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Five minutes with Nigeria's communications minister

Nigeria , 04 May 2017

Five minutes with Nigeria's communications minister

When the current administration in Nigeria took over leadership, many stakeholders in the technology ecosystem were anxious to know who would be nominated as communications minister.

While several names were put forward, a significant proportion of industry players were sceptical when President Muhammadu Buhari swore in Barrister Adebayo Shittu to take over from Omobola Johnson.

ITWeb Africa spoke to Shittu briefly about the industry and issues like internet freedom.

Paul Adepoju: What is your assessment of Nigeria's communications landscape?

Adebayo Shittu: I came on board at a time that we can see that the industry has started. All that I needed to do is to put more impetus into its operations and I believe that if you ask stakeholders they will tell you that they are satisfied with me - notwithstanding the fact that when initially I was appointed, there was scepticism because I was not an ICT person. But I've tried to learn as much as I can, I've also tried to collaborate and partner with stakeholders, and having regard to my balanced education and exposure, I believe that I have been doing the best to move the industry forward.

Paul Adepoju What is the government's official position on internet freedom?

Adebayo Shittu: I would like to make it clear to everyone that Nigeria is a free country, Nigeria is working to be among the most well-run democracies on the African continent... I can assure you that the Nigerian government under the current administration will not do anything to violate internet freedom.

Paul Adepoju: Poor local participation in Nigeria's telecoms landscape has been a critical issue and the local market still relies extensively on importation. What are you doing to address this issue?

Adebayo Shittu: Nigeria's government will not directly intervene in production, all that we do is to engage in advocacy – to encourage Nigerians to go into manufacturing; we also go a long way in encouraging the private sector to come and produce. Already we have an enabling environment. As we have been able to guarantee an enabling environment for the GSM companies, we will also do so for the manufacturers. The Nigerian market is reliable, today we have about 150 million active telephone lines, which means (that) these telephone lines continue to require telephone devices to operate. The market is there and it is a producer's market; it is also a seller's market. We will do what we need to do to improve the operating environment.

The labour market is very cheap, the selling market is available and reliable – very expansive, Nigerians themselves are a very ebullient people who are very discussant. Entrepreneurs and manufacturers will be welcome in that sector. Once we have enough producing capacity in Nigeria, even if it requires the government regulating further the importation, we will do it to protect the local market.

Paul Adepoju: As minister, you have visited some countries like China and elsewhere where a lot of advancements have been made in their tech ecosystem. What lessons have you learnt from such countries and when can we expect such lessons to be applied in Nigeria's tech ecosystem?

Adebayo Shittu: One thing that I've observed is that one market is quite different from the other and while we can say that some are more advanced, Nigeria is not doing bad because our data are among the most impressive globally. We are learning from other countries about how we can support the local players and we are also trying to apply what we've learnt about encouraging foreign investors to come and invest in the tech system. We are already applying them and we are seeing positive results.

Paul Adepoju: There are growing concerns that your administration has not been able to actively engage with tech startups in the country as one would expect, particularly considering the efforts made by your predecessor to support the growth of the startup landscape. How do you respond to that concern?

Adebayo Shittu: I disagree with you on that because we are actively working with the startups in order to achieve growth in the sector. I have visited several hubs and I am in talks with many stakeholders in order to know what problems they are struggling with and how we can support them. Don't forget that there are limited ways the government can get involved and the best we can do is to provide an enabling environment for startups to thrive which is something we are consciously and actively doing.

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