• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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BusinessDay

ICT for national development

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Nigeria, like most developing nations around the world, has come to recognize the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development. This recognition is well captured in the National Development Plan – Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020.

“The increasing globalization driven by ICT makes it imperative for Nigeria as an emerging market to irreversibly consider the application and promotion of ICT strategy to facilitate its rapid growth and development. This will involve the development of a vibrant ICT sector to drive and expand the national production frontiers in agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors. It would also require the application of the new knowledge to drive other soft sectors: governance, entertainments, public services, media sector, tourism, et cetera.”

This is the way to go! However, Nigeria is not going to get the full potential benefit of ICT until we change our ways.

Although there are mobile communication devices to suit every pocket nowadays, the tariffs being charged by the telecom operators are still on the high side. And what’s more, the poor quality of service remains a thorn in our flesh. In the beginning they told us to talk the talk. And now we’re talking everywhere we go. But if we must think less and talk more we should at least get value for our money. We are tired of carrying two or three mobile phones, believing that’s the way to glow with pride.

At the inception of the Biometric Voter Registration, they boasted it wouldn’t be possible for one person to register twice. Hardly had the exercise started than people realized there was nothing in place to prevent multiple registrations. Later INEC told us they would clean up and remove all duplicates!

Fake biometric registration everywhere, and wild claims of uncovering a thousand ghost pensioners and tens of thousands ghost workers, but failing to unmask those who love the romance of enjoying ghost benefits!

How many public institutions have functional websites? How many government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) utilize online office processes? You know, they waste money on websites that are usually not updated and, in most cases, inaccessible.

The government recently launched the issuance of the long awaited National Identity (e-ID) Card scheme by the National Identity Management Commission. We hope they get it right this time round.

We are a people who hate change. Ironically, Nigerians actually like change to the extent that it suits their personal interests. They can’t wait to own the latest electronic gadgets but electronic voting can wait forever. On this side of the digital divide, whatever would help promote the transparency and efficiency of government institutions and processes hardly stands a chance.

Conventional wisdom has it that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, there is need to align the public service with the private sector to allow for a smooth transition to a vibrant digital economy. As of today, most MDAs do not have working ICT structure. As one of its strategies for success, the ICT Ministry ought to push for the creation of ICT Department in every government parastatal. This would help provide an interface necessary for effective implementation of policies aimed at maximizing the levering potential of ICT for national development.

Similarly, the dearth of IT experts in our public institutions doesn’t help matters. This has created a vacuum currently being filled by non-IT personnel, and exploited by private business partners alike, resulting in misplaced priorities, poor value-for-money solutions, and tasteless service delivery. Again, to address this problem, we urge the ICT Ministry to liaise with relevant organs of government to create appropriate cadres and right incentives to attract and retain IT professionals in the civil service.

Nigeria needs to leverage its investment in ICT to gain a significant competitive advantage in the rapidly changing global economy. As a way forward, government should provide security; expand national infrastructure such as power and broadband; encourage private sector investment in the ICT industry; deploy and ensure full utilization of ICT infrastructure on all fronts – Education, Health, Agriculture, Oil & Gas, et cetera.

If we are serious about becoming one of the world’s top economies in this age then we must realize that ICT is not a “nice to have” asset but a sine qua non for transforming Nigeria into a knowledge economy.

JOHN ADEBISI