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Fintech industry could create 3m jobs in Nigeria –Experts

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Experts in the financial technology (fintech) industry have said that increased collaborations and investment by stakeholders in the industry will lead to economy growth, saying the sub-sector can create three million jobs in Nigeria in the next few years.

They stated this at the maiden Africa FinTech Foundry Disrupt (AFFD) Conference, sponsored by Access Bank Plc in Lagos.

The forum provided a platform for the experts to raise the advocacy with different panel discussions held to address pressing issues concerning the future of fintech.

According to the experts, for Nigerian economy to move forward, there is an urgent need for huge investment in the businesses of the future, which are technology-dependent.

They added that entrepreneurs must also be disruptive for financial technology (FinTech) economic prosperity of the nation.

Speaking at the forum, a former Minister of Communications, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, noted that over $5 billion had been invested in FinTech in 2017 alone with Africa claiming a good percentage of the money.

Omobola, whose presentation was entitled ‘Investing in Tomorrow,’ stressed that with increased investment in the FinTech industry, over three million jobs could be created.

She, however, noted that investment in the FinTech space transcended currencies only, as according to her, there is also the need for investment in time to think through FinTech innovations and broader skills that are capable of attracting local and foreign capitals into the local industry.

Also speaking, Executive Director, SystemSpecs, Mr. Deremi Atanda, urged the government to focus on technology to lead Nigeria to the desired economy that will create jobs and improve socio-economy prosperity of the nation.

He added that the FinTech space particularly would provide the government a unique opportunity to achieve this.

He said: “There should be people who can see FinTech as a unique opportunity in government. To use FinTech to lead Nigeria to the new economy will go beyond just talking and if the citizens are going to make a demand for that, the citizen needs to demand that government should not miss the opportunity.”

“We missed it with oil and now the younger people need to make an advocacy that government needs to look in the space of technology disruption, and this is going to create jobs as well,” he added.

Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh, encouraged the Nigerian government to lead others in using platforms such as the AFFD to build a new generation of Nigerians, who can defend their wealth in the current digital age.

“This is an era in which you either disrupt or stand the risk of being disrupted. This reality is much more pronounced in the banking and financial services sector, hence the growing popularity of financial technologies or FinTech, as it is widely known.

“The landmark step taken by Access Bank shows the bank’s readiness for the future of disruption in the sector which is already here with us,” he stated.

Also, Head, African Fintech Foundry (AFF), Mr. Victor Okigbo, said that the Nigerian economy would benefit from the recent collaboration between banks and FinTechs, urging for more partnerships among players.

According to him, the disruptive FinTech industry should not be perceived as a threat by banks; rather it should be used as leverage to bring onboard the unbanked divide of the population.

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ICT / e-World

TAMS summit urges retooling of educational system as vital for making Nigeria work again

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Caption: From left: Convener of TAMS summit, Mr. Afolabi Abiodun; Business Coach, Stanford Seed, Mrs Emily Liggett; Special Adviser, Education, Lagos State, Mr Obafela Bank-Olemoh; and Chairperson of the occasion, Yetunde Ogbomienor at the 2018 TAM summit, tagged "Making Nigeria work” held in Lagos, recently.

Stakeholders at the 2018 TAMS summit themed, “Making Nigeria work” has called on the Nigerian government to immediately restructure the country’s educational system in order to ensure a brighter future for the country.

Nigerians youths who attended the event in their large numbers were also tasked to go beyond sentiments, imbibe the culture and value of productivity in order to be good managers.

Addressing the summit as a keynote speaker, founder of LEAP Africa, Mrs Ndidi Nwuneli, said Nigeria can only be restructured to compete with other developed economies such as-as China, Japan and the United States of America when the youths that make over 50% of the population are given opportunities to show their creativity.

“Young people in Nigeria have what it takes to lead as they are not only the leaders of tomorrow but today. And for them to take centre space, they need right education as currently, our education system needs to revamp as it pushes out creativity “, observed Nwuneli.

Nwuli also advised that for new generation to fit into the corporate world, Nigeria must have respect for human dignity; policymakers should set platforms for youth engagement; there should be widespread educational reforms and the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, should be made voluntary and there is a need for a paradigm shift on the part of millennia and corporate leaders to be flexible in order to accommodate the youths exposed to the dynamics of technology and innovation.

Speaking with newsmen, the convener of TAMS summit, Mr. Afolabi Abiodun said that the summit was to better engage the youths positively to bring the desired change the country needed.

His words, “Nigeria belongs to the youths and the young ones have to be better equipped, set values and aspirations through global communication and interconnection.”

He, however, added that it is not best for youths to merely demand the mantle of leadership, stressing that it is not a gift that can just be given to them.

