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2022: Visionary leadership, increased collaboration drive growth in ICT sector

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The year 2022 was a progression of growth for the Nigerian ICT sector. With visionary leadership at the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and it’s parastatals to increased synergy between the government and private sector players, the sector was able to move forward.

Nigerian NewsDirect analysis of the progress of the sector revealed the wins to be celebrated and the issues yet unresolved needed to be tackled in the year 2023. GDP contribution

2022 recorded the highest contribution of the Nigerian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, the highest in five years.

At a record high of  20.32 percent in Q3 2022, the sector saw an increase in growth of 9.15 per cent in 2022 compared to the preceding years where it recorded 11.2, 15.9, 11.2, and 12.1 percent, respectively.

According to the report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), NBS reported that the non-oil sector grew by 4.27 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and was driven mainly by Information and Communication (Telecommunication), Trade, Transportation (Road Transport), Financial and Insurance (Financial Institutions); Agriculture (Crop Production) and Real Estate, accounting for positive GDP growth.

Data from the report disclosed that the nominal sector saw a 9.58 per cent increase in the third quarter of 2022, higher than 9.22 per cent recorded in the same quarter of 2021.

While the real sector recorded an increase of 0.87 per cent from 15.35 per cent recorded in 2022 and 14.20 percent recorded in 2021.

However, the country’s ICT sector comprises four activities – Telecommunications and Information Services, Publishing, Motion Picture, Sound Recording, and Music Production; and Broadcasting.

Conclusively, the sector’s growth was driven largely by revenue from telephone, telex, Facsimile, telegraph, and other income from satellite and internet services.

Broadband penetration

Nigeria set its broadband penetration target at 70 per cent to be achieved by 2025. Nigeria’s broadband penetration stood at 45.55 per cent as of October 2022.  This means Nigeria has additional 24.49 per cent in terms of broadband coverage to achieve.

The plan, which was launched in January 2020, was designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria, a minimum of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90 per cent of the population by 2025 at a price not more than N390 per 1 gigabyte of data (i.e. two per cent of median income or one per cent of minimum wage).

The plan also includes deployment of 120,000 kilometer of fibre across the country and connection of 60 per cent of Communication towers with fibre as stipulated in its approved Terms of Reference (ToR).

At the current 46.24 per cent penetration, broadband penetration has seen a growth of 8 per cent within the two years since the plan was implemented. To achieve the 70 per cent target, Nigeria will need to speed up on the implementation of the initiatives to fastrack penetration and also pay attention to alternatives like Satellite communications to accelerate penetration in rural areas.

5G deployment

In the year 2022, telecom subscribers stood at 218,608,607 based on available industry statistics available on the website of the Nigerian Communications Commission. This means the sector added 25,754,201 consumers between November 2021 and November 2022. The total number of internet subscriptions grew to 152,891,470 as at November 2022.

In the year in review, the country accelerated it’s movement to deploy 5G in Nigeria with MTN Nigeria became the first telecommunication provider in Nigeria to roll out the 5G mobile network in Nigeria in August 2022.

MTN, who won the auction for the 3.5GHz 5G spectrum alongside Mafab Communications in December 2021, commenced the roll-out by switching on the network in 190 sites across the country.

Currently, MTN’s 5G has only been launched in Lagos which is but a fraction of the entire Nigerian population.

With the rollout of 5G is the grappling challenge of affordability affecting the adoption of 5G. 5G network will require using a 5G enabled phone and many of this 5G enabled phones are fixed at price tags equivalent or above the yearly wage of many Nigerians.

The year also saw MAFAB Communications the second winner of the 3.5Ghz spectrum auction held in December 2021 fail to roll out 5G services which is contrary to the Information memorandum.

Commenting on the delay in rollout by Mafab Communications, the NCC explained that the Commission is aware of the challenges being encountered by the operators while noting that the operator as a new entrant needed to acquire an operational license to operate and that occasioned the delay in the rollout.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta noted that the Commission in her regulatory diplomacy had approved the licenses MAFAB applied for and also the extension of time for rollout for 5G services by the operator.

