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6 moments that defined Nigerian tech in 2015

The past year’s been an eventful one in Nigeria’s tech space as the various sub-sectors recorded landmark developments that got the attention of various stakeholders within and outside the country. Coming up with the top five tech moments in Nigeria in 2015 was not in any way an easy task simply because of the enormous size of the growing system but the job became much easier when attention was given to the developments that were impactful – revolutionary and felt by a sizable number of Nigerians.

Cybercrime bill passed into law

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In the month of May, the Nigerian government finally signed the cybercrime bill into law. Even though the law was signed by former president Goodluck Jonathan in May – just 14 days to the expiration of his term, the tech space extensively commended the move because of the vacuum the law is expected to fill particularly in the prevention, prohibition, combating of cybercrimes and threats to the cyberspace and to prescribe punishment for cybercrimes in Nigeria.

Without mincing words, Nigeria is notorious in the online community for cybercrimes and the government had been slammed severally for not doing enough to address cybercrime in the country and for creating a safe haven for cybercriminals in various cities across Nigeria through the non-existence of a cybercrime law.

The non-existence of a cybercrime law made it extremely difficult for security agencies to prosecute cybercrime suspects in the court as many criminals had been left off the hook when their cases were mentioned in the court of law.

Speaking on this development, ‘Gbénga Sèsan the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, said: “Nigeria has always needed a cybercrime bill to address one of our most notorious labels and extend order to the online space and though this took a very long time (it’s been 11 years since former President Obasanjo set up the National Cybercrime Working Group), there are many merits.”

Banking via USSD

This is a personal favorite and interestingly, this was done without much fanfare and PR stunts. This year, several Nigerian banks expanded their operations to allow their customers to perform certain banking activities via USSD.

It is now possible to top up airtime using USSD codes specific for each bank. Some banks are taking it further by allowing their customers to transfer as much as NGN100 000 from their bank account to someone else’s. Guaranty Trust Bank is arguably championing this through its *737* USSD services that are available on almost all mobile devices.

This innovation has really revolutionized banking as it is understood in the country. The last time the industry had such a revolutionary solution was when ATM machines were introduced into the ecosystem. But the introduction of this new service is presenting new challenges to the banks as it has become much easier to wipe out money from someone’s bank account by stealing their mobile phones and ATM cards. No PIN is even required – just the last four digits on the ATM card. But the ease of banking service would not allow the busy bank customers to ask for the service to be dropped. Instead, the industry would have to figure out how to make it more secure.

NITEL resurrection

One of the sad stories in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, the telecoms sub-sector to be specific, is the country’s moribund national telecoms company NITEL and its mobile arm MTEL. There had been a couple of failed attempts to privatize and resuscitate the companies but this year, NATCOM Consortium acquired the companies, rebranded it into NTel and has already kicked off a phased operations roll out.

According to the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Kamal Abass, NTEL would be launching international bandwidth services over SAT-3 and a 4G mobile network covering Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. He confirmed that NTEL would be offering three portfolios of telecoms services in the areas of Business Mobile Network International, Voice Termination International Bandwidth Delivery and the Metro Bandwidth Fixed Services. He said these services would be launched on the NTEL 4G LTE Mobile service, which offer high-speed data, high-definition voice and video.

“The first phase network will begin by deploying up to 800 sites, and later increase to 2,000 sites,” Abass said.

BBM payment service

Even though the attention is on getting iPhone 6 and the latest Android gadget with less interest in Blackberry devices, many Nigerians, especially the young and corporate demography, seems to still love BBM. This year, Blackberry decided to make it possible for BBM users to send money to one another via the BBM app.

Matthew Talbot, BlackBerry’s senior vice president – emerging solutions, added that Blackberry will soon enable transactions via the Firstmonie mobile wallet offered by the First Bank of Nigeria. He added that they will also partner with local mobile payments specialist Mobile Media Info Tech to enable secure transactions in the online store.

In related development, Blackberry has also partnered with Africa-focused leading digital payments and commerce provider Interswitch to integrate its Quickteller services with BlackBerry’s BBM via a new app called Quickteller Mini available for smartphones running Android, BlackBerry and iOS.
With this partnership, BBM users with a Nigerian bank account can make a request for money, airtime and payment for services from one of their BBM contacts. The Quickteller Mini App enables this in a secure and user-friendly way. This service is as easy as sharing a photo or file while chatting with a contact on BBM. You simply select the attachment option, choose Quickteller, enter the amount and make a request. The recipient of the message simply taps it and enters their account details. The money is credited to the recipient’s bank account instantly.

