By Uwa Suleiman
The Honourable Minister of Communications and first ever, of Digital Economy in Nigeria, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), is an extraordinary human being. He has earned this status by virtue of his uncommon ability to pave ways and blaze the trail in hitherto uncharted territories, His ability to visualize the future technologically, and his uncanny focus in driving us towards that future determinedly, without a shred of doubt, In spite of the enormous challenges mostly peculiar, to our climes.
In the last few years, the global focus has gradually but surely shifted from mere ICTs to more advanced Digital Economies with particular focus on Digital Skills. While the rest of the world made real progress and changed the course of history in their respective domains, we as usual, engaged in theories and rhetoric for the most part. It took the assumption of Dr Pantami into office, as a Minister of the Federal Republic under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, to actively and properly ignite the Digital Economy Agenda of Nigeria. Pantami comes with an undeniable breath of fresh air heralding the much needed change.
Last week, as I listened to my Boss make his presentation to the Federal Executive Council, his passion and conviction were not lost on anyone seated in the President’s Council Chambers. He spoke the truth as usual and it was crystal clear that the way forward was through a digitalized economy. From the moment he initiated, pursued and got the President’s approval to expand the nomenclature of the Ministry of Communications to include Digital Economy, it was obvious to the discerning mind that this was no regular public office holder.
Having legalized the establishment of the supervisory ministry properly on the 17th October 2019, he set to work immediately. By November 28th the Digital Economy Strategy document was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari at the e-Nigeria summit. And there has been no looking back. Pantami believes that there is no dearth of potential in Nigeria and he demonstrates this conviction by engaging indigenous talent in executing his mandate. The Digital Economy Policy Strategy Document was put together by the Digital Minister himself and a few of his aides. Not a single foreign consultant was contracted to do the job, and this same document has attracted lots of global accolades and partnerships on an unprecedented level in the sector.
Global tech giant, Google’s Director of Public Policy and Emerging Markets, Doron Avni was on a working visit to the Minister’s office on February 19th. He expressly noted the similarities between Nigeria’s Digital Economy Pillars and his company’s vision, this has led to a partnership for a National Addressing System that will establish proper public addresses for every street in Nigeria. He has attracted a partnership with IBM in skill acquisition for talented Nigerians, Facebook is on board, the World Bank is involved on multiple levels. Every action, partnership, Memorandum of Understanding signed is geared towards one goal; to develop indigenous skills in technology and enhance digital literacy. The world is willing to partner with Nigeria seeing the vision, focus and level of intelligence the current leadership has brought to bear in the sector.
According to the World Bank Digital Economy Diagnostic Report, Nigeria accounts for 47% of West Africa’s population and half of the county’s population are under the age of 30. This means that we are uniquely positioned to not only reap the benefits of a Digital Economy, but actually lead the Digital Revolution in Africa, This ability to lead and conquer is the crux of the message Dr Pantami is preaching. Recently, my able Boss has been canvassing for the recognition and placement of skills over certificates. “paper qualifications can be misleading and may not count for much in this era of digital skills” he says. “For indigenous innovation to thrive, we must place emphasis on skills”. Pantami has ignited a new revolution among youths which is a driving force for technological skill acquisition and the zeal to produce employers of labour as against saturating an already groaning labour market. To this end, the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy through its Agencies and parastatals in conjunction with global and local organizations have embarked on massive trainings of Nigerians across the country. Technology training centres are being established across board to facilitate access to skills.
The Academia, his constituency, is challenged to disrupt the curriculum and produce practical graduates of repute, who have the requisite skills to fit into a digital world. The response has been overwhelming as he personally takes his message to each campus; from kashere to Gombe, to Minna, to Kano to Lagos, Port Harcourt. Even to secondary schools. To listen to Dr Pantami mentor, teach and lecture these young ones about the importance of technological skills, you see a leader with a vision, a man in his elements and a true believer in the greatness of humanity. It is a given that he, more than any other youth in leadership, inspires a whole generation of Nigerians. The learned community is solidly behind one of their own, and at this rate, I humbly opine that the Nigerian Educational Curriculum is due for an overhaul streamlined within the requirements of a Digital Economy.
A Digital Economy is an enabler, capable of catapulting any aspect of our economy to any desired level. It is the platform on which a strong, durable and lasting foundation of global relevance and true economic empowerment can thrive. A digitalized economy is a transparent, progressive society that works, and it is easy to see how Dr Pantami would be drawn to such a cause considering his personality.