Despite the earlier challenges experienced with misinformation regarding 5G and difficulties with deployment, Nigeria auctioned 2 more slots on the 3.5Ghz spectrum in the year 2022.

Though the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) auctioned 2 slots,  Airtel Nigeria emerged as the sole bidder for the 3.5Ghz spectrum.

This is following the failure of the other participant in the proposed auction to pay the Intention to Bid Deposit (IBD) as stipulated in the Information Memorandum (IM) issued by NCC.

The Reserve Price for the spectrum has however been fixed at Two Hundred and Seventy-Three Million and Six Hundred Thousand United States Dollars only (US$273,600,000.00) or its equivalent in Naira at the prevailing Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rates at the time of the auction.

Infrastructure protection and Right of Way (ROW)

Destruction of ICT infrastructure continued to be a major issue  for the sector.  The growth of the sector thrives largely on increasing in-country capacity (Infrastructure).

Though the year saw two major subsea cables arrive on her shores, the safety of the infrastructure is a concern for stakeholders who have made huge investments in infrastructure.

President Muhammadu Buhari earlier in 2020 accepted the proposal of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy to identify telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure. However, security concerns despite the directive still remain an issue. Network outage expeirenced during the year in review were largely attributed to vandalization of telecoms infrastructure.

There is also yet to be a uniform Right of Way price across the country.  Lagos State at the Lagos state Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA) Stakeholders conference stated that due to its peculiarity, it cannot adopt a uniform price for Right of Way (Charges) as the NCC proposes.

In 2021, the country was close to making all State Governors embrace the N145 uniform fee for RoW, with as many as six Governors pledging to either reduce the fees to N145 or remove fees altogether.

However, as at now, only three states have actually implemented their pledge as of December 2022. Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello, announced in November that telecommunication operators that want to deploy broadband infrastructure in green areas will only pay N14.50 per linear square as RoW charges. The discounted charges would commence on December 1, 2022 and run for the next two years.

The remaining 33 states have taken different approaches.

Foreign exchange

Considering the drastic fall of the Naira to dollar in the year 2022, it was particularly difficult for local operators to expand their capacity and purchase equipments.

In an interview with Nigerian NewsDirect in 2022, the Group Managing Director, VDT Communications, Biodun Omoniyi lamented the difficulty of recouping investments because of the cost of foreign exchange.

According to Omoniyi, “When you talk about communication, I hope you know that there are equipments involved. The question now is that how many of these equipments do they manufacture in Nigeria? Zero. We buy all of these equipments in foreign countries.

“When you buy from other countries, you need forex including phones. You cannot expand your network. When company talks about Network expansion, it means they are going to buy more equipment. Meanwhile, they provide service in Naira here.

“If the Naira has been falling, cost to buy those expenses shoot up. Dollar used to be N350, 360 et cetra about one year ago. The dollar you gather now which you felt will be able to buy three equipments, can only buy you two. The telecoms companies are import dependent and it is affecting the industry badly. The country needs to intentionally promote indigenous manufacturing and make access  to forex easy.”

However, to mitigate the challenges of importation, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami giving his keynote address at the 2022 edition of the Nigerian Telecommunications Indigenous Content Expo (NTICE), held in Lagos, Pantami charged stakeholders to intensify efforts in the promotion of Nigeria’s indigenous telecommunications sector.

The expo was organised as part of efforts to vigorously pursue the objectives of the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector (NPPIC), through the National Office for Developing Indigenous Telecoms Sector (NODITS) domiciled in the NCC.

Conclusion

Retrospectively, the year 2022 was a good year that demonstrated more than ever the need for the Nigerian government to pay more attention to increased investment in technology and collaboration with stakeholders to develop policies for the ICT ecosystem and the digital economy at large.  With an improved policy framework and ease of doing business, the ICT sector in Nigeria will be positioned to experience increased growth in the year 2023.

