Minister justifies digital economy drive, plans training for journalists

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali  Pantami, has justified the necessity, appropriateness and significance of the re-designation of the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy by President Muhammadu Buhari, as he recalled the modest strides of the ministry and strategy for accomplishing the digital economy policy for national development.

Pantami, according to the StateOnline, explained this at a media parley and press briefing, which took place in Abuja over the weekend, during which he announced a training programme for journalists in the first and second quarters of 2020. He directed that the programmes are to be organised and sponsored by the National Information technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), respectively.

The meeting with members of the Abuja Chapter of the Nigerian Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA), convened by the Minister to enlighten the media about steps that had been taken by the ministry under his leadership, to enhance the transition to digital economy, was the first briefing by any Ministry, Department or Agency (MDAs) of government in 2020.

The Minister said the re-designation was done to position Nigeria for the gains of digital economy as ‘communications’ captured just the channels. Hence, the term became inadequate in describing the essence of the new vision that embraces the content, as well as the utilisation of both channel and content to achieve the central focus of the Ministry to migrate the nation to a digital economy.

Pantami said this is particularly significant as it enables Information and Communications Technology (ICT) – which is the most diverse and fastest growing sector – to mobilise other sectors and align with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government.

The Minister said this is quite fitting, as it also ensures that the name of the ministry captures its objective in keeping with best global practices.

Following the re-designation, the minister stated that the Federal Government directed the ministry to develop and implement a national digital economy strategy. This, he said, was done by the ministry and unveiled by the President at the e-Nigeria Conference in November 2019.

Pantami said the policy captures the thematic focus while the strategy speaks to how the various themes will be achieved.

Speaking further, Pantami declared that all other MDAs are connected to the strategy in view of the centrality of ICT to development in other sectors of the economy. He emphasised that the role of the ministry is to coordinate the implementation of the policy and the strategy.

He stated that the implementation of the strategy had started, stressing that by the end of the decade, the Federal Government expects every Nigerian to have connected with and expressed the goal of digital Nigeria by being computer literate, owning a digital device (which the agencies in the Ministry have been assisting to facilitate), having access to the Internet, owning a bank account that can be accessed and operated digitally and online.

Beyond financial services, the Minister said the Federal Government hopes to see majority of the citizens undertake many activities electronically.

Pantami recalled the eight (8) pillars of the policy which he enjoined all tiers of government and all stakeholders to begin to explore for implementation.

The first of the pillars is Developmental Regulation, which he said is conceived as regulation that promotes and supports development.

“This means online communications and transactions should focus on and encourage digital economy and ensure taxes and prices come down because when prices come down, demand goes up” and entrepreneurs make more profit by sheer increase in the volume of trade. “It is simple economics,” the Minister emphasised.

Pantami enumerated that different sections of the population are targeted for training and retraining, including women, youths, journalists, civil servants and those who are certificated but unemployed.

He was optimistic that, at least, 90 per cent of Nigerians will be digitally literate by the end of the decade as all agencies in the Ministry will be involved in series of training and retraining as much as the financial circumstances of the nation permit.

He explained that the 2020-2025 Broadband Plan is expected to be ready within the first quarter of 2020 and the plan is to ensure that all unserved and underserved areas have access to broadband services. For this, he said the Federal Government and the Ministry are encouraging many institutions to host their data in Nigeria as he promised to continue the advocacy.

The fourth policy pillar – Service Infrastructure, according to the Minister, is focused on facilitating digitisation of activities that will find deeper expression in e-health, e-agriculture and other automated transactions. He accentuated the connection of automation to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by stating that studies by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other development agencies have revealed that 10 percent increase in broadband penetration could increase GDP by up to 2.5 per cent.