Until the coming of Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), PhD, the Ministry of Communications was one of the ministries that was hardly noticed in Nigeria. It neither took the front seat in public discourse nor stirred national conversations. It was just quiet, despite the huge digital demands of the 21st century.
Within the space of two years, however, Dr. Pantami, Nigeria’s current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy has rewritten the narrative. He has been widely and rightly adjudged as one of the best, if not the best and most performing ministers under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration with the reform and transformational agenda he’s championing at the ministry.
He comes to the job with decades of experience in the Information Communication Technology world as an astute academic and practitioner of global standard.
A Muslim scholar, who never shies from identifying with his faith, Pantami has proved his critics who wrote him off on the basis of his religious posture wrong with giant strides and compelling innovations. He is indeed a model to watch.
His bold and audacious move to fight terrorism, banditry and kidnapping through a nation-wide crackdown on pre-registered SIM cards often exploited by nefarious elements in their trade; compulsory NIN-SIM card linkage and other scientific innovations remain unprecedented in the annals of the ministry and has yielded gains for the country and its citizens, albeit, more still need to be done with the co-operation of Nigerians irrespective of religion or tribe.
With the huge investments that have been sunk into ICT under Pantami, Nigeria is visibly on a path to prosperity and digital economy. As of today, a staggering 1,667 ICT projects and centers have been established across the country in less than 2 years. What’s even more is that, apart from those already established, there are over 455 other ICT projects and programmes that are ongoing, Muslim News findings have revealed.
This development will no doubt enable Nigeria match head to head with her counterparts in the world, while also assuming the innovation hub of Africa.
Observers said these projects represent a giant leap towards a fully Digital Nigeria, emphasising that ICT is the new oil that must be explored to place the economy of the country on a sound footing.
Essentially, 8 of such ICT projects were only recently commissioned, covering all the geo-political zones of the country. This huge investment in IT has never been witnessed before, especially in an even-handed manner. The 8 recent projects include; Emergency Communications Centre (ECC), Makurdi, Benue State (North Central); Virtual Examination Centre, College of Education, Argungu, Kebbi State (North West) and E-Accessibility Centre, Alderstown Schools for the Deaf, Warri, Delta State (South South).
Others are E-Health/Data Sharing Project, Leko Abdulrahman Hospital, Daura, Katsina State (North West); Digital Economy Centre & E-Learning Facilities, Ogba Grammar School, Lagos State (South West); Digital Economy Centre & E-Learning Facilities, St Paul Secondary School, Eke, Enugu State (South East); Digital Economy Centre & E-Learning Facilities, Federal Character Commission, Abuja (North Central) and E-Accessibility Centre, Bauchi State Orphans and Vulnerable Children School, Bauchi State (North East).
Just as huge investment is being put into developing ICT projects and programmes nationwide, there have been deliberate efforts to equip the critical mass of the in’s and out’s of ICT in an attempt to encourage creativity and breed innovation.
Muslim News learnt that in the last 2 years, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has offered direct world class trainings to over 219,198 citizens in digital skills and emerging technologies. This number, however, does not include the many citizens that have benefited from trainings through the centers scattered across the country.
According to Minister Pantami, “these mass trainings are a part of our efforts to promote a paradigm shift from the general societal focus on degrees to a strong focus on skills.”
Beneficiaries of these trainings cut across various demographics, including artisans, women, people living with disabilities, members of civil societies, among others.
Above all, in the course of Dr. Pantami’s two years in office, the ministry has contributed significantly to the economy of the country in an unprecedented magnitude. For example, the ICT sector played a pivotal role in lifting the Nigerian economy out of recession, as it recorded the highest growth rate in the 4th Quarter of 2020 (14.70%), as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
This growth rate was the only double-digit growth rate and it exceeded the aggregate growth rates of all the second to the sixth fastest growing sectors. The ICT sector also had the highest growth rate in the year 2020 and the 1st Quarter of 2021. It is also noteworthy that the telecommunications sub-sector grew at 15.90% and this was its highest growth rate over the past decade.
Precisely, the ministry and its agencies have generated over N1 trillion for the federal government in less than two years, translating to an average of about N44 billion every month or over N1.4 billion every day.
The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has 5 parastatals under it, namely: National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), headed by Mal. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE; Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), headed by Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta; Galaxy Backbone headed by Professor Muhammed Bello Abubakar; Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat), headed by Dr. Abimbola Alale; Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), headed by Ismail Adebayo Adewusi, and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), whose CEO is Aliyu Abubakar Aziz.
NITDA which marked her 20th anniversary early this year, has achieved a lot in the area of fighting corruption through the implementation of the IT Clearance policy. In fact, the Honourable Minister, who was previously the Director of the agency before his current position described NITDA as one of the most effective and high-performing agencies of government.
NITDA is one agency that has raised the bar in the area of data protection and regulation, which aims at data protection and privacy as a constitutional right.
Mal. Kashifu said, “From inception to date, you will be glad to know that the Agency has deployed over 1,560 centres with at least two in each of the 774 Local Government Areas of the country.”
The successes and accomplishments including activities that NITDA executed in the last one year (2020-2021) have been documented in a newly launched book, titled, ‘Digital Innovation for Economic Prosperity in Nigeria’.
The book, authored by Mr. Inyene Ibanga was formally presented to the Honourable Minister on Monday, at a special event held in Abuja.
According to Dr. Pantami, the book provides some insights into Nigeria’s digital economy and his Ministry’s approach towards developing it.
