The following is excerpted from the keynote address by the Board Chairman, NCC, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye at the 2018 AfricaCom conference in Cape Town, South Africa on 13th November, 2018.

I am happy to be here today as a keynote speaker at the 21st Annual AfricaCom Conference to speak on the topic: "How policy makers and regulators can facilitate an information-based society in Sub Saharan Africa’’. With a large population and human capital potential, Sub Saharan Africa remains an emerging economy still playing catch up to dynamic trends of developed economies especially in the area of ICT, which is the backbone of digital/knowledge economy.

Since the advent of the information society in the 1980s, a major concern of African countries and leaders has been how to link the continent to global technology grid. This has led to the development of various roadmaps and blueprints across the continent with the overall aim of achieving that laudable objective.

Unfortunately results from such efforts are not optimal. I am personally of the opinion that it is in recognition of such gaps that the organisers of this programme have brought us together by way of creating a platform that encourages robust dialogue on critical issues. 

In the opinion of Madon 2000 and Dalberg, 2013,   ICT has the capacity for inclusive growth and socio-economic development and can help connect remote populations to markets, promote citizens’ access to social services, educational opportunities, and build platforms for innovation and increase people’s freedoms.  In October 2018, three of my colleagues, on the Governing Board of the NCC, accompanied me on our first visit to the Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, USA, where we saw a prototype of this model for development. We also marvelled at their “Plug and Play” and driverless cars model. 

However, Sub Saharan Africa is yet to enjoy the full potential of an information-based society in the various sectors of the economy. As a regulator, I dare say that the growth and the future of ICT in Sub Saharan Africa will largely be dependent on how well policy makers and regulators are willing to deliberately enunciate aggressive policies and programmes that will help to facilitate an information-based society with deep concerns for how they impact on the people irrespective of class or status.

In spite of the noticeable growth in the ICT sector in nearly two decades, it is painfully ironic that connectivity is still low and majority of our youths who should be at the forefront of internet adoption lack the requisite skills and capacity to key into the digital economy. At the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) one of our responses was the recent setting up of a Committee of ICT experts to prepare Nigerian Youths to participate actively in the on-going global digital movement which from all indications is a game changer. By the grace of God, the Dr Ernest Ndukwe panel of experts will submit their report to our Board next week. We have already reconstituted the Board of the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) under the Chairmanship of Engr Titi Omo-Ettu, which will implement the research-oriented ICT training programmes for talented Nigerian youths at home and in the Diaspora.

As a continent, we should not take our leadership positions for granted. The time has come for sub Saharan African policy makers to find new ways of doing things that would empower our young population. Our governments should declare access to ICT services as a fundamental human right to all and sundry and show the needed political will in driving it.

The developed world will not wait for us. It is we, the people of Sub Saharan Africa who must more than double or perhaps quadruple our efforts to leapfrog into the digital new world and excel. The challenge before us is how African countries can expedite growth and be within shouting distance of the developed world, and indeed be at par with them in the shortest run.

A lot more needs to be done to bring connectivity to the last mile. A deliberate policy to bridge this gap cannot be over emphasized.  Our governments must pursue aggressive infrastructure build out in order to take services to the unreached and underserved populations of the continent. I must admit that broadband deployment is very expensive but there is the need to cut wastages and prioritise our developmental agenda. In this respect, I still see broadband technology as the silver bullet that can unleash unprecedented growth.

In the case of Nigeria, broadband development and deployment rank high in the agenda of government. This has been demonstrated with a Broadband Plan and the licensing of six regional infrastructure companies (Infracos) whose rollout efforts are being supported with a seed fund from the regulator.

Policy makers and regulators will need to be innovative as well as think of new cost effective ways to improve on what they are doing in order to ensure the delivery of cheap and affordable internet access to all. It’s high time we stopped being consumers of technology alone and start to build technological capabilities that are tailored to our needs by building capacity in our youths.

It is obvious that there are political challenges besetting Sub Saharan Africa. However, African leaders must rise above these challenges to promulgate policies and regulatory frameworks that are predictable, consistent and investment-friendly to launch the continent on the path of sustainable growth and development.

The regulator on its part must be able to boost the confidence of stakeholders by putting structures and a robust regulatory framework in place that will ensure healthy competition, corporate governance and show of integrity, responsiveness, professionalism and accountability.

Germane to the issue of affordability, accessibility and reliability of ICT services is the issue of effective protection of ICT backbone infrastructure. Government must come up with effective policies to checkmate incidences of infrastructure vandalization, multiple regulation and multiple taxation. For us in Nigeria, we are pursuing the enactment of a law that will criminalise the vandalization of Critical National ICT Infrastructure. A Bill on this is already lodged with our National Assembly. It is also the responsibility of government to ensure that adequate power, in the form of electricity, is provided to enable telecom operators provide smooth services without the extra burden of generating power.

Permit me to observe that so many people still live on the fringes of technology in Africa on account of acquisition cost of personal computers and allied tools. While I will want to encourage governments to promote policies that facilitate local production of technology equipment, it is advisable that our subcontinent must be more creative in the use of Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) to effectively intervene in extending digital services to unserved and underserved communities. Nigeria has been doing this since over a decade ago. Our Honourable Minister, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, is the Chairman of the USPF while the Chairman of the NCC is the Vice Chairman of the Fund.

Tax holidays, reduction in duties and general incentives should be worked out, agreed and offered to investors, tech firms and start-ups in order to boost the information and communication industry and encourage new markets.  This will help to lower the cost of internet services and access and make it affordable to all.

With such gestures from governments, service providers too should reciprocate by reducing their observed propensity to maximise profits at the quickest time possible. A give-and-take approach between governments and private investors will lead to a win-win situation for all stakeholders with the masses of the people as co-beneficiaries. 

In Nigeria, Government and the telecom regulator are working together to attract investments in new infrastructure and encourage the development of new technologies to meet the demand for ICT through properly articulated initiatives.

Ladies and gentlemen, the value chain linking ICT and Africa to the world is formidable. Governments, regulators and other stakeholders must collaborate to propel the ICT sector to a new height. Time has come to go beyond the platform of speech making to take concrete actions that will birth a new digital economy in Sub Saharan Africa. I know we can achieve this. I believe we will achieve this lofty goal. Your organisation AfricaCom should translate to Africa Has Come. Say it loud and clear.