My first visit to Nigeria

The smart Nigerian lady Minister of Communications and IT, with a slight British accent, is a truly amazing person – something I witnessed during the 2-day “retreat” of Nigeria’s USPF (Universal Service Provisioning Fund). More about it after some backdrop.

USPF Nigeria was established under the National Communications Act 2003 and has not been doing really well, though still one of the best in Africa. In 5 years it has not achieved what it set to achieve – internet to 474 schools country-wide is the biggest achievement that one speaks about. And even here the target was far higher. Other than that they have set up some Community Communication Centers (CCCs) and installed 50 to 60 BTS towers. USPF Nigeria is a part of the Telecom Regulator NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission), which in turn is run by capable and experienced persons like Chairman (Peter Igoh) and Executive Vice-Chairman (Eugene Juwah).

The Minister, Ms Omobola Johnson, an Electronics Engineer from University of Manchester, was previously Country Managing Director of Accenture in Nigeria. She took over the newly formed Ministry 6 months ago and says that she is convinced that ICT infrastructure is as important as roads, rail and power networks and that Broadband network penetration in Nigeria should be doubled to 12% in 3 years. The draft of new ICT Policy, which also calls for a converged regulator, has been issued. And towards the end of 2011 USPF also got a new Head (they call it Secretary USPF) Abdullahi Maikano who was formerly head of projects at NCC.  Abdullahi Maikano (ably assisted by Kelechi Nwankwo) looks really excited in his new job and shows a great passion of wanting to make a difference.

One of the steps taken, under guidance of Ms Johnson, in order to revitalize USPF was to organize a two-day “retreat” – a gathering of all the Government-side players involved with USPF, like: Ministry, Regulator, Advisors, USPF Board Members, USPF Management, etc. together with the consultants (USAID/GBI’s David Townsend, myself and the KPMG team, who was also responsible for conducting and moderating the event, which they did marvelously) at Abuja. The objective of it all was to work out a Strategic Management Plan (SMP) for USPF. An SMP including redefining USPF’s Vision and Mission statements, its goals, KPIs and the way forward to achieve those.

A typical private sector-like exercise, the retreat started on Friday morning 9 am and continued right up to Saturday evening 9 pm – both days, 12-hours each! 24 hours of grueling work during the 2 days included presentations, discussions, debates, analyses and breakout workshop sessions. Thirty people and not one did I notice looking at his/her watch even after 6 pm. Since the setting was not very formal, the atmosphere remained pleasant, plus don’t forget the Nigerians are jovial people! The entire event proceeded smoothly in a very professional manner, proving all those negative stories about Nigerians as utter crap. Even otherwise, I found the Nigerians to be very friendly and helpful.

Some of the issues and apprehensions raised by the participants sounded very familiar, just as in almost all other countries one goes to. One of the main apprehensions being that the government will take away the money that has been collected so far and use it elsewhere! If you talk to the universal service responsible persons, they always complain that it is the government itself that delays utilization of the fund.

The most satisfying outcome was that now there is an SMP (which includes recommendation about capacity building within USPF) with direct contributions – and thus the ownership – of everyone, from the Minister to the junior officials of NCC/USPF and of course the consultants! With all on board, success is bound to come. This is a great example for all the USFs of the world that should be emulated globally. In fact it should be repeated every year to review the progress.

So what was it that I found so amazing about Minister Omobola Johnson?  Well, the amazing thing was that not only did she sit through the entire two twelve-hour sessions but was one of the most active participants throughout. I guess that is the advantage of having a dedicated Minister who also knows the subject – especially if it’s a technical one like ICT.

My first visit to Nigeria

11 thoughts on “My first visit to Nigeria”

  1. You want to hint out that we should follow the example of having a minister who has technical know how. You stand alone as even an “EDUCATED” minister will be hard to find in our country’s record breaking brood of ministers, what to talk about Technical Knowledge.
    Any how welcome back after being enlightened & knowledgeable experience of where the world is leading up to & where we stand.

  2. Dear Parvez Sb
    Good information about Nigeria’s USPF and nice to see you there sharing your valuable experience especially which you have when you built up and run successfully USF pakistan. Encouraging for us as well.

  3. Hello Parvez–Congratulations on a sucessful visit to Nigeria. By some accounts, Nigeria responded for 70% of new telecom infrastructure in Africa in 2011. It is a booming market, in which telecom benefits from the spill over from oil revenues. It is very encouraging what you wrote about an energic and energizing Minister of Communications and IT, Ms Omobola Johnson. Ricardo Tavares, TechPolis

  4. We are unlucky that we lost a gem like Pervez Iftikhar. Let our African brothers be benefitted from this dedicated to cause person.

    I wish him all the luck.

    Ahmad Nadeem Syed

  5. Dear Parvez Iftikhar,
    With a person like you in the consultation process , i am confident that USPF will achieve the required results very efficiently in Nigeria. Your role for the Pakistan Telecom Sector can always be considered as a model for a success story .
    It is also great to hear that the Minister of Communications and IT Nigeria , Ms Omobola Johnson is a very energetic and visionary person.
    Shaukat H Javed
    Consultant Telecomms

  6. Dear Parvez:

    Bringing broadband to a developing country is very important and a USF with a proper SMP can definitively support this. You have demonstrated this with your work in Pakistan very well. What I find surprising is the lack of presence of the operators in the meeting. The Nigerian operators are very large cooperations and some are members of global groups with extensive experience in developing broadband in developing markets. Enlisting their support and the support of the local communities will be key for success of the SMP for Nigeria!

  7. I’m sure with your experience and expertise you will make a difference in Nigerian Government initiative through USPF. Important to have broadband but whats about local content in Nigeria, because that will bring in the actual growth once they have infrastructure.

    Extremely proud of you and your achievements. Good to see you doing same great work everywhere else.

    Sohail Qadir

  8. Dear Parvez

    Thank you for the post. It is great to hear about the Nigerian ICT initiative to increase broadband penetration in the country. Mobile banking solutions are already proving to be very popular in the region so increasing internet connectivity should help increase entrepreneurship and enhance local industry.

    Goes to show that there is a lot of information and success stories that our countries can share, especially those related to technological development projects.

    Best wishes,

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