As has been the case, Nigerian leaders would today per
form the usual ritual of critical self analysis: where we were, where we are now, and where we are expected as a nation of 250 unequal legs, 54 years hence.
Still, many a commentator would recall, how past leadership had mindlessly squandered the riches of the oil wealth of a nation that has so much promise of greatness, not just to its citizenry or black race, but to the entire humanity.
Yet, it is generally believed that Nigeria is a failed state that has little or nothing really impressive to show, except, perhaps, the symbolism of self rule and the psychic income it has offered.
Now, pause and consider this shocking revelation made some years back. Between 1960 when Nigeria attained independence and 1999 when democracy was restored, a staggering sum of $400 billion was stolen and stashed away by a generation of leaders almost all of whom have proved far too incompetent, and far too steeped in corruption, to meaningfully tackle the nation’s problems and give its people an abiding sense of direction.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Antonia Maria Costa, who divulged this at a seminar organised by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in Abuja, 2007, further painted a terrible picture of the magnitude of the theft of our commonwealth, lamenting: “if you were to put $400 billion bills in a row, you could make a path from here to the moon and back not once but 75 times. The opportunity cost of the stolen commonwealth is enormous. Think of how different Nigeria would (have) looked today.”
Ofcourse, Costa stated the obvious. Fifty six years ago, Nigeria commenced commercial export of crude oil-exploited from the Niger Delta soil of which Rivers State is a major part to the international market. One-time Oil Minister and Professor of Virology, Tam David-West reveals in a press interview: “Shell BP began by exporting 5,1000 barrels per day (bpd) in 1958. In 1959, it jumped to about 10,000 bpd. And considering the fact that production and export have since surpassed that, David-West lamented: “That is a lot of money, but where is the money? There is nothing to show for it.”
It is, indeed, a painful paradox that despite the deluge of revenue from crude oil sale, complete neglect of basic infrastructure and stark rural and urban poverty, squalor and misery have remained in Niger Delta states, particularly Rivers State. In fact, the people of the state have ceaselessly complained bitterly about mass poverty, hunger and disease, environmental degradation and loss of their traditional means of livelihood. And “the fact that these issues are still starring us in the face,” wrote Steve Azaiki in his Inequities in Nigeria Politics, “indicate general neglect of the Niger Delta, which now challenges our sense of justice and precipitate the quest for fairness.”
Consequently, these issues, having dovetailed into a wider developmental crisis of the Nigerian federation today, have given Rivers people the impetus to begin to define their setting within the context of the Nigerian state. So, as Nigeria marks its 54 years of political independence from the British interlopers, the question on the lips of many Rivers people and lovers of equity and justice is: How well have Rivers State faired in the Nigerian Federation since 1960? Has the Nigerian state done enough to ameliorate the anguish of the beleaguered Rivers people for their contribution to the union? Why has there been stagnation in the living standards among the people of Rivers State for decades?
These questions which have remained unanswered ever since may have agitated the mind of the late elder statesman and hero of Nigeria’s independence when, as leader of the defunct Movement for National Reformation (MNR), he put it thus: “The issue is, what kind of union are we members of? What are the principles which will govern the governance of Nigeria? How is to be shared among the people “who have agreed to live together as one Nigeria?
However, it is apposite to briefly review the creation of Rivers State and the intervening variables in its developmental strides so far prefatory to situating the crisis of poverty, neglect and under development in the state within the wider Nigerian political economy.
Though a culmination of the peoples struggle for self determination, Rivers State, known as the Treasure Base of the Nation, was first created among twelve others by Decree No. 19 of May 27, 1967 by General Yakubu Gowon to douse the then secessionist moves of Biafra during the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970.
The first Governor of Rivers State, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, when it was created once spoke of the satisfaction which the Rivers people have derived from having a state of their own. “The Rivers people,” he observed, “are fully identified now as Nigerians, as contributors to the effort in building the nation. And there is no doubt that without the state vehicle, we would never have had identity. We would just have been considered as whipping boys, the ones to be laid down for flogging.” Well, all that now is history.