“It is not about saying, it is time for youth to lead, we have to earn it. I am a Nigerian youth and you can see the steps I am taking, it doesn’t come as a gift. Those we referred to today as ‘old’ earned it, and the best way we can make Nigeria work again is to also follow that part.

Guests at the event that saw over 50 Nigerians youths who are making waves in their private and public sectors bestowed with awards and made TAMS ambassadors, included the chairperson of the occasion, Special Adviser, Education, Lagos State, Mr Obafela Bank-Olemoh; Chairperson of the Occasion, Yetunde Ogbomienor; Chairman, Lagos State, Local Government Service Commission (LGSECOM), Mr Babatunde Rotinwa,; hosted by Barr. Ibilowo Afolayan and held at Agip Recital Hall.

Panellists at the discussion of the day tagged, “How to build a new generation of corporate leaders”, included Prof Adebayo Ninalowo, Pro-Chancellor, Lagos State University, LASU; Mr Andrew Gbodume, Managing Director, MRS Oil Nigeria, PLC; Mr. Ronan Redmond, Director, TVC and Mrs Emily Liggett, Business Coach, Stanford Seed, all agreed that for the youths to take active positions in both private and public sectors, there have to be policies, platforms and a reform in the education sector that will improve them on knowledge, skill and technology wise.

On his part, Mr. Bank-Olemoh noted that Lagos State Government was poised to engaging the youths through various programmes among which was the ReadySetWork, [RSK] an employability and entrepreneurship programme aimed at preparing final year students across eight tertiary institutions in the country for immediate entry into the workforce as employees and employers of labour.

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Nigeria’s bumpy road to digital switch over

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Despite starting the process 11 years ago, Nigeria is still among the few African countries yet to completely switch over to digital broadcasting, even three years after the internationally approved deadline. But while the switching process is still bedevilled with technical hiccups, funding challenge and low awareness, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) believes everything is on course. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

 

After missing three deadlines, two self-imposed and one sanctioned by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Nigeria’s move to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting seems to have become an unending journey. While there is no more deadline—not that it is important anyway, given that previous deadlines have had no impact—the country continues to move at a pace that may leave it behind every other countries of the world. In her over a decade efforts, the country has been able to switch over to digital broadcasting only in six states and the federal capital territory, Abuja, thus casting serious doubt over NBC’s capability of achieving nationwide switchover even in the next one decade.

 

But the Commission in a recent chat with the media has said the coast is now clear for the country to move at fast pace. According to NBC’s head of the Directorate of Broadcast Monitoring, Dr Armstrong Idachaba, the country has now crossed the most difficult line. “Setting up the structure of a project like this is the most critical part; this is in terms of distributing transmission infrastructure. Even when you have put in place the transmission infrastructure, what channels would you put to be viewed? Those issues have however, been largely addressed. Now, with the two signal distributors on ground, we have rolled out nationally. Initially, we had problem with the Set-Top boxes, which were being imported but our idea now is that they have to be produced in the country. To that extent, we licenced some Nigerian companies to do that and they have started rolling them out” he said.

 

In the beginning

At the conclusion of 2006 ITU’s Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06) in Geneva, Nigeria, alongside 119 other countries signed a treaty agreement heralding the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television. In the treaty, transition day for all members was fixed for June 2015. Incidentally, Nigeria started preparations for this journey early enough. In 2007, while appreciating the vital need to keep up with the rest of the world in this ITU-led global digitisation movement, the Nigerian government had approved June 17, 2012 as Nigeria’s transition date, three years ahead of the ITU mandate. The justification then, according to the NBC, was to use the three years (June 17, 2012 to June 17, 2015) to address whatever hiccups arising from the switch-over and perfect the mechanism before the final date. But that was where it ended, as the plans could not materialise due to what industry analysts described as lack of political will on the part of the government.

 

By October 13, 2008, the late President UmaruYar’Adua, inaugurated the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting in Nigeria. The panel presented its report on Monday, June 29, 2009. However, no follow-up step was taken until April 4, 2012 when the Federal Executive Council released a white Paper on the report. Eventually, with the release of a government White Paper on the digitisation, the government in December 2012 inaugurated a 14-man transition Committee called DigiTeam Nigeria, with Engr. Edward Amana as chairman. The new team led by Amana, set a fresh date of January 1, 2015 as the switch-off date from analogue broadcasting, with plans to conclude the digital switchover in Nigeria before the June 17, 2015.

