To resolve the persistent poor network quality, increase the speed of internet connectivity, expand digital inclusion and put the country on a sure footing for a digital future, Nigeria would need between $12 billion and $15 billion of infrastructure investment in the next five years, MTN chief has said.

In terms of size, the country’s digital footprint is most investors’ toast. Mobile voice subscriptions rose to 220 million in May 2023 while internet subscriptions are at 159 million, making it the largest in Africa. However, investment in the backbone infrastructure that powers the digital economy is growing at a snail’s pace.

This is mostly buttressed in broadband penetration which is crawling at 48.24 percent, unable to cater to the internet needs of millions of subscriptions many of which are companies that consume large data. Most of the internet connections in the country depend on mobile broadband as fixed wireless penetration is ridiculously low at 0.03 per one hundred inhabitants. The consequence is that high-speed internet remains a dream in the country. Nigeria ranked 89th on the global internet speed in the Speedtest Global Index published by US-based internet speed analysis firm, Ookla.

Nigeria’s slow growth also contributes to Africa’s inability to pull its weight on the global scene.

Ralph Mupita, CEO of MTN Group, during a speech at the CEO Forum organised by BusinessDay, noted that Africa currently accounts for only about 1 percent of the global digital economy. This is in sharp contrast to 68 percent in the United States, 22 percent in China, and 27 percent in Asia.

Africa’s most populated country also takes the backseat in the e-Government Development rank taking the 140th position only three positions ahead of Senegal which has the last position. Nigeria’s position is particularly telling because it has always set aside budgets for e-governance. For example, in 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration budgeted N19 billion for computer software upgrades across different ministry departments and agencies. The billions of naira have yet to secure a digital government for the country. Paper documentation continues to be the order of the day.

“Did you know that the National Policy on Blockchain which was approved by the president was printed on paper and bound for members of the Federal Executive Council and the president to read and approve? Why do we need to print out a blockchain policy? That is an irony for the technology. It tells you something is wrong,” said Oswald Osaretin Guobadia, senior special adviser on digital transformation to former President Muhammadu Buhari. Guobadia was also a guest at the CEO Forum.

Mupita said the digital challenges facing Nigeria represent opportunities for investment. However, the government needs to create incentives to attract investments, he said.

“The potential is immense. The path is clear,” Mupita said. “The future of Nigeria lies in its digital economy. And with strategic intent, collaborative effort, and a shared vision, that vision is within reach.”

MTN recently visited the President Bola Tinubu, and he said his government would create the enabling environment for telecom investors to thrive. Some of the areas the government is looking at leveraging include introducing policies to reinforce growth by setting targets to increase the number of online businesses, improve logistics and delivery systems, as well as create policies that foster innovation and entrepreneurship. The government will also increase the number of digital skills training programs, expand access to education, and encourage the private sector to invest in talent development (through tax credits, holidays and reduced interest rate loans to businesses that hire a certain percent of youth in their workforce). There is also a plan to introduce tariffs and other measures to safeguard the ICT sector such as lower import tariffs on semi-manufactured goods production lines such as the automotive, IT industries and smartphones.

Mupita said apart from creating the right policies, and strategic partnerships, the government also needs to show commitment to digital inclusion. “Nigeria can leverage its digital economy to drive sustainable growth and development.”

MTN announced a commitment of over $3.5 billion in the next five years in Nigeria to deepen telecom infrastructure. Karl Toriola, MTN Nigeria CEO said this will amount to an annual investment of $700 million every year.

Ayotunde Coker, CEO of Open Access Data Centres, also sees opportunities for private sector investment in Nigeria’s digital deformities.

“We have a huge opportunity to be at the forefront of artificial intelligence and blockchain in the next few years, meaning they are new markets with room for exploration,” Coker said.

Open Access Data Centres also plans to increase data centre footprints in Nigeria. It is presently building a $200 million, Tier III certified data centre in Lagos which supports up to 20 MW site power load across more than 7,200ms of white space. The space is sufficient for up to 3,275 racks and makes it one of the largest facilities on the continent outside South Africa. The site power load is fully scalable to 40MW as market demand grows.

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