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Nigeria Achieves 70% Broadband Penetration

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Telecoms sector regulator Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has said going by the long and short term targets of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the country has achieved 70 per cent broadband penetration.

Its Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Prof Garba Umar Dmanbatta, who spoke in Abuja with IT editors during a media interaction, said though the country has gone beyond the 20 per cent minimum broadband penetration as envisaged by the NBP, it is yet to hit the maximum target of 30 per cent.

He said: “Our performance shows that we as a nation have achieved 70 per cent broadband penetration. To meet the maximum target of 30 per cent broadband penetration, all other agencies that have roles to play, must perform the roles assigned to them by the NBP document.

“The NBP stated that the country must achieve five-fold in broadband penetration, but this of course depends on the minimum and maximum threshold.

“By multiplying four per cent minimum level of broadband by five, which represents the five- year broadband plan, it will give 20 per cent minimum broadband target and by multiplying six per cent maximum broadband penetration as at 2012 by the five years broadband plan, it will give 30 per cent broadband penetration, which is maximum target at the end of 2018.

“Nigeria had in 2017, surpassed the minimum target of 20 per cent, working towards achieving the maximum target of 30 per cent by the end of 2018. This is according to the NBP.

“As of today, Nigeria has achieved 22 per cent broadband penetration, which is close to achieving the 30 per cent.

“The achievement in broadband penetration gave rise to the first phase licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to drive broadband infrastructure deployment that will enable broadband penetration.”

According to CEO, the licence was planned to cover six geopolitical zones of the country, as well as Lagos that was mapped out as a zone for the purpose. MainOne was licensed to cover Lagos Zone, iConnect, a subsidiary of IHS was granted licence to cover Northcentral zone.

“These two zones were licensed before I came on board as NCC’s EVC, and it was during my tenure that we licensed additional five zones. They include Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast, Southsouth.

“The beauty of the licence is that it is cheap because the NCC is not keen at making so much money in licences. We are building a system that will make Nigeria Inter and interconnected,” he said.

He recalled that on assumption of office in 2015, the management of the Commission unveiled the Eighth-Point Agenda for the industry, among which is broadband penetration, stressing that Commission, under his leadership, is keen at driving broadband penetration in the country.

“Before we came on board in 2015, there was a Presidential Broadband Committee set up by the Federal Government and the committee was chaired by the former NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and Zenith Bank Chairman, Mr. Jim Ovia. The committee did a good job in coming up with a detailed five-year National Broadband Plan (NBP) from 2013-2018 for the country.

“On Page 9 of the NBP, it stated that broadband penetration as at 2012 was between four and six per cent and there were measure through which broadband penetration could be achieved,” Dambatta said, adding, however, that the achievement of broadband penetration is not the responsibility of NCC alone, but a combined responsibility of agencies, such as the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), NigComSat, Galaxy Backbone, and other critical stakeholders, such as telcos. “NCC and other agencies of government were given their roles to play in other to achieve faster broadband penetration,” he insisted.

On the challenges facing the achievement of NBP, he said there are national and regional challenges to broadband penetration. “In these two broad areas of challenges, there are backbone infrastructure challenges as well as challenges of broadband access in underserved and unserved areas of the country.

“In the area of access, we have about 200 access gaps but through the effort of NCC, we have been able to reduce them to about 190. Nigerians living within the 190 access gap areas, are not experiencing telecommunications services and this is a challenge we need to address as a country.

“It addresses the challenges, there is need for capacity building in order to leverage ICT to do greater things and in better ways. So, we need to sensitise the people and empower them with ICT tools that will make them achieve their dreams.

“NCC for instance, is pioneering the Advanced Digital Acquisition Programme for tertiary institutions, where we have the highest concentration of talented youths. “By the time they acquire the skills, they will be able to develop ICT Applications. NITDA is also involved in ICT training and skills acquisition through its sponsored scholarship programme for students studying ICT related courses up to doctorate level.”

