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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Nigeria@50: Stakeholders laud ICT sector

Stakeholders in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have lauded the sector as the nation turned 50 at the weekend, saying its only industry that merited celebration.

Speakers upon speakers at a one-day forum ‘Celebrating 50 years of ICT in Nigeria’ all agreed that ICT sector deserve the 50 years celebration and charging other sectors of the economy to emulate the revolution that took place in the industry.

Some of those who spoke at the event include former Communications Minister, Chief Olawale Ige, former Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and chairman, OpenMedia Group, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, former president, Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and group chief executive, Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, President, Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) Prof. Raymond Akwule, current ATCON president, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu as well as the president, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Mr. Chris Uwaje, his counterpart at the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) Mr. Lanre Ajayi and former executive director, Multi-Links Telkom, Chief Ezekiel Fatoye among others.

Chief Ige in his remarks traced the history of Nigeria’s ICT development between 1960 and 2010, saying that noted that he belong to the generation that was matured enough to appreciate and witness the political, social and economic activities that transpired during the transition from full colonial administration to self governance for the then three political regions that later culminated in full political independence on October 1, 1960, thus given Nigeria the status of a sovereign nation.

Speaking on 50 years of ICT in Nigeria, Chief Ige, reflected on the position 50 years ago before the advent of digital era within the last two decades of the twentieth century.

For over one and a half century since the inception of communicating by electrical signals, analogue technologies dominated the then three distinct industries, of telecommunications, broadcasting and data systems, Chief Ige said that digital technology came into prominence towards the end of the twentieth century.

This, he said, has facilitated convergence in all its ramifications, stressing that it promoted the application of unified technologies in the process of design, manufacturing and development on commercial platforms of the three erstwhile distinct industries.

For him, the terminology, nomenclature or acronym of ICT became popular parlance as a product of the digital era.

Information and communication technologies in general terms facilitate the transmission and delivery of services of all three sectors from one customer premise equipment.

“The simple and most common example today is that from a computer terminal, interactive telecommunications, radio and television broadcasting services and data collating, storage, processing, transmission and reception are all feasible and common day experiences in the global market the world now finds it’s self,” he said.

He pointed out that for the first thirty years of political independence, telecommunications, broadcasting and data systems were viewed from different perspectives as compartmentalised, until the convergence brought about by the ubiquitous ICT in the 1990’s to date changed that perception.

“Nigeria’s experience in the past 50 years in these fields can therefore be classified essentially to two: The Analogue era and the extant Digital age,” he said.

In his address to the occasion, ATCON President, Mr. Omo-Ettu, recognized that ICT industry has taken advantage of the effort and initiative of private investment to make the difference which, demonstrates that other sectors of the economy could actually do better if they emulate the sector.

ICT industry, he said, has reached a point when it may begin to fail to take full advantage of the economics of technology if the restructuring of telecommunications, broadcasting and computer industries into a true Information Communications Technology (ICT), industry does not emerge in the next twelve months.

Nigerians he said, have spoke that they consider access to broadband internet as their fundamental right. “We can therefore expect Federal Government’s reaction by making the necessary pronouncement on the need to commence the active construction of a National Backbone Infrastructure and indeed the launch of a stimulant funding to support the campaign for ubiquitous internet access,” he said.

According to him, if ICT sector aggressively demand in the next 24 months to derive a true, reliable Telephone Subscriber Database, “we would have been on the path to correcting those errors that we made as we tried to build the industry up to this moment.”

Omo-Ettu described the anniversary as a moment to remind the sector practitioners that there is more work to do.

For the immediate past EVC of NCC, Dr. Ndukwe enjoined Nigerians to let the music of progress which tune he set while in office to continue.

“Let the music play on,” he asserted, noting that in celebrating ICT development in the country, it is imperative to sustain the growth thereof, mostly for Vision 20-2020.
He pointed out that at independence in 1960, the colonial government bequeathed about 18,724 telephone lines to Nigeria with a population of about 42.7m translating to a teledensity of 0.044 per cent.
He stated that since then till year 2000, the number of telephone lines actually in use, that is active subscribers rose to just about 400,000.
“What this indicates is that the nation’s active subscriber base had grown at the rate of less than 10,000 lines per annum nation-wide over the forty years from 1960 to 2000,” he said.
Ndukwe said that the quest to improve telecommunications infrastructure urgently led industry stakeholders to discuss with successive governments since the 1960’s.
“Records abound of many development plan periods that were approved and embarked upon successive governments but did not yield the desired results,” he said.
Perhaps, he said, it was due to the need to find a solution to the unimpressive performance in this vital sector of the economy that prompted the Federal Government to decided to commercialise the then P&T, giving birth to NITEL in 1985.

“The idea was to run the company as a fully commercialised entity with faster decision making structures and improved efficiency,” he said.

The NCC, he said, operated under very difficult conditions between 1993 and 1999, beginning with the disbandment of its board in 1994 by then new military government of Gen. Sani Abacha, barely a year after it was constituted.

“The NCC obviously did not enjoy the measure of autonomy that is required of such a regulatory institution In the 7-year life of the NCC before 2000, licences were issued to a number of private companies to undertake various services such as fixed telephony services, Mobile telephony services, fixed satellite services (VSAT), Paging services, Payphone services, Internet services and some other value added services,” he said.

Noting that though these licenses were awarded and licence fees paid, only a limited number of the licencees were able to roll out networks in the various licence categories.

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