Nigeria at 50: The Impact of Information Technology
I am happy to observe that over the years, NCS has demonstrated commendable leadership as an association of information Technology practitioners. The discussion today on the impact of information Technology (IT) in Nigeria is a fitting way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country, for indeed IT has played a key role in Nigeria’s economic, educational, social and political growth in spite of daunting challenges.
I have recently been maligned by a section of the communication industry for drawing attention to some of those challenges. I am sure that the author of such publication (who was not at the event)did not fully understand the context and full import of the statements credited to me. Let me use this opportunity to quickly clarify the issues. But in my job as a public officer I have grown too familiar with the hydra of misunderstanding to expect that by lopping off one of its heads, the monster would have been killed. Rather it soon sprouts another head, sometimes more deadly that the one chopped off.
In a recent media forum, I pointed out that IT development in African nations (not Nigeria in particular) was being hampered by lack of
“adequate political will…to fully support and embrace new technologies”. I am still at a loss why stating such an obvious fact should generate so much acrimony. Let me ask: how many African countries have the political will to introduce electronic voting as one means to ensure credible elections? How many countries have enacted laws to protect intellectual property at it relates to software? how many financial systems recognize knowledge encoded in a Compact Disc as sufficient collateral for a bank loan? it is within this context that I called(and still call)for more political will to embrace new world trends.
Coming home to Nigeria, the federal Government may have set the tone with many commendable IT initiatives, but many state Governments (except a few) and local Governments have lacked the will to follow the examples. So the benefits of IT have not sufficiently trickled down the grassroots. That is partly why NITDA introduced the rural information Technology Centers (RITC) at the State and Local Government levels. The aim is to help bridge the internal digital divide in the country.
I have also received flaks for the one step slip in ITU ranking of Nigeria in e-readiness. We were ranked 63 in 2007 and 64 in 2008.I do not know the FIFA ranking of our national football team today, but I know we were number 1 in Africa and number 5 in the world some years back. I do think we should throw tantrums over ITU rankings. We should be patient with the current efforts of government to reform the power sector. We all know that electricity and Information Technology are inseparable. In other words, if our ‘ranking’ in power slips, so will our e-readiness.
For me, it is a mark of responsible leadership to be honest. I owe a duty to stakeholders to speak forthrightly on issues and challenges we face in IT. The solutions will require our collective ‘political will’ at all levels and tiers of governance.
However, this is not to say that IT has not made contributions to national development. Quite the contrary. Perhaps, the single most important developmental initiative of the federal Government this decade is the enactment of National Information Technology Development Act 2007.The Act apart from giving birth to NITDA in a legal sense, created the only national framework for the orderly and systemic development of IT in Nigeria. Before then the IT terrain had been foggy, the issues convoluted and the implementation haphazard.
Nonetheless, major strides were taken in past five decades. The most impact was recorded in the banking sector.
Nigerians may not have forgotten the era of ‘tally numbers’ and long queues in banks.Today, banking transactions can be done in the comfort of living rooms and offices. The terms ‘electronic banking’ and electronic payments are now familiar buzz words, but those services would not have been possible without software both at the back end and at the front end of the transactions.Today,Nigerians own international debit cards and don’t have to carry cash during oversea enabled. The impact of IT in the financial sector therefore has been phenomenal and undeniable.
Apart from the banks, many businesses have migrated to the online environment. Airline tickets are now available at the press of a few computer buttons. Hotels and hospitality industry, to name just two, have improved service delivery through online presence and the application of information Technology. What makes one glad is that Nigerians are at the heart of some of those efforts. But much more remains to be done. There is still no mega or multinational Nigerian Software company. There is still preference for foreign software, especially in the bankning sector, in spite of the policy of buy made -in –Nigeria’ software and IT products. I am deeply saddened that we lack the will (forget the political this time) to trust and invest in our own products as a country.
