Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communications and two-time gubernatorial candidate in Oyo State shares his thoughts and aspirations with ADEBAYO WAHEED. Excerpts:
You are in the vanguard of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term re-election bid; considering his health status and age, do you think he will contest the 2019 presidential election as the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate?
Well, I want to believe that when we talk of health, I have never seen any human being who does not fall sick. And when people fall sick and recover from the sickness, you don’t confine them, even when they are healthy, to the status of the sick.
The President was sick, he went for medical vacation, he is back and we can now see a more robust President, a stronger President. All can see a more sensitive President, who has been doggedly attending to the responsibilities of his office. So, I don’t see age as a problem. You will recall that age has no role to play in this. Not only the old die, even young people die. So, it is not about age. It is about the ability, capability, wisdom and good conscience. It is about the fear of God and about being passionate about the interest of our people.
Do you think President Buhari will be able to confront the challenges associated with electioneering campaign?
I don’t think there can be any challenges than what we went through in 2015, because we were challenging an incumbent, who was not only in office, but he was also in power. He had all the government arsenals at his disposal, legitimate and illegitimate money and he has the ground forces, yet we defeated the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and it’s presidential candidate.
Today, we have a lot to show for being in government for almost three years and at the appropriate time, the fact will be made available to Nigerians to compare. More importantly we have in President Buhari the most trusted Nigerian leader, who Nigerians know detests corruption with a passion. He is one person that will never compromise the interests of our country, will never resort to pilfering the resources of our nation. He will never subscribe to compromising the rights of Nigerians.
So, God has given us an enigma of a leader and it is my belief that Nigerians are very wise and intelligent, they will at the appropriate time do the needful in re-electing him into office.
Looking at the number of aspirants jostling to occupy the Agodi Government House in 2019, do you think you have what it takes to become the next governor of Oyo State?
What is the measure for qualification? Is it education, age, experience, acceptability or fresh ideas? Is it about how to bring about a new Oyo State? I believe I am the candidate to beat. With regards to experience, I say with all sense of respect for other aspirants, that I am the only one who has been a member of the state House of Assembly before, who has on two occasions been a commissioner, who has contested for this position in 2011 and 2015 and by the grace of God, the minister from Oyo State.
No other candidate combines all these critical positions. And these positions are about experience and if you check my records, there is no position I have held that I have not distinguished myself.
In terms of ideas, I am also second to none, with due respect to all others. I already have my manifesto. I have a clear idea of what I want to do if I am elected the governor. I am the only one who has had personal learning process from the sage of the Nigerian politics, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. No other aspirant has had this unique opportunity of learning the process of politics of reality from Chief Awolowo and my government will seek to reestablish the beautiful days of Awo’s government in the state.
At the appropriate time, we will have governorship candidate debate, which will bring out the facts which Oyo State people will appreciate that for once, we have a new Oyo State with refreshing kind of governance.
What is your relationship with President Buhari? How true is it that he may likely influence your choice as the governorship candidate of the APC in Oyo State?
The questions I should ask are: Is it because of my relationship with the president that I became member of the State House of Assembly in 1979 and 1983? Is it because of my relationship with Mr President that I became a commissioner in 1983 and 2007? Is it the President that asked me to contest on two occasions for the governorship? And if you talk about my appointment as minister, you should appreciate the fact that the President did not just pick me up along the stress. I had cut out an integrity for myself. Integrity in terms of having the right ideas about governance, having the right behaviour in governance, having the right perspective and having had a very fantastic education in the University of Ife.
You are from Oke Ogun axis of the state, do you think Ibadan axis is ready to let go the governorship seat to your area?
I thank God that I don’t want to become the governor because I am from Oke Ogun, but because I am the most qualified of the pack.
Again, with regard to Oke Ogun, we are proud to say that the present governor in Oyo State got the second term ticket to become governor only by the grace of Oke Ogun people, who voted for him massively. Recall that of the 10 local government areas, he won in nine. The same thing did not happen in Ibadan where he comes from.
So, in appreciation of our role in delivering the second term ticket, he was the one who started the campaign that an Oke Ogun man should be given the opportunity to be the governor this time around.
