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NIGERIA AND SMART AFRICA ALLIANCE’S DIGITAL TRAIN


Nigeria’s membership of SMART Africa will boost access to broadband and usage of ICT, reckons Ibrahim Hassan


The drivers of Nigeria’s digitalization process are widely applauded for their proactive initiatives to maximize the country’s gain from Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Nigeria has progressively bridged the digital divide in the country, with plans to extend services to other African countries; its capacity is boosted by the establishment of state-of-the-art Data Centres (Tier 3 & Tier 4) operated by the Nation’s ICT Operator and Service Provider, Messrs. Galaxy Backbone Limited (GBB). With about 2.2PB storage capacity and 41TB Memory of the Data Centres coupled with its robust Fibre Infrastructure coverage, that spans over 5,000km and transverses almost 30 states; 13 in the South and 17 in the North including the FCT. GBB is poised to boost broadband penetration within and across the country.


Digital infrastructure has steadily and rapidly emerged as the world’s most precious asset. And Africa doesn’t want to be left behind. “But it has taken a long time for government in Nigeria to realize its huge economic potential,” remarks Michael Smith, an international ICT expert. Evidence of this, he says, is that it was only recently that Nigeria became a member of the Smart Africa Alliance, despite being a leading member of the African Union (AU) and despite efforts made by the Board of Smart Africa at various fora to see that Nigeria key into the Alliance. “Indeed, the good news is that Nigeria has taken her seat in the train of the Smart Africa Alliance, which has since grown to include 37 African countries that represent over 1 billion people,” Smith enthuses.  


The breakthrough in the effort to bring Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, to the train of Smart Africa Alliance, came with the emergence of Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in 2019. After series of engagements with various stakeholders within the digital economy ecosystem in September 2022, the minister took the bold step of securing the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to formalise the entry of Nigeria into the Smart Africa Alliance. GBB was designated Nigeria’s coordinator and focal point. On Thursday, 20th April, 2023, a 12-member Nigeria Smart Africa Alliance Working Group (NgSAAwg) was inaugurated. The group is chaired by Dr. Nasir Aliyu Shinkafi, Chief Information Security and Business Continuity Officer with Galaxy Backbone, who had been appointed by Galaxy Backbone Limited as the coordinator and focal point for Nigeria at the Smart Africa Alliance. The group comprises: one, a representative of Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMC&DE), two, a representative of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA); a representative of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); three representatives from Galaxy Backbone Limited (GBB); a representative of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA); a representative of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); a representative of Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC); a representative of Nigeria Communication Satellite Company Limited (NIGCOMSAT); a representative of Nigeria POSTAL Service (NIPOST) and a representative of Nigerian Data Protection Bureau (NDPB). The story of Smart Africa Alliance began with the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda from 28th – 31st October 2013. It led to the adoption of the Smart Africa Manifesto document by seven African Heads of States (Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso) in which they committed to provide leadership in accelerating socio-economic development through ICTs. On 30 January, 2014, the SMART Africa Manifesto was endorsed by all Heads of State and Government of the African Union at the 22nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly in Addis Ababa. This development places the manifesto at the heart of the ICT agenda in Africa beyond just the seven original signatories at the summit, but to all the 53 African countries. The Alliance is a framework for implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SMART Africa Manifesto designed to make it actionable.


Currently, the Alliance is a partnership bringing together all African countries adhering to the manifesto represented by the AU, the ITU, World Bank, AfDB, ECA, the GSMA, ICANN and the private sector. Dr. Shinkafi puts the Alliance in context: “SMART Africa is a bold and innovative commitment from African Heads of State and Government to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent, ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to Broadband and usage of Information and Communications Technologies.” How important is Nigeria’s membership of the Alliance? “The Alliance has a lot of expectations from Nigeria,” says Dr. Shinkafi. “Firstly, the highly unprecedented successes and excellent performance recorded in the Digital Economy sector from August 2019 to date, under the supervision of Professor Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, are worthy of emulation by our sister African Countries. Some member states had indicated interest and are also seeking for collaboration in various areas such as developmental policy and regulation, infrastructure (e.g., the robust public infrastructure in GBB), digital literacy, skills, knowledge transfer and capacity building among others. “Overall, owing to so many factors, such as, appreciable number of uniquely identified citizens through the NIN, young and skilled population, the market size, broadband and cloud infrastructure in other private sector players, fintech proliferation and start-ups, enabling environment provided by the Government, etc., Nigeria is viewed as a role model that could facilitate the integration of all the flagship projects from other member states to form a unique digital market for Africa. This initiative will further confirm our position of leadership in the African digital economy ecosystem which will bring numerous digital transformation benefits into Nigeria. The working group is expected to drive initiatives that will propel the country’s reputation through collaboration, capacity building, talent and knowledge transfer, job creation, wealth creation and sourcing for start-ups’ financing and investing opportunities through the continuous support of the coordinating agency and focal point.” Dr. Shinkafi further elaborates on the ample opportunities that the Alliance will bring to the start-up and digital economy ecosystem: “It serves as a single umbrella that brings the entire Africa in one place to discuss about digital inclusion, digital adoption and digital acceleration within the African continent. To achieve this, a lot of funding partners, foreign investors and even angel investors will come in to support the start-ups and digital economy infrastructural development initiatives of the government. Through the Alliance, Nigeria will support member countries to develop their own start-up policy and guidelines. It will promote our infrastructural development as a nation and showcase our indigenous solutions thereby securing funding for their scaling up.

Consequently, our infrastructure and the start-up ecosystem will witness a boost as a result of this possibility.” Galaxy Backbone Limited (GBB), as the ICT operator of government, is well positioned to play the role of focal point for Nigeria at the Alliance. GBB has facilitated the operationalisation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2020 – 2030, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. Nigeria is expected to conceive and launch a flagship project that will align the country to the Alliance. The target flagship project will be a smart and an all-inclusive one that will bring abundant benefits to Nigerians and Africans at large. One such projects would be a one-stop shop initiative that will integrate all other flagship projects leading to the transformation of Africa into a Single Digital Market. Besides the Smart Africa initial membership, other organizations and countries sharing the same vision, interests and goals will be admitted to the Alliance.


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