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PalmPay unveils first set of winners in Eid mobile bonanza

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PalmPay has announced the first set of winners in its ongoing Eid campaign tagged PalmPay Eid Bonanza, which kicked off on April 10th and will run until April 30th, 2024.

Since the start of the bonanza on April 10th, 5 lucky winners have been emerging daily simply by performing tasks on the PalmPay App such as transferring funds, airtime and data purchases, bill payments, and savings.

Comfort Udoh from Lagos, one of the proud recipients of an iPhone 15 Pro, expressed her sheer delight. “I simply won by recharging my phone with airtime on the PalmPay app. I received the exciting news via a call from PalmPay Nigeria. I thank them for the generous reward of a brand new iPhone 15 pro”

Also, Mr. Abegurin Patrick Segun’s winning entry came about when he placed a N100 bet using his PalmPay app. It was a delightful surprise for him to receive a call from PalmPay Nigeria, informing him of his victory in the daily raffle draw, and he’s now the proud owner of an Infinix Hot 40i.

To participate in the remaining weeks of the campaign, download the PalmPay App from Google Play or App Store. Sign up for an account and include your BVN or NIN to complete the process and click on the Eid Bonanza Feature.

There are still numerous phones to be won daily, along with the added bonus of daily free transfers to any bank via the PalmPay App.

Enakeno Umuteme, the Head of Marketing and Communications at PalmPay Nigeria, notes that, “Our primary objective is to reward and acknowledge our loyal customers. This campaign stays true to its promise of appreciating Nigerians who are PalmPay users”

PalmPay offers an array of services including money transfers, bill payments, credit services, and savings on its app and via its mobile money agents. Since its inception in Nigeria in 2019 under a Mobile Money Operator license, the platform has amassed over 30 million app users as part of its cashless payment ecosystem.

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Minister announces groundbreaking partnerships with Cisco, others

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The Minister for Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani has announced strategic partnerships with Cisco, 21st Century Technologies like Awarri and DataDotOrg.

Tijani made the announcements while speaking at a dinner to mark the end of a four-day National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NAIS) Workshop in Abuja.

The workshop was themed: “Developing the High-Level Strategy and Implementation Plan for a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy for Nigeria”.

He informed that the partnerships would drive technological innovation and boost Nigeria’s digital Economy.

Tijani said that the workshop was to formulate a strategy focused on addressing the needs of Nigerian citizens and communities.

He noted the increased attention on AI across the world and growth in investments in the technology in Nigeria saying: “Over one Petabyte of storage is already being allocated to AI projects in Nigeria by Galaxy Backbone Limited.

“The Pilot Compute Programme that we are undertaking, which is seeing 21st Century Technologies invest over 2 million dollars in Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

“It is also going to put us in a position to start building and narrating the story for why we need to invest in our computing power as a nation.

“We all know that the strength of a network is determined by the value that each node on the network brings to it.

“If our world is truly connected, you are not helping Africa or Nigeria by ensuring that we can come to the table and participate.

“By partnering with us, you are only ensuring that our world is stronger because we have something significant to contribute to the network.”

The minister outlined a number of strategic partnerships and projects facilitated by the Ministry to fast-track Nigeria’s growth in the field of AI.

He listed them to include the National Centre for Al and Robotics (NCAIR) relaunch, Nigerian multilingual large language model, Nigeria’s computing infrastructure pilot and the AI collective, accordingly.

Tijani explained that the NCAIR relaunch of new and improved capacity was to better fulfill its mandate.

“The Centre is a special purpose vehicle created to promote research and development on emerging technologies and their practical application in the areas of Nigerian national interest.

“As a digital innovation and research facility, NCAIR focuses on Al, Robotics and Drones, Internet of Things (loT), and other emerging technologies, aimed at transforming the Nigerian digital economy.

“The capacity building imperative is undertaken with support from global technology company, Cisco.

”For the Nigerian multilingual large language model, Tijani said it aimed to build the most robust Nigerian large language model,” Tijani said.

