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Extending Telecoms Connectivity to rural Africa

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In spite of tremendous growth in telecommunications service delivery in Africa, greater percentage of rural populace in the region is yet to enjoy telecom access, due mostly because rural areas are not commercially viable.

Governments in Africa have attempted to lure operators in providing service to rural dwellers through incentive such as tax waivers and provision of telecom infrastructure to no avail.

Against this backdrop that a report dealing with the broader issues of rural connectivity in Africa launched last week by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO). The report reveals that a number of novel and multi-stakeholder partnerships, unique business models and innovative technologies are, for the first time, paving the way to connect many of Africa’s rural communities, on a sustainable, profitable basis.

The report provides evidence that contrary to some assumptions that the private sector can lead the effort to connect Africa’s rural populations, the experiences of industrialized countries like Canada, the Unites States and Australia is that governments have had to lead the effort, but in close collaboration with the private sector and local communities. The report calls for Commonwealth African governments to implement their national ICT policies as part of a wider national development strategy and to make faster in-roads into rural ICT rollout through public private peoples partnerships (PPPPs), with local communities playing a more pivotal role.

The report finds that the key to successful partnerships between the public and private sectors and other ICT stakeholders is to encourage local ownership, thereby nurturing the community’s enthusiasm for effective connectivity and ensuring the sustainability of ICT investments.

The CTO study found that whereas Commonwealth countries such as Malaysia and India have made significant in-roads in rural connectivity, Commonwealth African countries like Sierra Leone and Zambia are lagging behind in rural access, leading to poor and overall slow economic growth. The report finds that although recent years have seen dramatic growth in penetration rates in some African countries, especially through mobile networks, the continent’s aggregate penetration rate is still less than 20 percent.

"For Internet access and use, the figures are well below 5 percent for most of Africa. Over 60 percent of Africa’s population lives in unconnected rural areas and represent an untapped market, holding enormous potential for growth for service providers, equipment manufacturers and the entire telecommunications industry", the report claims.

By way of conclusion the report calls for ICT policy provisions that focus on universal and rural access, in order to affirm the commitment of governments to providing basic ICT services to poor, isolated and marginalized communities . There is also the need for continued incremental and a more methodical process of liberalization and privatization of the telecommunications sector in many African countries, and a variety of regulatory safeguards need to be put in place to foster competition and promote a conducive environment for rural connectivity.

Commenting on the initiative, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah chief executive officer of CTO said that the evidence they have accumulated in the course of the 9-month study demonstrates that most of Africa’s rural populations could well be connected over the next decade. "This is partly because an unusual confluence of sounder policies, relevant legislation, improving regulatory practices, the establishment of universal access and service agencies and the revenues they have acquired, new technologies and business models, and the availability of funding from a plethora of sources, all make it now possible for most of Africa to be connected wirelessly within the next ten years," he said. According to Spio-Garbrah, who is a former Minister of Communications in Ghana, ‘the pilot project models we have found to work best are where a combination of public institutions and private ICT operators or equipment vendors have found it possible to involve local groups or communities in structuring, ownership or management of the ICT assets, to ensure their more effective use and sustainable operation. We hope that more companies will join the CTO as we move to the second phase of this important initiative to replicate and scale-up a number of selected model projects, so that the benefits of ICTs can be enjoyed by millions more in Africa’. "Connecting the majority of Africans to the Information Super Highway is necessary if African countries are to benefit from the global knowledge revolution," he said.

The project was undertaken under the auspices of the Commonwealth Connects programme, which involves collaboration with a number of Commonwealth agencies, including the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is supported by the International Telecommunication Union, as part of efforts to help unearth market opportunities, enhance technological advancements, as well as accelerate social development and economic growth by connecting rural communities in the 18 Commonwealth African countries.

