For the second consecutive year, the Nigerian Defence College has asked my boss; Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami the minister of Communications and Digital Economy to serve in the capacity of its guest lecturer at the graduation ceremony and training lecture of courses 28 and 29 respectively. He obliged them both times.
This year, the wall watchers invited him to dissect the topic; ‘National Security in Nigeria: Emerging Technologies and Prospects for Enhanced Military Operations’.
The world over, the Military still retains the gold standard for ethics and discipline and will expectedly, only give honour to who is deserving of it. More often than not, once!
There is a very valid and compelling reason for a civilian to make the honoured list, not once but twice, at that level. That reason forms the topic of this discourse pulled right from the Motto of the Defence College itself; Intellect, Courage and Patriotism.
As I watched my boss, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), do justice to the topic of the day, precisely on the 16th of March 2021, I thought it was ironic how the words aptly described him to the tee.
The Digital Economy sector in Nigeria, is not only a reality today, but has become the tool of change, and the platform for the paradigm shift which has breathed new life in the nation’s economy. Nigeria as it is today, is driven by the well thought out and strategically implemented principles of a digital economy.
There is no sector in Nigeria today that is excluded from the magic of digitalization no matter how subtle. At the very least, official virtual engagements have become a norm from the Federal Executive Council, the highest decision making body in the country, down to interpersonal interactions, ensuring that the Nigerian nation thrives economically and politically where it may have shut down in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic.
With a growth rate of 12.90% in 2020, and a further 14.70% in the fourth quarter, ICT emerged the most performing sector in the economy, according to the National Bureau of Statistics Report for the year 2020 and so far in 2021.
The sector also outranked all the other top six performers combined, in its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and remains the only sector to have grown at a double digit rate. All other six top sectors, including agriculture, health, public administration, construction and real estate combined, recorded a 14.21% growth.
Factually speaking, Dr Pantami has surpassed the target he set for his sector within a specified time frame and has done more than most, to deservedly stand where he stands today. But I have deliberately singled out these two eternal foundational institutions because; they reflect clearly the virtues of intellect, courage and patriotism.
It takes an intellectually sound mind, an unusually courageous character and an unapologetic sense of patriotism (all of which my Boss has demonstrated in no small measure) to discharge ones duties with military precision and unwavering resilience in our peculiar climes.
On a recent official visit to the Minister, the Director General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), Mallam Dasuki Arabi, described him as the hero of reforms.
Pantami does not engage in superficial, white elephant projects, he establishes concrete, reformative foundations that are deeply rooted in the present while setting the agenda for the future.
His actions are intentional and guided; nothing is accidental or left to chance. Like clockwork, the agenda for the future is sustained deploying constitutional powers. Ideas are birthed, honed and fine-tuned into policies; sustainable, impactful policies.
In Nigeria today, the digital economy sector is easily the most performing sector, credited with ensuring that the country exited the recession even ahead of global super economies and way ahead of the projected timeline by experts. These unprecedented feats, made possible by the leadership, intellect, courage and patriotism brought to firmly bear in the sector, have formed the bedrock of his leadership style in the last two years.
To attempt a detailed enumeration of Pantami’s achievements in his two years in office will require some sort of tome. I shall therefore, broadly categorise them as Policies and Projects. Within two years in office where he inherited a single policy sponsored by the South Korean government, the proactive, young intellectual has personally written, supervised and directed sixteen national policies – twelve of them already in full effect and four awaiting approval from the Federal Executive Council, as at the time of this publication. A critical analysis of these policies reveals an almost perfectly paired sustainable solution to every single existing economic challenge.
No Policy is less important than the other, but it is understandable to lay emphasis on the Nigerian Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020 – 2030 and of course, the National Policy on NIN/SIM registration as the guiding principles of Pantami’s success story.
The eight pillars of NDEPS are all encompassing and of course, the importance of Broadband to a digital economy should not be understated. Global Industry experts have pegged a 1.6 – 1.8% increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of any economy to a 10% increase in Broadband penetration.
The intellectual strategist reversed the fortunes of a hitherto comatose resource, catapulting it from a 33.3%, attained over a nineteen year period, to a staggering 10% penetration rate within a year thus, earning his pride of place in the economic history of Nigeria.
In spite of the expected furore generated by the Revised National Policy on NIN/SIM Registration, it undoubtedly achieved the desired effect with the relevant authorities as attested to, earlier on in this discourse. The NIMC Act of 2007, had existed for fourteen years prior to Dr Pantami taking charge as the Commission’s supervisor. Resuscitating and implementing it is one of the most profound fulfillments of the commitment to the security of citizens by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. For one, it lays a solid foundation for the much needed national database.
Within the same time frame, one thousand, six hundred and sixty seven (1,667) digital centres and projects have been established nationwide with almost three hundred thousand (300,000) direct beneficiaries of various capacity building programmes.
His well-known advocacy for proven skills over mere paper qualifications is justifiable from any standpoint and he is bridging the unemployment and unemployability gap.
The first of its kind in Africa, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics has been established in Nigeria and as intended, it has become a budding field of reality for the dreams of young indigenous minds.
The centre has become a fertile ground for digital innovation, especially in the area of Artificial Intelligence. A few months later, he performed the ground breaking ceremony for the establishment of the National Digital Innovation and Entreprenuership Centre. Surely, the magnitude of this impact cannot be lost on anyone.
More than anything else, Dr Pantami has proven beyond any reasonable or unreasonable doubt that what it takes to effect change is the will to uphold the law, the intellect to chart a course, the integrity to be just, enough patriotism to be disciplined and selfless and the courage to stay the course against all odds.
These are not easy virtues and are not for the faint hearted. I have witnessed my boss proffer solutions to crippling challenges every day for an intense two years, I have witnessed first – hand, the true meaning of loyalty, I have understood like never before, that impossibility is nothing.
Dr Pantami has characteristically reinvented the Ministry and the sector he oversees by sheer dint of mind blowing determination and hardwork .
Dr Pantami has, more than any other Nigerian leader, explored, leveraged and deployed the tools of technology to change the narrative in our nation’s history.
The offices of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy have become the hallowed grounds where impactful, pro-Nigeria partnerships are formed, where Nigeria is placed on the global map through the right policy formulation and direction.
The Honourable Minister plays host to global tech giants and professionals from all walks of life who recognize the vision that drives Dr Pantami, his quest for a relevant future for Nigeria and the potential he believes can work. Those who seek to key into the Pantami vision for a digital Nigeria.
He has within two years, harmonized the industry and entrenched professionalism to a point where global attention is definitely on the nation’s digital economy.
My Boss, my teacher, as you achieve a two year milestone with a ten year score card, I pray that history be kind to you, may your legacies bring hope to generations yet unborn and may your name be written in gold in Nigeria’s history.
*Uwa Suleiman is the spokesperson to Dr. Isa Pantami, minister of Communications and Digital Economy (Nigeria).