Also known as Garden City because of its green vegetation, serene beauty, and a slightly undulating topography, the present structure of Rivers State, which capital is Port Harcourt, came into being on October 1, 1996 when Bayelsa State was excised from it.
It is bounded on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, Anambra, Imo and Abia states, on the North by Akwa Ibom State, on the East and the West by Bayelsa and Delta states.
Rivers State occupies an area of 12,240 square kilometers with a population density of 260.5 per cent. It is bigger in size and population than must members states of the Commonwealth and United Nations.
Rivers State has international airport at Omagwa, a Petro-Chemical plant at Eleme, two seas ports at Onne and Port Harcourt, a fertilizer plant at Onne, the Liquified Natural Gas plant at Bonny and a Refinery at Alesa-Eleme. It has also successfully embarked on Independent Power Projects at Eleme, Omoku and Trans Amadi in Port Harcourt. All these make the state the nerve centre of economic activities for investors.
The Rivers State economy may be divided into the traditional and modern. About 70 per cent of the population of the state is involved in the traditional sector which encompasses traditional agriculture, traditional fishing, traditional crafts making, and hunting and gathering. The major food crops produced in the state include plantains, cassava, cocoyams, and rice. Foods produced in the state include oranges, bananas, pawpaws, guava and pineapples.
And since virtually every part of Rivers State lies within the Niger Delta Basin, most communities in the state combine both agricultural and fishing activities. Thus, in terms of traditional economic activities of the people, agriculture and fishing define the mainstay of the economy. However, there has been steady productivity decline in agriculture and fishing due to population pressure, the swampy nature of the terrain and the deleterious impact of oil exploration activities.
Modern economic activities which are concentrated in Port Harcourt include manufacturing, commerce, utilities, and infrastructural development, and are largely dominated by non-indigenes of the state.
Nevertheless, the oil industry remains the most fundamental element in modern economic activities of the state. Rivers State is Nigeria’s premier oil producing state accounting for well over 50 per cent of crude oil output in the country. Beyond its negative impacts on agriculture and fishing, oil exploration activities have had disastrous environmental and ecological implications for the various communities that make up Rivers State. Ofcourse only a fraction of the oil proceeds from Rivers State would have been enough to check both the natural and man-made environmental and ecological disasters that define the state. Rather, the oil proceeds have been used to massively develop infrastructure in parts of the country, especially the north, at the expense of Rivers State where, owning to the difficult deltaic terrain, the cost of providing basic infrastructural facilities like roads, electricity and portable water is astronomical.
Piqued by the sordid inequity of robbing Peter to pay Paul, renown professor of Economics, Willie Okowa had, in a seminal presentation on Rivers State since 1967 said: “The use of oil resources derived largely from Rivers state in the creation of the infrastructural bases for development in other parts of country while denying the same treatment for the territory in which the oil is found speaks of a callousness that is numbing to the mind and an outrageousness that is a challenge to the ethics of civilised behaviour.”
Yet, besides the difficult deltaic terrain, the oil companies, observers say, have not been committed to protecting the environment from which they draw so much wealth. These companies have by their very prospects, polluted the environment, and left communities with destroyed farmland, polluted air and deteriorating marine life.
One of the most disturbing ironies in Rivers State and indeed Niger Delta is that crude oil for export is transported to Bonny and forcados through a network of pipelines stretching across 6,000 km over communities and living quarters, approximately the distance from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt. Yet, not enough care is taken to ensure the maintenance of the pipes which often corrode and burst, leading to oil spill, killing people and destroying farmlands.
