Nigeria 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, on strategies to increase broadband penetration and using IT to promote transparency and reduce corruption.

Hon. Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu
Hon. Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu is a minister from Oyo State. He obtained a first-class degree in law from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. In 1983, Barrister Shittu was elected as a member of Oyo State House Assembly in the Second Republic. He became a member of National Political Conference in 2005. In 2011, he withdrew his gubernatorial ambition for the incumbent governor of Oyo State and in 2016 the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him as Minister of Communications.

The Nigerian government intends to increase broadband penetration to 30% by 2018. What are the government's strategies to realize this goal?

The government's business is not about using its own resources for the purpose of investment in infrastructure. All the government does is provide an enabling environment for private sector participation. We are in talks with local and foreign investors to let them know about the opportunities that exist. Many local and foreign entrepreneurs have already made some investments in the sector and further proposals are coming. Some want to use conventional broadband, such as placing fiber optics underground, while others are even bringing the novel idea of placing the fiber-optic cables on the electricity poles around the country. We are happy with the regulatory environment that has been created, which, combined with the huge population and stable government, illustrates to investors that Nigeria is the place to go. We are optimistic we will be able to meet our target of 30% penetration within the shortest possible time.

You mentioned that the broadband penetration will reach rural areas. How will this impact the day-to-day life of rural communities?

In moving broadband from one city to another, a certain amount of the rural areas in between will get connectivity as well. We have governmental institutions all over this country, and we want all of them to take advantage of the opportunities that ICT presents. Life in the rural areas can change considerably with access to ICT. They can be better educated, because they have access to virtual libraries and are able to communicate and create opportunities for new businesses. From my village, about 150km from Ibadan, around 800 vehicles come to the city daily to buy one thing or the other; however, if we have enough connectivity e-commerce will thrive and people will not have to make the daily journey to bigger cities.

How can new technologies help the government in its quest to promote greater transparency and reduce corruption?

Through the e-governance process, the government will be able to increase efficiency and fight corruption, making the economy robust in the sense that it decreases the need to carry cash. ICT also provides us with more options in terms of payment systems. Even in terms of salary e-payments, it is easier and more transparent and the likelihood of employees receiving what they should is increased. Within the banking sector, digitalization through ATM networks is speeding banking processes. E-banking is possible through smart phones and it is more efficient because people do not have to travel to a bank in order to make and receive payments. We see e-governance as a way of providing solutions to businesses, education, and the agricultural sector in particular, as well as mining and all aspects of governance.

How would you describe the importance of ICT and communications to diversify the economy and create economic growth?

Nigeria for a long time has depended on oil and gas as a means to powering its economy. That became a burden because it prevented us from exploring other natural resources. More people are engaging in ICT over oil and gas or mining. This is purely due to the fact that investment in those resources can take generations to generate a ROI. In comparison, the ICT sector, firstly, is non-exploitative and is not an extractive industry, and, therefore, we do not need much investment when compared with other. Many countries that do not have natural resources rely on human resourcefulness instead. On the continent, countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa use and rely on ICT to develop businesses and drive their economy. Even though we are a late starter, we believe that we are realizing the potential that ICT can hold in diversifying the Nigerian economy. We have started and believe it is something that will not stop.