By Johnson Ademola
In the midst of political tumult and upheaval, there is a tale of remarkable progress emerging from Nigeria’s telecom landscape. It’s a story that should be celebrated, for it signifies a beacon of hope in a time of widespread despair. At the helm of this transformative journey is Umar Garba Danbatta, a professor of telecommunications engineering, and the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The numbers tell a compelling story. Since the advent of GSM and the expansion of broadband infrastructure, Nigeria’s telecom sector has attracted a staggering $77 billion in investment. What’s even more impressive is that $39 billion of this sum flowed into the sector during Danbatta’s eight-year tenure as the regulator. Moreover, the sector now contributes a substantial 16 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a remarkable increase from the 8 percent it contributed in 2015 when Danbatta assumed the role of EVC.
This meteoric rise in the telecom sector reflects the surging demand for telecommunications services across various sectors of the Nigerian economy, from agriculture and commerce to education. It’s a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the industry, which weathered global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recessions while maintaining its bullish stance.
Danbatta credits this remarkable journey to “thorough sustained regulatory excellence and operational efficiency” by the NCC. Indeed, telecom has become a shining example of local content development, with significant growth in digital innovation, human capital development, and skills acquisition among Nigeria’s youth. This has enabled them to compete on a global stage, earning recognition from multinationals and international agencies alike.
In financial terms, the telecom sector continues to make a significant contribution to the national economy. A report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicates that telecom and information services added a substantial N2.508 trillion to Nigeria’s GDP in the first quarter of 2023, representing 14.13 percent.
One of the sector’s forward-looking strategies is the adoption of 5G technology, positioning Nigeria as one of the early adopters in the global digital economy. This bold move paid off handsomely, generating $820.8 million for the federal government from 5G spectrum license fees paid by operators like MTN, MAFAB, and Airtel.
But that’s not all. The recent launch of Starlinks broadband services, a satellite-based wireless broadband offering with nationwide coverage potential, is another feather in Danbatta’s cap. This service, made possible by the NCC’s issuance of a license to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX, is already available in various parts of the country.
Under Danbatta’s leadership, the number of telephone users in Nigeria has surged to 218.9 million, while internet subscribers and broadband users now stand at 159.5 million and 88.7 million, respectively. These figures, coupled with the creation of jobs, both direct and auxiliary, during a period when other sectors were shrinking, have earned Nigeria the respect of international bodies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The telecom sector’s growth, as evidenced by its consistent 16 percent contribution to GDP, demonstrates its resilience in the face of socio-economic and political challenges. It prompts us to ask how such growth was achieved in an environment plagued by erratic electricity supply, ethnic and religious divides, Right of Way (RoW) disputes, fiber cuts, high capital requirements, multiple taxations, infrastructure vandalism, and regulatory hurdles. The answer lies in Danbatta’s unwavering commitment to innovation and active engagement with stakeholders, all for the betterment of the sector and the nation’s economy at large.
Nigeria can draw inspiration from the telecom sector’s success story. If the goal is to elevate Nigeria into the ranks of the world’s top 20 economies, the federal government must replicate the triumphs of the telecom sector in other industries. Danbatta’s leadership has shown that with vision and dedication, Nigeria can indeed achieve greatness.
In the grand scheme of economic transformation, the telecom sector’s journey under Danbatta’s stewardship has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. Beyond its undeniable contributions to the GDP and job creation, it has paved the way for profound advancements in entertainment, banking, agriculture, e-commerce, and various primary sector frontiers. The steady rise in quarterly GDP contribution, now at a phenomenal 16 percent, means that the telecom sector has successfully insulated itself from the socio-economic and political vagaries that have stymied growth in other sectors.
So, how did Danbatta and other stakeholders in the telecom industry achieve this remarkable feat? It’s a question that warrants deeper exploration. How did telecom transition from mere kilobytes to terabytes in growth, market size, and innovativeness in an environment where electricity supply remains horrendously erratic? How did it rise above the divisive forces of ethnicity and religious affiliations that have plagued the nation’s public discourse and rendered it ineffective? The telecom sector’s resilience in the face of challenges like Right of Way (RoW) disputes, fiber cuts, high capital requirements, multiple taxations, infrastructure vandalism, and complex regulations deserves a closer look.
The answers to these questions lie in the unwavering commitment of Danbatta and his team to finding innovative solutions and actively engaging stakeholders for the greater good of the sector and the larger economy. They have demonstrated that a robust regulatory environment, coupled with visionary leadership, can lead to extraordinary growth and prosperity.
Nigeria now stands at a pivotal crossroads. The success of the telecom sector serves as a blueprint for what can be achieved in other industries. If the vision is to leapfrog Nigeria into the exclusive club of the world’s top 20 economies, then the federal government must replicate the summer success recorded in telecom across various sectors. Danbatta’s leadership has shown that with dedication, innovation, and visionary leadership, Nigeria can indeed become a global economic powerhouse.