He said in order to achieve this, the project would leverage the support of the 3 Million Technical Talent (3MTT) programme Fellows to collate high quality Nigerian language data and fuel the development of some of the most sophisticated AI models.

Tijani explained, “The project is developed by Awarri in partnership with NITDA and DataDotOrg.”

He explained that Nigeria’s computing infrastructure pilot would accelerate the development of Al projects of national interest.

According to him, Galaxy Backbone Limited will partner 21st Century Technologies to develop Nigeria’s national computer project.

“The Compute will be available to local researchers, startups, government entities working on critical Al projects that are of national interest.

“It will reside at the Galaxy Backbone Data Centre and be accessible through NCAIR,” the minister added.

Tijani said,”The AI Collective is a community of practice collaborating towards accelerating the nation’s collective prosperity through an inclusive Al Ecosystem.

“The collective will harness the power of Al to drive economic prosperity, accelerate innovation and social development, and position Nigeria as a leading force in AI for good globally.”

The minister expressed appreciation to all the stakeholders for making the workshop possible, while stating the benefits of adopting cutting-edge technologies.

They include Artificial Intelligence (AI) in raising the productivity of users for our collective prosperity.

The workshop was supported by local and international organisations such asq Luminate, Google, Meta, Microsoft, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR).

Others include Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Galaxy Backbone Limited, and Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems capable of performing complex tasks that historically only a human could do, such as reasoning, making decisions, or solving problems.

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War against piracy: NCC parades three seized containers of pirated book in Rivers

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… We’ll prosecute perpetrators, accomplices — DG

Barth Ndubuwah, Port Harcourt

The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) has Friday conducted journalists round the three containers seized by the Commission in collaboration with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at Onne Port,Area 2, containing about 3,000 cartons of pirated books, estimated  over N100m at market value.

 Addressing the Press and other stakeholders in the book industry in Port Harcourt, the Director General (DG) of NCC, Dr John Asein said henceforth the Commission will not hesitate “to seal premises, go after the proceeds of crimes and deal with the suspected materials summarily,” courtesy of the stronger Copyright  Statute with stiffer penalties for criminal  infringement.

The DG added that “the Commission  will hold anyone found with copies of pirated books accountable and presumed to be complicit in crime of piracy either as primary or secondary suspects.”

He said the renewed commitment to tackle piracy in all sectors complements government’s high level policy intervention to turn around the economy and grow the country’s creative industry. This,the DG said is in line with the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Ahmed Bola Tinubu led Federal Government of Nigeria.

He thanked the Nigeria Customs Service, the Department of  State Services (DSS) and other stakeholders whose  cooperation he said has made the seizures possible.

Dr Asein assured that henceforth NCC will be stepping up its enforcement  drive to decimate copyright piracy in Nigeria until it is reduced to a single digit number.

“With the support of partnering agencies and the cooperation of rights owners ,this is a task that must be accomplished. I invite landlords, transporters, warehouse owners, school proprietors,market authorities and the general public to report any suspicious activities in the book chain to the Nigerian Copyright Commission or any of the  partnering agencies,” the DG said.

Also speaking, the Area Comptroller of Customs, Onne Port, Babani Imam, who spoke through, CC Epundu said there is every need for  Federal Government Agencies to collaborate, noting that Customs Area 2 Onne has been intercepting drugs, arms and other contraband  products and handed them over to the appropriate agency handling such issue. He appealed for the  sustenance of the inter-agency partnership.

On his part, the President of Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), Chief Uche Anoke, who was represented by his Vice and CEO of Africans First Publishers Plc, Austin Onwubiko lauded  NCC for the excellent job they have been doing in combating piracy. He pointed out that the fight no doubt will allow the patent right owners to enjoy the fruit of their labour. He urged NCC to sustain their collaborative activities with other agencies, for optimal results.

He lamented that Publishers struggle to produce books, but pirates would not allow them to reap from their sweat.

He called on the Federal Government to liaise with the Chinese Embassy to stop the unholy trade from that country.

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