Perhaps, more than the oil companies themselves, one factor that has been held responsible for the continued environmental degradation and retarded development, is the lack of political will of the Federal Government over the years to check the atrocities of the oil companies which have reached scandalous proportions. Every known law on environmental safety has been violated in Nigeria. The average rate of gas flaring in the world is about four per cent. In Nigeria, over 70 per cent of associated gas is flared, thus acquiring the notoriety of 25 per cent of all gas was flared in the world. And though Nigeria is a signatory to several international conventions including the United Nations Agencies 21 and the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at protecting the environment, not enough has been done to enforce them “because the main victims of this ecological genocide or ecocide” notes former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in a paper presented in 2004 to the Abuja Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists “are the people of the Niger Delta.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that the plight of Rivers people as with the rest of the Niger Delta region poses serious socio-economic challenge. The relative increase in the aggregate economic growth of the Nigerian economy weighs heavily on the natural resources of the Niger Delta environment which is continually being degraded by the multi-national oil conglomerates. The net effect is the continued depletion of the natural environment and, by implication, the very livelihood of the rural dwellers who constitute over 70 per cent of the population in the Niger Delta. Due to inadequate or outright lack of such socio-economic services as education, health, portable water and sanitation, mass transportation, electricity and communication, high rates of urban population have compounded the general decline of services in the state and the rest of the region. This has further put pressure on the existing infrastructure, social services and the traditional sources of food supply. These pressures and their consequences are at the root causes of the crisis in the region.
Again, the neglect by the federal government and the oil companies in providing infrastructure have not only promoted poverty and despair, but unemployment and insecurity. This explains the high incidence of pipeline vandalism, hostage taking, sea piracy, community conflicts and youth restiveness.
Now, the beleaguered people of Rivers State are asking myriad questions that are begging for answers and attention. Why have Rivers a people, living amidst such immense wealth, continued to wallow in so much wants and depravity? Why have a people who contribute over 60 per cent to the national economy be so neglected in the scheme of things? Why has a state that has greatly helped in stamping Nigeria’s identity as the World’s sixth largest oil producer become so impoverished and reduced to mere debates and buck-passing? Why has Federal Government continued to vacillate on issues bordering on the sustainable development of the state?
Stakeholders have repeatedly insisted that it is all politics. The 1958 Willinks Commission Report, for instance, recommended that because of its dedicate ecology and difficult terrain, the region of which Rivers State is a part, should be made a special area to be developed directly by the Federal Government. And although the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) was duly established in 1961, and later, other interventionist schemes, the region, particularly, Rivers State has remained the least developed area of the country, in physical, social and economic terms. Even, the setting up of the poorly funded Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 1999, though a bold step, has not yet provided the much-needed elixir to the ailment of underdevelopment in Rivers State or the rest of Niger Delta.
Even at that, the amount of resources returned to the oil producing areas, in the form of Federal Account Allocations has not provided enough room for meaningful development.
Veteran journalist and former Chairman of NDDC, Chief Onyema Ugechukwu, had in a paper on Understanding The Niger Delta Question at a Nigerian Guild of Editors workshop in Port Harcourt, 2005, amplified how allocations to oil producing states plummeted.
He says: “The Independence Constitution had recognised a derivation principle in the sharing of revenues in the Federal Account. But by the 1970s when oil revenue became a dominant factor in that account, the derivation principle was under consistent erosion, principally because the states of the Niger Delta lacked political clout, especially in the military regimes that dominated the period, until 1999.”
Thus, he further stated, “Derivation was progressively reduced, from 50 per cent, through 30 per cent, until it reached a paltry 1.5 per cent, before it was raised to 3 per cent in 1992, where it remained until the return to civil rule in 1999 when it was increased to 13 per cent by the Obasanjo Administration.”
Despite this gesture and the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry to soothe frail nerves and assuage the unending feelings of marginalisation and neglect in Rivers State and other Niger Delta states, the people are still demanding a significant increase in remove allocation as evident in the just concluded National Conference where Rivers Delegates insisted on 50 per cent derivation.
Even as some opinion leaders in the northern part of the country have always complained that Rivers and the other Niger Delta states are getting too much, Rivers people and other highly perceptible Nigerians insist that they miss the point. Ugochukwu argues: “Their demand for a bigger share of the resources generated from their area is justifiable, first on the basis of their “special” need, which was acknowledged, even before oil became a major source of income, and secondly, on the basis of the additional problems which have resulted from oil production itself?”
Against this backdrop, Okowa queries: “Is it really asking too much of the Nigerian state to argue for use of some of the revenue derivable from this resource (oil) to create the infrastructural base for the enhancement of the prospects of development in Rivers State.”
