Keynote Address by the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta at the 2nd International Conference of the Association of Media and Communications Researchers of Nigeria (AMCRON) Taking Place Virtually from 1st -2nd December 2022
NOTE: (PROF. DANBATTA was represnted by the NCC’s Director, Research and Development, Ismail Adedigba)
The Chairman, Governing Council of AMCRON
(Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye)
The President of the Association and other Members of the Executive Council,
Eminent professors and scholars in the field of Mass communication
Entire members of AMCRON,
Gentlemen of the Press and other Communication Professionals
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I consider a great honour and indeed an invite to a new vista of collaborative partnership to have been invited as Keynote Speaker at this occasion of the second International Conference of the Association of Media and Communication Researchers of Nigeria (AMCRON) for the year 2022. I will never take this occasion for granted, especially being an assemblage of sterling scholars of of media and communication systems.
While I understand that AMCRON is a relatively new body of media and mass communication professionals, having been formed in 2021, there is no doubt that its membership comprises eminent professors and scholars who have continued to contribute intellectually to the body of knowledge required to advance media and communication studies in Nigeria and beyond.
I was also made to know that the noble objectives of AMCRON are to “develop and improve members’ research and theory-building capabilities while networking with others of like minds for knowledge and nation-building purposes.” The Association also strives to provide an “intellectual search for new frontiers in the media and communication field.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that my invitation is not a mere coincidence considering the inseparable convergence and intersections between Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/telecommunications, and the Media of Mass Communication. Indeed, ICT/telecommunications and Mass Communication are like Siamese twins when we consider how the former has continued to change the landscape of the latter, both from practical, theoretical, pedagogical perspectives. For instance, live events and real-time reporting are now possible, thanks to technological advancement in communication. With ICT, communication is fast, precise and well-targeted. Without these revolutionary changes, mass communication would not be as effective as the world knows it.
More importantly, the Management of the Commission, under my leadership, has recognized the media – bet it print, broadcast and online – as central stakeholders that have been so supportive and consistent in reporting the developments in the telecommunications industry. It is, therefore, heartwarming that the great minds who help to produce the critical workforce shaping the media industry – professors and scholars in the Mass Communication field – are the founders and members of this great Association.
Perhaps, many of you might not be aware that I started my first job with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in Kano State, and I will always cherish the memory of my stint there. Therefore, my relationship with the media industry and Mass Communications field, predated my days as a university don and educational administrator and now as CEO of Nigeria’s telecom regulator authority.
Having provided this background, permit me to zero in on the topic of my keynote address: Influence of Communication Policies on Digital Revolution in Nigeria. This topic is apt as it provides me with the opportunity to share with this group of distinguished scholars and researchers, various communication policies and strategies formulated and emplaced by the government, which have helped to advance our national aspiration for a digital economy.
By the reckoning of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which I consider reasoned and profound, a communication policy is “a set of prescriptions and norms laid down to guide the behaviour of communication institutions in a country.” By way of giving a contextual interpretation to the conception by UNESCO, communication policies speak to strategies and regulations, and the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) regulatory visions that can nudge people to harness opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution through the embrace of digital culture across sectors by individual, businesses and institutions. Nigeria has fared considerably well in policy designs, and impressively in implementation under the current administration.
Historically, the Wireless Telegraphy Act (WTA) enacted in 1961 and having preceded all other extant laws in the sector provided clarity concerning the nature of the regulatory management of communications in Nigeria. Essentially, the Act seeks to regulate the licensing, location and operation of wireless telegraphy services in Nigeria. Combined with the Nigerian Communications Commission Decree 75 of 1992 and the National Telecommunications Policy (NTP) of 2000, the WTA provided the springboard for the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, which set the tone for the deregulation and liberalization of the telecom sector. At the risk of immodesty, it is appropriate to say that the Nigerian communications policies in the last 22 years have birthed remarkable, concrete and measurable revolutionary changes.
Ahead of the liberalization of the communication sector in 2000, the NTP noted that the total number of telephone lines at Independence in 1960 was only 18,724 for a population estimated at 40 million people. This translated to a teledensity of about 0.5 telephone lines per 1,000 people. The Telephone network consisted of 121 exchanges of which 116 were of the manual (magneto) type and only 5 were automatic.
The installed switching capacity at the end of 1985 was 200,000 lines as against the planned target of about 460,000. Meanwhile, that has been modest development in the telecommunications industry since the inception of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) in 1985. As of 2000, Nigeria had a public network of about 700,000 lines capacity of which 400,000 lines were connected. Nigeria, therefore, was behind in comparative terms juxtaposed with less endowed African countries, let alone advanced countries.
