" ITREALMS: Sagacity of a digital revolution - ITREALMS

Monday, December 19, 2022

Sagacity of a digital revolution - ITREALMS

Features, Telecoms Clinic@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!

Taking a look at the digital revolution in Nigeria, REMMY NWEKE gave a pointer to a sagacious president under who the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication thrived.
Telecoms Clinic@ITREALMS
Often sagacity is ascribed to the quality of being sagacious, especially of the political class and with all the historical perspectives to the entrance and realisation of the Global System for Mobile (GSM) Communications in Nigeria, its obvious that the then elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was sagacious enough in his approach to the adoption of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and precisely telecommunications following his resolve to liberalise the nation’s telecoms sector in year 2000.

Priority sectors:

Following its setup and reforms, BPE since 1999 had some priority sectors in the Nigerian privatisation scheme, expected to command the heights of the economy, namely the telecommunications, power, oil and gas, transportation, industries and services. These schemes were to come in phases.

The Phase 1, ITREALMS gathered consisted of banks, oil marketing and cement companies. This phase was invariably executed via a combination of initial public offers and/or core investors’ sale strategies to give a larger chunk of the Nigerian investing public the opportunity to own shares in the enterprises.

While Phase 2 were made up of hotels, vehicle assembly plants, fertilizer, sugar, paper, steel, media and insurance companies.

Also, ITREALMS gathered, this phase was executed through a competitive asset sale, guided liquidation or core investors’ sale strategies, depending on the peculiarity of each enterprise.

Whereas the Phase 3 comprising telecommunications, aviation, downstream oil and gas, power and the postal sectors are still in the current phase of the programme, which observes said combined the execution of both phase 1 and 2 respectively.


So, in 1999, Nigeria began a process of accelerated reform of the key sectors of the economy to align with its changing status from a military government to an emerging democracy with the realization that political democracy without attendant economic democratization would not yield the desired growth.

In 2000, the National Council on Privatisation established some 11 steering committees to oversee the articulated execution of these programmes per sector, including the Telecommunications Sector Reform Implementation Committee with broad mandate to include the “Formulation of sector policies to promote competition, efficiency and transparency in the sector; Formulation of proposals for the attraction of private financing and investment in the sector; Overseeing the activities of the various government agencies, parastatals, and operators in the sector; Formulation of proposals for the restructuring and liberalization of the sector; Protection of the rights and interests of service providers and consumers; and Recommend the legal and regulatory framework.

Sagacity of OBJ

An inside the Aso-villa account by Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who was then the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) until July 21, 2003, revealed that the United Kingdom’s telecommunications giant, Vodafone, was the first choice for Nigerian market but underrating and under-estimation of possible potentials in the most populated black nation made them to lost out.

In a remark at the telecoms sector awards by the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) to mark its 20 years, Gov. El-Rufai, who was one of the special guest and awardee disclosed that Vodafone was the first network operator the Nigerian Government contacted to come and start the telecoms sector in 2000.

He recalled that Vodafone had the opportunity of being the major operator in Nigeria, over 18 years after, when the telecoms revolution started, but it inadvertently missed the market potentials.

The forerunners:

Though he gave credit to former dictator, late General Sanni Abacha for paving the way for telecoms revolution, El-Rufai noted he could not have achieve much because of his death in June 8, 1998. “Though, Abacha issued one GSM licence, which we waited for to switch on, but the firm never did, till Abacha died. Then came General Abdulsalam Abubakar. There was one Ibrahim Aliyu, who was the chairman of Intercellular, and later former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communications, who also became most senior adviser to Abubakar, so he was able to prevail on the Head of State, and some telecommunications sector’s move were facilitated. But still, nothing concrete was achieved until President Olusegun Obasanjo came on board.”

With Obasanjo on the steering, El-Rufai pointed out, that some telecoms experts, including Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu, Engr. Shola Taylor, among some diaspora Nigerians, submitted a memorandum to the President, appealing to him to license GSM operators, stressing that his appointment of DG, BPE aided immensely in the quest, since his office was charged to ‘privatised everything’ including Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).

Birth of Communications Act:
“I think my appointment at BPE played some role in changing the direction. I went to President Obasanjo, who said he wanted to issue licences to GSM. I told him: ‘Sir, you (Obasanjo) cannot legally do it.’ He asked, why? I said because the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that will issue the licence is not empowered by law to do so. He said: ‘the best I can do is that I have the executive power to license,’ I said sure, you can issue the licence as the government of Nigeria, but any serious operator/investor will want to speak with the regulator to know the terms, and regulations. He said what can we do because he wants to do it as quickly as possible,” El-Rufai stated.