My challenge to the banks and the financial sector is to invest in the Research and Development(R and D) efforts that would give birth to truly Nigerian banking software. At 50, we are ripe as a nation to own truly home-grown technology.NITDA is ready to partner with the financial sector to develop such software. The immediate impact apart from security for our financial system would be the arresting of capital flight incurred by the important of off-the-shelf applications and the invitation of foreigners to implement the solutions when there are capable Nigerians to undertake the projects.
It must be underscored that in our 50 years as a nation the banks have played a pioneering role in the adoption of information Technology but they also have the capacity to lead the way in the effort to domesticate software –driven business processes and deploy Nigerian applications at a significant level.
Education is another sector which has been impacted positively by information Technology.Ultimately,IT holds the key to the revamping of education system .But so far initiatives undertaken by a few organizations such as Open university,JAMB,WAEC,amiong others, have brought succor to many Nigerians.
Banking and education have benefited from information Technology applications. So has the immigrations services. The electronic passport has done much to redeem the international reputation of Nigeria. In all of these, society has been the better for it. The face of business has changed. What is however required to ensure sustainability is a secure national e-government portal on which all the services would ride in on integrated platform. I am happy that the portal has been developed and has been reviewed by several stakeholders. As soon as the final reviews are completed, the e-governmental will be launched.
However, it is important to point out that Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs)of government are required by official regulation to clear their IT projects with NITDA.The aim is to ensure that IT development is harmonized and standardized under a secure IT-enabled environment while also avoiding duplication and wasting of resources.
Among the very significant contributions of IT to national development is the redelegation of the technical point of contact of the Nigerian Country Code Top Level Domain(ccTLD).Until recently, such a national resource was being coordinated and managed outside the shores of Nigeria by a volunteer foreigner. The birth of the Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NIRA) By NITDA has helped to put the Nigerian ‘flag’ on the internet. Every true Nigerian business in government or in private sector now must migrate to the dot ng domain and fly the flag of Nigeria in cyberspace.NITDA will soon issue a regulation making this mandatory for all MDAs.The benefits would be many. For instance, it would be possible to aggregate the number of real Nigerian sites and trace the origin of some cybercrimes committed through Nigerian sites.
The licensing of several hardware manufacturing companies has also given Nigeria an identity in global information Technology practices. I would like to recognize the pioneering efforts of Zinox and Omatek, Beta, Brian, CPN and Veda as leading IT hardware companies licensed by NITDA whose impact have now gone beyond the shores of the country. They have been the mainstay of NITDA’S computer-in every-home campaign. I again use the opportunity of this forum to call on all Nigerians (private and corporate)to patronize these products as a matter of preference.
Information Technology has also changed the way Nigerians live and love. Hand held devices have become ubiquitious.But what isn’t immediately apparent is that those devices are software enabled. The delighting ringtones, the text messages and SMS which enrich social networking are all driven by software.
Indeed it is hard now to imagine any araea of business enterprise or even governance which does not depend on information Technology to remain competitive.I am delighted that Mr.President and a few governors interact with Nigerinas on social networking sites.It brings government closer to the citizens.It gives the leader a human face.That is the impact of information Technology.
I feel gratified that the efforts of NITDA,CPN,NCS,ITAN,NIG,
ISPON,ISPAN,CAPDAN and other stakeholders are paying off.All the awareness programs in the past decades by these bodies are now yielding fruits.Nigeria is ready for the next stage of IT-enabled services.
That next stage is contained in a blueprint document now launched by the federal Govrnmnet.I refer to the landmark compeduim titled ICT4Development which outlines sectoral roadmaps and implementation strategies for national development using information Technology.It is NITDA’s official contribution to vision 202020 initiative.
In conclusion,IT as a cross-cutting sector has been responsible(directly or indirectly)for any recorded growth and development in the economy.Its impact spans all sectors,from finance to education,and from politics to romance.It is only proper therefore that such cross-cutting sector should enjoy a pride of place in nation.Thank you for your attention.