NCC: Consolidating On Research for a Stronger Digital Nigeria
By Ntia Usukuma
In the last few years, one agency of government that has made efforts to seek how research works from universities can be utilized for national development is the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The Commission’s passion for research rose to a crescendo last year when the NCC pledged more collaboration with universities in the country towards transforming Nigeria into a knowledge-based economy.
The pledge was made when the Chairman of the NCC board, Prof. Adeolu Akande paid a courtesy visit to Prof. Sagir Abbas the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK). NCC Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde s who released a statement at that time explained that “The NCC superintends a sector that is knowledge-driven and therefore, it can only achieve its mandate with enhanced collaboration with institutions such as BUK.
“In the absence of the citadels of learning, one could only imagine what would have become of the communications industry. So, if we come to Kano, we need to come to the prime centre of learning in Kano and other universities.”
A few months ago, the pledge was reinforced at another level when The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, and his top management team met with the management of Nile University of Nigeria, at the Commission’s Head Office in Abuja.
Danbatta, in his address to the management of Nile University of Nigeria, declared that that one of the cardinal pillars underpinning the Commission’s Strategic Management Plan is strategic partnerships with relevant stakeholders, through mutually sustainable collaborations.
In his words “The Commission will remain fully committed to ensuring synergy, through its strategic collaborations with relevant stakeholders, such as the Nile University of Nigeria, to ensure that the overall socio-economic development objectives of the Federal Government of Nigeria are met,”
Earlier, the Vice-Chancellor of Nile University, Prof. Osman Aras, who led the delegation, said the institution was open to public-private partnership and synergy with NCC, as it has done with other government institutions, to enhance human capital development in the country.
Effective utilisation of research findings is vital to the growth and development of any nation. It shows a mark of sincere commitment to wealth creation in building a strong economy. In Nigeria, with the government’s drive towards diversification, the volume of scientific research produced at the universities and research institutions provides a veritable source of revenue generation.
In July 2018, the federal government launched guidelines on commercialisation of research results and inventions to commercialise the numerous research results.
But the challenges facing researchers in Nigeria go beyond guidelines for commercialisation which lie at the root of some of the country’s developmental problems. Some research findings are lying unused in many tertiary and research institutions across the country.
What some science institutes like the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), have tried to do is to develop the contextual processing protocol in mapping natural resources across the 36 states of the federation, and establish processing mechanisms using the universities and local people to harness local products, process and get them to either the Nigerian market or ready for exportation.
Incidentally, in our national experience that we don’t have many wealthy individuals who are funding specific forms of research as it is done in other climes. This is clearly what NCC is working towards achieving.
Although another issue that may be at stake is the credibility of research institutions. Sponsors want to make sure that their investments are result-driven and not diverted for other uses. It is only a few reliable individuals and organisations in Nigeria that enjoy incubation or developing funding from known donor agencies including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to be able to do research projects in Nigeria.
It is quite commendable that a government agency like NCC is partnering with private organisations to develop human capacity and the needed infrastructure. The next level for all stakeholders is to develop the appetite to picking up research results and utilising them for purposes of developing products and services. In other words, some investors are reluctant to key into the litany of research results or prototypes that are already available in laboratories across the nation yearning for commercialisation.
Numerous products are patented yet the challenges of taking them to the market are there. Technology transfer licensing is seen as a prerequisite for successful commercialisation even though experts believe that there is the poor culture of understanding, comprehension and maturity of intellectual property system in the country. According to authorities, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, among others, remain intangibles, prototypes, or examples of solutions until they are converted to create value in society.
Apart from the increasing drive towards research in Nigeria, The NCC is presently gathering momentum to help Nigeria pick up the pace and join Kenya and South Africa as one of the few countries pioneering 5G deployment in Africa. This would be one of the most strategic steps towards creating a stronger digital Nigeria.
This is the expected pace after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the communications satellite firm, NigcomSat, to allow 5G services to ride on its C-band frequency spectrum. This spectrum accounts for 60-70% of the commercial deployment of 5G networks globally.
“The importance of this spectrum for early deployment of 5G services in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized,” Umar Garba Danbatta, vice-chair of the said in a statement.
In 2020, the NCC began coordinating with stakeholders to create policies governing the commercial implementation of 5G. Last year, the government also actively dispelled health-related concerns regarding the technology and conspiracy theories associating 5G with the coronavirus pandemic.
The NCC has high hopes that the tech will “improve the way Nigerians live and work” by advancing smart transportation, medicine, manufacturing, the internet of things, and more.
Even the Senate had approved the deployment of the 5G network in Nigeria, following the outcome of investigations by a Joint Committee mandated to carry out same. The approval followed the consideration of the report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Science and Technology, ICT and Cyber Crimes, and Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases. The report was laid and presented by the Chairman, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central), during plenary a few months ago.
The upper chamber amid the adopted recommendations posited that the technological impact of 5G will revolutionize Nigerians’ way of life from education to agriculture, security to entertainment, and governance in general if the technology is deployed.
The Senate, however, added that though no license has been issued to any Mobile Number Operator on a commercial basis, Nigeria should still use the next 6 months to observe the trend of 5G deployments around the globe and engage in extensive sensitization of the public through all channels before the commencement of commercial deployments in the country. This observation and sensitization period should end before December this year.
The digital agenda of the federal government seems to be gaining momentum, as such a transformation programme promises to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the populace.
This area the 5G technology will particularly be very useful. In the words of President Buhari, “We have to take advantage of digital technology. This will go a long way in supporting our efforts to improve the security of lives and property.”
The digital society as one of the pillars of the digital policy, aimed at integrating every component of the society into the digital economy including the federal, state, and local governments. It is a total integration while giving priority to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the internet of things, cybersecurity, among others.
As the direction of the world today is towards digital economy, the absolute approach to ICT by all the sectors of the Nigerian economy is changing remarkably.
Nigeria has the highest number of smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa. That means Nigeria, ordinarily, has a bigger opportunity and access to innovation and using technology for growth. Given Nigeria’s large, young entrepreneurial population, digital entrepreneurship could become an engine of growth. It is a huge potential that lies ahead of us if indeed, we were to get on the highway of the digital economy.
Digital economy is best achieved when small-scale businesses in the private sector employ the platform to run their activities. Through this, the level of appreciation is upscale, such that there is a move away from analogue psychology into digital psychology.
Digital economy is the direction of the world today. There is a need to focus more on digital economy. According to the Ministry, $11.5trn was generated in 2016 through digital economy. As part of the Covid-19 pandemic containment strategy, it becomes necessary to accelerate the process of implementing the digital economy in Nigeria.