No, stakeholders insist, arguing that there is now abundant – if not overwhelming-evidence that the socio-economic condition of River people, coupled with their renowned determination to fight for their rights, have given a new dimension to the challenge of developing the state, such that urgent and sustained efforts at redemption must be put in place to give it a sense of belonging and avert probable disaster. The question is: Will the Federal Government budge? Time will tell.
Transforming Nigeria Through Movies, Music, Arts
Oil since its discovery in commercial quantity in Nigeria has dominated the nation’s economy, oil exports have contributed 98 percent of the Federal Government’s revenue. This over dependence has made the Nigeria’s economy unstable, non-static and has displayed a large over dependence on oil incomes.
It is on this premise that studies have been carried out to identify other sectors of the economy that could minimise the over dependence and mono economy syndrome of the nation. One of the veritable sectors is the entertainment industry, also known as the creative sector which comprises the movie, music, comedy, arts and culture, among others.
As Nigeria celebrates 60 years of independence from colonial rule, an indepth analysis of these eventful years reveals that the creative industry is dynamic and has not only generated unprecedented wealth for the country, but has also created employment opportunities for her citizens, contributed immensely towards transforming the country into a leading nation in Africa as well as a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment world.
After Nigeria’s independence in October 1,1960, the cinema business rapidly expanded. In 1972, the indigenisation Decree issued by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon encouraged the transfer of ownership of about 300 cinema houses from their foreign owners to Nigerians resulting in more Nigerians playing active roles in cinemas and film businesses.
Today, Nigeria’s film industry popularly known as Nollywood is adjudged the third largest film industry in the world after Hollywood of America and Bollywood of India and contributed 2.3 percent (N 239 billion) to the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016. It is one of the priority sectors identified in the economic and recovery growth plan of the Federal Government of Nigeria with a planned $ 1 billion in export revenue by the end of 2020.
In the music sector, music has become Nigeria’s new export, in November 2017, Nigeria’s music star, Wizkid won the Best International Act category at the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards held in London, the first for Africa-based artistes. At the same MOBO Awards, another Nigerian super star, Davido, took home the Best African Act Award for his song “IF”, a love themed ballad with a blend of Nigerian rhythms and RnB.
Since its release in February 2017, the official IF video has raked in up more than 60 million views on You Tube views for any Nigerian music video and one of the highest ever recorded for a song by an African
Across the African continent, other musical groups such as Kenya’s, boy band, Soto Sol, Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz and South Africa’s Mafikizolo have collaborated with or featured Nigerian top stars in attempts to gain international appeal.
Reuters news service calls Nigerian music,’’ a cultural export’ and the Nigerian government is now looking towards the creative industry including performing arts and music to generate revenue.
Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics Report that the local music sector grew in real term by 8.4 percent for the first three months of 2016 and that in the first quarter of 2017 the sector grew by 12 percent compared with the same period one year prior.
The Price Water Cooper (PWC) reports that the global attention the Nigerian music scene has received in the past three years has been accelerating. There is no better time for Nigerian artistes to use data and insight to reach billions with their musical content which will help to reposition the country.
According to the vice president, International Strategy and Sperations Warner Music Group, Mr. Temi Adeniyi,” the promise of what could be achieved by Nigeria’s booming music industry in the next decade is awe-inspiring especially if the industry focuses on the critical issues of adequate compensation and piracy.
In Arts, the Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe noted that” culture is the new revenue driving sector which can serve as an alternative to the oil sector in Nigeria “
He stated this at the official opening of the 13th edition of Akwaa Travel and Tourism fare in Lagos in 2017. He maintained that culture was a viable alternative revenue generating sector that could help to boost the economy.
According to a recent entertainment and media output report by PWC, Nigerian entertainment and media industry is expected to rise from $4.46 billion in 2018 to $10.8 billion by the end of 2023.The report which was released in October 2019 disclosed that the market is dominated by internet revenue as it presently contributes about 61 percent of the sector’s revenue followed by television and radio which is expected to push towards $1billion in revenue by 2023.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said, “We are ready to explore and exploit the new oil. When we talk about diversifying the economy, it is not just Agriculture or solid Minerals alone, it is about the creative industry, about the films, theatre and music”.