As the grand master of Nigeria’s Digital Economy Policy, my very thorough and realistic boss did not harbour any delusions about the challenges that came with the territory. He knew that his position as the pioneer Minister of a Digital Economy and his mission to change the status quo, would encounter both natural and man-made obstacles and he came ready. Pantami knew that to forge ahead, he would sometimes have to step out of his comfort zone and he is never one, to shy away from responsibility. Pantami sees and conducts himself as a federal minister, a nationalist, a patriot who is not restrained or confined by the artificial barriers and borders that limit productivity.
The potentially, economically crippling effects of the Right of Way (RoW) impasse between the state governors and Mobile Network Operators recently was effectively resolved in a professional and effective manner only an experienced conflict resolution expert can manage. Without further escalation of issues, he initiated and mediated in the process that saw some erstwhile aggrieved parties come to an agreement that averted a security and economic crisis. From a standpoint of a ten thousand naira rate, from the one hundred and forty five naira per linear metre, some state governors extended a total waiver as a gesture of support to building a digital economy. In a similar manner, he intervened in the face off between officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and service providers at the height of the Infrastructure maintenance crisis. Dr Pantami is currently obsessed with deploying telecommunications infrastructure across the country to greatly reduce, if not eradicate the over forty million underserved or unserved populace and to ensure the price of data is further reviewed downwards. “An increase in BroadBand penetration results in a phenomenal rise in the GDP of an economy” he enthuses. He has put in place an ambitious 5 year (2020 – 2025) broadband plan, aimed at achieving over 70% penetration as against the current 38.9%. Numerous studies have found a correlation between economic growth and broadband penetration.
With the emphasis on Digital Literacy and Skills, building a digital workforce, producing employers of labour, support and partnerships to drive indigenous innovation and a steady increase in broadband penetration, any economy will experience massive growth. He constituted a National Broadband Plan Committee, based purely on merit and proven competence, with a six week deadline that was met. The ultimate goal is to achieve about 70% penetration, but I can bet my salary that my boss has a 100% plan B agenda. Pantami is ambitious, very ambitious, extremely driven and a near perfectionist. He motivates people and brings out the best in them, indeed Ms Funke Opeke, the Committee’s Chair, would agree with me that working under his guidance is a life changing experience.
Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, FNCS, FBCS, FIIM, MCPN is truly an extraordinary human being. He embodies loyalty to authority and country as it is clear even to the blind that all his actions are geared towards achieving national goals. Leveraging on technology to fight insecurity, corruption and building a viable, stable digital economy. I read somewhere a very long time ago, that for every generation, a leader is raised for the greatness of a people. Sometimes, it is not the absence of a leader or leadership, but the ability to recognize, accept and support what has been given, is what really makes the difference.
Current statistics prove beyond every reasonable and unreasonable doubt that Nigeria has the very rare advantages of a massive youthful population, a considerable number of them being digital natives and an outstanding world of talent yet largely untapped, almost bursting at the seams. Pantami’s goal is to harness these talents, develop them, promote indigenous innovation, place this country on a technologically global pedestal that will secure the future we all dream and seek. To be left behind in this infinite tech race is to confine ourselves to a life of perpetual servitude.
The truth must be told however obvious it already is, and the truth is that the youths of Nigeria must recognize those who have demonstrated the capacity and discipline required to propel us to greatness. No silver – armour- wearing- figure, is going to pop out of the sky like spider man or voltron and perform magic, spinning webs and wielding magical swords. The youths especially, should strive to change the narrative and bring real value to the table. Technology is a leveler, it has no gender, no religion, no ethnicity, an open and infinite resource. Pantami is a unifier selflessly enabling that platform. A captain who knows his ship and steers it in very familiar waters with focus, good judgment, courage, discipline, justice and a determination to get to the desired destination safely. We need to wake up in earnest and heed this clarion call to save ourselves from perpetual obscurity and join hands with the progressive and result oriented Honourable Minister to develop our God-given resources for the good of all.
The difference between Dr Pantami and the vast majority of public office holders is implementation. Like he says; “We have a very fantastic blueprint across all sectors. But we cannot sit in our offices and expect people to comply like angels, we must go out there, to ensure these laws are implemented. Our work is on the fields”. Believe me, most of us have never encountered a more dogged and law abiding personality like Pantami. Again, as he says, “we cannot do it alone”. Pantami’s watch word is POSSIBILITY nurtured by competence and a determination to succeed. If the quest for leadership, courage, focus, resilience, intelligence, vision, youth, patriotism, selflessness, justice and worthy mentorship, has been solved by the emergence of Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) what obstacles can prevent us as a people and a nation from achieving greatness?
Uwa Suleiman is spokesperson to the Honourable Minister of Communications & Digital Economy.