When the globe revolves, people revolve around it. The new normal is; adapting to the trend of opportunities that is presented with the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Since WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, and later declaring the COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, the world economy took a downward plunge as most sources of income generation were on stand still. Naturally, the world had to refocus its economic strategies to conform to the new normal.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on March 2, 2020, lowered its forecast of global economic growth by 0.5% for 2020 from 2.9% to 2.4%, based on the assumption that the economic effects of the virus would peak in the first quarter of 2020. However, the OECD estimated that if the economic effects of the virus did not peak in the first quarter, which is now apparent that it did not, global economic growth would increase by 1.5% in 2020. That forecast now seems to have been highly optimistic.
On March 23, 2020, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria stated that the sheer magnitude of the current shock introduces an unprecedented complexity to economic forecasting. The OECD Interim Economic Outlook, released on March 2, 2020, made a first attempt to take stock of the likely impact of COVID-19 on global growth, but it now looks like we have already moved well beyond even the more severe scenario envisaged then…. The pandemic has also set in motion, a major economic crisis that will burden our societies for years to come.
Nigeria with one of the largest youth populations in the world, and the biggest economy in Africa, took a strategic positioning by replacing the National IT Policy with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) in October 2019, a visionary move made before the COVID-19 outbreak.
This was geared towards the recognition of the need for a digital-led strategy to make the Nigerian economy more competitive in the 21st century competitive global economy. The Nigerian Government had identified the importance of innovations and investments, as a tool to harness digital data and new technologies, generate new content, link individuals with markets and government services, and roll out new, sustainable business models.
The NDEPS was formally unveiled by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, on 28th November 2019, after the redesignation of the Federal Ministry of Communications to Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMC&DE).
This mandate was given to the FMoCDE under the leadership of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, FNCS, FBCS, FIIM, at his assumption into the office as the Minister. His blueprints were the 8-pillars of the NDEPS developed to achieve a sustainable digital economy. The 8 pillars are:
- Developmental Regulation;
- Digital Literacy & Skills;
- Solid Infrastructure;
- Service Infrastructure;
- Digital Services Development & Promotion;
- Soft Infrastructure;
- Digital Society & Emerging Technologies; and
- Indigenous Content Development & Adoption.
These pillars were developed to tackle the challenges to improve digital infrastructure, strengthen digital platforms, increase access to digital financial services, improve the policy environment for digital entrepreneurship, close the digital skills knowledge gap and most importantly develop indigenous contents by promoting start-up innovations and initiatives.
SCORECARD FOR FMoCDE
The execution of the NDEPS has resulted in a number of unprecedented achievements; the Q4 ‘2020 Report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that the ICT sector had the highest growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2020 and over the course of the entire year 2020, at 14.70% and 12.90% respectively. With a growth rate of 15.90% in 2020, the telecommunications industry experienced its highest growth rate in a decade.
In a November 2020 Report submitted to the office of the FMC&DE, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), averaged the cost of 1GB of data reduced from the January 2020 cost of N1,000 to N487.18 in November, 2020.
Also in partnership with leading ICT multinationals such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems and Huawei, 2 virtual academies were conducted to enable Nigerians obtain ICT skills in spite of the effects of COVID. These academies www.digitalnigeria.org and http://academy.nitda.gov.ng were set up on the 2nd of April 2020, and the 29th of April 2020 respectively. Over 210,000 citizens enrolled in a wide range of ICT courses and emerging technologies, including Cybersecurity, Big Data Analytics, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Cloud Computing and Networking.
Other notable achievements of the Ministry and its parastatals have over 600 interventions across all the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, with each benefiting from multiple projects on capacity building to prepare Nigerians towards the opportunities presented by a digital economy. Some of these interventions include; Tertiary Institution Knowledge Centres, School Knowledge Centres, E-Accessibility Centres, E-Libraries, Digital Job Creation Centres, Community IT Training Centres, IT Hubs, E-Learning Centres and Digital Nigeria Centres.
As a whole, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), under the purview of the FMC&DE, has taken diverse strategic positioning in actualising the digital transformation for a digital economy. The Agency in line with its seven strategic pillars is aligning its programmes and projects with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) with the aim of changing the narratives of the country by diversifying its monolithic economy.
NITDA under the leadership of a visionary director general, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, has been recording gigantic strides in the efforts at maximising the potentials of IT in the development of Nigeria for a robust and sustainable digital economy. The Agency’s priorities are; Developmental Regulation, Digital Literacy and Skills, Solid Infrastructure, Digital Services Development and Promotion, Software Infrastructure, Digital Society and Emerging Technologies, Indigenous Content Development and Adoption.
The Agency in pursuit of achieving the three focal point of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of eradicating poverty through economic development, eliminating corruption, and insecurity has engaged in diverse empowerment programmes to alleviate poverty and combat corruption and insecurity within the nation.
In achieving capacity building, a mandate strongly pursued in NITDA, women, youths and Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWD) have, at different time, beneficiaries of training sessions in basic ICT skills and entrepreneurship across the six geopolitical zones of the nation and were also empowered.
The Agency within the first eighteen months of the incumbent director general has completed 16 major ICT projects which have also been commissioned. The COVID-19 pandemic enabled the provisions of the virtual platforms for skills acquisition. Over 36,000 participants where empowered even during the lockdown, which diffused the traditional system of physical transactional procedures.
NITDA also supports the advancement of Agriculture through the National Adopted Smart Agriculture (NAVSA), through SMART Agro business for economic prosperity. Strategically placing the Nigerian economy on a productive, export based nation, shifting the paradigm from that of a consumerist.
Through the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE) and the Office for Nigerian Content in ICT (ONC) the Agency is promoting and creating enabling environment for the growth of technology startup ecosystem and ensuring patronage of local content in ICT. Work permit for Technology Startup were also issued during the lockdown.
A landmark achievement for the Agency during this era of COVID-19 was the licensing of 104 Data Protection Compliance Organisations (DPCO), which have been working to ensure statutory compliance to the NDPR by organisations either private or public handling citizen data. This also has enabled the creation of over 1,500 jobs.
NITDA has proven, in the last five years, a consistent track record of delivering results in its given mandate. The huge investment of public funds is evident across the nation with the deployment of ICT products and services in Public Institutions, reduction in the cost of ICT project execution and duplication, development of the local ICT market in volume of trade and content and ensuring accurate statistics as regards ICT.
Clearly, COVD-19 on the NITDA’s trajectory has no negative impact particularly on execution of its mandates; rather it opened up new opportunities for implementation. Reaching the underserved and the unserved, through the digitisation process and continuous project towards the actualisation of a digital economy.