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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Functional website, key to rebranding


The official Nigeria’s government website, www.nigeria.gov.ng was reportedly stale. REMMY NWEKE in this write up examines FG’s efforts in rising up to the occasion.

Recently, the Federal Government’s official website, NigeriaDirect located on www.nigeria.gov.ng, which serves as the external service of Voice of Nigeria (VON); the website is the apparent gateway to accessing official information, was reported to be stale.

It was believed among stakeholders in the Nigerian project that such a medium of communication will contain not only relevant, but current information about the country, her people and policies forming part of its daily agenda.

Relating these to the current efforts to rebrand Nigeria, it is expected that the functionality and efficiency of government would be exhibited on its official website to the extent that it will present itself as the dependable reference platform. But all that is not to be going by what was recently discovered at the site.

For over eight months, the official website of the federal government was stale considering that information contained thereon were not updated.

The bad news!
The bad news then according to ITRealms Online investigations as at May 13, was that majority of the 20 former ministers dropped last September by President Umaru Yar’Adua, were still in office, based on the official information gateway of the federal government, the NigeriaDirect, www.nigeria.gov.ng.

This was an indication that the official website was not being holistically updated for upward of eight months after some changes were made in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

Created in 2005, at the wake of the campaign to rebrand the nation via the Heart of Africa by the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications (FMIC), NigeriaDirect, the official website of the Federal Government of Nigeria, still has the Heart of Africa running instead of the ‘Nigeria, good people, great nation’ campaign, thereby misinforming the world and defeating its purpose.

Before now ...
A visit before now to the website by ITRealms Online revealed that such former ministers as Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs. Grace Ekpiwhre, were yet to hand-over to her then Minister of State, Dr. Alhassan Bako Zaku, who is the incumbent minister.

According to NigeriaDirect, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mahmud Yayale Ahmed was still a Minister and his then Minister of State, Mrs. Fidelia Akuabata Njeze, was yet to be redeployed to Agriculture and Natural Resources among others, eight months after.

However, in the Ministry of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili and Alhaji Aliyu Ikra Bilbis were reflected correctly as the Minister and Minister of State respectively. Just as Mr. Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, SAN, also correctly retained his office in the Federal Ministry of Justice as minister, together with the Minister of Interior, retired Major General Godwin Abbe, while the former minister of state at the Interior Ministry, Hassan Alhaji Haruna was yet to vacate his position according to NigeriaDirect, to name a few.

Additionally, it was learnt that the ministry in-charge, which is FMIC, may be having an issue with the website developer – contractor - warranting the irregular up dates; which from all intents and purposes negate the current rebranding drive by the government being championed by Prof. Akunyili.

Above all, industry observers called on Akunyili and her ministry to refocus the official website of the government in all aspects; be it ministerial and presidential as most of the information are currently sought after by foreign researchers and media practitioners, which cannot impact any change with obsolete content.

FMIC affirims site dsyfunction:
But affirming the efficacy of the exclusive report by ITRealms Online, the Federal government, a week later, on May 19, said it regretted the dysfunction of the official website, www.nigeria.gov.ng, and announced the debut of two new sites; www.fmic.gov.ng and www.nigeriarebrands.com.

Also, FMIC said, Prof. Akunyili regretted the inconveniences the dysfunctional national portal must have caused the public, according to a press statement issued by the Director, Information Technology in the ministry, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote.

While acknowledging the report, she attributed the dysfunctional and inaccessibility of FG’s official website to a disagreement with the Internet Service Provider (ISP) contractor, which has taken long time than expected to resolve.

“This unfortunate situation compelled the Ministry to launch a new website which became up and running ...,” part of the statement read, as Mrs. Odusote added that the two new websites were in pursuit of its rebranding campaign.

“As part of the Re-branding Nigeria Project, the FMIC recently launched a new website, www.fmic.gov.ng, which will avail Nigerians and foreigners timely and important information about the people and government of Nigeria,” she said, stressing that it would help the government to have an interactive polling system to engage Nigerians through a seamless feedback mechanism on policies and programmes.

Even as the ministry had set up another website, www.nigeriarebrands.com, specifically for the re-branding Nigeria project, which will contain all materials relating to the scheme.

“The two websites are up and running as they are regularly updated,” she said, enjoining that as efforts are underway to resolve all issues surrounding the national portal, www.nigeria.gove.ng, Nigerians and foreigners alike who desire information on the country to take advantage of visiting www.fmic.gov.ng or www.nigeriarebrands.com.

