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The Information Society and Nigeria
Information and communication is integral to human society. In African societies that existed before colonial rule, people communicated using various instruments and codes such as talking drums, flutes, gongs, town crier and village square meetings. Many historical records are still on walls of caves and especially transmitted through oral tradition. The use of writing and the invention of printing transformed the type and content of recorded history.
Communications on a universal scale became possible through the use of books, newspapers, and magazines.
- More recent technological innovations increased further the reach and speed of communications,
culminating for now, with digital technology.
- For several years, many researchers have been showing particular interest in information and communication technologies (ICTs). According to the Committee on Science and Technology at the Service of Development, ICTs will become crucially important for sustainable development in developing countries -(Credé and Mansell 1998: ix).
For the past two decades, most developed countries have witnessed significant changes that can be traced to ICTs. These multidimensional changes (technical, financial and economic, cultural, social, and geo-political) have been observed in almost all aspects of life: economics; education; communications; leisure; and travel.
Furthermore, the changes observed in these countries have led to what is now referred to as -the knowledge society.
- ICTs have made it possible to find fast access to, and distribution of, information as well as new ways of doing business in real time at a cheaper cost. However, a considerable gap exists between developing countries, notably African countries, and developed ones in terms of the contribution of ICTs to the creation of wealth. The gap has tended to widen between developed countries, the technology suppliers, and the receiving developing countries. At the same time, the gap between the elites and the grassroots communities within these developing countries is also expanding in terms of their access to ICTs. If measures are not taken to make ICTs both affordable and easy to use, access to them will be insignificant in developing countries.
Many initiatives have been taken at the international level to support Africa's efforts to develop communication infrastructure and services that are connected to the world information highways. These efforts are designed to enable African countries to find faster ways to achieve durable and sustainable development. However, although most of the actors agree intuitively on the positive role that ICTs can play in the development process, the links between development and the use of ICTs are yet to be clearly established and rigorously supported by empirical results from Africa.
There is no doubt that ICTs play an important role in developed countries, but does the economic structure of these countries favour this role of ICTs in development? Davison et al. (2000) do think so. They state that in developed countries, the evolution of ICTs has been linked closely to the power and economic boom of these countries, and that there has been a strong positive correlation between development levels and the adoption of increasingly sophisticated and complex technologies.
Although the new (digital) technologies may be impressive, they cannot determine the changes expected from their uses. They are no more than catalysts that facilitate these changes. Like any other technology, it is the social context in which they have been introduced and implemented that determines their uses and impacts. The digital revolution is relevant for Africa only if it takes into consideration the daily realities and aspirations of individuals (Uimonen 1997).
Davison et al. (2000) went further by arguing that ICTs have, to a large extent, been developed in the context of, and for the cultural and social standards of, a few rich countries (Western Europe, North America, East and Southeast Asia, and Australia). These innovations can help meet market pressures but not the needs of the poor, who have very weak purchasing power (UNDP 2001).
Another idea developed by the International Telecommunications Union (1997) proposes that factors that strongly influence the introduction and spread of the Internet are wealth, telecommunications infrastructure (quality and number), the number of microcomputers, the relatively low cost of communications (telephone and Internet), language, education, and training. Yet, Africa is known for being a continent with one of the world lowest growth rates in all types of infrastructure.
The advancements in technology has created so many ICT tools that are necessary and useful in the development process. These new technologies have become central to contemporary societies. Basic classifications by Chris Nicol of the Association for Progressive Communications of these modern technologies are:
Information Technology: uses computers, which have become indispensable in modern societies to process data and save time. The use of computers is so pervasive to modern development in commerce, education and governance amongst others.
Telecommunication Technologies includes telephones - mobile, fixed (with fax) and broadcasting of radio and television, often through satellite:
Networking Technologies, of which the best known is the internet, but which has extended to mobile phone technology, Voice Over IP telephony, satellite communications, and other forms of communications that are still in their infancy.
These all have come to dominate modern society and become the basis for the survival of the modern man. This is the information age in a global village!
Globalization- though few agree on any single definition, it generally describes the world where market forces are the driving forces. Today trade and investments are expanding the hitherto known boundaries of nations. Information technology has become a major driver of globalization reducing the world into a global village. However, whilst technology of information is advancing and empowering more communities, the digital divide between the north and south hemisphere is reinforcing poverty in the third world. All the computers and telecommunications facilities in Africa are not up to 50% of those of New York City in the USA. This huge gap in application of
ICT in the development process is furthering the pauperization the poor and expanding the gap between the rich and the poor part of the word.
The situation is further aggravated by a lack of ICT Policy and where it exists (actually Nigeria has no ICT policy!) the implementation strategies are so poor it makes nonsense of the little policy in place (check out the National IT Policy -2001). Over the past three years advances have been made especially in the area of telecommunications -GSM, but much more still needs
to be done.
There are two issues that are critical to diffuse information technology-access and civil liberties. Access has to do with making it possible for everyone to use the internet and other media. In societies where only a minority has telephones, ensuring affordable access to the internet is a huge challenge.
Much of the response would lie in social solutions such as community or public access centres. In richer countries, basic access to internet is available almost to all, and faster broadband connections are fairly widespread. Access to traditional media is now a key concern, as new technologies make community video, radio and television more feasible than before.
It is in the light of the foregoing that DevNet-Development Information Network- is initiating a project of developing an Information for Development In Nigeria Multi-Component Project to facilitate community access to information on and about development and governance. The projects seek to advance the World Summit on Information Society Plan of Action. It also seeks to develop the capacity of NGOs to negotiate the ICT terrain and to assist in cascading the knowledge of and about ICT to the community level.
- To integrate Information and Communications Technology into daily human living.
- To promote the World Summit on the Information Society
Plan of Action in Nigeria
To facilitate interaction between the global information system and the Nigerian public.
Interested groups, organizations and individuals who would like to be part of this epoch making project should contact the undersigned.
Acting Executive Director,
Development Information Network
7, Adesoye Street, Mende, Maryland, Lagos.
Tel 234-1-7938327; Mob: 0802-315-6931
coverage and information related to this topic, Visit Nigeria's
Information Technology and Telecommunications Center on the Web:
Visit the ICT Policy Resource Bank
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