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Nigeria and the Question of IT
Of concern to the nation is an Information and Communications Technology action plan. We have talked and jaw-jawed over the IT policy in different forum but where do we go from here?
What is the role of IT in the way we interact, the way we do business, the way we learn, the way we are governed, the way we live, the way we grow as a nation? Call it IT policy. Or actualization of the IT policy. Call it IT action plan. It is an issue politicians should not dodge. Lack of action and attitude about what is needed in IT is a luxury Nigeria and Nigerians cannot afford. Political leaders in our present day and age need to wake up to the reality of IT.
Potential investors are attracted because of the country's size and population. But is the environment conducive for growth in the ICT sector? Is there ICT growth for the benefit of Nigerians? Considering Nigeria's size and potentials, growth in IT is definitely poor. What are the nation's objectives with regard to IT? Why are we missing the mark? Politics must involve ensuring Nigeria joins the global knowledge economy as an active participant.
Our future depends not on oil but on the quality of human capital. A country with a huge populace that is not empowered is not a giant but a disaster waiting to happen. In the digital age, Nigeria needs quality manpower. We must get our priorities right by investing seriously in human capital. This means focusing on increased computer literacy and IT professionalism. The level of IT literacy is still abysmally low due to grinding poverty in the land and ignorance. Computer education must be accompanied with serious manpower planning in the ICT sector.
Manpower policy will ensure that computer education is not just for its sake, but also for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians. Computer literacy should no longer be optional in schools. Every Nigerian child should be computer literate. Education must emphasize the practical aspects of IT. It should address the IT and Telecoms skills needs of employers, and the need for world-class personnel that can offer service in the global IT driven market. As the assertion goes, “the future starts now”. Now is the time to preparing the populace, by growing their IT skills for the knowledge economy. For sustainable, strong growth of Nigeria's economy, it needs a skilled and enlightened populace that can take advantage of advances in ICT.
In this light, while the formal structures must embrace IT literacy, there is a need to start evaluating and encouraging mass supportive schemes such as IT apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships can be developed in conjunction with industry as a way of training young people to work effectively in their early careers. The present system where IT professionals come only from the formal and traditional education centers is not working. Representatives of all stakeholders from industry, employers, government, educators, the voluntary sector, trade unions, learning and training providers, need to fashion out IT apprenticeship schemes for the youth of Nigeria. More opportunities need to be created for young people to get into IT in a focused manner. We must widen the net of opportunity. Some of the youth can actually contribute positively to society if given the chance rather than scrambling to be area boys, or party thugs. Features of such schemes should include: job/work placement, training plan, practical skills based training, certification, with improved career prospects and job security.
Apprenticeship provides practical ways of gaining skills for work and continuing learning and career development throughout life.
Essentially, Manpower planning will entail ensuring that there is an effective strategy and plan of action for growing skills needed by employers of IT and Telecoms professionals for improved business performance and for global competitiveness.
There is also a serious need to consider the development and availability of IT facilities nationwide. Good training programme involves costs. Manpower planning for the IT industry must provide for a variety of incentives and financial support to be effective.
Furthermore, there is a need to create a beneficial environment for ICT growth. It certainly does not help to hear discordant tunes from key operators and regulators. It is amazing that in this age, policy makers can be contemplating policies that will increase the cost of Internet access. What we need is an environment that encourages affordability, availability and reliability of ICT. Anything else will simply be elitist, and will not have the desired mass effect on the country. GSM is a start, but it definitely fails the tests of affordability and reliability. Even now availability has become an issue.
Politicians need to be concerned about how an ICT environment will on one hand encourage mass utility and on the other hand encourage and attract investors. Also manufacturers, resellers, and professionals are major stakeholders that must be considered. Initiatives to boost IT in the domestic market should be promoted.
We must avoid the “Cat and mouse - let us catch them” game. Enterprise, hard work, innovation, and creativity should be rewarded. Control must be used wisely. Control and regulation is good when it strengthens and grows the IT industry rather than stifling it. Serious nations encourage growth by creating the right environment. India has done this successfully. So it is not magic. At the same time, one is not advocating a copycat mentality. The right environment for IT can be grown through deep meaningful measures not PR stunts. The correct mix and application of tax exemptions, improvement of critical infrastructure, customs and tax duties, as well as tax holidays, will engender growth. This should apply to areas such as IT services, software export, IT training, duties on communications equipment, computer components and so on.
Closely related to creating a favorable environment for growth is the issue of e-governance. Presently, e-governance is seen as an elitist pastime that makes no sense to the grassroot because the impact is not felt. E-governance needs to bring the benefits of IT to the citizens. A question politicians must ask is why is the Return on Investment (ROI) so low for public sector projects compared to those of the private sector?
There is a need to avoid a slavish mentality towards technology. Technology is for man, not vice versa. Often decision makers get sucked into new technology and concepts without a clear understanding of what they intend to achieve. Often what you have is the 'just-keep-the-lights-on' mentality. You don't adopt technology because it is available, or because it is new. You can't simply throw money at technology and go to sleep. Purchase of technology for technology's sake must stop. A lot of the time, the problems are within us, not the technology. Technology acquisition must be aligned with realistic objectives. How will IT contribute towards efficiency and effectiveness? IT is not in itself a solution. The answer is to try to understand what it is we do and what we need to do and how IT can help.
How Cost-effective is the purchase? On what standards are the purchase based?
Another reason for the low ROI of IT government projects is the Nigerian factor and the poor record of implementation. ROI can only be high where there is honesty and sincerity of purpose and where goals and objectives are understood and aligned for success. Also decision-making should accommodate the rapidly changing dynamic business environment.
Furthermore, is the human element considered in technology purchase? Staff training and motivation is critical to ensure productivity and job satisfaction. The goals and the vision must be meaningful to the individuals involved.
Political leaders must have realistic concepts of how IT works. There must be an understanding of how it should be aligned to support national goals and objectives. The aim of ICT should be to eliminate poverty and engender growth.
This entails using IT as a strategic resource. It is not a tool just for now, it is for now and the future. It is not just for solving immediate problems of cost-cutting, corruption, etc. How will IT be used as a strategic resource for managing risks, planning, policy formulation, strategy and creation of opportunities? IT's great value comes into play when it is used more proactively than in a reactive mode.
Do our politicians know this, do they have the right mindset? What Nigeria needs now is leaders with the mindset for a digital revolution in order to leap-frog into the knowledge economy. But it seems we may be experiencing the Classic IT/Political divide.
Most of the issues raised are not new. But for how long will our leaders continue howling and barking when they should be biting? Talkshops, conferences, seminars and dillydallying. What happens when the enabler refuses to enable? What is needed now is the political will to untie us from the bundle of contradictions, the nation has found itself in. Do our politicians know this; do they have the right mindset?
Are our leader aware? Are our leaders purposeful and selfless? Do our leaders know how Nigeria can use IT to join the knowledge economy? Or are our political leaders “dinosaurs in human skin”? Apologies to the late Afrobeat Maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I pray not.
Jide Awe is the Publisher of Jidaw.com.
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