CYBER ERA OPINION

What Pantami Must Do Before ICT Convergence Comes

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Nigeria’s current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy,
Dr. Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami

Benjamin Disreali, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS (December 21, 1804 –April 19, 1881) a British politician of the Conservative Party who twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who once said : “A consistent man believes in destiny; a capricious man believes in chance,” envisioned someone like Nigeria’s current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami, would emerge, at the time he wrote, because, since his birth in Pantami town,  that has since become a part and parcel of his official name, the man’s career path and his meteoric rise to the top have been more of a journey of destiny than one of chance. It does not, therefore, come as a surprise  to many of his followers that his career path and ascendancy  to the top, are a clear reflection of the perfect intersection between the divine and the temporal in his life. For Pantami, by any standards, is both an erudite Islamic scholar and a top-notch computer scientist.

Today, Pantami sits atop policy making in the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMOCDE), wherein, two years ago, he was a Director-General at the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency(NITDA). At public fora there, he preferred to be called and addressed as Nigeria’s Chief Technology Officer, a job he personally believes, he made an UNPRECEDENTED success of. And, interestingly, too, not a few people share this belief with him. So, it can be stated without equivocation Pantami is a square peg in a square hole, as far as his current position is concerned.

However, in our judgment, the greatest task facing Pantami today, which he must not leave to chance, but cleave to destiny to achieve, is convergence within the Information and Communication Technology(ICT) industry in Nigeria. Some expert has defined Convergence as a process by which telecommunications, information technology and the media, sectors that originally operated largely independent of one another, are growing together. We are not under any illusions that convergence is multidimensional and huge; as achieving it in a predominantly siloed domain, is not an easy task. But, listening to Pantami  deliver a key note on the imperative for Convergence in the ICT industry, at the 8th WACC, put together by KnowHow Media Limited, at the Sheraton Lagos Hotel, south west, Nigeria, on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, we came away with the impression Nigeria had persons like him, to birth convergence in this economy seamlessly! 

Former Minister of Communications Technology| Dr. Omobola Johnson
Prof. Umar Danbatta | EVC/CEO NCC
Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi |
NITDA DG

Enamoured by prescience and the need to fulfill destiny, perhaps, the man has been talking convergence ever before he got the job that now places him squarely on the prime role that would bring that imperative into reality. But prescience and potentials are not enough for Pantami to birth convergence in this economy. He must put antecedence to good use and this element is not in short supply. One of his predecessors, Dr. Omobola Johnson, worked very hard at this but could not achieve convergence of the industry, especially of the agencies and departments of the FMOCDE, because of regime change in 2015, but definitely left a rich handover note that represents a veritable substrate for Pantami to build upon.

Abimbola H. Alale
MD/CEO NIGCOMSAT
Muhammed Abubakar
Galaxy BAckbone
Dr. Ismael Adebayo Adewusi
Post Master General

In less than three months from now, the Buhari administration would begin implementation of the Oronsaye Report, which advised on the need to drastically reduce the number of agencies and departments and, by extension, keep cost of governance southwards and infuse more effectiveness and efficiency into the system. Currently, the following agencies are under his watch: Nigerian Postal Service(NIPOST), Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency(NITDA), Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC), Galaxy Backbone and Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited(NigComSat).  With Oronsaye Report implementation virtually underway, this reality of letting go some and welcoming some into the FMOCDE, would soon dawn on Pantami and his gang.  Which agencies are retaining their form and which ones are transforming?  These are posers for Pantami to address. He must rise up to the challenge.

Before convergence comes, we advise Pantami to devote some quality time to go through the handover notes of his predecessors, especially the one from Dr. Omobola Johnson, which, without prejudice to others, is rich in convergence lessons germane to his cause.

