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Stakeholders: COVID-19 ’ll fast-track ICT development in Nigeria

Stakeholders in Nigeria’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry are optimistic that the country would come out of the current COVID-19 pandemic with a better record in ICT development. This was the view of speakers at a recent webinar on the economic impacts of COVID-19 hosted by the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON).

Government goes virtual

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Galaxy Backbone, Prof. Mohammed Abubakar, the pandemic has drawn the government and the private sector’s attention to ICT, adding that that has brought technology to the frontline of every discussion in the country today. He noted that Galaxy Backbone, which is the government agency in charge of IT services, was put to task with the outbreak of coronavirus to deploy technology for all government activities.

This, he said, led to the successful hosting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting virtually. He noted that the technology being used has always been there but most government ministries and agencies were averse to using it. “Most of the facilities we are using now to drive e-governance and socio-economic development have been there before now but nobody would use it. But with the pandemic, the ministries have no choice but to deploy the technology. The COVID-19 is going to fast-track our ICT journey,” Abubakar said.

Also speaking at the conference, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Mr. Kashifu Inuwa, said the pandemic has been helping the country to shape its digital economy as many people have now embraced doing things online.

RoW charges reduced

For the Managing Director of Rack Centre, Mr. Tunde Coke, one of the gains of the pandemic in Nigeria ICT industry is the reduction of Right of Way charges by some state governors. According to him, the governors were forced to make the decisions because of the realization that adequate telecommunications infrastructure is needed to keep their economy running during the pandemic.

Until last month, industry stakeholders had been clamouring for the harmonisation of the RoW charges across the country. Despite an existing Federal Government’s approved charges of N145 per linear meter for RoW, to allow a speedy rollout of telecoms infrastructure across the country, some states continued to charge as high as N5, 000 per metre, thus limiting operators’ infrastructure deployment. However, in the last one month, four states including Ekiti, Imo, Katsina, and Plateau, have signed executive orders lowering the cost to the approved N145, while two, Kaduna and Kwara states have completely waived charges.

According to industry sources, the need for fast-speed internet to conduct online meetings and drive other government activities during the lockdown opened the eyes of the states’ executives to the realities of telecommunications infrastructure.

In Kaduna where the government has completely waived payment for Right of Way, the State Governor, Mallam, Nasir El-Rufai, had recently lamented that the lack of 4G network was preventing the State from holding online classes, while schools are on lockdown. He said 3G service was only available in a few areas of the state, hence, the government resorted to using radio. This explains why the state government decided to completely remove charges to encourage speedy deployment of the needed infrastructure by telecom operators in the state.

Already, industry experts have predicted a shift in business and governance activities towards digital post-COVID-19 as many have realised things could be done easily and at a cheaper cost through the internet.

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