The first phase of the project was aimed at discovering how telecommunications regulation, policy, legislation, and operational, technological and financial models affect the potential for cost-effective rural connectivity in the 18 African Commonwealth countries. The research compiled similar information on initiatives and best practices of five selected non-African countries such as USA, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and India, countries that have enjoyed greater success in connecting their rural populations. Subsequently the initiative is to devise effective dissemination channels for the report and identify 10 pilot projects for adaptation and replication to form the basis for the second phase of the project.

Can it happen in Nigeria?

Just as the telecom sector in India is fully liberalized and fastest growing so also is Nigeria’s. The question now is why is Nigeria moving at a slow pace? Currently, all the successes recorded in the sector are essentially an urban phenomenon. The four digital mobile operators have concentrated their activities in high density areas. Locations without access are either remote or are relatively poor communities. This has therefore affected some regions more than others.

A Nigerian Communications Commission NCC/World Bank study has looked at the market potential for telecoms services in the country. The study looked at a range of variable including geo-demographic, socio-economic and infrastructure data. It concludes that the entire country is reachable and that a significant market scope exists. The study conducted ranking among states. The most challenging northern states are typically low socio-economically.

They have low revenue potential, poorest infrastructure and highest cost for telecoms development. However, some challenging southern states exist, but are less difficult to serve. These states usually are small in size: have potential to cover cost, and have good chances of returning a profit.

So far, digital mobile licensees have been slow in expanding into rural areas, despite the fact that the NCC requires them to invest part of their income in setting up services in the rural communities. Market assessments suggest that about 22 states will need some form of incentive to attractive mobile operators. The universal Access fund (UAF) operated by the stakeholders (operators, government and donors) is expected to be a vehicle to deliver these incentives.

Over two thirds of Nigeria’s population resides in rural area. Increasingly, poverty in the country is wearing a rural face. From 28.3 percent in 1980 poverty among the rural population grew to 51.4 percent in 1985, has since risen to 69.8 percent.

Little wonder that global consultancies and analysis believe that if only the operators could convert the challenges in rural Nigeria to opportunities, Nigeria would be an exciting story for other countries of the world to emulate.


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NDPR to Safeguard Personal Data of Nigerians -DG NITDA

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Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, director general, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), has disclosed that the motive behind the issuance of Nigerian Data Protection Regulations, (NDPR) by the Agency was to safeguard the right of natural persons to data privacy, fostering safe conduct for transactions involving the exchange of personal data, enablement of Nigerian businesses to be globally compliant and competitive and to create jobs for Nigerians.

 

Mallam Abdullahi revealed this Friday while delivering the keynote address  at the 6th annual conference of Institute Internal Auditors of Nigeria, (IIAN) with the theme:, “Agility and Resilience” which was held on zoom conference platform.

 

The Conference aimed at preparing participants across Internal Audits, Internal Controls, risk management, revenue and Government assurance and other business professionals to learn how to leverage on new technologies and procedures towards actualisation of the organisation’s goals and objectives.

 

The NITDA DG who was represented Director e-Government Development and Regulations, Dr Vincent Olatunji stated that since inception of the Agency in 2001, it has been playing a catalytic roles to spur the infusion of technology into nation’s work processes reiterating that the Agency plays “critical roles in capacity development, provision of working tools for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

 

“NITDA also has an existing arrangement with the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to aid the office in the discharge of its activities.”

 

Mallam Abdullahi said, “The Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) was issued on 25th January, 2020 by my predecessor, DrIsa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.

 

“As part of his think-tank then, our thinking was that Nigeria needed to quickly provide a regulatory framework for the processing of personal data.

 

“This was even more pertinent in consideration of the global implications of non-performance.

 

“Businesses where losing bids because investors felt there was no data privacy regime in Nigeria.

 

“The Agency’s implementation of the NDPR has been innovative and impact oriented. For the first time in data protection implementation, auditors became recognised as Data Protection Compliance Organisations (DPCO)”.

 

He maintained that NITDA has 72 licensed DPCOs among which are members of this “august body,” adding that “this posture is not as a result of lack of professionals in the IT industry, rather, we have made conscious efforts to carry every relevant stakeholder along in our developmental regulatory strategy.

