Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ICT4D: The missing link in 7-point agenda


Features of the week:

Media reports had it that telecom input was missing in the 7-point agenda of President Musa Yar’Adua. REMMY NWEKE reports that the issue of Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) cannot thrive without telecom taking a centre stage in the agenda of this administration.

At the recent Information and Communications Technology (ICT) forum at the Transcorp Hilton in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, a group of three concerned friends were seen during a tea break, at a corner arguing profusely over the current Federal Government’s Seven-point agenda of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration in relation with ICT sector, especially for an all inclusive development.

For the first speaker, Yar’Adua’s administration has failed the education sector because it has not incorporated the ICT-in-education in the agenda as currently presented, himself having served as a lecturer in the university, should have known better the import of ICT in education.

The second speaker was emphatic that the 7-point agenda does not have core ICT infrastructure at heart, yet the government hopes to be among the most 20 advanced economies of the world in the year 2020. And as far as he is concerned, Nigeria is going nowhere without fixing the telecommunications infrastructure, which is reputed as the root of ICT for development (ICT4D).

And for the third speaker, Yar’Adua may mean well, but his ill-health, which has refused to leave the news-stand, may be deterring his good intentions, after all it is a healthy person that can think well enough to incorporate the points his colleagues raised.

He simply urged his colleagues and Nigerians at large to continue to pray for Mr. President, although personally, he is not excited that despite knowing his fate, health-wise, Yar’Adua insisted in accepting to run for the office of the President, even as he was not happy with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, for ‘imposing’ a sick president on Nigerians.

He argued further that the slow pace of things as recently pointed out by the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okojie, is really driving most Nigerians crazy and was quick to add that the war against cyber crime, for instance, by the law enforcement agencies, particularly, the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC), could not be matched with the kind of efforts by Obasanjo’s administration in the past eight years before Yar’Adua took over power on May 2007.

According to him, the law enforcement agencies are driven by the kind of vitality from the Presidency and it looks as if nobody is talking about the cyber crime bill anymore, which has been left at the National Assembly since the last quarter of the Obasanjo era.

What is ICT4D?
Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), has been largely defined as a movement aimed at bridging the digital divide, in other words, the disparity between technologically advanced nations and less developing countries as well as between the poor and the rich at this century of technology evolution.

For the civil society advocates, often, ICT are associated with computers and the Internet only but it has a more inclusive description used to focus on information creation and handling via electronic means, thus, ICT consists of radio, television, video, photography and telephone. Thereby, having four key attributes; it must be two way communications, it must be accessible for information at anytime, anywhere, that is, 24 hours by 7 days in a week. Based on the foregoing, distance matters less and brings about cost reduction in terms of tariff.

Therefore, civil society advocates also argued that ICT for development (ICT4D) is about people cultivating the quality of their lives, through education, health, dignity and opportunity, culture and community-based relationship.

“It is about control over the kinds of things that make life meaningful. Putting computers in schools and health care centres is a good first step, but not the ultimate goal of development. A lot more hi-tech is needed to help realize people’s full human potential, especially those who face poverty, exclusion and marginalization.

The ultimate goal of using ICTs for human development is to empower people to actively shape the world around them, enabling solutions that promote economic prosperity with equity, fostering democracy that is socially just and opening new opportunities for the realization of our full human potential,” official of a non-governmental organization, ITDG, said.

Yar’Adua’s 7-points conflict:
The Presidency in a press statement, made available to Champion Infotel on August 1, 2007, stipulated that the Yar’Adua’s seven points agenda revolve around power and energy, food security, wealth creation, transport, land reforms, security and education.

Lately, according to the executive summary also made available to Champion Infotel, the agenda has seven key areas including critical infrastructure, Niger Delta, food security, human capital development, land tenure changes and home ownership, national security and intelligence and wealth creation.

To start with, there seems to be some disparity between the press statement made available to newsmen on August 1, 2007 and the executive summary being distributed as leaflets among government agencies and departments nationwide without core mention of ICT except for the so called critical infrastructure. The difference between the stipulated 7-point and seven key areas as postulated by the government, could simply go for semantics.

However, currently, report has it that work is on-going and detailed plans will be developed for all aspects of the 7-point agenda with key sector leads from the office of the chief economic adviser to the President and the National Planning Commission.

Also, Yar’Adua’s administration assured that the sector leads would continue to work with individuals within the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) with a promise to include key stakeholders within the business community to implement the various policies.