What’s a website?
Website, defined by experts at the Princeton University as a computer connected to the internet that maintains a series of web pages on the World Wide Web (www); another experts at wiktionary.org said a website, is a collection of web pages, images, sound, video and files to name a few, linked together and available on the www, basically on a given subject with a home page.

Akunyili solicits support:
In her epistle to Nigerians, especially Internet enthusiasts, the Minister of Information, Prof. Akunyili noted that all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or age, should be allowed to recognize the development issues they themselves face, participate in addressing them and enjoy the fruits of such endeavours.

For this reason, she said, FG came up with a brand new website to re-evaluate how best it could reach the populace and provide them with a veritable platform to contribute towards this all inclusive war to reform, re-engineer and reposition our great country for the 21st century development race.

The new website of the FMIC, she said, is the Nigerian government’s way of acknowledging the relevance of its citizens as key allies in the sustainable advancement of the country.“I therefore pray that whatever information you think we need to populate this site or whatever you think that is not available in it, do not hesitate to communicate to us,” she urged

NIG on FG’s stale website:
Commenting on the stale website of the federal government, the chief executive officer, PiNet Informatics and President of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, told ITRealms Online that though the story of government’s website going static and projecting stale information is not peculiar to Nigeria.gov.ng, managed by the Ministry of Information and Communication, as it has become a common trend in almost all Nigerian Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA).

As said by him, what makes the case of Nigeria.gov.ng worrisome is the fact that it was meant to be an authoritative source of official information about the Federal Republic of Nigeria with links to other MDA’s portals. “It ought to be the default location for anyone looking for information about the government of Nigeria and such information should be authoritative,” he said.

Un-updated site casts doubts:
Ajayi pointed out that when information on such portal is not updated, it cast doubt in the mind of visitors on the genuineness of the claim of the website to being the official website of government, thus portraying the government as not living up to its responsibilities.

Underlining the fact that a number of visitors may have even based their entire judgment of the country completely on the state of the official government portal, hence, Ajayi said, it is important that due attention is paid to such a website.

He canvassed for the appropriate government agencies in charge of Information Technology to ensure that this website and other ones by the other MDAs are kept up to date including the newly created two websites. “Rules guiding the set up and management of government website should be set and compliance to the set rules should be ensured by appropriate regulatory agency,” he declared.

Conclusion:
Noteworthy is that as at last week ending Saturday, June 20, 2009, the new website www.fmic.gov.ng, has generated over 8,359 visitors. Based on this analogy hitherto, it shows that an average of over 200 visitors per day visited the site daily in the last one month.

Therefore, it is commendable for the technical session of the ministry led by Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, to come up with the two websites within a short time after the staleness was exposed.

And as the team continue to maintain the ministry’s website, there is overtly the need to involve other technical sections of MDAs, to harmonize their individual websites, because, it is not enough to provide links to them from www.fmic.gov.ng only to meet a stumbling block of yet un-updated website as obtained currently.

Even as rebranding website could easily pass for an extension of Akunyili’s personal exploits, rather than what it was meant to deliver. Although, it should have been better to simply collapse the two websites in order to optimise the value, more so if efforts at updating the two sites pose hiccups.

The good news, however, is that even www.nigeria.gov.ng has partly repositioned by trying a subtle update, as the likes of Dr. Alhassan Bako Zaku has taken possession at Ministry of Science and Technology and Mrs. Njeze rightly routed at Ministry of Agriculture among others.

But essentially, FMIC must ask itself some relevant questions of how redeemable www.nigeria.gov.ng will be eventually and how long it could take to settle the differences with the contractor. These are imperative because ours is ours and that of the Ministry remain its own. Nigeria as a nation needs its own information gateway online. As a result, the earlier the issues surrounding the www.nigeria.gov.ng is resolved, the better for the nation, otherwise, it should as matter of urgency be brought down pending such a time when peace will prevail.

As an information resource, website may provide information on any topic on earth, therefore, for a nation like Nigeria, battling with rebranding syndrome, it is fundamentally crucial to urgently fix its information gate at this era, even as website has been described as a market place that never gets closed; because as one country is going to bed, another is awake for business and runs for 365 days in a year.

And like one observer noted recently after the report on stale website, “if you have the right information plus a dysfunctional website it equals to a colossal failure in the efforts at rebranding Nigeria.” So, Nigeria needs to leverage on this aspect of the Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), if the rebranding campaign must succeed by building upon the current efforts seen in recent weeks with the debut of dual websites by FMIC.

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