Jidaw Systems
(MASTERCOMPUTERS)


I.T. AND YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN NIGERIA

THE acronym ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is fast becoming a popular one in the country today. In fact, one of the greatest achievements of the present government which has been repeatedly touted at many a symposium, press conference and party convention is the remarkable in-road made in the telecommunications sector in form of the Global System of Mobile (GSM) communication revolution. Recently the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) announced that it would commission its Mobile Internet Units (MIUs) for greater access to the Internet by Nigerians on the 10th of February 2003. All these I must say are very commendable but much still needs to be done in terms of meaningful ICT growth in our country.

 

A while ago the president talked about the Computer-In-Schools-Initiative (CISI) which was a programme that was also very commendable as it was meant to serve as a platform for leapfrogging Nigerian youth into the ICT age but now it is either nothing worthwhile is being done by the government concerning the programme or the press does not find the programme newsworthy enough to monitor the progress or otherwise of the programme and intimate the Nigerian populace of happenings. Rather what we see everyday in our newspapers, save for a few ICT-friendly papers like the Guardian (Tuesdays), the Punch (Tuesdays), ThisDay (Thursdays), the Comet (Mondays) and Financial Standard (Mondays), is the continual celebration of rogues and their ill-gotten wealth or reports on the political misadventures of one jobber or the other. Considering the role of the media as an information-dissemination tool in the society, I must say, from my observations that the media has failed us in the area of ICT growth. At this point in time when more and more nations are reverting to economic development through mental exertions, it is disheartening to discover that Nigerians are still unrepentantly stuck to the misconception that we can achieve outstanding economic growth solely through the exploitation of our oil resources. To borrow a statement from Professor Pat Utomi, "the wealth in our heads is more than the oil in our lands". With the plethora of brilliant people who have come out of this country; the likes of Professor Bart Nnaji, Wole Soyinka, Emeagwali and Utomi just to mention a few and those that still abound in our country, it is indeed quite a shame to discover that Nigeria is still finding it hard to tap into the enormous potentials for economic growth that ICT has to offer.
We have all heard the histories of India and Ireland concerning their tremendous growth through the use of ICT. We are all living witnesses to their status' today and how much income is being generated through ICT by way of export of both finished products and personnel and foreign investment by other technologically advanced countries not for the purpose of opening sales outlets as is the case with our country but for actual manufacture of both software and hardware. Even the school fees of Indian schools for ICT courses have risen astronomically as a result of the great importance attached to ICT!
(Source: Delhi Institute of Technology, India fees review for the years 1999 and 2002).
ICT holds a lot of potential for economic growth and Nigeria being the "giant" of Africa needs to wake up and take the initiative of empowering her youths for the challenges ahead; more investment has to be made in the ICT sector, subsidies have to introduced to reduce the exorbitant cost of acquisition of ICT education in our country today; a state of emergency should be declared in the ICT sector of the economy and incentives provided to encourage more youths to pursue careers in the ICT industry. We should stop paying lip service to ICT development and consolidate the efforts of individuals like Leo Stan Ekeh who in his capacity as the "Nigerian IT Identity" initiated the "Computerize Nigeria" project and also signed deals with Microsoft and Hewlett Packard to provide cheaper Personal Computers (PCs), software and printers to the Nigerian populace. Cheaper PCs mean more PCs in circulation, which translates to greater access by a greater portion of the populace, which unmistakably are the youth.
In the opening speech of Vigdis Finnbogadottir, Chairperson of the UNESCO-organized INFOethics 2000 Conference held in November 2000, he said and I quote that "We do not want our children to be info-poor or info-depraved. We surely want them to be info-rich....... .....in a word, we want them to be info-empowered".

