Going by feelers in the economy, it appears the life span of the Ministry of Communications is at stake. Government is reportedly finalizing plans to move the three of the five agencies under the supervision of the Ministry to the Ministry of Science and Technology in a cost-saving gesture.
The agencies to be relocated are the National Information Technology development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Communication Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) and Galaxy Backbone Limited. Though details are still sketchy, moving these three agencies leaves the Ministry of Communication with only NIPOST and NCC and there are rumours that these two may become answerable directly to the presidency.
It will be recalled that in 2016, the Minister Communications Technology, Barr. Adebayo Shittu and his counterpart in the Science and technology ministry, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, were reported to be locked in a protracted battle over the supervision of the NigComSat, Galaxy Backbone and NITDA. This prompted the President to set up a committee headed by the Vice President to look into the impasse.
As of today, there are 17 agencies/parastatals under the Ministry of Science and Technology, while, there are 5 agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications.
Reports have quoted the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami as advising the Federal Government against the continued supervision of the 3 agencies by the Ministry of Communications. According to Malami, the provisions of the existing laws support that the ministry of science and tech supervises the 3 agencies.
The AG argued that while the Federal Government has powers to reshuffle its agencies or corporation, he noted that such powers are not exercised “with flagrant violation of the laws” as government directives through circulars do not override “an Act of Parliament.”
The situation has led to serious protest from stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry who have kicked against the planned relocation. Chief among the stakeholders is the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) with over 20,000 members.
The body argued that all over the world, countries like Egypt, Singapore, India, United States of America, United Kingdom, among others, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology were created to foster the development of an information society and stimulate the growth of a strong, competitive, vibrant, export-oriented ICT sector.
Given the importance of ICT to the nation’s economic revival and diversification, NCS strongly recommended that NITDA, NIGCOMSAT and Galaxy Backbone should remain under the Federal Ministry of Communications for better performance, networking, coordination, cooperation and collaboration in order to produce better output.
The Ministry of Communications was created in 2011 as Ministry of Communication Technology, for sustained development and actualization of ICT objectives towards diversifying Nigerian economy and to foster a knowledge based economy and information society in the country. It was created to facilitate ICT as a key tool in the transformation agenda for Nigeria in the areas of job creation, economic growth and transparency of governance.
Areas of statutory responsibilities and functions of the ministry include facilitating universal, ubiquitous and cost effective access to communications infrastructure throughout the country; Promotion of the utilization of ICT in all spheres of life to optimize the communications infrastructure – digital content creation, domestic software applications and the delivery of private and public services over the internet; Promote and facilitate the development of the ICT industry and increase the contribution of the ICT industry to GDP.
The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, on the other hand is one of the strategic Ministries of Government saddled with the responsibility of facilitating the development and deployment of Science, Technology and Innovation to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country with major focus on research.
Galaxy Backbone was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to operate a nationwide IP-based network that will provide a common platform for connectivity and other infrastructure services for all Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with the mandate to build and operate a nationwide broadband network that provides IP-based connectivity services to all Federal Government MDAs.
NIGCOMSAT was incorporated on 4th April 2006 with a mission is to be the leading satellite operator and service provider in Africa and charged with the management and operation of Nigerian Communications Satellite.
NITDA’s mandate is quite diverse and vast, focusing the responsibilities of the Agency on fostering the development and growth of IT in Nigeria. The agency is committed to implementing the National Information Technology Policy with the mandate is to create a framework for the planning, research, development, standardization, application, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of Information Technology practices in Nigeria.
To start with the Federal Ministry of Communications should be renamed Federal Ministry of Communication Technology to capture the entire ICT sector as it was before the onset of this administration.
In addition since, it is an issue of Act of Parliament, the Federal Government should amend the laws governing the agencies and Ministry accordingly.
Instead of making the ministry redundant or scrapping it altogether, the Federal Government should empower the Federal Ministry of Communications financially to improve on strategies to achieve gross earnings from the ICT sector, generate employment and wealth creation.
Given the importance of ICT to the nation’s economic revival and diversification, every effort should be made to strengthen the Ministry of Communications Technology, which was created to foster the development of an information society and stimulate the growth of a strong, competitive, vibrant, export-oriented ICT sector.