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USPF, Stakeholders Seek New ICT Growth Paradigm

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The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) was established with a mandate to ‘achieve universal access, universal coverage and universal service through a public-private partnership framework that stimulates economic and social development, private sector investment and market-based provision of basic affordable and quality ICT infrastructure and services to unserved and underserved areas, communities and populations.’

But sadly, the fund since establishment has struggled to meet its basic tenets. However, at a recent stakeholders’ conference in Lagos to preview its Strategic Management Plan – 2013 – 2017, the general consensus was that time has come for a new approach to streamline the Fund with the realities and demands of the ICT market.

Specifically, it was noted that the Fund would henceforth work in tandem with stakeholders and industry operators to give them greater opportunities.

Maikano Abdullahi, secretary of the USPF, agreed in his own words that the Fund had not met its set out goals. He pleaded with stakeholders to give the Fund the benefits of doubt as it was set for a new season of mutual cooperation.

“In the past, there has been this mutual distrust between the operators (especially the major players), and the Fund. Whereas, the Fund expected them (operators) to take what we give them, the operators see things differently. They first look at projects on basis of returns-on-investment. How beneficial would the project be to them economically? I think we have looked at all these issues and we’re ready to dialogue with every player in the industry to ensure full participation,” said Abdullahi.

And to ensure that the new SMP strategy would not be another ‘white Elephant’, Abdullahi said so much work has been included in the new plan which would see an addition of about 3,000 kilometres of fibre and 1000 Base Stations, deployed across Nigeria every year. Admittedly, noted that the last SMP which expired in 2011 had minimal success.

He noted that the last SMP which ran from 2007 to 2011 had targeted provision of 291 community communications centres across the six geo-political zones (which will provide shared access to telephone and internet services in the rural areas).

Sadly, at the close of the period, it ended up providing 224 which represented 77 percent of the target.

It also targeted deployment of 490 base stations which would subsidize the lot that operators have to deploy in rural Nigeria, but it succeeded in awarding subsidies for only 74 BTS which represented just 12 percent of its target.

Consequently, the Fund would now adopt a holistic approach to project selection by determining specific ICT gaps in regional clusters within the country and tailoring its projects and service delivery models to suit identified needs within the clusters. With this approach, the USPF shall ensure that its projects are relevant and appropriate for its beneficiaries,” said Abdullahi.

The new published SMP strategy also emphasized the need for the USPF to actively involve all stakeholder groups in the planning and execution of its programmes and projects in order to effectively address and close Nigeria’s universal access and service gaps.

The aim is to avoid previous operational model collapse due to its one-size-fits-all approach. It is also aimed at arresting operators’ apathy due to perceive non-economic viability by engaging in frank dialogue before a project is awarded, using the cluster-development group model.

It noted that the “USPF’s experience over the past five years and the lessons gleaned from the review of the USP service delivery models in other jurisdictions have indicated that USP projects implemented in rural areas often difficult to sustain doe to high costs associated with operating these projects. In a number of cases, operational costs have been known to outweigh the initial capital outlay required for implementing USP projects. Consequently, the USPF will ensure its subsidies take into consideration operational costs associated with running USP projects over a defined period.

This is expected to provide service providers with a ‘grace’ period within which they will have built up a stable clientele and established demand for the service being provided. The period over which operational support will be granted will be determined based on assessment of the time required for each project to generate revenues capable of meeting its operational costs.”

It also expects to “develop and implement a robust monitoring and evaluation framework which will define the metrics/indicators that would be used to determine effectiveness of UAS programmes and their impact on beneficiary communities. The defined metrics should measure the relative cost and benefits of each programme and must ties back into the overarching objectives of the USPF. “

Abdullahi said “effective monitoring and evaluation of USP projects will facilitate the early detection of potential projects sustainability issues and help to address and rectify these issues early on in the implementation process.”

In arriving at the new SMP, the USPF also took into consideration factors such as Nigeria’s macroeconomic review and outlook, political landscape and outlook and an overview of the country’s telecommunication industry. 

On the Macroeconomic review and outlook, the Fund notes that “Nigeria is a middle income and emerging economy which is predominantly agricultural – agriculture is the single largest contributor to GDP and is estimated to have contributed about 40.24 percent of the GDP in 2011.

However, while agriculture remains the largest employer of labour, petroleum, the leading mineral in Nigeria, is currently the major source of revenue (especially foreign exchange) for the country. Macroeconomic reforms introduced within the country since 2003 have created an environment for strong and sustained economic growth over the past few years and Nigeria is currently ranked 30th in the world in terms of GDP (purchasing power parity) as at 2011.”

Although the sustained civil democratic governance since 1999, (the longest since independence in 1960) has led to unprecedented economic growth, especially the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI), there are grey areas posing as new strands of challenges to this growth paradigm.

Chiefly, the recent escalation of security in North and the not so comfortable calm in the oil and gas producing Niger Delta belt is seen as a major threat to this political-economic stability.