He said: “For example, in 2020, Nigeria was able to exit the COVID-19 triggered recession through the impact of digital innovation. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported in its Forth Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Report that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector grew at 14.70%, making it the fastest growing sector, faster than the aggregated growth rates of the second to sixth fastest growing sectors.”
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) under Minister Pantami has recorded great feats and courageously hit roads that have hitherto not been walked. Some of these feats are covered below:
Sim card registration
Findings show that 90% of cybercrimes (mostly financial), committed in Nigeria today, are carried out using improperly registered SIM cards, because they are almost impossible to trace.
Dr. Pantami immediately issued a directive to the telecommunications regulator, NCC in that regard. A large percentage of Nigerians initially doubted its feasibility, but the move is recording success. Over 2 million improperly registered SIM cards have been disabled and are no longer in use. Registered SIM cards used to commit crimes can now easily be traced and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Added to this is the SIM verification exercise that links the card with the National Identity Number, NIN, another step that will not only ensure proper profiling of citizens, but also reduce criminal activities since it makes tracking easy.
Muslim News gathered that the introduction of NIN in the 2021/2022 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) registration helped it to uncover over 500,000 fake candidates. The Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of JAMB, Prof. Isha’q Oloyede confirmed the news, saying, “Before the introduction of NIN in the registration, there were about 2.2 million candidates for the examination, but after the introduction of NIN, over 500,000 candidates were discovered to be fake.”
Suspending telecom USSD charges
In October 2019, Nigerian leading telecom firm, MTN, said it was going to charge a N4 fee on customers who use its shortcodes to access banking services. Many Nigerians expressed outrage on social media over the plan. The listening Minister, who is close to the Nigerian masses via his active social media presence quickly responded and pronto directed the NCC to prevent the teleco giant from taking such move.
Reduction of data cost
Towards the end of 2019, there were public outcries, especially on social media on a raft of tax and charges people were paying. One of those was the high cost of data.
Minister Pantami, himself a social media enthusiast, got the feelers and ordered a downward review of the prices of data packages within five days from when the directive was given.
The minister argued the order was to stop unstructured supplementary service data deductions by network providers, because Nigerians appeared to spend more on data than the little value they get for their money.
Right of Way (RoW)
The issue of Right of Way (RoW) charges is one of the decade-long challenges bedevilling the telecommunication sector. The RoW is a legal permit that allows telecom operators to use the state lands to lay their telecom infrastructures such as connectivity cables.
According to the minister, for 13 years, the problem had hindered broadband penetration (extent of internet transmission).
Addressing the Governors’ Forum in January this year, Mr Pantami entreated the state governors to follow the national benchmark for RoW charge of N145.00 per linear metre of fibre. After the meeting, some states such as Ekiti, Imo, Plateau and Katsina slashed the RoW charges—formerly N4,500—to N145 per linear metre, a 97 per cent reduction. Others like Anambra and Kaduna completely waived the levy.
The minister had argued that the implementation of the new RoW charges would not only reduce the cost of service, but also improve the states’ economy.
Minister Pantami is also supervising a regime of restructuring at the postal agency of the country. The transformation ongoing at NIPOST is carefully targeted at widening the revenue base of the country. In this regard, there is a plan to unbundle the agency for efficiency and effectiveness. That process, according to the Minister in a recent revelation, is at 90%.
“We have many policies for transforming NIPOST in the pipeline. Part of the policy is the plan to unbundle NIPOST,” the Minister had told pressmen in a briefing.
“We have in the pipeline, Transport and Logistics Company, a Courier Service and a Microfinance Bank. We will do the best we can before the year ends to ensure that these are achieved.”
According to him, these are part of efforts to boost Nigeria’s revenue generation, which will be invested into education, security, agriculture, among other sectors in the country.
Pantami expressed optimism that NIPOST would be transformed into a world-class outfit.
Recently, NIPOST unveiled a N50 revenue stamp, which was said to be the beginning of the transformational agenda. In the early days of his administration, Dr. Pantami directed the agency to stop cash payments in its offices nationwide, a step intended to improve probity, transparency and integrity of the system.
The minister said all payments across NIPOST offices in Nigeria should be made through Point of Sales (POS) machines or bank tellers. He said the move was in tandem with the president’s anti-corruption agenda.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was just transferred to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy from the Ministry of Information and Culture.
The argument was that the digital economy is highly dependent on data, which pundits rightly described as the oil, lifeblood, water and new currency of the digital economy. All these are to reflect its importance in the development of a sustainable digital economy.
A robust digital identity programme is critical to robust, secure and sustainable digital economy.
Even with the recent transfer of the commission to the ministry, a massive 20 million enrollments have been made in less than a year, making the total enrollments as of August 11, 2021, 61 million.
This feat is incredulously amazing, especially when placed side by side the fact that from inception of the NIN enrollment process till September 2020 when the commission was transferred to the communications ministry, only 42 million NIN enrollments had been made.
Pantami truly deserves Nigerians’ commendation, especially for what he has done greatly under the President Buhari’s administration. Some Nigerians, nonetheless, are showing appreciation with numerous awards of excellence and recognitions in his name, among which include; 2019 ICT Industry Hero Award by Africa Digital Heroes; the Economic Driver of the Year 2020″ by NewsDigest; The most outstanding Minister of the Year 2021 award by Elite Exclusive Magazine; and the Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year 2020, organised by this medium, with the official presentation coming up in September, 2021.
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