 

“ I hope this noble institute would repay NITDA’s generosity by imbibing ethical and professional principles on your members for better implementation of the Regulation.”

 

Earlier in his remarks, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, New Capital Cooperatives Society Mr. Benedict Anyalenka while commending the organisers of the conference affirmed that data privacy and protection should be a requisite skill needed for development of the Information Technology Sector as it would create platform for protection of information against unauthorized usage.

 

Anyalenka, however, called for proper awareness on the importance of data privacy among organisations and stakeholders across the country to safeguard citizens’ data.


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FG Reveals Plans to Deploy Technology in the Health Sector

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As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government of Nigeria has announced plans to deploy information and communications technology (ICT) in the country’s health sector.

This is part of the plans to achieve transparency and accountability in health care delivery across the country.

Dr. Ngozi R. C. Azodoh, director, Special Projects, Federal Ministry of Health, who represented Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, Honourable Minister of Health, revealed this while speaking at MTN Nigeria’s Revv Programme masterclass on Thursday, September 17, 2020 .

The virtual session themed ‘Bridging the healthcare divide through technology and partnerships’ had in attendance health sector experts including Chief Executive Officer, Hygeia HMO Limited, Obinnia Abajue; Chief Operations Officer and Co-Founder, Afya Care, Kola Oni; Managing Director, Ingress Health Partners, Dr. Orode Doherty and Chief Executive Officer, Tremendoc Limited, Ugochukwu Chikezie. The session was moderated by the General Manager, Business Development, MTN Nigeria, Omotayo Ojulatayo.

According to Azodoh, the federal government has put structures in place to utilise ICT as part of efforts to standardise the healthcare system.

“The government is working hand in hand with state governments across the country to maintain transparency and accountability, adding that ICT and other forms of electronic platforms are currently being improved and expanded following the federal government’s COVID intervention”.

She also shared that the ministry is willing to support small businesses in the sector imploring the participating SMEs to seize the opportunities provided by The Revv Programme.

“I want to ask everyone who is listening to write to the MTN Revv team and say this is one thing I want the Federal Ministry of Health to do to help my business then we can engage on how to proceed,” she enthused.

In her parting remarks, she also commended MTN Nigeria for providing a platform for SMEs to expand their capacity. “I must commend MTN for this excellent initiative. It has been very productive for me and an opportunity to transfer knowledge.”

The Revv Programme is an initiative from MTN Nigeria to help small businesses rethink and retool their operations in order to withstand the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic using a four-pronged approach that includes masterclasses, access to market, productivity tools support and advisory initiatives.


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Peace House Charity Foundation Seeks for DCTC Intervention

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Mallam Kashifu InuwaAbdullahi, director general, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), asserted that if we do not empower our people, they become a problem to the society in future.

 

He made this know on Friday while receiving a delegation from Peace House Charity Foundation,Yola who were at the Agency’s Corporate Headquarter, Abuja to seek for interventions in the areas of ICT.

 

The representative of the Director General, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, Director eGovernment Development and Regulation stated that one of the mandate of the Agency is the deployment of ICT infrastructure as such the Foundation’s visit at this time is very apt as the Agency is relentlessly working on the implementation of the Digital Economy strategy.

 

MallamAbdullahi affirmed that Agency at the moment is looking for organisations to partner with to sustain Digital Capacity Training Centres deployed across the country.

 

He commended the effort of the organisation in assisting orphans with not only providing basic education but also the provision of skills, mentorship and moral upbringing.

 

Speaking earlier, Mr Mohammad Bello, a Director with the Foundation said that the organisation was at the Agency to seek for ICT intervention and to commend NITDA’s effort in promoting ICT knowledge across the nation.

 

He stated that the organisation supports education for the orphans and the less privileged,  promote health care delivery especially among women and children, provide sensitisation workshop for parents (mothers) on parenting and matrimonial home, promote unity and encourage self-reliance among the populace.

 

 

 

 

 


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