In order for the youths of Nigeria to be info-empowered, there has to be greater access to ICT tools, there has to be an unobstructed free flow of information. This unfortunately is not the case as at this time present in Nigeria. Public Internet access, especially in schools is an important public good deserving political and financial support, if not the status of a universal service (Levine, 2000). I am yet to see the public school -nursery, primary and secondary-where the government at any level has provided Internet access. Whatever happened to the theory of catch-them-young in Nigeria? Recently, there was a referendum on whether the government has a deliberate policy of sidelining the youths of this country in decision-making processes, even those decisions that have to do with the youth themselves.
In September, 2002, on the 26th and 27th to be exact, there was a conference at the Goethe Institut in Lagos organized by the Goethe Institut and the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN) with the theme "IT and the Nigerian Youth: A Window to the World". This conference surprisingly, was by invitation only and the proceedings of the conference were never made public. The only thing that was made public was the advert announcing the conference. When a conference with a theme apparently concerning youths is organized and made "strictly by invitation", is anybody expecting the youths to be appropriately represented at such a gathering? Of course not!
Youth empowerment as we are made to believe going by the constant reiterations of the federal government, is on the A-list of government priorities as can be seen in the general objectives of the Nigerian National IT Policy where it is stated clearly that the policy is "to empower the youth with IT skills and prepare them for global competitiveness".
The government of the day has clearly not started on this mission as it prefers rather unfortunately to spend taxpayers' money on "hosting beauty queens", building unnecessary stadia, mansions for visiting dignitaries and bidding for hosting of sports events which we will ultimately lose on our home soil because of lack of preparedness. All these, though possessing great opportunities for the tourism industry in Nigeria do not really translate into significant financial returns for our dear country in the long run.
The government is however not only to blame in this quagmire of poor ICT development in which we find ourselves. The Nigerian youth themselves are also to blame. Our youths nowadays are sadly characterized by a rapidly diminishing mental and intellectual capacity and increased dependence on physical affectations, violence, lust and cheap discarded pleasures of the western world. Just visit any secondary school sporting event to get a feel of what I am talking about. All these including cultism, armed robbery, prostitution, mass failures in examinations due to laziness and other vices on our own part surely would have contributed to the lethargic attitude of the government at the center towards youth development especially in ICT because ICT requires massive funds injection and if the government keep seeing the kind of Makossa-obsessed youths that we are continually breeding in this country, it can seek to justify its lethargy towards empowerment of the youth as it could be seen as bad investment. From experience I have discovered that as much as 70% of our university and polytechnic graduates do not know how to use a computer! Even in cases where the opportunities abound. Another one of the objectives of the Nigerian national IT Policy is "to build a mass pool of IT-literate manpower using the NYSC, NDE and other platforms as "Train The Teacher" scheme (TTT) for capacity building". Sadly speaking, this is not in effect. I should know because I finished my NYSC programme recently and all through the orientation period and the service year, there was nothing like IT training! It would be a very good idea if this part of the IT policy and in fact, all other objectives are vigorously pursued without further recourse to lip service. The youths of this country deserve better.
In concluding this write up, I must say that while the IT policy of Nigeria is wonderful on paper, much needs to be done concerning the actualization of the objectives and pursuance of the vision in practical terms. Also, for any meaningful empowerment to come the way of Nigerian youths in ICT, the youths must have a say in the IT affairs of this country as it concerns us. The youth too are also strongly advised to focus more on intellectual development instead of chasing after bodily pleasures. I know that if we can demonstrate total commitment to the vision statement of the Nigerian IT policy and work assiduously towards the attainment of its objectives, only then can Nigeria dream of moving from the league of developing nations to that of developed nations.

Kayode Osiname is an IT Consultant with CYBERMINDS, who has contributed to Jidaw.com in the past on vital IT issues. What are your own views on the issues raised by Kayode Osiname? Get the details of the issues raised and / or send your reactions to him by e-mail on: osiname@jidaw.com

For more coverage and information related to this topic, head to the IT Articles and Resource Center:
http://www.jidaw.com/articles.html

Also for more information on Nigeria’s IT Policy:
http://www.jidaw.com/policy.html


REFERENCES
I. The Nigerian National Information Technology Policy.
II. Vincent Finnbogadottir, Final Reports and Proceedings, INFOethics 2000 (pg.58)
III. Professor Arthur Levine, "Access to Telecommunications in the Internet Age", Final Reports and Proceedings, INFOethics 2000.

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