legislation and national committees on outsourcing and software development which would held in connecting policy directions with the young talents.

Remmy Nweke
ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

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