When Nigeria’s Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, at the 12th Card Expo seminar in Lagos canvassed for the local production of all smart cards issued in Nigeria, my mind went to back to the battle fought to make the local production of scratch cards in Nigeria possible.
She said card explosion is expected to be stimulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s cash-less economic policy, among other factors. Johnson, who noted that an average Nigerian carried about three smartcards, decried the situation where significant parts of the cards in circulation were produced abroad.
She said, “On the issue of card manufacture, production and personalisation, we are working on local content guidelines that will be issued in Q4 of 2012, that will result in an increase in domestic value added to the ICT industry and, of course, the creation of low, medium and highly skilled jobs in the ICT industry. Basically, this will create a competitive playing field and incentives for companies that manufacture, produce or personalise cards.”
She explained that successful implementation of the two priorities would contribute significantly to the growth of the card industry as more Nigerians use cards as a means of transacting business and obtaining government and other services. This, she said, would in turn drive local innovation in the industry. “I strongly believe that we are at the tipping point of a card explosion, not only because of the CBN’s drive to reduce the cost and risk of cash payments by promoting cash-less transactions via cards and mobile phones, but also because cards are now being used as more than a vehicle for financial transactions.
“If I use myself as an example, I have seven cards in my wallet. Two ATM cards, two credit cards, one tax card, one national ID card and a driver’s licence. Let us for a minute assume that I am at the top end of card carriers, we can safely say that the average adult Nigerian residing in an urban or semi-urban area would carry an average of three to four cards. My very crude calculations bring that to about 200 million cards,” she said.
With over 80 million voters’ cards that would be issued before elections in 2015, the prepaid utility cards that are becoming prevalent, the cards issued by state governments to facilitate access to public services, Johnson said Nigeria could have in circulation close to 500 million cards by 2015.
In view of this, the minister reiterated the importance of developing local production capacity in the card market and assured that the local content policy would help in this regard.
She has spoken very well. I think she should take courage and draw a lesson from how Nigeria has become the largest printer of scratch cards in the whole of Africa.
Following federal government’s directive in 2004, that all telecommunication operators in the industry must initiate plans to start printing airtime vouchers (popularly known as recharge cards) locally, the telecom regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) then licensed about companies to start the printing and distribution of recharge card in Nigeria.
However, the scheme suffered several postponements not because of the non-viability of the scheme, or the unwillingness of investors to seize a very good opportunity involved in the fastest growing industry in the country then. It took the doggedness of few local investors and strong leadership from erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo to get the mobile network operators to support the scheme.
Today, Nigeria has the largest recharge card print instalment in the whole of Africa. As at the last check, I know that the card printing firms in the country have capacity to produce over 4.5 billion cards per annum. The leading firms in this sector are Altech West Africa, Masterstroke, Orga, South Beach, Premium Idea and Chams Card Centre. Each of these factories has over 500 workers to carry out one function or the other. I dare say that the only product in the entire value chain of mobile telephoning with Nigeria’s signature is the scratch card production.
I cast my lot with the minister’s position on the local production of smart card because I know that there are similar objectives and conditions today that did make the local production of scratch card a compelling national project then. One, what the banks are going through now on the production of cards is better imagined than experience. It takes a minimum of four to six weeks for foreign printers to deliver smart cards to bank customers in the country. Two, there is a huge market for smart cards in the country. Three, it would be easier to convince the printer of scratch cards to add smart cards production line to their existing infrastructure. Four, the country has a very strong leadership at CBN. My only worry is that it may require the intervention of the highest political authority to make the scheme a reality. I am not too sure about the commitment level of the present presidency on issues of this nature.comments powered by Disqus