The Nigeria telecom industry’s exponential growth since its deregulation is in 2001 has seen its rise to become the leading market in the Africa and Middle East (MEA) region.

With active subscribers in excess of 102 million, and teledensity of over 70 percent, Nigeria no doubts is seen as a fertile market. But despite these, there has been a steady decline in year-on-year growth in the past two eyar, declining ARPUs and a decrease in minutes of usage (MoU) indicate that the telephony market is Nigeria is fast approaching maturity.

However, data services have seen an upward growth in the last decade. The landing on the shores of Lagos of four submarine cables has increased bandwidth intake, thereby making broadband availability even at cheaper cost.

The mobile segment of the telecom industry continues to rule with much the growth coming from the GSM sector, while the CDMA operators lay prostrate.

The fixed line sector is non-existent in this market as there are no new infrastructural investments and operators seem to stay off course.

The USPF however believe, it could fasttrack development in the ICT sector through three strategic planks, viz-a-viz facilitation of an enabling environment for ICT (especially promotion of rollout of sustainable ICT service in rural, un-served and underserved areas), promotion of universal access and universal service that facilitate connectivity for development and Institutional development.
While stakeholders applauded the new USPF approach, they also expressed cautious optimism over the Funds’ ability to keep to its terms of engagement.

Ms. Funke Opeke, CEO of MainOne Cable, West Africa’s first open access submarine cable operator noted that the Fund’s implementation module has not transited to new reality of large the volume of bandwidth available in the country. She believes it could do better if it effectively engages every operator and stakeholder as promised in the new SMP.

Engr. John Ayodele, director of Post and Telecommunications in the Ministry of Communications Technology notes that government was addressing all grey areas that stand as cog in the wheel of ICT growth in the economy.

Amongst such impediments, the issue of right of way (RoW) is getting urgent government attention, he noted.  While admitting that states have rights to legislate on relevant laws to increase revenue base, Ayodele stated all levels of government was discussing to address the issues of RoW and redress the much maligned multiple tax conundrum. 

Titi Omo-Etu, former president of association of telecom operators of Nigeria (ATCON), welcomed the new SMP, but cautioned both operators and the Fund to stay on course to achieve the set goals.

“There appears to be a paradigm shift, because in the past, the USPF has failed to communicate effectively with operators. And this shift also calls for operators to give the Fund the benefit of the doubt so that together, we can all work together to achieve our objective of developing the industry of our dream,” said Omo-Etu.


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Ndukwe Reveals Secret of MTN’s Dominance Of Nigeria’s Telecoms Space

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Dr Ernest Ndukwe, Erstwhile Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has been speaking on why foremost telecommunications services provider, MTN, has continued to dominate the Nigerian telecom space like a colossus.

Ndukwe, speaking on Tuesday as a guest at the Virtual Digital Africa VIP Leadership Series powered by Digital Africa, organisers of the annual Digital Africa Conference & Exhibitions, noted that three factors – strong financial position, good management and discipline in terms of managing resources, separate MTN from the rest of the pack.

“I think it is important to say that MTN is a particularly disciplined company right from its roots; it has always been a well-run organization. It has not had the board squabbles of its competitions. Since the first board of MTN (Nigeria), some of the board members just retired last year (2019). Meanwhile, their competitions have had various owners, various quarrels, and various issues,” he said.

Ndukwe, who is the Chairman of MTN Nigeria Board, said that nobody can be blamed for this position as the way organisations manage their affairs translates to the kind of position they occupy in the business environment.

“One thing that people don’t know also is that for the first five years of existence of MTN in Nigeria, it did not pay dividends to its shareholders. They recognized the importance of scale and were pumping in all the earnings, all the profits into building networks. They started building their own microwave links; they started building their own fibre optic links all across the country because it’s a matter of planning.

“Let it be said that technology changes, the best company today might not be the best company tomorrow. A few years ago, Facebook was not on the reckoning but today, is a much bigger company. People might not make it in terms of telecommunications service delivery because in certain countries, there is actually a certain number after which the market gets saturated. There are opportunities in the technology space; all that is needed is for operators to discover them and leverage.

“When Zoom started, no person knew it was going to scale to the level it has now reached; thanks to Coronavirus. People should continue to look for opportunities and niche markets and go there because that’s where they can scale. There are many companies that are doing very well in the financial technology space in the country too.”

Dr. Ndukwe also talked about NITEL, 5G, the Stock Market, companies he admires in Nigeria and the concept of a single African Telecoms network.


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Danbatta Inaugurates Evaluation Committee for 2020 Research Proposals

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Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, executive vice chairman and chief executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has inaugurated a 15-member Evaluation Committee for the assessment of the 2020 Telecommunications based research from Academics in the Nigerian tertiary institutions.

The Committee, chaired by Prof. Mu’azu Bashir, a professor of Computer and Control Engineering and Head of Computer Engineering Department at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was inaugurated at the Commission’s Head Office in Abuja on Wednesday, September 24, 2020.

