Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy

2021 Budget: NASS okays N39.3bn for Communications and Digital Economy Ministry

*ICT contributes 17.83% to Nigeria’s GDP in Q2 2020 up from 13% achieved by previous administrations, says Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Minister for Communications and Digital Economy

*Says if we provide enough skills for our citizens, we will be producing more potential employers and entrepreneurs

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

To further push the frontiers of Nigeria’s drive to play significantly in the emerging digital economy, the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Communications, ICT and Cybercrimes have approved N39.3 billion budget for Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy for 2021 fiscal year.

ConsumerConnect gathered the Joint Committee approved the budget after the 2020/2021 budget defence session by Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy.

Dr. Pantami was said to have explained that the ICT contributes 17.83% to the country’s GDP in the Q2 of 2020 up from 13% achieved by previous administrations.

The Minister had earlier disclosed the sector’s priorities to include “plans completion of 70% access to Broadband connectivity by 2025 from the present 41.27%; and execution plan to deploy 4G backbone across the country.”

Other are to “digitise all government functions and processes by 2023 (e-governance); develop and implement digital economy strategy; support implementation of digital identity programme; improve supervision and optimise revenues from all operators and licenses in agencies under the Ministry’s supervision; among others.”

However, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe in his contribution, expressed his disappointment at the failure of several Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which he said fritter away multi-billion Naira annually for ICT services, instead of using Galaxy Backbone, a public-owned ICT company in the country.

Rep. Akeem Adeyemi, , said the exercise would enable the Legislature to identify projects that have been concluded; those that are ongoing; those that remain unexecuted; and the reasons, if any, why some projects are not executed.

Adeyemi who observed that effective deployment of ICT would enhance productivity in virtually all human endeavours cannot be overemphasised stressed the need for the Ministry to give its stewardship of the plans towards the establishment of the ICT University of Nigeria; Smart City Project; ICT Hub Centres and ICT Parks all of which are components of the National ICT Road Maps.

Chairman of House Committee on Telecommunications stated: “It is our belief that if Nigeria must realise the full benefits that accrue to the country from digital economy, the ICT sector in Nigeria, spearheaded by the Ministry must sufficiently promote the utilisation of ICT infrastructure and participation in the ICT economy by Nigerians with a view to using same to promote good governance and digital service delivery in the country.

“With the current high level of development and deployment of ICT worldwide, it is expected that Nigeria, at the moment, should be able to tap into the capabilities of digital technology to proffer digital solutions not only to the insecurity of lives and property but to other social and economic endeavours of Nigerians.”

Nonetheless, on the 2020 budget implementation, the Federal lawmaker demanded an explanation on the “noticeable disparities between total approvals and total releases whereby total amount released for the 1st and 2nd Quarters are much higher than actual approvals.”

Adeyemi specifically queried the utilisation of multi-billion Naira released so far for the implementation of a number of projects, which he observed “are still either awaiting BPP approval or the procurement process is ongoing.

“Can the Honourable Minister guarantee this Joint Committee that projects in these categories would be executed before the expiration of the current fiscal year?”

Pantami explained: “Firstly, some of the issues the Chairman Senate Committee raised like in paragraph 4, number 1, about the position of ICT University establishing smart city and ICT parks.

“On the issue of ICT University, I think the issue came up before I was appointed minister, it was part of 2017/2018 deliberations, based on information available to the office of Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, that proposal was not approved by the Federal Executive Council chaired by Mr. President.

“I think the main issue at that time, other stakeholders were not involved in the process. For example, the Minister of Education and the National University Commission (NUC) were not accommodated in the process.

“So, during deliberation when the Ministry of Education disclosed that they were not accommodated, the FEC then didn’t approve it.

“Secondly today, maybe we don’t give it the priority, our major challenge in the country, ICT sector, is not just about you establishing a university but what is more important is providing digital skills to our citizens.

“Many developed and developing nations are reducing the number of their universities. In China, they announced that they are in the process of converting 600 universities to skills centre.”

The Minister further clarified that “most of our graduates today lack the skills required, they only focus more on getting certificates.

“They only focus on theory, and when you employ them, you need to train them all through because the skills are not there. Now it’s because of this that focus of the world is not on certificate but skills.

“This committee will agree with me that one of the major challenge confronting all of is the issue of our constituency disturbing us with recruitment. Many graduates do not have appointments and the vacancies are not enough.”

On why certain projects were not included in the 2021 budget proposal, Pantami also said: “It’s because our main target now is to focus more on providing skills for our citizens and there’s one very important benefit we can drive from that.

“If we provide enough skills for our citizens, we will be producing more potential employers and entrepreneurs.

But when we focus more on universities we will be producing potential employees. So it’s because to reduce the burden of unemployment, we focus more on producing digital innovators and entrepreneurs.”

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