“Person-to-Person transfers and electronic airtime recharge present a growing market opportunity in Nigeria. We are delighted to bring our secure payment services to BBM users in Nigeria. This partnership demonstrates how Interswitch continues to innovate and push the boundaries in African payments whilst enhancing the customer experience,” commented Mitchell Elegbe, Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Interswitch.

“BBM is one of the most popular messaging applications in Nigeria,” said Matthew Talbot, SVP Emerging Solutions at BlackBerry. “This new mobile payment service demonstrates how we have effectively evolved BBM from the best real-time chat experience to a true social engagement and e-commerce platform. By combining the strengths of BlackBerry and Interswitch, we have developed a service that puts Nigeria at the forefront of mobile payments and commerce innovations.”

The reason why this is making the list is due to two major reasons – it serves as a potential major boost for mobile money in Nigeria where the citizens and ecosystem seem to be more advanced than M-PESA; it will also be a good way to encourage foreign multinational companies such as PayPal and Facebook with payment services to open up their channels to Nigeria thus ensuring financial tech inclusiveness for citizens of Nigeria – a Nigeria legendarily reputed for financial crimes across the world and is struggling to work its way out of the age-long bad rep.

Spectrum gift

The alleged secret gifting of Nigeria’s spectrum to some tech companies by former president Goodluck Jonathan also got the industry talking in 2015. According to media reports, Jonathan gifted lucrative spectrum to Mike Adenuga’s Globacom and Jim Ovia’s Cyberspace by Jonathan. The spectrum became available following the migration of broadcasting from analogue to digital, thereby freeing part of the electromagnetic spectrum previously used for broadcasting since digital television typically needs less spectrum than analogue.

After the story of the deal, leaked to the media, Ovia reported approached the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to return the spectrum, the commission subsequently granted his request.

MTN’s massive fine

The industry record highest fine was slammed this year on Nigeria’s largest telecoms company MTN by the NCC. NCC asked MTN to pay NGN1.4 trillion naira for breaching SIM registration rules. NCC said MTN was undermining Nigeria’s efforts to tackle security challenges by refusing to comply with a directive to deactivate unregistered mobile phone lines on its network.

Several heads rolled at MTN notably MTN group chief executive officer, Sifiso Dabengwa, who resigned with immediate effect at the wake of the fine. MTN shares have declined about 16 percent since the Nigeria penalty was made public two weeks ago, valuing the company at R295-billion (US$20.6- billion). Also, MTN Nigeria’s CEO Michael Ikpoki and the head of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Akinwale Goodluck have tendered their resignations with immediate effect. They are replaced by Ferdi Moolman as MTN Nigeria CEO and Amina Oyagbola as its head of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs.
But following an appeal by the network, NCC decided to slash MTN’s fine to NGN780 billion. Justifying its action, NCC said the decision was taken in the industry’s best interest.

Director, Public Affairs of the NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo, said: “MTN wrote the commission, acknowledged that there has been an infraction and are now pleading for leniency. In the past we have also had people plead for leniency on their sanctions”.

“At that time, of course the NCC board has not been constituted, no minister, the authority of the president was required for such a decision to be taken in the absence of the minister, and so the commission had to notify the presidency”.

“The stakeholders looked at it with all the pros and cons and reduced the fine by 25%. We are aware and conscious of the level of investment MTN has made in this market; they have the largest number of subscribers, it is also important to know that Nigeria remains their biggest market. We have taken all into considerations, and that was what even informed the discussion in the first place. Weighing all of these issues, is why this action has been taken.”

Heading to 2016

Looking back at the industry in 2015, the major developments highlighted the numerous shortcomings the industry is still facing; in addition to untapped opportunities that are still available and stressing the need for the regulators of the various sub-sectors to take the task of regulation more seriously and affirmatively.

The transition from one government to another will put the next phase of the tech sector in Nigeria in sharp focus with stakeholders finally taking bold steps to advance the ecosystem.

2016 is expected to open up new frontiers, access and trust will still be critical issues; new solutions will be introduced and it could eventually be the year that Silicon Valley finally meets Lagos.

Image: jbdodane via Flickr.

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