From Ayodele Samuel,Lagos
The Chief Executive Officer, Computer Warehouse Group Plc Austin Okerehas called on government to invest in the critical ‘last mile’ infrastructure that would take broadband to homes and offices, thereby, boosting inclusive growth, as there was a correlation between broadband Access and the growth of the Gross Domestic Product of a country.
Okere who is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Business School (CBS), New York, stated this when he spoke on the Digital Advantage Panel anchored by Nielsen Bronwyn of CNBC Africa at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions held recently in Tianjin, China.
Speaking alongside Rich Lesser, global CEO & President of the Boston Consulting Group, NatarajanChandrasekaran, CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, and Maurice Levy, Chairman and CEO of the Publicis Groupe on the role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and the importance of Computer Science on future employment trends, Mr. Okere threw light on the transformative Nigeria Research and Education Network (NgREN) project which his company, CWG, collaborated with the World Bank and the Education Ministry in Nigeria to deliver earlier in the year.
The project, the first of its kind in West and Central Africa, covers the 27 Premier Federal Universities in Nigeria and their over one million students and staff, providing high definition telepresence capabilities for real-time collaboration, voice over internet protocol (VOIP), shared access to research content and joint experimentation projects. Subsequent phases will extend to over 500 other Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, and cover over 20 million people.
On financial inclusion and the widely popular M-PESA mobile banking system in Kenya, Mr. Okere explained that the model has not quite taken off in promising markets such as Nigeria because of the model adopted in Kenya where the initiative is telecom operator led.
He expressed deep skepticism about the ‘largest bank’ in the country being outside of the supervisory purview of the Central Bank, since telecom operators are rather regulated by the Communication Commission.
The CWG boss favours a bank led model, which is slow in taking off because the banks are just learning the ropes in agent recruitment, a critical pillar in the value chain and the forte of telecom operators.
He however, believed that the recent launch of the national identity card project in Nigeria will significantly boost financial inclusion in the country, since the cards, with biometrics and financial transaction capability (in conjunction with MasterCard), shall be carried by over 130 million Nigerians; far more than the subscribers on M-PESA, which stands at about 15 million as at June 2014.