The promulgation of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Decree 75 of 1992, marked a turning point in the trajectory of communication policy formulation and enabling laws in our clime. The NCC’s main objectives at inauguration in 1993, include: Creating a regulatory environment to facilitate the support of telecommunications services and facilities; facilitating the entry of private entrepreneurs into the telecommunications market; and promoting fair competition and efficient market conduct among all players in the industry. As a natural consequence, guidelines were set out for private sectors participation and issuance of licensees to several companies to play in different segments of the Nigerian telecom market. In 2001, the Commission embarked on full deregulation of the market with the issuance of the Digital Mobile Licence (DML) to two private operators, thus breaking the monopoly of the historical sectoral operator, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).
Today, as you may also be aware, the telecom industry has recorded tremendous growth in all segments of the market. The industry has witnessed quite impressive statistics, pointing to how telecommunications policy and decisions of the government have continued to influence the growth of Nigeria’s digital revolution marked by positive multiplier effects on other sectors of the economy.
The NCA, which is the primary regulatory instrument for the telecommunications sector and is now being considered for a review considering the rapid developments in the digital space, provides a firmer foundation upon which the telecom sector rode to prominence and impact in the last 22 years. Suffice it to say, that between 2001 and now, Nigeria emplaced several forward-looking policy and regulatory initiatives that have consistently put Nigeria on the path of digital innovation and growth.
In specific terms, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2020 – 2030, is a major policy driving the digital revolution in Nigeria. The NDEPS, combined with other policy documents, strategies, regulations, guidelines and directions, developed by NCC, facilitated the implementation of the Commission’s mandate. Other policy strategies include the National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025, the National Policy on 5G Networks for Nigeria’s Digital Economy, Commission’s ongoing Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024, and the Strategic Vision Plan 2021-2025 (otherwise called SVP II, and sequel to the Eight-point Agenda which was implemented from 2015-2020). The SVP II is indeed an intentional, conscious, and dedicated effort by the Management of NCC to streamline the telecom component of key policy vision of the Federal Government (including the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan) towards a more strategic and measurable implementation.
The Commission has championed the implementation of these policies on digital access and connectivity through various initiatives and regulatory interventions to ensure that more Nigerians have access to digital services that are affordable.
The NDEPS 2020 – 2030 spindles around the following eight pillars to accelerate the development of a digital economy in Nigeria:
1. Developmental Regulation (effective regulation of the ICT and digital sector in a way that enables and enhances development).
2. Digital Literacy and Skills (providing policy backing for massive training of Nigerians from all works of life to enable them to obtain digital literacy and other digital skills).
3. Solid Infrastructure (deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure to deepen the broadband penetration in the country).
4. Service Infrastructure (support for Government Digital Services and the provision of robust digital platforms to drive the digital economy).
5. Soft Infrastructure (strengthening public confidence in the use of digital technologies and participation in the digital economy).
6. Digital Services Development and Promotion (development of a vibrant digital ecosystem that supports Innovation Driven Enterprises (IDE) and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in a way that engenders innovation).
7. Digital Society and Emerging Technologies (focus on tying the development of the digital economy to indices of well-being in the lives of ordinary citizens; mentoring startups on emerging technologies to enable them to deploy their solutions).
8. Indigenous Content Development and Adoption (provision of a policy framework that gives preference to digitally skilled Nigerians for government-funded projects in line with Executive Orders 003 and 005 of President Muhammadu Buhari).
I am pleased to inform this conference that NCC, in line with its commitment to regulatory excellence, has relentlessly pursued the implementation of NDEPS to achieve the objectives of the Federal Government. Among these objectives are:
a) Target 70% broadband penetration in 4 years.
b) To accelerate the digitalization of government processes and improve service delivery, transparency, and accountability.
c) To improve trust, confidence and security around digital processes and activities.
d) To attract and grow digital jobs across all sectors of the economy.
e) To develop the technology start-up ecosystem by actively promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.
f) To support the digital literacy of Nigerian Citizens, Business and Government workers and enable them to acquire cutting-edge digital skills.
g) To achieve a 95% Digital Literacy Level in Nigeria within the next 10 years.
h) To develop a digital education curriculum to meet the current and future needs of the Digital Economy.
i) To ensure that indigenous technology companies can participate actively in government-funded technology programmes; and
j) To ensure that the policy and regulatory instruments are fit-for-purpose and support the digital business environment.