But, having said that, I make boast to say that I am also an Ibadan person. I have been in Ibadan since 1979, I have been living my professional, social, religious and political life in Ibadan. And that is why today by the Grace of God, I know virtually all the important persons in Ibadan. Those I do not know, I can be sure that they know me very well and since 1979 till date, nobody has had any negative thought about me.
More importantly, the Olubadan of Ibadan land, the paramount ruler of the eleven local government areas of Ibadan land graciously bestowed on me the Agba Akin Fiwajoye of Ibadan land as a testimony of the fact that I am considered as one of the Ibadan. I thank God that I cherish the recognition and I want to believe that being from Oke Ogun will not be a disadvantage, because on merit nobody has what to become the next governor of Oyo State more than I do.
Is there anything you think the present administration has not done that you may likely address when you become the governor?
It is not for me to judge the present administration in the state. During my campaign, I will tell the people of Oyo State what I will do as governor. Whatever the incumbent governor wants to do or has done, we must in fairness credit him in success. With construction of roads, especially in Ibadan land, he has done very well, he should be commended.
Having said that, I am not part of his government and I am not appointed to be a critic of his government. I have learned a lot over the last 40 years and all I have learned throughout the position I have been and particularly the connection I have today, both at the national and international levels, will put me in very good stead to excel when I become the next governor of Oyo State.
How did you meet the Ministry of Communication and how is the place now?
I came on board on November 11, 2015 and was initially ignorant of what Information Communication and Telecommunication (ICT) entails. Conscious of my lack of knowledge and expertise in the field, I decided to learn about ICT, learn about where the ministry was at that time, learn about where the ministry has been coming from and to decide on what to do to uplift the ministry. At the same time, a lot of stakeholders were protesting my appointment to the ministry, arguing that it would have been better to appoint an expert to help the ministry.
It is instructive to say that barely one and half years thereafter, the stakeholders of the ministry, many of whom have protested my appointment, came under the umbrella of Nigeria Computer Society to honour me with the award of Fellow of Computer Science. To me, this is funny because it is a case of a rejected stone becoming the corner stone of the house.
One of the first things I did was to organise a retreat, invited about 400 stakeholders, experts in the field from within and outside the country to come and brainstorm on where the ministry was coming from, where the ICT industry has been as at that time and where we should be looking towards.
I am happy that after a week, we collated all the views and recommendations and set up another committee to work on those recommendations and to bring out a blueprint of what will be the ICT roadmap for the country. The roadmap was approved by the Federal Executive Council as the roadmap for Nigeria for the year 2017 and 2018.
The highlight of the roadmap essentially addresses the way forward for the ICT industry. We do know that throughout the world, the ICT industry has become the greatest enabler of industries, education, health, agriculture even commerce and Telecommunication and that is why in the year 2017, the ICT industry contributed for the first time not less than 10 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria.
The feat had never been achieved in the annals of the financial history of Nigeria. That is to show that we have been putting in our best to ensure a steady and positive growth of the ICT industry.
Today, we have six agencies under the Ministry of Communication. These are the Nigeria Communication Commission, the National Information Technology Development Agency, NICOMSAT Company, NIPOST as well as Galaxy Backbone, the USIF. Each of them has had new policies arising from the roadmap.
The industry is becoming robust every day. One thing I have done steady is the fact that I have been engaging the stakeholders in the industry and that is why there is no conference or colloquium by different branches of the ICT industry that you invited to that I will not take active part. I also have the privilege of attending conference in more than 15 countries across the world to ensure that Nigeria’s presence is established and to use the platform to encourage foreign direct investments in the ICT industry.
As at today, I can say we have brought a lot of reforms; one of which is the declaration of year 2017 as the year of the customers of telecommunication services.
Time was when most of the subscribers were always complaining about poor quality of services. By the end of 2017, the number on complaints have reduced by more than 90 per cent, which is an indication that the quality of poor service is being addressed by NCC, an agency of the ministry.
With regard to NICOMSAT, I am also happy to recall that we worked hard to acquire more satellites so that we have enough capacity in terms of satellite communication. We will be in position that Nigerians patronize Nigerian satellite communication service instead of the millions of dollars spent on foreign satellite communication services.