 

NBC had drawn a phased rollout plan, beginning with the pilot city switchover in Jos, and its plan was to complete other phases on or before January 1, 2015. The commission was able to ride on the backbone of NTA StarTimes to accomplish the Jos pilot city switchover, having designated NTA as the national digital signal carrier for the country. Unfortunately, all these efforts and plans could not take the country to a point where it could be counted among the few African countries that met the digital switch deadline as at June 17 2015. Having failed for the second time, the NBC fixed another deadline of June 2017, which again was missed.

 

 

NBC explains failure

 

With the third deadline missed, the NBC could not but offer some explanations to worrying stakeholders. Speaking at a forum in Lagos, the Director-General of NBC, Is’haq Modibbo Kawu had confessed that the DSO process remains a huge financial, technical and logistical challenge, stressing that switching on a huge country such as Nigeria, requires tremendous financial commitment. He explained that upon his assumption of office in May 2016, he discovered that the process at the beginning was dogged by a host of controversies.

 

“First, the Second National Signal Distributor, Pinnacle Communications Limited had been in dispute with the NBC,” he said. “They were in court, because of a host of grievances arising from the way that the contract with them had been handled by the NBC. Pinnacle Communications Limited had been the single biggest contributor to the DSO process, so it became imperative that we did everything to get them out of court, to return them to the DSO process. After several meetings, we reached an agreement, and Pinnacle Communications accepted to drop their litigation against the NBC. They returned to the process; were appointed as signal distributors for the Abuja DSO,” he stated.

 

According to him, Set-Top-Box (STB) manufacturers had committed resources to the importation of 850, 000 STBs from China, but because the EFCC had seized funds from the NBC, under the past regime at the commission, it could not meet the commitment, which totaled the sum of $26 million. Kawu, who was silent about how much and time it will require Nigeria to fully transit from analogue to digital transmission, explained that the commission hoped to have switched over by December 2017 in 12 states, but that still did not happen as the NBC was only able to add Kwara and Kaduna to Plateau and Abuja in 2017 and only this February it was able to switch over in Enugu State, making it just four states and FCT so far.

 

 

Long wait for digital dividends

 

While the country may not have issue of signal interference yet after the failure to switch over even three years after the ITU deadline as neighbouring countries are also yet to switch over completely, Nigeria is currently missing the huge economic benefits that should have accrued from digital dividends. Digital dividend spectrum is released when television broadcasters switch from analogue platforms to digital only platforms; part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has been used for broadcasting will be freed up because digital TV needs fewer spectrums than analogue television.

 

With serious attention on broadband as a tool for economic development, the telecom regulator, NCC has been banking on the release of spectrum currently being used by broadcasting stations to drive broadband penetration post digital migration deadline.

 

Speaking on the expected digital dividends, Mr Segun Ogunsanya, CEO, Airtel Nigeria said currently, Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication operators have only 15MHz assignment in 1800MHzi band, which is paired with 5MHz on the 900MHz.

 

“With the 700MHz spectrum allocation, GSM operators can significantly increase their capacity, improve quality, and also reduce capital expenditure, and the savings from operating costs will translate to affordable telecommunications services,” he said. “There should be effective coordination between the NCC, NBC and National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) to ensure that the 700MHz spectrum band is cleared and released for telecoms services as recommended by the ITU.”

 

He pointing out that the release of more spectrum can potentially impact positively on Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and lead to creation of more jobs.

 

Also speaking on the importance of the digital dividends, a former President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. LanreAjayi, said releasing the spectrum bands to investors that will roll-out service on them will add a new fillip to the industry, especially now that the next revenue frontier of the industry has shifted from voice to data. He said: “It will be an advantage for the country if these spectrum bands are released by the appropriate authority for NCC to allocate to would-be applicants.”

 

Last line

While funding and technical issues are being fingered for the slow-paced digital switch over move, stakeholders have advised NBC to do more in raising awareness about the switch, noting that majority of Nigerians are still oblivious of the move and its implications on them. They also urged the Federal Government to give the Commission necessary backing, especially in the area of funding, to ensure the DSO is achieved nationwide.

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Service quality Base Station: National roaming as panacea

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Amidst the challenge of poor quality service and inadequate telecoms facilities, Nigeria is pushing for national roaming for operators to leverage on available infrastructure for efficient services, delivery, but industry stakeholders are also keen on the removal of obstacles hindering telcos from importing more equipment. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

 

In the last 17 years, telecommunications in Nigeria has experienced a quantum leap from 450,000 connected lines in 2001 to over 147 million active mobile subscriptions. But despite the rapid growth, there still exist a wide connectivity gap in terms of un-served and underserved areas. In fact, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently admitted that that there are more than 225 market gaps where no voice or data services have been enjoyed by millions of Nigerians in some parts of the country.

This explains why the Commission is now pushing for national roaming, which refers to the ability of a cellular subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services, including data services, when travelling outside the coverage area of the home network, by means of using a visited network.