He retorted to Obasanjo that the country would need to first build the sector, by writing the policy, which should be enacted as fast as possible.

According to him, in 2000, Obasanjo gave him the go ahead, but insisted that he will issue the GSM licence before the end of 2001. “Then, we started the process. I replaced the Minister of Communications, and we began the trustees. The Communication ACT of 2003 was drafted, and that was how we started the journey.”

Missed tale of $1 revolution and Vodafone:

El-Rufai equally revealed at the award night held at MUSON Centre Onikan Lagos that in 2000, while President Obasanjo was in a haste to issue GSM licences; he was summoned alongside the then Minister of Communications, and OBJ said: ‘I want to issue one GSM licence for $1 to any major operator, who do you recommend?’

“I said to President Obasanjo,Vodafone! Vodafone then was the largest mobile operator in the world. He picked the phone, called the then Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, and he said that some Nigerian delegation are coming to Britain to make presentation on the opportunities in Nigeria’s telecoms market, and that Vodafone should be made to receive us. We went and met with the officials of Vodafone and we made our presentation,” he stated.

‘Nigeria’s GSM market worth 5m subscribers only’

According to him, few weeks later, “we got a reply letter from Vodafone. They said they have looked at our presentation, their analysts have looked at it and the forecast is that the Nigeria GSM market is just about five million subscribers in 36 states. That is, the size of the market will just be five million subscribers. That only five million people in general can afford to pay for GSM service in three years. According to them, the market was so small; Nigeria you are so poor to afford a mobile phone. We replied them to say our GDP figures are deceptive because 75 per cent of our economy is not capture in the GDP numbers, take a look at this again. They replied that even if 75 per cent of the economy is informal, it only means that only 20 million of Nigerians, 15 to 20 million can afford a GSM phone in the first three years, it was not worth Vodafone’s time.”

Econet & MTN as game changers:

El-Rufai noted that the story changed when MTN and Econet came on board in 2001, within the first year of operations, they had over five million subscribers. “This was Vodafone’s biggest investment mistake, because if they had come into Nigeria at that time, God knows how much bigger they would have been today,” he declared.

Thus, OBJ is a sagacious President who is intelligent and has the ability to make good decisions.

According to the Collinsdictionary.com, another word for sagacity is "acumen, astuteness, brains, comprehension, discernment, discrimination, enlightenment, experience, foresight, insight, intelligence, judgment, knowledge, perceptiveness, perspicacity, practicality, prudence, sapience, sense, shrewdness."

What does ‘digital’ mean?
Digital has been described by some industry experts at techtarget.com, as an electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive. "Positive is expressed or represented by the number 1 and non-positive by the number 0. Thus, data transmitted or stored with digital technology is expressed as a string of 0's and 1's."

Noteworthy is that the word digital comes from the same source as the words digit and digitus; a Latin word for finger, which from time shows that fingers are often used for counting.

Purpose & merits of digital technology:

Experts also informed that the main purpose of 'digital' as splitted into digital infrastructure creation, digital delivery of services, and digital literacy as the three main components of any digital initiative. Whereas the key objective is about providing high-speed internet in every part of the country and improving the online infrastructure.

The universalbusinesschool.com posited, some seven advantages of digital technology in today's world, including social connectivity, communication speeds, versatile working, learning opportunities, automation, information storage, and editing.


On the other hand, revolution literally known as a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system. This, for Nigerians have been more of an overthrow via social order through the GSM.

Further, Merriam-Webster.com defined revolution as a sudden, radical, or complete change; after all, there was a time in Nigeria, a Minister said that 'telephone or telecommunication is not for the poor’ and thus not for everyone. Although as at October 1, 2019, the mobile telecommunication operators recorded an estimated 65 million internet subscribers, for instance, with MTN leading the mobile telecom operators in Nigeria.


Although, Nigeria’s digital revolution cannot be complete without the buoyancy in the telecommunications sector provided under the Nigerian Communications Act of of 2003, thereby given leverage to ICT adoption and adaptation across the country.

In celebrating Mr. President, popularly known as OBJ, Nigerian ICT enthusiasts cannot talk about telecommunications revolution without mentioning the name Olusegun Obasanjo for that single decision that has continued to keep the country in the height of ICT development in the comity of nations, thereby forging ahead with digital inclusion, which offers individuals or groups the ability to utilize the benefits of being online and use technologies confidently to improve their daily lives. Of course, those lacking this ability are known as “digitally excluded.”

Averagely, with 65 million subscribers means that about 3,421million are subscribed to digital services per year in the past 19 years of GSM.

So, President Obasanjo, given the role he played in revolutionising the Nigerians telecommunications which begets ICT adoption on large scale, is the man behind the sagacity of a digital revolution.

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