Again, with the Galaxy Backbone, we have signed the second phase contract which will completely interlink all government agencies with the fiber optic backbone. All federal government agencies in all the states will be linked.
This will assist in data posting within the shores of Nigeria. By that, every part of the federal government agencies and ministries will be able to link up with every other office of the federal government. Ministries, agencies or departments will be able to inter connect. This, after its completion, will also allow for excess capacity to be utilized by private sector.
Again, with regard to NIPOST, of course, we are having a lot of reforms. NIPOST which remain as old as Nigeria itself went almost comatose because of the fact that GSM came and it becomes irrelevant to post letters. NIPOST will soon be rebranded, revitalized and repositioned to engage in many other services.
One of the services we are working towards is to establish NIPOST banking and insurance services, which will take banking services to all the rural areas where there is NIPOST facilities.
Again, we will be having a new company to be named NIPOST Property and Development Company, which will engage in providing excess NIPOST’s land in building estates, residential apartments, office complexes, malls and indeed garages.
Again, we will have NIPOST Transport and Logistics Services which will ensure that NIPOST facilities, particularly vehicles, are commercialised in such a way that more money will be brought to NIPOST’s coffers.
Again, we are working towards establishing NIPOST e-commerce service. It will ensure that you can purchase goods and services from any part of the world without going to location where those services are produced or being sold, you can order online, pay online and get your goods and services delivered to you in the nearest post office nearest to your residence.
Again, we are working towards having NIPOST e-government services, which will enable Nigerians to process government papers like passport, license from the comfort of their homes, using the platform of e-government service.
Again, we are working towards establishing an ICT hub in Abuja. This hub will have piece of land released on lease to all the major ICT companies throughout the world. It will also be an avenue for exhibition on yearly basis like what we witnessed in Barcelona.
We are working very hard to establish ICT Development Bank. It will be available to finance all ICT developmental projects from all over the world.
What are the challenges you face in the ministry?
The major challenge is ICT requires a lot of infrastructure. For instance, to buy or acquire just one satellite for the service of NICOMSAT, costs about $25 million dollars. If you change that to the naira, you will be talking about billions. That money, we do not have in Nigeria. It is a major challenge, but we are happy that the Chinese are coming to our rescue. Again, we have so many places without telecommunication, there are no connectivity in most places because it requires a lot of capital investment.
For instance, a telecommunication mast costs about N40 million and for one service provider in a state like Oyo, it will need certainly almost 100. So, to get money to acquire these masts even for one state is a huge challenge.
Again, we are working to pursue foreign investors to bring their capital to Nigeria. One simple thing that ought to have been taken for granted is that the Nigeria’s huge population of about 180 million.
Right now, we have only two or three companies producing and what they are producing is not up to one per cent of what we require for the domestic use. So, we just have to pursue the international investors to bring their resources here.
Again, when you talk of fibre optic laying, we have problems. The major problem we have is right of way. Right of way is your ability to lay fiber cables from one location to the other across the state and the country. The cost of doing that has been very frustrating at the instance of local and state governments. We are trying to persuade them that we must have a uniform price for permission to dig the land. I can assure you that all the challenges are being tackled headlong.
Of what benefit will this be to the socio-economic development of the country?
If we succeed in overcoming these challenges, the first benefit easily is the fact that more income will come to the coffers of not only the Nigerian government, where people will have to pay taxes, royalties and all that, but even the ordinary Nigerians will get more jobs as a result of expansion in the facilities of ICT industry.
Again, apart from the creation of more jobs is the creation on convenient life for Nigerians. So, easily both the government and the of people of Nigeria will be great beneficiaries in the expansion in the availability of ICT services across the country.
What measures are you putting in place for sustainability in the ICT industry?
Well, sustainability is one issue which should be of concern, but one is happy that because ICT is a great enabler and the fastest growth path for nation, community and individuals to grow, we don’t see more challenges coming by way of sustainability. We see these companies involving in ICT service provision to continue to grow as Nigerians themselves grow.
So, I believe that Nigerians will be up to the task. We are very versatile people and we appreciate the importance of ICT through the growth and development of our various companies and jobs. So, I believe Nigeria will sustain ICT development.
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