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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Effects of WSIS on Nigeria

Features of the week:

Second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) comes up in 54 days away in Tunis. REMMY NWEKE reports that the processes have been a stimulae to development in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the country.


TWO years ago when the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-03) came to a close in Geneva, Switzerland, little did any one give Africa let alone Nigeria a chance to record much development in the use of ICT that impacted so much on the people before the second phase.

WSIS, known as the global gathering of Heads of State and government and other high-profile leaders came out of the first phase with two essential documents, namely ´Declaration of principles and Action Plan, upon which Information Society (IS) will be founded and time frames between 2005 and 2015 by advancing internationally agreed development goals in efforts to close digital divide.

Quite Revolution

In what assumed another quite revolution, the import of this summit to various continents of the world cannot be measured, particularly in Africa where most of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) seem to have their roots, and nations in transition as far as democracy is concerned.

The event organised by the United Nations (UN) through its agencies and coordinated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) set the ball rolling with the inauguration of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) to trash the issue which resulted in open hand to the Internet administration coordinatoion by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The group report would be presented officially in Tunis.

This process has greatly paved the way for the African Network Information Center (AfriNIC), which came live after the adoption of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) report on the proposal among other task forces and working groups at different levels of ICT; to ensure that as the world leaders meet in Tunis again on IS to evaluate the outcome since the last first phase, some would have reason to beat their chaste, even if no one eulogies them, despite obvious infrastructural difficulties.

Government's commitment

Among these leaders would be the President of the largest black and African nation on the continent, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. Although he attended the Geneva phase with regrets that the nation did not showcase its teeming potentials at the exhibition stands, his government’s attitude to ICT changed for the better afterwards.

So, few months later during the e-Nigeria 2004 organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Chief Obasanjo tasked African leaders, mostly from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the need to harness thoughts in order to have a common front for the greater continental positioning at the second phase.

His administration also encouraged what experts said was opening of the door for better understanding of the implication of allowing the nation to be behind equals rather than the leader or big brother role according to politicians; mostly by providing the enabling environment for the regulatory agencies like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to steer the telecom industry, to its present height, which equals telecom growth to that of India, with over 150 per cent increase in telephone access as at January 2004 and by August 2005, the nation has from what was obtained earlier recorded 16 million Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) subscribers, according to NCC boss, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe.

WSIS therefore strengthened the efficacy of ICT at the leadership circle, making it possible for African political leaders to work towards transparency and good governance on the continent.

This is equally evident in less politicization of ICT policy issues into onward implementation, therefore affording the leadership at various stages amenable to the fact that technology begets future development in this century.

Therefore, the commitment has shifted upwards with good results as African nation’s and precisely Nigeria, could be said to be more considerate of the implications of worsening the already digital divide in the system. So they now see ICT with some amount of seriousness.

Dividends of ICT

And given the influence of GSM, for instance, in the last four years and its economic boost to ordinary Nigerian who would graduate with uncertain future, but now some of them own and operate call centers at streets and even villages with the help of communications technologies like booster antenna to mention a few.

Another instance, is that between the two phase lay a great number of media houses focusing on ICT and not merely having increased access but have generated some positive hits in the technology reporting both locally and internationally.

With the understanding that Nigeria journalists now could send stories from Europe, other parts of Africa and the world at large where there is Internet access may no longer be news, but the fact that generality of editorial staff are daily getting keen over the use of some of these technologies, especially the internet is a positive one.

Also, at the presidency it was reported that top-notchers of the nation’s leadership have ´passed´ 21st century literacy test coordinated by NITDA which is prerequisite to enthrone appropriate policies that will boost investment which come with provision of infrastructure either by the government or by members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) based on arrangement and understanding between this two.

At least, a Senator of the federal republic now knows the difference between Information Technology (IT) and ´It´, Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) and ´Ups´ amidst several daily used ICT jargons.

As matter of fact various state governments are now setting up ICT centres for their people, which they tagged ‘democracy dividend’ usually offering business center services in a large scale, and training at different levels too.

Achieving the Action Plan

For instance, Nigeria has achieved some parts of the section A3 in the Action Plan by forming stakeholders partnership between government and OPS known as the National e-Government Strategies (NeGSt), a public private partnership (PPP); to over see the role of developing and implementing comprehensive, forward, and sustainable national e-strategies.

Even as the linking of local and central government departments and establishing websites and electronic mail (email) addresses are coming in phases with the relaunch of the nation’s portal, www.nigeria.gov.ng, thereby boosting local content development with requisite technical conditions on the Internet beginning in earnest with the proposed IT bill, thus encouraging by way of building confidence and security.

This came as controversies on local hosting of the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) name, .ng, was rested following government’s intervention, giving birth literarily to the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA).

On achieving the capacity building demands of IS, the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) Utako-Abuja was established over 16 months ago and by tinkering on unified licensing scheme due to take off next February, NCC is broadening access to global frequency harmonisation and systems standardization, as required by C4 and C2 in the Action Plan. These are expected to boost Internet and communications in the country, while reducing illiteracy level in the use of ICTs at various levels.

Above all, communications is fundamental to social process of inclusion which WSIS tends to achieve hence a basic need for the foundation of all social organisations and centre of Information Society.

A New Dawn

In stressing this fact, the issue of deploying electronic voting machine come 2007 general election in the country, is as good as endorsed if few obstacles pointed out would be fixed as assured by the chief electoral officer of the federation and chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Maurice Iwu.

It was not surprising therefore that Mr. President, like heeding the call by former president, Information Technology Industry Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Mr. Chris Uwaje, recently that political leadership positions in the country should be left for those below 50 years, has his choice of Ministers as mostly new breeds whose interest in technology deployment is immeasurable.

By the end of the summit, industry watchers look forward to more streamlined monitoring of the follow up of the two documents, mostly the Acton Plan, to give room for adequate implementation beyond the conference and probably present good report card by the end year 2015.

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