Nigeria must prioritise digital access for economic growth – Pantami

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami has emphasised the need for government, private sector and individuals to prioritise digital access for economic benefits and development globally.

Pantami said this at the one-day workshop organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on Tuesday in Abuja.

The workshop had the theme: ‘‘Building Capabilities for Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Transformation in Nigeria”.

He urged governments and individuals to take the issue of prioritising digital access and skills seriously, adding that they were no longer luxury but necessities.

“Digital access and connectivity have become a necessity, as they play an increasingly vital role in our everyday lives and have become key drivers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“This reiterates the fact that digital connectivity, access, and skills are no longer a luxury, but have become a necessity for human and economic development in both developed and developing countries.

“It is therefore important that governments, individuals and communities prioritise affordable access digital technologies,” he said.

The minister said that there was the need to promote universal access to digital infrastructure, enhanced digital skills and address affordability in order to achieve this.

Pantami said, ” the Nigerian government had developed 18 policies that were implemented to drive the country’s digital economy, which was in the bid to close the digital access gap.

“For Nigeria, this is what we have done as part of our efforts to adequately position Nigerians as major participants in the growing global digital economy.

“We developed the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria.

“One of the implementation strategies of the Solid Infrastructure Pillar is the development of a Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP).”

He, however, assured that implementation of the plan would accelerate the penetration of affordable and quality broadband connectivity, thereby increasing digital access in Nigeria.

He also said that government recognises the enormity of the task of closing the digital access gaps.

“The Nigerian Government understands that enormous private sector support, as well as support from International Organisations, are essential to enable us realise our lofty goals for Nigeria’s digital economy.

“This has informed our decision to partner with key international organisations like the ITU and FCDO.

“Lack of access is as a result of challenges such as the cost of connectivity, lack of digitally skilled citizens and inadequate infrastructure, amongst others,” Pantami said.

In supporting the innovation ecosystem in Nigeria, he said, the country had developed a ‘Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB),’ which had been passed at the National Assembly for reading.

The Executive Vice-Chairman (EVC), of the NCC, Prof.  Umar Danbatta, said that the commission had programmes and policies in place, which had positively impacted on the sector.

Danbatta said that the commission had reduced 200 clusters, where there were digital access gaps down to 114.

He said that it led to the attendant reduction of more than 40 million Nigerians without access to telecommunications services to about 10 million.

He said: “These initiatives include the Advanced Digital Appreciation Programme for Tertiary Institutions (ADAPTI), that solely aims to bridge the digital divide existing in the academia.

“This is with the provision of computers and other ICT facilities to equip the lecturers and other experts in order to improve ICT skills and also to enrich the students.”

The EVC said the Digital Awareness Programme (DAP), was a special intervention programme to address the digital information knowledge gap in the country, especially among the teeming youthful population.

He said DAP Project had supported 229 Secondary Schools across the Six Geopolitical Zones of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory.

He enjoined all stakeholders to contribute positively to improve the sector and recommended measures that would further support Nigeria in meeting its connectivity target and develop a robust digital economy.

”We look forward to the outcome of your deliberations and expect feedbacks that will deepen the conversations on policies and initiatives for digital access and connectivity in Nigeria, ” he said.

The Regional Director for Africa, and Liaison Officer to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ITU, Ms Anne-Rachel Inne  said: “The event was organised to provide stakeholders with  an opportunity to reflect on Nigeria’s digital transformation.

Inne said that the initiative was aimed at contributing towards the country’s digital inclusion goals like the ITU-FCDO DAP partnership in the country.

She also said that the workshop would allow stakeholders to share their plans for future work to scale the impact in a joint effort. 

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