 

Infrastructure gap

One critical challenge facing the telecom sector in Nigeria is inadequate infrastructure and this has consistently impacted the quality of service such that subscribers on a journey even within a state experience several network blackouts. While the telcos have deployed about 40,000 base stations, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbata, recently noted that the sector is facing a major infrastructure deficit. According to him, the industry needs 80,000 base stations to achieve better services.

“Nigeria needs at least 70,000 to 80,000 telecommunication base stations to actualise its dream of joining the club of countries working toward making Internet of Things (IoT), a reality by leveraging 4G and 5G networks,” Danbatta had said.

 

Unfortunately, the telcos seems to have become incapacitated for a long time now to import more equipment needed to bridge the infrastructure gap due to high exchange rate. However, it is hoped that the national roaming, when it becomes fully operational, will help the telcos achieve better quality services, even with the current level of infrastructure as telecom subscribers would be able to connect to any available network within their locality.

 

Cost saving mechanism

Apart from promoting seamless communication among subscribers by improving quality of service, national roaming is also bound to bring down cost of network deployment for the operators. It was to that end the regulator held another consultative forum in Lagos last week on the development of framework for the service.

Speaking at the forum, NCC’s Director of Spectrum Administration, Engr Austine Nwaulune, noted that with national roaming, not only would there be noticeable reduction in network deployment costs, the industry would also witness acceleration in the take-up of broadband services and gradual elimination of the rural-urban digital divide.

Nwaulune added that the commission in 2017 inaugurated an Industry Working Committee to work out the procedure and modalities for implementing National Roaming and Active Infrastructure Sharing. “The past few years have seen the trajectory of the global telecommunications industry shift towards the implementation of cost-saving mechanisms, which facilitate the effective utilization of network resources for the provision of telecommunications services. National Roaming and Active Infrastructure Sharing are two of such initiatives, which have been successfully utilized to achieve improved coverage, cost reduction and the efficient utilization of scarce network resources by Regulatory agencies”.

The chairman Industry Working Committee, IWC, and Director, Projects, NCC, Abubakar Yakubu disclosed that following the consultation paper published in December by the commission, and a number of pertinent questions that were raised on the implementation of National Roaming and Infrastructure Sharing, ” the responses to these questions as well as comments and inputs including network service providers, experts and other interested parties formed the basis for stakeholders’ engagement held in Abuja in 2016, to commence discussions towards the development of a legal and regulatory framework for the implementation of roaming services in Nigeria.

“The setting up of the industry working committee to come up with the modalities for the implementation of National Roaming and Active Infrastructure Sharing in the country is not only a testimony of the commitment of the commission to policy of participatory regulation but also a demonstration that the commission can adopt the principle of self- regulation when it is exigent to do so” he said.

 

Ntel example

Meanwhile, while the regulator is putting finishing touches to the framework, one of the telcos, with the approval of NCC, has recently gone ahead to leverage on national for the expansion of its network. Ntel, the 4G LTE operator, recently disclosed that it had struck a national roaming deal with 9Mobile while also in talks with MTN. Already, Ntel has gotten approval for the two deals from the NCC, while a successful trial had been conducted on 9Mobile’s network. According to the Chief Executive Officer of Ntel, Mr Ernest Akinlola, the company, which rolled out 4G LTE service in 2016 across major cities is now set to go nationwide with the roaming deals.

 

Need for incentives

But in order for national mobile roaming service to work, the President of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr Olusola Teniola, said the regulator would need to create more incentives for the operators to roll out more quickly and help in reducing the challenges facing deployment across the states. According to Teniola, national mobile roaming is only achievable if the country attains about 95 per cent nationwide coverage.

“There was a stakeholders’ forum not long ago where the issue was deliberated on extensively. National Roaming assumes that 95 per cent geographical coverage, because in its stopped simplicity form, you are making a call and suddenly the network goes down, so, the operator, under the national roaming, will be allowed to patch that call to go on another cell, which belongs to another operator.”

He however, advised the Federal Government to work out measures with both the states and local government on how best to support telecom operators to deploy infrastructure for improved quality of service. According to him, it is common knowledge that the recent placement of IT/telecoms equipment among the 41 restricted items from accessing foreign exchange at CBN rate, is stifling investment and development in the sector.

 

Last line

While national roaming is seen as a welcome development to alleviate the problem of inadequate infrastructure, it will definitely not take away the need for the operators to deploy more infrastructure, especially in under-populated areas, which is why government and the regulator need to remove the various obstacles to infrastructure deployment. It goes without saying that in an area where no single operator has deployed infrastructure, the roaming option becomes useless for the people.

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