Ensuring sanity in the ICT sector By Fred Ikwuagwu

Ensuring sanity in the ICT sector

Information and communications technology is central to all forms of social and economic development in contemporary times. They have significant influence on social, educational and commercial activities round the clock and across the world. The ICT age is about using knowledge to make a difference. The knowledge economy relies on the sustainable exploitation of ICT in all its facets.

Developing countries are beginning to exploit ICT in order to enable them participate meaningfully in the global economy which is rapidly migrating to the digital platform. The use of information in the workplace, in the provision of public services, and in the conduct of commercial activities and basic communications are fast becoming virtual, non-personal, remote and ubiquitous. This is the age of information.

By addressing needs that include poverty eradication, improved healthcare, wealth creation, job creation and education, ICT has become an essential requirement for competition, survival, and progress. In today’s world, weak or inadequate ICT availability means less efficiency in capacity utilisation, which translates to underachievement and underdevelopment.

In other words, societies without ICT resources and infrastructure are disadvantaged in the 21st century world. Nigeria has developed national ICT policies aimed at building a knowledge based economy in order to ensure that citizens derive maximum value from the sector.

Courtesy of this effort, Nigerians have joined the global ICT mainstream with more than 100 percent mobile phone penetration and about 93 million connections to the internet. It seems not to matter that Nigeria still imports almost 100 percent of all its IT requirements.

The best effort at local production of some ICT facilities comes from the assemblage of imported components. However, cheaper imports from Asian countries such as India, South Korea and China are giving local producers a stiff challenge. This is discounting the large army of middle class and high-end users who go for first rate, even if expensive products from Canada, Europe and America.

Notwithstanding the “rebasing” of the economy conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics and declared by the Ministry of Finance in 2014, Nigeria is the second largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa. It is one of largest producers of crude oil and has enormous natural gas reserves, arrable agricultural lands, solid minerals and a developing private sector.

It is also quickly catching up with other countries in ICT development. In terms of sheer volume, Nigeria’s ICT market surpasses competition in the continent and only takes second or third place when it comes to technical efficiency. Developments in the sector since 2001 have led to tremendous growth in social, economic and commercial activities, including employment generation.

Since the GSM launch, mobile telephony has rapidly become the most popular means of communication in Nigeria. The telecom sector has also become the largest generator of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with significant contributions to GDP. Estimated investments in the sector since 2001 are at over $32 billion and still counting.

The drastic changes in the telecom situation in Nigeria have had a serious impact on private and public sectors and even in governance, administration and policy implementation. In social and commercial activities, there has been a slow, subtle, but almost imperceptible migration from the reliance on cyber cafes to self-sufficiency, as many people acquired the capacity and resources to independently surf the cyberspace.

E-commerce and e-payment initiatives have given rise to various payment solutions including automated teller machines, POS terminals, mobile and internet banking services, online bill payment solutions, etc. the ability to facilitate large volume transactions without the use of hard currency cuts down on the chances for crime, and helps the government’s effort at tackling financial crimes and corruption.

In recent times, Nigeria has been consolidating on its achievements in the sector through the enactment of legislation to provide legal protection and security for the sector. The passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act is a case in point. With increased awareness and application of ICT in public and social life, different forms of phone and computer- related crime have surfaced. It is therefore important to enhance the information security environment to instill confidence in digital or online transactions and activities.

The cybercrime law is the first step to providing such security and deterrence. It is a positive step that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) does not take its responsibilities lightly. Under the headship of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, there is concerted effort to collaborate with the security agencies by having a reliable database of ICT users through ensuring they are all biometrically registered.

In the past few weeks, network operators have come under pressure and a regime of fines for keeping unregistered subscribers on their platforms. With such a bark and bite, it is to be expected that soon, phone scammers and other criminal elements littering the cyber environment will scamper into hiding, or better still, give up completely on their nefarious activities.