Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta has said that the Commission has been actively involved in the actualisation of the Federal Government’s financial inclusion target of 20% exclusion or 80% inclusion by the year 2020.
However, the EVC recalled that a recent report by EFInA, a financial sector development organisation, indicates that even though its data showed that more people have become financially included, the financial inclusion pace was, however, not matching the country’s population growth rate.
Danbatta spoke as a guest lecturer at the 5th Annual ‘The Bullion Lecture’ organised by the Centre for Financial Journalism On Thursday, March 11, 2021.
Focusing on the theme “Driving Pervasive Broadband Penetration to Deepen Digital Financial Inclusion for Nigeria’s Socio-economic Transformation,” the EVC noted that to achieve an accelerated financial inclusion target that Nigeria desires, technology and more importantly, broadband, has to play a massive significant role.
“What I see technology doing in terms of Nigeria’s financial inclusion is actually to democratize access. In doing this, the NCC embarked on various regulatory initiatives that have continued to increase access to telephone lines and improve access to high-speed Internet or broadband,” he said.
Danbatta stated that the various regulatory initiatives are in line with the Commission’s mandate of ensuring universal access to telecoms services in the country consistent with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)’s goal of achieving digital inclusion, globally.
“Foremost amongst these regulatory initiatives, is the implementation of the Open Access Model for infrastructure deployment through the competitively selected Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) called the InfraCo Project.
“The InfraCo initiative is expected to provide, at a minimum, broadband fibre and connectivity to every Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the Federation, totalling 774 fibre Points of Access (PoAs) with a minimum speed of 10 Gbps which will translate to, at least, 38,296km of Optic Fibre Cable (OFC) to the Transmission over the next years.
“So far, the Commission has licensed six of the seven InfraCos to implement this project and it is intended that the presence of fibre point of access in each LGA will not only spur development, lower cost of entry for telcos and bring about innovative services and applications, but also, improve the conditions of living in the rural, urban and semi-urban areas, especially with respect to access to financial services.
“The InfraCo Project can be considered as the beginning of the “Next Level” journey towards achieving the 120,000km target of fibre connectivity set by the current administration. We have recently begun a process to strategically review the InfraCo framework and its funding options towards ensuring effective implementation of the national fibre project. When fully implemented, it will ensure robust and pervasive broadband infrastructure to drive availability, accessibility and affordability of financial services,” Danbatta further stated.
The EVC noted that the NCC also provided the requisite infrastructure, connectivity and capacity to interconnect four Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kano in order to localise some of the internet traffic in Nigeria and encourage the creation, hosting and interchange of data within Nigeria.
This, according to him, has enabled the local hosting of companies like Google, Facebook, Vodacom, China Telecom, Akamai, Juniper Solutions etc. alongside all major Nigerian Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Mobile Network Operators, Sub-Marine Cable Operators as well as major tier 1 to 3 Data Centers.
“This has not only reduced cost, which is key to digital financial inclusion and conserved foreign exchange but also has drastically reduced latency thus, ensuring the sustainability of digital financial services,” he said.
Danbatta said that as telecommunication services and infrastructure became more accessible in the country, the banks identified the Unstructured Supplementary Data Service (USSD) channel as a cost-efficient way of delivering financial services to their customers, explaining why the banks subsequently applied for and were granted USSD shortcodes by the Commission to deliver financial services to Nigerians.
“The banks, Other Financial Institutions (OFI) and mobile money operators licensed by the CBN are now leveraging a large number of mobile subscriptions in the country to provide mobile-based financial transactions to Nigerians, leveraging the USSD platform on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs),” he said.
The EVC said the NCC has actively engaged and collaborated with the CBN, through the signing of a momentous Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure mobile money licenses are also issued to telecoms operators that will operate as Payment Service Bank (PSB).
“This is based on the recognition of the fact that, since the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) own the over 204 million mobile subscribers- scattered in rural and urban settings- on their networks, allowing these operators to offer direct digital financial services to their customers would produce better financial inclusion traction.”
The Commission he said has been partnering with relevant organisations and stakeholders and lately with a foremost international organization, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to ensure better cooperation between telecommunications and the banking sectors towards advancing the frontiers of financial inclusion in Nigeria.