Analysing NCC’s Role In Growing Nigeria’s Digital Economy

By Kemi Yesufu

The world is experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Nigeria cannot be left behind. For Nigeria to first achieve its speculated potential as one of the MINT countries and then push for First World-level advancement, it has to prepare and position itself fully for a digitalized economy. The development of the digital economy is a sure route to economic growth for countries. According to data shared by the National Communications Commission at a 2-day upskilling roundtable on the latest trends in the telecoms sector for media executives held in Abuja, 26—27 June, the digital economy was valued at $16.6 trillion; by 2028. It is predicted to reach approximately $32.9 trillion.

Therefore, a digitalized economy is essential for Nigeria to become part of the 4IR. But, what steps has the Federal Government taken to position the country as an important player in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a post-COVID-19 global economy? The government anchored its response to the fast-changing world on the country growing a digitalised economy. To achieve its goal of a digitalised economy, the Federal Government ‘reimagined’ the Ministry of Communications, Innovations and Digitalised Economy. The reimagined ministry has a new mentality which is influenced by the five pillars of knowledge, policy, infrastructure, trade, innovation, entrepreneurship and capital.  The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is one of the agencies through which the ministry implements its five-pronged formula for change.

Stakeholders and industry watchers have opined that the NCC has played a pivotal role in promoting Nigeria’s digital economy. The agency’s responsibilities include the regulation and promotion of investment in the telecommunications industry. The Commission also is empowered by law to ensure fair competition among operators, consumer protection and the development of a robust and inclusive communication network.  

However, from the perspective of the media, it is pertinent to ask how well the NCC has regulated the telecom sector which has contributed about N7.9 trillion to Nigeria’s GDP in the first quarter of 2024. For Dr Aminu Maida, Executive Vice-Chairman of NCC, the Commission has performed its role creditably well. Maida, who assessed NCC’s performance at the training for media executives recently held in Abuja also assured that the Commission continually upgrades guidelines, laws and regulatory framework to strengthen the telecoms industry as it is the foundation on which a digitalised economy is built.  

He further assured the media that the consumer remains the focal point of the entire telecom ecosystem, hence, the strict implementation of policies to ensure the provision of high-quality services and the protection of the rights of the customer. The basic rights of the consumer as categorised by the NCC include: Right to safety, right to correct billing, right to redress, right to good quality of service, right to choose, right to be heard and right to be informed. Maida was represented at the media parley by NCC’s Executive Commissioner for Technical Services, Engr. Abraham Oshadami.

Indeed, NCC must effectively regulate the telecoms sector not only because it represents 14% of the country’s GDP, but also because the use of ICT promotes economic freedom. The Director, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement, Efosa Idehen, told media executive how the Commission enforces compliance and protects the rights of consumers. He said: “The role of compliance and consumer protection is crucial to ensure that the industry operates in a fair, transparent, and accountable manner and that the interests of the consumers are always safeguarded ensure that the industry operates in a fair, transparent, and accountable manner and that the interests of the consumers are always safeguarded.

“NCC is a one-stop-shop that all consumers rely on for protection, information and education [PIE] on telecommunication issues. Consumer satisfaction is a key index for industry performance. Given that the consumer is king in the telecom industry, consumer satisfaction is therefore key to the sustainability of the market. Consumers are to adopt the various complaints management platforms of the Commission so that no one takes advantage of them.   Compliance in the telecoms industry is not just a regulatory requirement but a commitment to ensuring trust, reliability, and transparency in our telecom ecosystem”.  Idehen listed compliance and enforcement instruments to include 16 regulations, 20 guidelines and 10 determinations.

 Prof. Adedoyin Salami of the Lagos Business School who presented a paper titled, Technology-Significance on Micro and Macro Economic Systems opined that the well-managed combination of Nigeria’s youthful population and a properly regulated telecoms industry will create even more jobs, improve productivity which in turn is a catalyst for digital transformation.

Salami who was Chief Economic Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari presented a SWOT analysis of the telecoms industry, even as he highlighted 10 trends to watch. The seasoned economist identified the strengths of the sub-sector to include the introduction of key reforms and regulations to facilitate the rollout and sharing of infrastructure. There is also the presence of a large population, particularly in cities. For the weaknesses, he listed the shortage of electricity supply and high costs of energy, lack of internet literacy and low awareness, as well as poorly articulated and slow implementation of masterplans for infrastructure and delays in processing infrastructure permits. There are also opportunities in for Nigeria to grow the telecoms industry. Prof Salami lists the expansion of 4G and rollout of 5G, the increase in demand for data and internet access as well as the high penetration rates targets by FGN growth of e-services and cloud computing.

However, the University Don noted that the Nigerian telecoms industry is faced with certain threats. He stated that corruption and fraud are impediments to economic stability. This is as high inflation rates are driving down consumer spending and threatening investor confidence. The prevalence of cybercrime is adding to costs as operators have to install systems to reduce incidents of cybercrime. Then there is the problem of vandalism of infrastructure which increases operational costs to operators.

As Prof. Salami noted, most service providers cover the urban area, therefore, the Federal Government established the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) under the NCC, to lead the push towards achieving universal access and universal service to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in rural, un-served and under-served areas in Nigeria.

The mandate of the Universal Service Provision Fund is derived from section 112 of NCA 2003 as follows: “ In general terms, the USPF will facilitate the widespread availability and usage of network services and applications services throughout Nigeria by providing funding through subsidies and grants for the provision of network facilities and network services and application services to rural, unserved and underserved areas or underserved groups within an institution or a community”.

Giving insight on the work done so far, Yomi Arowosafe, Secretary, Universal Service Provision Secretariat said: “The USPF has had a significant impact on social investment in Nigeria, driving digital

inclusion, improving access to education and healthcare, and creating new economic opportunities for the rural, unserved and underserved communities. By fostering digital literacy and connectivity, the fund has empowered Nigerians to participate in the digital economy and improve their quality of life”.

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