The minister made the comments ahead of a Creative Industry Financing Conference held in Lagos in 2018.He noted that the Nigerian government is already providing incentives in the sector including a recent $1 million venture capital fund to provide seed money for young and talented Nigerians preparing to set up business in the creative industry.
He also said, “The country is allowing the industry pioneer status, meaning that those inventing in motion picture, video and TV production, music production publishing, distribution exhibition and photography can enjoy a three to five years tax holiday.
Other incentives such as government backed and privately backed investment funds are also been implemented. The minister noted that with the impressive performance so far recorded, the creative industry has been viewed as a sector that could help the government reach its goal of diversifying the nation’s economy away from oil.
Oil Exploration And Niger Delta Environment
From the first crude oil export in 1958 to the exploration of its associated products such as gas, the Niger Delta region for the past 60 years has not fared well in terms of sustained development despite being the source of the nation’s means of livelihood.
According to reports from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the region generates between 65% to 75% of all Federal Government’s revenue especially after the end of the Civil War in 1970.
But today, although oil and gas and its associated products still run the nation’s economy, its bye-products and impact on the region are quite devastating on both environment and the socio-economic life of the people of the area. The aquatic life, forests and farmlands have been so degraded that some areas are now devoid of human and animal habitation. Diseases and sickness are now prevalent with some communities are facing great health challenges.
Worried by these hazards, the late renowned playwright, and novelist, Kenuule Saro-Wiwa raised alarm in the late 1980’s about the fast paced degradation of the environment of the Niger Delta region. Although he was eventually killed during the struggle to find an equitable solution to the problem, the fight for a comprehensive study and remediation of the environment continued unabated despite the obstacles placed on would-be environmental activists.
The region is also described as one of the most polluted in the world. It is estimated that while the European Union experienced 10 incidences of oil spills in 40 years, Nigeria recorded 9,343 cases in 10 years which could be described as a deliberate effort to slowly eradicate life from the area through poisoning of the environment.
Following the long agitations and protests from the area, the Federal Government in 2016 finally gave the nod for the implementation of the long awaited United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report beginning from 2016.
In a foreword to the report on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland as a case study, UNEP had this to say: “The history of oil exploration and production in Ogoni land is a large complex and often painful one that till date has become seemingly intractable in terms of its resolution and future discussion.”
It also says, “It is also history that has put people and politics and the oil industry at loggerheads rendering a landscape characterised by lack of trust, paralysis and become set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned.”
The situation in Ogoniland is peculiar to the rest of the Niger Delta region.
The discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa State was the beginning of the environmental crisis bedeviling the Niger Delta region.
It would be recalled that the agitation for environmental reparation of the Niger Delta region dated back to the colonial times.
The agitations led to the setting up of the Willinks Commission of inquiry into the fears of the minorities. Although the commission amongst others, recommended the granting of special developmental status to the Niger Delta, the recommendation was never implemented by successive Nigerian governments after independence.
The exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon in the Niger Delta region can be said to be of mixed blessings to the region.
On the one hand, it improved the per capita income of the region through the creation of middle and high income earners. But on the other hand, it has led to series of environmental pollutions, thereby depriving communities in the region of their sources of livelihood.
This situation has led to series of crisis in the region such as the Ogoni crisis of 1990 to 1993, the Kaiama Declaration which led to the creation of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the crisis in Umuechem in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State and others.
Similarly, the development of artisanal refineries in the Niger Delta has also been blamed for contributing to the recent acid rain and black soot in the environment.
Although the Nigerian authorities may have taken some measures to ameliorate the sufferings caused by oil explorations in the region, through the creation of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) which metamorphosed into Federal Ministry of Environment, the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); inclusion of derivation into the Constitution and the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs have not been able to provide the much-needed succour to the people of the Niger Delta as the problems still persist.
Meanwhile, experts have attributed the high rate of poverty in the Niger Delta to the environmental degradation of the region. At a recent Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) meeting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo shared a documentary of the current situation in the Niger Delta, adding that the region has remained backward despite its huge economic contributions to the Nigerian nation.
