TECHNOLOGY FOR NATIONAL TRANSFORMATION AND ADVANCEMENT: AN IMPERATIVE FOR TRUE INDEPENDENCE
It’s the first day of October in the year 2014. Since 1960 till date, this day marks our territorial and cultural independence. I want to discuss a different kind of independence today, though – very unpopular.
This article will focus on our level of independence in the area of Technology vis-a-vis internet and mobile Technology in Nigeria.
Independence was gotten at a time when Technology was just being appreciated by mankind. Most of the world did not know some of our capabilities until the second world war where sophisticated equipment were used to defeat the Nazis. About fifteen years after that war, we were declared a nation in 1960. This ushered in a new era of ambitions among the new Nigerian leadership. How else would a leader communicate their agenda to over forty five million people in the new nation other than via wireless media. Although the now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) which used to be called Radio Diffusion Service (RDS) was originally founded by the British in 1933, it gradually evolved through the late 1960s to be the fastest and most reliable way to disseminate information to the Nigerian public. The radio and other print media were the primary sources though which information was passed on the public. This went on until the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was inaugurated in 1977 with its first official Director General being Mr. Vincent Maduka.
Nigeria has always had Landline telephony as part of the technology retained post independence but mobile cellular services started in 1993 with 090 lines and were operated by NITEL ( the national carrier) and Mobile Telecommunications services (MTS).This service was as you might expect not affordable to the average Nigerian and this was evident in the fact that they had a joint subscriber base of about 12,500 users. When MTS could not pay its interconnection charges to NITEL, it was forced to shut its operations and this gave birth to M-Tel (NITEL’s mobile telecom arm).
Eventually, bids were opened by the new civilian administration to private Telecom companies which later gave rise to the mobile communications as we now know it. At inception, affordability was a major concern to Nigerians who also wanted to be a part of this new telecom revolution in Nigeria. At that time (mid 2000s), a SIM card could cost as much as ₦45,000/$274.
The new GSM licences had been awarded for a period of five years (renewable) and all operators could now operate in the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz spectrum bands. Whereas they do provide for a potential upgrading of future networks to GPRS (general packet radio switching), they did not encompass third generation (3G) networks, which would probably be auctioned off sometime in the future. Existent GSM operators will, however, obtain preferential access to the bidding process. The operators did not foresee a 3G mobile network being developed in Nigeria until the latter half of the current decade. All licences permits operation of an international gateway.
Whilst definite targets had been set for the GSM operators in terms of network rollout (minimum of 100,000 subscribers each in first year of operations, 1.5 million subscribers in 5 years, and minimum 5% geographical coverage in each of the country’s geopolitical states), the NCC (Nigeria communications commission) had indicated that its primary interest lies in securing as comprehensive and efficient a mobile network as possible, even if that may mean slightly revised schedules. The operators were confident that the estimated pent up demand for mobile services will drive subscription rates much faster than the stipulated requirements dictate. Vigorous advertising of soon-to-come services and actual network rollout began soon after awarding of the licences.
Major Nigerian Telecom operators
Given this brief history, those of us who live in the 2014 Nigeria know that this story has now changed mostly for the better especially with add-on services by operators.
Operators and the government alike began making massive investments in internet services as data demand in Nigeria began to see a steady increase. This gave rise to several internet cafes around the country with many Nigerians engaging in overnight work at the cafes just to have considerable speeds they needed to carry out their assignments. This as you might guess was to allow for load to have considerably dropped over night. This inconvenient way of working was necessary in order to stay up to date with the rest of the world.
A change was therefore necessary as smart phones began to enter into the Nigerian market as well.
But as mobile operators and in particular Globacom began to make investments in 3G infrastructure, the much needed change began to roll in slowly. Operators would later find out that it was a good bet as revenue increased across the sector. Competition therefore began among the operators to rake in the most revenue. This therefore called for much more investment on the part of operators which snowballed into many Nigerians having more than one SIM card at a given time. So should you be in an area where the other operator doesn’t seem to be providing you with a high data rate, you could switch SIMs. With sophisticated devices, we now have HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) across major cities of the nation.
The birth of the internet era
With new technologies developing across the world, Nigerians began to be in touch with other citizens of both the developed and developing world. Facebook and other social networking sites were born and gave people a voice to broadcast their own messages on free platforms. We have recently reported on this site that Facebook now has over 100 million Africans on its network. This appreciation of the internet gave rise to activists, politicians, individuals and businesses who wished to pass a message across to the public.
In the last five years in particular, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of internet businesses in Nigeria ranging from a simple web site to e-commerce sites. More companies now want a presence online. A lot of home based businesses have been born as well.
Nigeria is currently experiencing a boom in private sector investments and the contribution of the private sector has increased as evident in the fact that revenue declared by the FIRS (Federal inland revenue service) continues to rise and I must add that this achievement in itself is because the FIRS stepped up its ICT appreciation levels. Now you can calculate your tax return online, you can file your taxes online without having to step a foot in their office among other services.
We have services like Jumia, Konga, bus.com.ng, hellofoods, hotels.ng, budgIT, Lamudi, growing at an amazing rate amongst others.
This growing industry has created new job descriptions we never heard of. People are now gainfully employed in start ups across Nigeria with competitive remunerations.
The government then has a responsibility to expand infrastructure for more tech businesses to thrive. The government has made investments in the past but more can be done. Across the world, nations are investing massively in network infrastructures. A new research of 2012 in the USA show that nearly 4 million Americans worked in the Tech industry.
Mrs (Dr.) Omobola Johnson (Nigeria’s communications minister)
According to Business Insider, nearly half of the most valuable brands in the world are Tech based. With a young and vibrant population, Nigeria can become the next Tech giant of not just the continent but of the world. Funding and infrastructure are the two major challenges facing the average Tech-entrepreneur in Nigeria. Many of the top Tech companies still host their applications on foreign networks and servers because of a lack of local alternatives.
President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria
Even when they are able to have their applications hosted, they need funding. The new $15m venture capital funding announced by the minister of communications; Mrs (Dr.) Omobola Johnson is a welcome development. Without being over demanding, new and more interventions should be done. I urge the government to place a bet on the Nigerian Technologists and see what will happen in a few years. I say this because so much has been achieved even at current infrastructure levels and I can only imagine what would happen if more were to be put in by governments at all levels.
To all Tech lovers and industry players out there, do not be discouraged as I believe we have come a long way and in a short time, we would reach the much desired eldorado. There is light at the end of that long tunnel.
I believe the story would be different at our 55th anniversary
Have a great Independence day celebrations.