Speaking during the inauguration, Danbatta said that the initiative speaks to the Commission’s commitment towards encouraging the development of indigenous innovative solutions that impact not only the Telecom industry/ICT sector positively but also the nation as a whole.

“We want to continuously support research projects that can lead to the development of new products and services in the industry as the key enabler of the nation’s digital economy.

“We are all aware of the appreciable contributions of the Nigerian Telecommunication sector to the growth of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) over the years, which peaked at 14.53 per cent in second quarter of 2020,” he said.

Danbatta, stated that the Commission understands that funding Research and Development (R&D) is fundamental to ensuring that the needs of consumers are properly anticipated and met while enabling sustainable economic growth, adding that the Digital Economy-based Research Innovations project underlines the importance of funding R&D.

According to the EVC, for the year 2020, the request for proposals was tailored to providing innovations and solving challenges in five emerging areas of technology.

“These include innovative clean energy technology; 5G deployment in Nigeria; Internet of Things (IoT), low power Wide Area Network (WAN) technology; advanced methods of Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) management and test mechanism as well as monitoring and localisation of drones.

“While emphasising the importance of telecommunication/ICT industry to innovative developments and transformations within the economy, Danbatta tasked members of the Committee to thoroughly evaluate all submissions in order to sieve, identify and select the best from the proposals submitted.

“Members of this Committee have been carefully selected from the Academia, related government institutions and the industry based on their pedigree.

“I have no doubt in my mind that you will carry out the assignment to the highest acceptable standards,” the EVC said.

The Committee is expected to carry out the assignment and submit its report within four (4) weeks from the day of inauguration.

 


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FG Awards Cash Prizes Worth N16.5m to Winners 0f Nigeria @ 60 Challenge

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The Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, has awarded prizes worth N16.5million to nine Nigerians who emerged winners of the Nigeria @60 Independence Challenge.

It could be recalled that the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR approved an inclusive National Independence Day Celebration programme with the theme: “Together at 60,” where it called on creative Nigerians to choose brand and come up with elements that will beautify the anniversary.

The Sub-Committee, chaired by Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), minister of Communications and Digital Economy,  launched the challenge Portal on Friday, 4th September, 2020, with the aim of providing opportunity for talented, critical thinking and creative individuals or teams to produce the event slogan, photograph, and a poem.

The Jury, made up of Directors from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), evaluated the submissions based on the relevance to the theme, originality, creativity, impact and mode of presentation.

During the evaluation, a total of 3,258 entries were received, out of which 1,931 Slogan, 638 Poetry, and 689 Photography entries were submitted.

While presenting the Awards and Prizes, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and Chairman of the 60th Independence Celebration Sub-Committee, Dr Pantami said that the competition was meant to create a platform for all Nigerians to participate in the diamond jubilee anniversary.

He said “Federal Government provided this opportunity for Nigerians to choose their brand and harness the power of creative minds to create other elements that will form the brand of the anniversary.

Dr Pantami congratulated the winners and charged those that participated to continue utilising their skills for the betterment of themselves and Nigeria at large, adding that “the nation will be proud of them”.

He said the Diamond Anniversary which is will last till September 30, 2021 is a period for Nigeria to celebrate its unity.

He also commended the jury that worked day and night to ensure fairness during the selection of nine winners from each category of the competition.

Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, director general, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), while delivering the welcome address, described the process as first of its kind, where citizens are engaged virtually to plan the celebration.

Abdullahi said that COVID-19 pandemic has brought another opportunity for Nigerians to celebrate 60 years anniversary in style.

The Chairman of the Independence Competition Judging Committee, Director, IT Infrastructure Solution, NITDA, Dr Usman Gambo Abdullahi said the competition was meant to tap into the creative and innovative potential of the youths.

The Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi- Esan represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mr Tope Fashedemi  commended the efforts of all participants, describing every Nigerian as a winner.

The outcome of the assessment saw the emergence of the following as second runners up: Sani Ibrahim (Slogan), Samson Mayor Emeka (Photography) and Umoru Patrick Eghiegbai (Poetry); first runners up Yusuf Muhammad Ahmad (Slogan), Leke Adebule and Team (Photography), and Mustapha Dauda Gwary (Poetry). The winners of the challenge are: Nwakuba Ezinne (Slogan), Amao Daniel Oluwadarisimi (Photography) and Kalu Rejoice Chioma (Poetry).

The winners were presented with awards and cash prizes in each category, with the second runners up getting One Million Naira each, first runners up One Million and Five Hundred Thousand Naira each, and the winners, Three Million Naira each, for their creativity and innovative contribution to the Diamond Jubilee Celebration.

The Diamond/Innovation/Change Sub-Committee is made up of Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy as Chairman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Mallam Adamu Adamu, Honourable Minister Education and Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, Head of Civil Service of the Federation as members, while DG NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, was later co-opted as member.

 


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