Critical infrastructure:
On the critical infrastructure which seems to be the only relative ICT infrastructure, the administration also said, infrastructure is key to the government’s 7-point agenda, which includes power, transportation, national gas distribution and telecommunications.

“The developments of these sectors are essential in ensuring Nigeria’s ability to develop as a modern economy and an industrialized nation by 2020,” the executive summary read in part.

Worthy of note is that under the critical infrastructure, power was recognized as a major challenge to ICT4D and was categorized into two, namely the technology related and reform related. On the technology related, the executive summary stated that this points to inadequate electricity production and supply infrastructure, insufficient gas supply, limited investment and funding, inappropriate pricing, poor management, unclear ownership and conflicting goals and objectives.

On the telecommunications component of the critical infrastructure, the summary indicated that the impediments to efficient delivery of high quality service include the inadequacy of infrastructure backbone, dearth of fixed lines, weak or non-existent regulations to deal with anti-competition behaviours, lack of rural telephony coverage and inability to meet universal service obligation, as well as decisive resolution of the ownership and control of SAT-3 that links Nigeria to parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.

Champion Infotel gathered that the federal government’s strategies that will be used to improve telecommunications services in the country, comprising the enactment of anti-trust law, effective regulation, infrastructure upgrade by the national operators, incremental expansion into rural areas, and effective utilization of the Universal Access Fund (UAF).

Telecom, missing link in 7-point agenda:
Speaking, last month, at the annual ICT symposium of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), chief executive of The Executive Cyberschuul (TEC), Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, who dwelt on “The Good and the Bad of Nigeria’s Telecom ‘Revolution,’” noted that based on the administration’s press statement widely published of August 1, 2007, there is no telecom input in the 7-point agenda of Alhaji Yar’Adua.

Any other thing like the so-called critical infrastructure blue print of the government was an after-thought and did not give in-depth view of how the government intends to solve the problem of infrastructure in the nation’s ICT sector.
“It does not contain a telecom component,” he declared, stressing that perhaps if the authors of 7-point agenda had replaced ‘transport sector’ with ‘communications’ it should have made a lot of difference and even sounded real.

He posited that based on the aforesaid 7-point agenda, the business of transforming Nigeria to be part of the globe’s most 20 economies in earth could be a mirage.
“This shows that the business of revolutionizing Nigeria is very largely unfinished,” he asserted.

Commenting on the subject matter, Dr. Ike Mowete of the University of Lagos, said that the President’s 7-point Agenda may not explicitly mention ICTs or telecom, but it is evident that the infrastructural improvements that may come about will be of tremendous benefit to the ICT industry.

“Besides, one would want to believe that the 7-point represent the ‘minimum requirements’ expectation he would like to focus on,” he said.

ICT as catalyst for development:
Meanwhile, inside the conference hall at Transcorp Hilton, the Minister of Information and Communications, Chief John Ogar Odey, told his audience that ICT is a major catalyst for development, which is critical for the survival of any economy.

As said by him, there is a consensus among African leaders and the world that leveraging on ICT potentials would bring about sustainable development, emphasizing that the host of the 2008 Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation (CTO)-organised forum is an indication that Nigeria is committed toward making ICT the prime mover of its economy, insisting that ICT challenges must be addressed, especially on the infrastructure, if Africa is to realize its full economic potentials and opportunities that abound thereof.

Conclusion:
Champion Infotel investigation revealed that Alhaji Yar’Adua has not for once attended any ICT event in person since assuming office on May 29, 2007, which over a year and eight months; even when such industry events are taken from Lagos, the hub of commercial activities and ICT in the country to the city of power, Abuja.

The fact is that President Yar’Adua has given Nigerians, mostly his critics enough room for criticism and unexpected comparison with Obasanjo. Industry observers wondered if Obasanjo was complacent like Yar’Adua posture currently depicts, what should have happened to the ICT sector or do we need to organize another summit on Information Society, before he could wake up to the realities that without ICT4D, the so called Vision 2020, may not take off, let alone Nigeria making an impact in its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), where the bulk of the citizens and women are in rural areas and without relevant social amenities.

Therefore, it is very crucial that he makes an effort to grace some of these occasions, even if it means few minutes, because it would definitely have an effect on him as a person and the nation in the long run, moreso, on the way political decisions are made on ICT sector.

Relying on aids like Ministers to give reports is good but not good enough in an ‘unknown’ terrain like ICT; where technological innovations are being turned out almost on daily basis. A walk round in an ICT exhibition would certainly make an impact. And the earlier he begins to strategize in this direction; his views about ICT for development would be heightened for the betterment of all Nigerians.


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