As Nigeria moves towards digitizing its economy, the Nigerian Communications Commission is leading the implementation of the policy by embarking on ICT Park projects. The Parks, which are being built across the country raise hope for ICT skills development in Nigeria. Victor Akindele reports.
With Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills development as one of the pillars of the Nigerian government’s digital economy policy, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has taken the bull by the horn with the ongoing establishment of ICT Parks in all six geographical zones of the country. It was against this backdrop that the Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje recently commended the Umar Danbatta led NCC for boosting the government’s digital economy agenda.
Visiting the site of an ongoing ICT Park construction by the NCC for the North-Western zone located in Kano State recently, the governor acknowledged the efforts and commitment of the Commission in ensuring increased digital access for fast-tracking digital innovation across Nigeria and the North-West, in particular, saying the initiative would trigger a socio-economic transformation of the area in no distant future.
ICT park explained
An ICT park comprises an area or location with the concentration of all ICT facilities which enables a concerted leap into the digital age by creating a dynamic environment in which local talent is incubated, cultivated, and shared. ICT parks are best tested and trusted institutional mechanisms to address the needs of technology-intensive, knowledge-based Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) globally.
Essentially, the NCC said the four main objectives of establishing the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Parks are to provide Innovation Labs and Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fablabs) for use by ICT innovators and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into products and prototypes; provide a Commercial Hub for ICT capacity building and digital skills; create employment and entrepreneurial activities, and facilitate smart city deployment across the Digital Industrial complex.
Why ICT park?
Among other functions, the telecommunications regulator, under the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, is saddled with the responsibility of “Designing, managing and implementing Universal Access strategy and programme in accordance with Federal Government’s general policy and objectives thereon.”
Accordingly, the Commission is supporting the Federal Government’s policies such as the National Digital Economy Policy & Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030; the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP)- 2020-2025; the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content 2021; the NCC’s Strategic Management Plan, 2020-2024 and its soon-to-be-unveiled second Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) among others by embarking on ICT Park Project.
Commending the NCC the Kano State Governor Ganduje said for the ICT Park being built in Kano to serve the North-West zone, “the government and citizens of Kano State are grateful to Prof. Danbatta and his team for bringing development to the state and the zone at large.”
“Realising that a major project that resonates with the global vision for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is being vigorously driven by NCC leadership, shows the kind of socio-economic transformation we should expect through ICT across Nigeria in the next few years,” he said. Governor Ganduje also applauded the quality of the construction work being undertaken by the NCC on the ICT Park and expressed appreciation for the foresight of the NCC for accommodating an expansion plan at the project site.
Emphasising the commitment of the NCC to establish the parks across the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Adeolu Akande, said construction of ICT Parks is also ongoing in Gombe, Katsina, and Ibadan. According to him, the Ibadan project is to cost N500 million.
Assessing the facilities
An initiative under the leadership of Prof. Danbatta, as the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, the NCC’s ICT Parks Project involves the construction and equipping of fully-functional Tier-4 Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) in each of the six geo-political zones across the country
The project concept is designed to support Federal Government ICT – related policies by facilitating the availability and accessibility of ICT services across the country and to promote their usage across all sectors. The ICT Park consists of laboratories for ICT innovations and Commercial Hubs providing capacity building to ICT startups and entrepreneurial activities. The Parks are designed to have fast internet service (broadband) and a constant power supply.
Project’s National spread
Shedding more light on the ICT Park project, Danbatta, who recently visited one of the parks being built in Maiduguri, North-East geo-political zone, said, the NCC decided to embark on the important project “which will see ICT parks decentralised in all the six geo-political zones of the country.”
Danbatta, however, stated that the Commission is starting with four zones at the moment. These include the ones located in Abeokuta for the South-West; Enugu for South East, Maiduguri for North-East, and Kano for the North West.
The projects, he said, are being implemented with a view to building capacity, exposing Nigerian teeming youths to capacity-building initiatives in the areas of skills acquisition and innovation.
“The whole idea of putting these two things (i.e. skill acquisition and innovation) at the forefront of this very important initiative is to produce youths that can be self-reliant, that can generate employment for themselves and other Nigerians.”
Danbatta said the project, which is consistent with global best practices, has targeted areas in each of the zones with a large concentration of youths. He promised that, because of its design to have a national spread, the Commission would ensure that no part of the country is be left out of the initiative but added every corner of Nigeria will see the initiative taking up, of course, at different times.
Speaking on the expected tech fruits from the ICT Parks, Danbatta said: “As I said, we have four ICT parks, which are at different stages of development. Going forward, we hope to see software development, incubation, including, even, hardware development. Above all, through NCC ICT Parks, we hope to see innovative technologies that will leverage the broadband network the NCC is trying to deploy to socially and economically transform our communities and societies.”
Boost for digital economy
According to the NCC boss, as NCC deepens broadband access beyond its current 38 per cent towards achieving the 70 per cent broadband penetration set for 2025 by the Federal Government, the Commission, through the ICT Park, will build a pool of digital skills and literacy in line with the country’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
“As you may be aware, one of the eight pillars of the NDEPS is Digital Skills and Literacy and in this regard, NCC is supporting this critical pillar of the digital economy agenda. This is because, when we provide resilient broadband infrastructure platforms, there is a need for us to encourage local technology products and applications that will ride on the infrastructure toward developing the country’s overall socio-economic ecosystem in a sustainable way,” he said.
Asked when the projects would be ready for commissioning, Danbatta said he just visited Kano Park to examine the level of progress of the project while the other three ICT Parks being built in Maiduguri, Abeokuta, and Enugu are also at different levels of completion.
“So, going by the level of work already done, I would like to say that before the year runs out, all other things being equal, we should be able to commission one or two of these ICT parts in the country,” he said.
Danbatta further explained the huge opportunities which the ICT Parks will bring to would-be beneficiaries of the project among the Nigerian youths.
“I would like to send out a very important message to our youths, especially those who are currently occupied with various innovative applications, those who have even acquired the skills and are looking for where to put these skills to bring the skills to fruition by, maybe, incubating them, by commercialising them, by giving publicity to these excellent initiatives, that there is going to be a centre in the ICT Parks.
“These centres would be used to showcase their innovations to the global community and very soon, there is light at the end of the tunnel, these various initiatives by the youths in areas of apps, various software products developed and other initiatives, will see t light of day.
“This is because, as I said, we are going to have a centre where we are going to be able to showcase this, not only to potential investors in this country but also to the international audience, who definitely will be interested in some of these important applications that, we hope, we can come up with,” he said.
While the Commission, as the country’s independent national telecoms regulatory authority, has always played and continued to play a strategic role in the digital transformation of the Nigerian economy, most especially in the area of ICT infrastructure and digital skill development, the ICT Park initiative, stakeholders said, has further demonstrated the telecom regulator’s unwavering commitment to the nation’s economy.