The implementation of these policies and strategies by the Commission and other stakeholders has resulted in the impressive growth of the economy going to impressive statistics posted by the telecommunications sector.
Today, the active telecom subscribers have grown significantly to 212.2 million from about 400,000 aggregate telephone lines in the country as of 2000, on the eve of liberalisation. This represents a teledensity of 111%. Basic Internet subscriptions grew from zero ground to 152.7 million currently while broadband subscriptions stand at over 86 million, representing a 45.09% penetration as of July 2022.
The industry has also become a major contributor to our national economy with the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry contributing 18.94% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of the second quarter of 2022, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). From this, the telecommunications sector alone contributed 15% to GDP.
The ICT contribution to GDP is, by far, the second largest contributor to the national economy aside from the agricultural sector. From less than $500 million investment in 2001, the investment profile in the nation’s telecommunications sector has also surpassed $70 billion. The telecommunication sector has also created direct and indirect jobs for millions of Nigerians to date.
With all these indices of growth in the telecom sector, arising from the effective implementation of various telecommunication policies and strategy documents, the sector has continued to redefine the way we carry out our operational and professional activities with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Access to the Internet, and more importantly, broadband, has become very central to our official and personal lives.
Be it in the media, education, finance, healthcare, transport, governance etc., broadband access has become a necessity. If you think of how the Internet has impacted the process of news gathering, production and dissemination by media professionals and the convergence being experienced across media platforms, then, it won’t be difficult to appreciate the impact of telecom, and by implication, the role of policies, across the spectrum of our daily lives, as individuals and as a nation. The digital revolution now has a profound impression on the way we function as a nation.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there is no gainsaying the fact that modern media and communications systems are taking on a whole new life and have caused growth in the flow and pattern of information and interpersonal communications (Interactivity). The venue of this event, which is virtual via Zoom is the strongest point in explaining the degree of the digital revolution in Nigeria.
At this juncture, I would like to specifically emphasise the importance of the digital revolution, fueled by the diligent implementation of telecommunication policies, in the Mass communication industry/field.
1. Digital revolution provides tools for communication: Without ICT/telecommunications tools, communication would not have all the tools it now has at its disposal to revolutionise news production. Internet, websites, blogs, and social media would not exist without ICT. Communication would be taken back to the use of newspapers, traditional TV and radio, making it almost impossible to keep abreast of developments as they are unfolding.
2. Digital Revolution makes communication fast: Today, you can watch any event in any corner of the world as it is happening. Live events and real-time reporting are now possible, thanks to technological advancement in communication. With ICT, communication is fast, precise and well-targeted
3. Digital Revolution makes mass communication more affordable: It is no longer a costly affair to pass information. With an internet connection and a computer, anyone can pass information to the world. It costs very little to post news on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media platforms. Therefore, major media houses around the world are now embracing technological change.
4. Digital Revolution diversifies communication: It is no longer the time when, if you wanted news, you had to read a newspaper, watch television or listen to the radio. Today, you can get all information on websites, social media pages, and mobile devices. This diversification has made it possible for communication to be efficient, and effective and reach all four corners of the world.
5. Digital Revolution has enhanced free access to information: Mass communication will never be complete if its product does not reach the intended users. ICT makes sure that communication achieves its intended objective of reaching the masses as the events are breaking.
I would like to emphasize that the influence of telecommunications/communications policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks on Nigeria’s digital revolution has been phenomenal and at NCC, we will continue to do our best in the discharge of the Commission’s mandate, especially in facilitating broadband deployment, which is central to diversifying the Nigerian economy and building our national development in line with the National Digital Economy agenda. We believe that the communications industry, under the leadership of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will experience more quantum leap and retains its current leadership role in the telecommunications space to lead Nigeria into the next level of development.
Also, the NCC will continue to strengthen collaboration with the media and mass communication scholars such as AMCRON towards creating an environment where stakeholders can leverage digital infrastructure and technology such as the Fifth Generation (5G) network. It is because of the promise of 5G for improved connectivity, better quality of life for individuals, enhanced efficiency for businesses, and quantifiable growth in the economy that the NCC continued to drive the implementation of the 5G policy in Nigeria.
Once again, I congratulate the Governing Council and all members of AMRCOM for convening this event and wish you successful deliberation.
I thank you all for listening.
Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, FNSE, FAEng, FRAES, FNIEEE
Executive Vice Chairman/CEO
Kunle AZEEZ, mnipr, mapra, macspn
(Manager, Media Relations Management)
Public Affairs Department
Nigerian Communication Commission
423, Aguiyi-Ironsi Street, Maitama,