Ambassador Toyo who was secretary to the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta during the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration said, “it is frustrating to know that the context has not changed as these challenges still stare the region in the face.
“The Niger Delta is still very much degraded as issues such as the following are still debated upon: gas flaring, abject poverty, militancy, crude oil theft, unemployment, cultism and organised crime, poor state of infrastructure and underdevelopment,” she said.
She also said; “apart from lack of opportunities in the region, there is also the breakdown of law and order in the communities.
“Communities often fight over who gets what when development opportunities arise as seen in some communities in Ogoni with regards to the clean-up,” adding that such fight can scare investors away and the region will continue to suffer underdevelopment.
Also in its policy brief note on insecurity in Rivers State, the Niger Delta Dialogue Secretariat says, “there is an environmental dimension to insecurity in Rivers State. For several years now, Port Harcourt and its environs have been covered by soot.
“This is as a result of increased artisanal refining of crude oil and other forms of pollution in the state.
“These pollution-inducing activities from both illegal artisanal and legal oil production has increased environmental insecurity in Rivers State.
“This has negatively impacted on the quality of life in Rivers State,” it said.
Also speaking on the issue, a civil society activist, Ambassador Christy Iwezor said the Nigerian nation has not done enough for the Niger Delta.
She said 60 years down the lane, some oil producing communities have no water to drink and cited the example of some communities in ogoniland in which sources of water have been polluted.
Also speaking, another civil rights activist, Prince William Chinwo stressed the need for a policy that will incorporate the polluters pay principle into the Nigerian law.
According to him, if multinational companies are fined for pollution, they will be more careful in their operations.
He also blamed environmental problems on sanitary conducts.
“The problems of environmental degradation in Nigerian is caused by poor sanitary conduct of Nigerians and inefficient use of local government council workers on environmental sanitation.”
According to him, local government councils must also wakeup to their responsibilities of ensuring improved level of hygiene in their various communities.
The question is after 60 years of independence, have we really made any meaningful progress in the Niger Delta compared to similar environments across the globe where oil and gas are the mainstay of their economy. It would be noted that the gulf countries where oil and gas are the mainstay of their economy have gone far ahead in terms of environmental remediation.
The 60 years anniversary should provide the opportunity for the country to further look into the Niger Delta issues.
How ICT Can Push The Envelop In National Dev
If it was just for information and its gathering, processing and transmission, it can be said without any fear of equivocation that Nigeria has never lagged, especially in the context of the development of that sector within sub-Saharan Africa. After all, the first crop of the country’s political leaders was among the best journalists and newspaper publishers in the region, namely Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Ikoli and Anthony Enahoro, among others.
Azikiwe’s West African Pilot and the Western Nigeria Television inaugurated in 1959 by Awolowo served to inform, educate and entertain the people while also effectively galvanizing them for the Independence struggle of the time.
At that time, radio broadcasting had already been dominated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). All the people did was to cluster around their short-wave radio sets for an hourly dose of news from London. Private radio stations were not a common sight, if they existed at all.
Cinema was a luxury then as the mobile cinema units of the various regional information ministries travelled around to entertain mostly rural dwellers who had little or no access to electricity and television. A community was considered lucky if it enjoyed such visitation as many as three times in one year.
On the other hand, telecommunication and its associated technology did not develop as rapidly, being the more expensive. For a long time after attaining Independence on October 1, 1960, Nigerians depended on whatever communication infrastructure their British colonial masters left behind. This consisted of the local town crier system, postal and wire services (including land telephone, telegraph and cable telegram). The Post and Telecommunications (P&T) Department saw to the provision of the latter services. It was later split into the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) and the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), now privatised as NTel.
Foreign companies like the International Telephone and Telegraphs (ITT) won major contracts for the development and rehabilitation of communication infrastructure, especially after the Nigerian Civil War in the early 1970s. Recall that the late politician and business mogul, MKO Abiola, once rose to become its chief executive officer for the African region.
It is widely believed that not until the introduction of the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) on August 6, 2001 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led civilian government did the face of ICT change in Nigeria.
