Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Taking IT to rural people, the NCS way

Features of the week:

Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) has ended its weeklong national conference in Yola, Adamawa State, in north-eastern part of the country. REMMY NWEKE who was there reports that it’s a step worth sustaining for the sake of rural Information Technology (IT) penetration.

The 20th session of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) national conference and annual general meeting (AGM) held in Yola, Adamawa State, may have ended, but one thing that distinguished the event from others was the involvement of the local people.

Although the rural people were not part of the technical sessions, their presence sent some heart-warming message to the society at large and precisely the Nigerian IT professionals in diaspora.

Aligned with the theme of the conference, “Framework for IT Penetration in Rural Nigeria: Bridging Our Digital Divide” (FITPEN), the event was graced by about four different rural groups from various localities in Adamawa State.

These included the Urluma and Laduma dancers respectively as well as the Shira dance group from Michika local government area of the state.

In an exclusive chat with our correspondent after their performance, the leader of Shira dancers, Mr. Zira Tali, revealed that he has not touched a computer in his over 40 years on earth.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. John Vandu, the leader said his group was invited to perform and cheer-up the event for the computer people; NCS.

He further confessed that he has seen a Personal Computer (PC), thus aware something is called computer, but has not touched one.

Hence, he was very elated when asked if he would like to touch one immediately, the response came in affirmation. Then, Mr. Tali was taken to the lobby of the State Banquet Hall, Government House Yola, the venue of the event where he sat comfortably and fiddled with the mouse as directed, at which his pictures were taken.

Accompanied by one of the dancers and interpreter, Mr. Tali was all smiles as he fulfilled a long life dream; getting closer to a PC and to an extent touching it.

Message from Michika
One message here reminds us of how excited we were on our first encounter with PC and Mr. Tali is not left out.

But one quick thing that comes to mind is how to make this feeling permanent or beyond first encounter as was the case penultimate Tuesday; to deploying computers in the rural areas in order to make the likes of Mr. Tali more useful in this era. It is certain that if given a chance to learn more about PC to improve his farm chores, he would embrace it with open arms.

In over 46 years of Nigerian nation, there have been lots of government’s strategies to curb poverty, for instance from Operation Feed the Nation to the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (NEEDS), yet none seems to have IT affiliation especially for the rural people.

According to the vice chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, in his keynote address to FITPEN-06, on “The Challenges of IT Penetration in Rural Area: Bridging Digital Divide,” over the years the nation has several programmes for arresting the poverty level of per capita income of the citizenry “but none has IT included.”

Prof. Ibidapo-Obe, represented by Prof. Charles Uwadia, said that clearly, digital divide creates what he described as “political gulf.” He enumerated some factors militating against even development in the urban and rural areas in the country, especially in IT.

These consist of lack of electricity power supply, good access roads, and cost of laying infrastructure among other socio-economic amenities.

“Information Technology remained the least developed,” he declared. Stressing IT importance to rural development, he said, it could boost farmers output, knowledge of improving product requirement as well as rural peoples’ social interactions.

This, he said, could be achieved by “setting up IT resource centres in the rural areas.” Prof. Ibidapo-Obe also pointed out that this step if adhered to, would arrest youth restiveness in some parts of the country.

In addition, it would enable farmers via the Internet to market their products with less meddlesomeness of middlemen, thus dealing directly with buyers and at the same time maintaining close relationship with their families in diaspora.

NCS position
For NCS, the focus this year at FITPEN, was the overall agenda of the NCS executive council, which aims at “creating wealth with IT,” according to its president, Dr. Chris Nwannenna.

He also noted that NCS has been the vanguard of strategies to achieving this, via promotion of indigenous expertise in software development and building of IT capacity to sustain the dream, even as results are very visible.

This, Dr. Nwannenna said, gave impetus to the recent government directive that all its agencies should make indigenous software products and services a priority choice for all applications and patronise same appropriately.

From Adamawa with love
For Adamawa State government, the august assembly of professionals and surge of visitors to the state was the first of its kind.

This position could not have been if not for favourable disposition to IT of the state governor, Alhaji Boni Haruna, who was ably represented at the occasion by the deputy, Alhaji Bello Tukur.

Congratulating NCS for the choice of Adamawa for its 20th session, Alhaji Tukur noted that rural areas are integral part of the country that cannot be ignored. He said, the nation’s most export produce originate from the rural communities.

He tasked Nigerians and NCS members precisely to be part of crusade to engender IT in the rural areas and dwellers.

“We have committed substantial fund to IT development in the state,” he asserted, even as Adamawa has embarked on IT strategic plan, which would facilitate universal payment system in the state.

Alhaji Tukur further enjoined NCS to work towards building an ‘India’ of our time, since India hinges majority of her foreign earnings on IT.

NCS above all, should come up with strategies to practically take IT to the rural communities. Although Yola confab could serve as a stepping stone and as noted by the first Nigerian computer scientist, Dr. Isaac Odeyemi, it is high time professionals begin thinking seriously about solar energy deployment so as to ensure e-inclusion of the rural populace.

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