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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AFP Supports Access to Renewable Energy with €70m

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AFP Supports Access to Renewable Energy with €70m

The Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) is supporting access to renewable energy for Nigerian manufacturers with €70 million under the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Energy Finance (SUNREF) Nigeria Programme for renewable energy.

The fund would be administered through the Access Bank Plc and the United Bank for Africa Plc.

However, only renewable energy projects like solar, wind, small hydro, biomas including waste-to-energy power plants would be eligible for funding under the SUNREF initiative.

The AFP described energy efficiency projects (EEP) as capital expenditure projects that would allow energy consumers to use less energy for achieving the same level of energy service.

The AFP made this known during the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency investors’ virtual conference that was held on Wednesday, in partnership with the Nigerian Energy Support Programme (NESP), which is a technical assistance programme co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the German Government and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Power and All-On of the Shell Foundation.

The conference was aimed at enabling the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN) to understand the SUNREF’s technical requirements, equipment and installation quality standards, self-regulatory initiatives and certification for industry practitioners.

The President of the Nigerian Manufacturers Association (MAN), Mr. Mansur Ahmed, who participated in the conference, described the financial and technical assistance offered by the SUNREF as significant opportunity that came at a time, “we needed it most more than ever” to address one of the most militating factors against industrial development of Nigeria.

Mansur said: “Clearly, this is the time for every effort to shore up the manufacturing sector is very welcomed. Therefore, I am delighted that this green energy project is focusing on renewable energy in improving energy efficiency.

“It is our hope that our members will take the full advantage of this facility and be able to diversify their energy sources, improve energy consumption and be able to expand their productive capacity, which is indeed very important in the current state of our economy. I, therefore, urge our members to take full advantage of this.”

The Country Director of the AFP, Ms. Virginie Diaz, said in her opening remark during the conference that the SUNREF would basically provide financial and technical assistance “aimed at supporting business strategies in the green energy sector in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which Nigeria has been supportive of.”

Also, the Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and the ECOWAS, Ms. Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, said the conference would enable investors and service providers to showcase their products and be able to develop relationships with clients and prospective investors in Nigeria.

She added: “I will like to highlight that this collaboration is an innovative financing and project that will help to address Nigeria’s energy gaps by mobilising foreign investments to finance green power projects.”

The SUNREF Nigeria Team Lead, Mr. Javier Betancourt, described SUNREF as integrated environmental finance that is dedicated to developing renewable energy in Nigeria.

Betancourt said in his presentation during the conference that the AFD has put in place targeted support to develop innovative green financing through dedicated credit lines through local financial institutions in the country.

He said: “The SUNREF is part of the broader initiative to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as the sustainable use of natural resources.”

According to the Chief Executive Officer of All On, Dr. Wiebe Boer, the mission of the SUNREF is to bring the members of the MAN into the green energy fold.

Boer observed that any opportunity to address the significant gap that exists in access to energy in Nigeria would have considerable economic and social impacts.

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Fintech CEO: Morocco’s Move to Revisit CBDC Has Global Implications

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Scottsdale, Ari. – February 25, 2021 – Earlier this week, it was reported by both the Morocco World News and NASDAQ that Bank-Al-Maghrib, Morocco’s Central Bank, is forming an exploratory committee to deliberate whether the institution should launch a central bank digital currency. Significantly, only four years ago, the country banned cryptocurrencies.

“It isn’t so significant that yet another country is exploring the benefits of a CBDC, but, rather, the significance is in which country is doing the exploration,” explained Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges. “Even the slightest consideration from Bank-Al-Maghrib marks a historic day for digital assets.”

The newly formed committee is said to be tasked with identifying the pros and cons, while remaining cautious due to the “speculative nature” of cryptocurrencies. This is in line with the country’s original critique that a lack of regulation created risk for consumers and investors.

“It’s worth noting that, despite the ban, Moroccans account for the fourth highest volume of trading in Bitcoin within the African continent, behind Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa,” said Gardner. “A lot has changed in four years. A lot of bureaucrats were leery about the lack of regulatory oversight back then. Even now, many are still cautious. But, the power of cryptocurrencies is real, and they’re here to stay. Especially in Africa, digital currencies could radically change the lives of the unbanked. The fact that Bank-Al-Maghrib is even contemplating the benefits of digital assets — that’s something the whole world will be watching.”

Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Over the past twenty years, the company has built a client list which includes NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.

“In addition to the raw power of digital currencies, the technology that powers blockchain-based solutions is something that region can’t afford to miss out on,” opined Gardner. “For example, blockchain-based authentication, especially when blended with artificial intelligence technologies, could be a gamechanger in authenticating malaria treatments. Using blockchain verification solutions, African governments could nearly eliminate counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which is a topic our company intends to continue to explore over the coming months and years.”

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Biotech Firm Launches Lassa Vaccine Trial in West Africa

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Biotech Firm Launches Lassa Vaccine Trial in West Africa

A biotechnology company, INOVIO, says the first participant in Lassa vaccine trial has been dosed in a Phase 1B clinical trial for INO-4500, its DNA vaccine candidate for Lassa fever.

The clinical trial is being done in Ghana, the firm says, adding that INOVIO is focused on bringing to market precisely-designed DNA medicines to treat and protect people from infectious diseases and cancer.

The Phase 1B clinical trial (LSV-002), ongoing at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, Ghana, is the first vaccine clinical trial for Lassa Fever to be conducted in West Africa, where the infection is endemic.

The lead clinical Principal Investigator for LSV-002 is Professor Dr. Kwadwo A. Koram, an expert and specialist in tropical medicines and epidemiologist with more than 20 years of research experience, including malaria vaccines.

INO-4500 was also the first vaccine candidate for Lassa fever to enter human trials, PUNCH Healthwise reports.

Already, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has tweeted his commendation.

Said Ihekweazu, “Fantastic news. The urgency of now. A vaccine for Lassa fever. We have worked very hard with WHO, CEPI vaccines, ACEGID, BNITM_de and many others to put this on the global health agenda. We will keep pushing.”

According to a press release by the biotechnology company, INOVIO is advancing INO-4500 with full funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global partnership that leverages funding from public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations to support research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

INOVIO previously received a $56m grant from CEPI in 2018, under which the company is developing vaccine candidates for Lassa Fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“INOVIO and CEPI are committed to making a vaccine available as soon as possible for emergency use as a stockpile product post-Phase 2 testing,” the press release stated.

The statement notes that INOVIO’s Phase 1B clinical trial, LSV-002, will enroll approximately 220 adult participants who are 18 – 50 years old, with the primary endpoints of evaluating safety and immunogenicity in an African population.

The dosing regimen involves two vaccinations at zero and 28 days with either 1.0 mg or 2.0 mg dosing levels. In addition to providing valuable insights on the INO-4500 safety and immunogenicity profile, this trial will inform dose selection for subsequent Phase 2 studies in West Africa.

Lassa fever is an animal-borne, acute hemorrhagic viral illness primarily observed in parts of West Africa.

Infection is spread through contact with infected rodents, as well as person-to-person transmission via bodily fluids (primarily in health care settings).

The disease can cause a range of outcomes, including fever, vomiting, and swelling of the face, pain in the chest, back and abdomen, bleeding of various parts of the body including the eyes and nose and death.

Lassa virus infection in West Africa is estimated to affect 100,000 to 300,000 people annually, and is responsible for 10 – 16 percent of hospital admissions in the region. The virus is responsible for approximately 5,000 deaths annually.

Because of difficulties in diagnosing Lassa fever, the lack of standardised surveillance assays, and the remote nature of many of the areas in West Africa where outbreaks typically occur, the numbers of reported cases and deaths are very likely significantly lower than the actual numbers of cases and deaths.

Though the majority (about 80 percent) of Lassa virus-infected persons are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, the infection can be quite serious to fatal in others. The case-fatality among patients hospitalized for Lassa fever is about 15 – 20 percent and, in some epidemics, case-fatality has reached 50 percent in hospitalized patients.

Up until now, there are no licensed vaccines or treatments specifically for Lassa fever.

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