ICT: FG MUST HARMONISE POLICIES – STAKEHOLDERS

By NBF News
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L – R: General Manager, South and Sub-Saharan Africa, Intel, Mr. Jacques Van Schalkwyk; Public Relations Manager, South and Sub-Saharan Africa, Mrs. Ntombezinhle Modiselle and Marketing Development Manager, Intel West Africa, Mr. Olufemi Babajide at the 2010 Intel Core Family of Processors launch held recently.

Stakeholders in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector have agreed after the second edition of the West African ICT Congress (WAFICT), and the 10th edition of the West African International Telecommunications Exhibition (W.Afri.Tel) that Nigeria needs to focus and leverage on ICT as well as harmonise policies in the area as this would enhance the speedy growth of the sector in the sub-region.

They noted that it would help the country to return and maintain her giant of Africa status while agreeing that the three- day programme has positioned the sub-region as a leader in ICT in emerging markets.

According to the Chairman, Zinox Group, Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, the conference could not have come at a better time when Nigerians appear to have fully accepted democracy with its implications for growth and development at the individual and regional levels.

'The ICT revolution should gather momentum from the private energies that are being released as a result of the strengthening of civil society and the deregulation and privatization of national economies. Unfortunately, there seems to exist today an increase of state-imposed barriers to inter country flows thus undermining regional trade and cooperation. For example, a hard ware manufacturing plant in Nigeria should ideally service Ghana, Liberia, Gambia and Sierra Leone. It would not make economic sense to set up plants in each of these countries. The principles of economic integration require that resources are conserved for the common good, that facilities are replicated only when it is absolutely necessary'.

Although represented by the Managing Director, Zinox, Mr. Emomine Mukoro, he noted that West Africa would require another 500years to currently reach where Europe and America are. According to him, this paradigm shift in both regulatory and investment climates should not be cosmetic but be backed by genuine intentions.

'Hardware manufacturing in Nigeria is controlled from Europe and Asia. Hardware manufacturing is moving to low wage economies. A mild wave in the economies of the USA and the UK reaches Nigeria, possibly, as a sharp increase in prices that force us over and over again to reconsider the foundations of our economy. The hardware industries are migrating from the USA and Canada to Mexico and Costa Rica, from the UK to Singapore to Malaysia and China. Is it likely to ever move to Nigeria? The hardware manufacturers are moving farther and farther away under circumstances that we cannot control. What is the implication of that reality for Nigeria's hardware sector? We must do more than query our status as a peripheral state.

It's time to move away deliberately from our dependency on the USA, Britain and now the Asian tigers

'A dependency situation leads to the exploitation of the weaker partner by the stronger nation. The most important obstacles to development are not the shortage of capital and management but the present international order. To make these external obstacles ineffective we must repudiate the status of being a peripheral State, an attachment. We must dissociate ourselves from the market and opt for a self reliant development strategy. We must put together the political will to lead our people through the thorny and narrow road to national development.

The way the international system is structured today it would take another 500 years before Nigeria becomes a favourable foreign investment destination. We must insist on a vibrant indigenous assembling industry as a means of attracting the interest of the leading manufacturers of processors, mother boards and the chips necessary for assembling. Governments in West Africa must make preference for locally assembled ICT products a major plank of public sector purchasing and inventory. The legislature must make laws that make it mandatory for key players in the economy to contribute to ICT penetration through the patronage of locally assembled brands. This should translate to the empowerment of indigenous entrepreneurs to spur corporate investment, advance the development of human capital, provide sustainable employment and deliver goods and services for nation building and global competitiveness.'

Speaking on the first day of the Conference, Executive Director of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and representative of the

honourable minister of State for Information and Communications, Mr Labaran Maku; Dr. Bashir Gwandu commended the positive contributions of

the Conference and the W.Afri.Tel exhibition to the development of ICT in West Africa, generally.

Dr. Gwandu in his paper at the Congress traced the historic rise of Nigeria from relative obscurity in telecoms to become the giant in Africa; he pointed out that in spite of the nearly 80 million subscribers in the country; there are still more work to be done.

These challenges that are common among countries in the sub-region include multiple taxation and levies; poor state of power generation, poor road network and inadequate skilled manpower required to drive the exponential growth in the region.

Similarly, in his keynote presentation on the second day of WAFICT, former Executive Vice Chairman and chief executive of NCC, Engr. Ernest Ndukwe identified some of the landmark events that have helped shape the ICT landscape in West Africa and identified the need to get to the rural

underserved population as an issue that must tackled with every strength the sub-region operators and governments can muster.

Identifying some of the impediments to speedy and more cost effective roll-out by operators in sub-region, speakers like Ms Funke Opeke, Chief

Executive officer of Main One Cable system, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo president, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON)

and Olaseni Ashiru, West African representative of Ericsson all identified poor harmonisation of policies across the sub-region, poor protection of

operators' critical infrastructure like fibre optics lines, insecurity, power issues and low development of last mile infrastructure to carry traffic even when they have been brought in from  other parts of the world.

General Manager, Customer Care of MTN Nigeria Mr. Akin Braithwaite in his presentation on 'Business Growth as Corollary of the Chemistry of Customer Care' noted that the customer must be educated to retain his/her total loyalty.

Braithwaite insisted that the customer must not be perceived as a common peach that does not need care or attention or the misconception in most organisations where the customer care unit is seen as a cost centre unit that must be treated with levity.

Engr. Olawale Ige, member NCC board and former Nigeria's Communications minister informed the delegates to the conference on the need to always remember where the countries in the sub-region are coming from and the underlying factors for their seemingly poor infrastructure development.

President of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) and a member of the Governing Board of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Chris Uwaje was concerned with the country developing software and applications that will help sustain the growth so far recorded and take the country to a new height..

President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Titi Omo-Etu urged Nigerian operators to 'commence the domestication of their domain name. ATCON took this decision only a few days ago,' thus signalling the 'Nigerianisation' of the long anticipated domain name of businesses and individuals in the

country.
President of the Nigerian Internet Group (NIG) Engr. Lanre Ajayi said the country in spite of the large number of voice subscribers is far behind even in Africa in Internet penetration and he suggested an urgent step be taken to remedy

this situation.