The government took the decision to deregulate the telecom sector through its policy on adoption of ICT in 1999 by licensing such international mobile phone service providers as ECONET (now Airtel), MTN, and Etisalat (9Mobile) to set up shop in Nigeria. They were later joined by an indigenous telecom firm, Globacom, as a Second National Operator (SNO).
It could be recalled that the entry of Globacom into the telecom industry was at a time when call cost was N50 per second. The firm immediately introduced a pricing system that charged 11 kobo per second, thereby forcing a crash in the cost of mobile telephony as the competition was practically whipped into line. As if that was not enough, it soon undertook the laying of underwater international fibre-optic cable for superior service delivery.
Private Telephone Operators (PTOs) like Starcomm, Reliance Telephone (Reltel), Multilinks and Visafone were also licensed to provide mobile phone services but mainly on the fixed wireless GSM and CDMA platforms.
With regard to its social and economic impact on the nation, industry experts are agreed that the GSM revolution has led to massive employment generation. From the ubiquitous roadside under-the-umbrella call centres to the street corner cybercafés and cell phone retail shops the nation had never witnessed such rise in the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Additionally, available statistics indicate that the overall Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the telecoms sector stood at $32 billion in mid-2015; second only to the oil and gas sector. Others have even posited that, with the collapse of crude oil prices between 2015 and 2017, activities and earnings from this sector may have seen to Nigeria’s quick recovery from the recession of those years.
In terms of policy and regulatory oversight, ICT in Nigeria is said to be conducted under three major policy documents, namely: the National Mass Communication Policy of 1990 which implementation falls under the purview of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); the National Telecommunications Policy of 2000 with the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) as chief executor; and the National Policy for Information Technology of 2001 to be executed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)
NBC is the main regulator of the broadcast industry in Nigeria. Some of its activities include the issuance of broadcast licences, allocation of transmission frequencies, establishing operational standards and ensuring compliance with the broadcast code.
The Commission is, by law, required to report to the Presidency through its parent ministry (Information and National Orientation).
The NCC which came into existence via an Act in 2003 has regulatory authority over activities in the telecommunications industry. It has powers to license operators, encourage competition, ensure quality service, monitor tariffs and protect consumers, among others.
The NITDA came on board through a 2007 Act and is charged with the planning, promotion and development of IT penetration and projects across Nigeria.
There are four other policy implementation and regulatory bodies within the ICT sector. They are: the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA); NIGCOMSAT; National Frequency Management Council (NFMC); and the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).
The non-ICT sector has also recorded some significant gains arising from developments in information and communications technology. For instance, the use of presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint in schools and corporate boardrooms, computer spreadsheet for accounting, e-learning, e-library, e-banking and e-commerce are some popular applications that have yielded good social and commercial dividends.
The use of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Point of Sale (POS) terminals and mobile money transfers have helped to decongest banking halls and also save man-hours that would ordinarily have been wasted in long queues.
Another benefit of ICT was made even more manifest at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown when schools were abruptly shut down and children who could afford it engaged in virtual learning from their homes. Even some of their parents were forced to work from home using whatever ICT means available to them.
Also, the New Media which is powered by ICT and includes Internet publishing and social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have significantly enhanced real-time information sharing and social interaction with people across the globe.
Personnel management and remuneration systems have been made easier with the advent of biometric exercises, electronic time-keeping and integrated staff records and payroll methods long adopted by the private sector, and more recently, the federal, state and local governments. Even the federal government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the systems upgrade steadily being undertaken by some of its agencies are ICT-driven.
In agriculture, the President Goodluck Jonathan administration used GSM phones to dislodge middlemen while distributing fertilizers and other farm inputs directly to beneficiaries in the rural areas. This may have served to boost food production.
After successfully emerging from the latest economic recession, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration drew up a four-year Economic Reconstruction and Growth Plan (ERGP). In this plan was included an ICT Roadmap 2017-2020 which it hoped to achieve through activities of the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy and which seeks to create two million jobs by the end of 2020.
Overall, the ICT sector still has the potential of yielding more positive results if only the government can follow through with some of its lofty roadmaps, especially those that aim to establish ICT Centres and Innovation Hubs in selected states across the country.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
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