Pantami should not be in a hurry to forget that two main factors gave him the job: his principal’s belief in his ability to further his anti-corruption war on the one hand, and his intimidating credentials as an ICT technocrat.  At the 8th WACC, Pantami spoke glowingly of his perfect understanding of the state of the IT sector in particular and the ICT industry in general and his willingness to rid NITDA of the cesspit of corruption.  Pantami said at that conference that he would seek the support of all stakeholders to be able to achieve positive return of NITDA to its core mandate of regulating IT infrastructure deployment in Nigeria and extended an olive branch to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), affirming NITDA ought to have a desk at the BPP which would serve as the clearing house for IT infrastructure procurements. Before then, he said that the relevant sections of NITDA Act had been violently violated by those who smartly by-passed NITDA, because, there were no proper checks and balances in policing the procurement procedures.  Irrespective of which agency remains or suffers ecdysis, we urge Pantami to transplant this model into all agencies and departments under his ministry.  Between and among the agencies, there are so much overlappings in mandates and responsibilities.  Pantami must streamline things before bringing convergence to life. Watchers of developments and stakeholders of the industry would like him to match his word with some concrete action.  He is expected to forward names of identified real or perceived corrupt agency looters and operatives for the anti-corruption agencies in the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to follow up and follow through and drive the message home that it cannot be business as usual in the ministry.  We urge him to do this before convergence happens so those that would inherit the structures, processes and procedures in the agencies and departments do not have corruption smokes hovering over their heads.  Doing this will send a positive signal to both the international and local investor community  that Nigeria is serious on its quest to removing bottlenecks that previously snagged ease of doing business in the country.

Going by his reachout so far to national, continental,  bilateral and multilateral bodies that ostensibly would help Nigeria achieve a smooth convergence of her ICT industry, which we have followed keenly, it is evident that Pantami is persuaded heavily by the Swedish model.  While we believe Nigeria has a lot of lessons to learn from Sweden, we urge Pantami not to foreclose understudying other jurisdictions such as the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, where the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) and the Office for Communications(Ofcom) hold sway. Nigeria cannot afford to think only Sweden when there are other options open to Pantami to explore and exploit. Israel and India, in our opinion, should be part of the equation as they have some vital lessons for Nigeria to learn in the area of  innovation and local content. 

We believe strongly that talents to advise Pantami on this vital project abound in both the public and private sectors in the country.  These critical studies do not necessarily require of him to uproot from home for there are many  credible consultants who could help him deliver the job in record time and at reduced cost. Furthermore, Minister Pantami must ensure that the stage is proactively set for the surviving agencies to thrive on.  Pitfalls of the past wherein ministries, agencies and departments(MDAs) wore their old looks and retained their old documents and resources, like emails and websites, years after their transformation, must not happen again.  He should marry these changes with commensurate media campaigns so that the internal and external publics of these evolving agencies and departments begin to connect ahead with the new changes and internalize this reality early enough.

In fusing agencies, creating directorates or divisions and choosing their heads, even as we know, this is not a strictly policy matter, (for there is a legislative angle to it), we caution that international clout, agency stalking in the comity of regulators apriori, execution history, quality of staff, corporate governance pedigree, agency miscibility, among others, should count.  The sterling achievements recorded by agencies like the NCC and NITDA, for example, must count for them in the ensuing fusion matrix.

Most importantly, the labour part of the equation must be handled with tact and utmost caution.  While we believe that convergence cannot happen without its toll on the workforce, it is important that Pantami reaches out in good time to his Labour and Productivity counterpart, in Dr. Chris Ngige and the leadership of organized Labour, so that a fair deal mechanism is enthroned-one that attracts the smooth buy-in of the employers and employees.

Nigeria has long haemorrhaged  from a lack of convergence in its ICT industry. ICT convergence is a phenomenon whose time has come and now is apt for Nigeria to join the bandwagon of jurisdictions where this is happening in view of the manifold advantages that potentially could come to the economy from it.  Pantami should see his emergence as the Minister  of Communications  and Digital Economy at a time the government is ready to achieve the rationalization of MDAs , as an opportunity to fulfill, yet another, divine mandate, which must not be left to chance. We believe he can.  He should.  He must.  And, we wish him the best of luck in this!

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