According to the Guardian, the Nigerian Government plans to join the European Union-driven Digital Single Market by setting up one in Nigeria.
Federal government through the Ministry of Communications is set to unveil Digital Single Market in Nigeria in collaboration with the European Union Commission.
Adebayo Shittu, minister of Communications, made this disclosure in Lagos at the 2017 Information Communication Technology & Telecommunication Expo (2017 ICTEL Expo) held at the Eko Hotel & Suites….
Towards achieving this, the minister stated that he had instructed that a committee is raised comprising the Ministry’s agencies and the Nigerian Computer Society on the new Digital Single Market paradigm ahead of the EU/Africa Summit holding November 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Digital Single Market is an initiative by the European Union to deepen the region’s digital business. The goal is to accelerate digital opportunities and enhance Europe’s competitiveness in the global digital economy. Since it was unveiled, it has explored how to integrate Africa in this ecosystem, which brings digital marketing, e-commerce and telecommunication together..
A Digital Single Market (DSM) is one in which the free movement of persons, services and capital is ensured and where the individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition, and a high level of consumer and personal data protection, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence….
The program has three core pillars:
- Access: Access to online products and services
- Environment: creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish;
- Economy & Society: maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.
Largely, the vision is noble and there is certainly nothing bad about joining such initiatives, for Nigeria. No one will argue against the need to access more goods and services digitally. Likewise, it makes sense to provide the enabling environment for the growth and success of digital services through better digital networks. The EU’s plan to grow its digital economy is what it has do.
But I have issues: implementing this DSM initiative could distract Nigeria from focusing on the key elements needed for a thriving digital economy which must be fixed for local digital innovation to blossom. Indeed, joining the DSM could be a distraction, clouding our quest to deal with the root issues that stifle the growth of the sector. Even if we go ahead and join, it is very imperative that we deal with many factors currently affecting our digital economy.
Nigeria’s Core Issues Before DSM
At this moment, there are core issues Nigeria should focus as it works with partners like EU. It is not really certain if EU will help since it did note that it may not be offering any financial support to Nigeria anymore.So, the implication is that only Nigeria can find the strategy to fix the challenges that affect its digital economy. As I have noted in my works in the Harvard Business Review, finding solutions to the following will help our digital business.
Distrust : Providing mass campaign to educate the Nigerian people that trade and commerce can take place digitally is needed. One of the biggest challenges today is that people have not fully embraced online business in Nigeria. Government has a role to play to change that, through incentives, that can do what America did by waiving all taxes when products are paid online.
Cost of broadband: Our broadband cost remains high for most people to do meaningful things online. Government should focus on how to solve this local problem through incentives that can help bring cost of broadband down.
Logistics: We have no postal system and without it, Nigerian e-commerce will struggle for years. Joining DSM will not fix this problem.
Literacy rates: Even if all the infrastructure and integration issues are fixed, illiterate citizens may be unable to participate directly on the digital economy. Without investing in the education of our citizens, the pool of potential participants in the digital economy will not improve. EU had noted that it will not bring any funding, so Nigeria has to fix these issues by itself especially when funding is required.
Others: I will not waste time discussing funding, electricity and the typical challenges.
What Nigeria Needs To Do
As I noted above, Nigeria has to waive all taxes when things are bought online. That is one step to get people to start using online as a medium of commerce. I also propose for Nigeria to sell its nationwide postal rights to a private sector to provide postal system; in other words, privatize the postal system and allow private sector to run it. As it works on the postal system, it needs to invest to educate its citizens on digital literacy. In most villages, primary school teachers do not know how to use personal computers. They need to be educated so that their pupils can be informed. With these enablers, DSM will also benefit from Nigerian participation.
Besides the above suggestions, we need to ensure that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has the resources to finish its works of capturing the identity of every Nigerian. That is the core enabler that will drive the digital economy Nigeria desperately needs. NIMC has the Management to execute. We do know that, despite the importance of this Commission, it remains severely underfunded.
[NIMC Vision].. to provide sustainable world-class identity management solution to affirm identity, enhance governance and service delivery in Nigeria by 2019.
[NIMC Mission]…to establish and regulate a reliable and sustainable system of National Identity Management that enables citizens and legal residents affirm their identity in an environment of innovation and excellence
It is very important that Nigeria looks at this DSM market from the lens of getting in not to be a mere consumer, but rather, to also be a creator. As noted, “The European Digital Single Market would become one of the most valuable trade markets in the world for online businesses”, but it can only work for those prepared as creators and not just buyers.
Our government has a duty to ensure that Nigeria is connected to other nations. But in this Digital Single Market, the nation may not necessarily get net benefit since the enablers that will help Nigerian companies to compete are severely lacking. Focusing on how to deal with those issues will be more catalytic than the government making it far easier for Europe to win our local customers. Europe Union is a friendly institution to Nigeria but in this case, we do not need to just join because it has invited us. Our focus, at this moment, should be dealing with the root causes that inhibit our digital economy, and fixing then. Europe will eat our launch, pushing their wares to our consumers because our creators do not have the enablers, yet, to add more creative value in the market structured to empower Europe.