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ICT plays important roles both as a sector in its own right and as a contributor to key sectors of the economy. And various committed stakeholders participate daily in Nigeria’s Information Technology (IT) and Telecom space.
Major players include service providers as well as social and commercial operators who have invested in Nigeria’s ICT sector. Important individuals in Nigeria’s digital space are the men and women who function as Entrepreneurs, IT/Telecom professionals, researchers, non-tech specialists, business analysts, IT managers, Chief Information Officers (CIOs), etc.
Several professional organizations generate policy and professional initiatives and provide learning and networking opportunities for members.
Government and regulatory agencies play important roles in setting acceptable standards and regulating activities in this important sector.
The educational sector – formal and non formal provides the most important resource required in the ICT driven world – human capital – students, lecturers, researchers. Unfortunately on this year's independence day, failure of negotiations between the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) and Federal Government of Nigeria on the state of the Nigerian University System means formal education in most Nigerian universities has been at a standstill for over 3 months. However, outside the formal education system, training and certification providers continue to make significant impact.
Hope is not a strategy
The impact of the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) Nigeria revolution in terms of jobs and wealth creation is obvious and felt in nearly all sectors. The activities of stakeholders mentioned above give Nigerians some hope. But hope is not enough. The question is how to achieve national objectives through ICT. It’s about REAL independence - how Nigeria and its people can fulfill their destiny through ICT. ICT is a tool not the objective.
GSM and increased ICT availability have created jobs and stimulated growth in ICT enabled activities. Significant investment (foreign and local) has impacted on the private and public sectors. These highlight the link between ICT development and socio-economic development. But Nigeria must move beyond GSM. The majority of the populace is still outside the digital loop. Can national objectives be achieved; can Nigeria truly be independent, if the economy is not knowledge driven? That is the question.
To truly celebrate independence, ICT must be called to the party. How well is Nigeria exploiting the infrastructure of ICT for learning, work, and recreation? Unless ICT is an engine for sustainable development in health, education, agriculture, poverty reduction, wealth creation, employment, security, youth empowerment and other key sectors it is nothing more than a “paper tiger”.
Telecom availability has improved and Nigeria is one of the world’s fastest growing mobile markets. But the cold, hard facts are that communications quality is low and ICT penetration is still insufficient considering Nigeria’s size and population. It is also vital to build up the internal linkages that will make up the national telecommunications network.
It’s important to note that important variations in the nature of access determine telecom impact. For example, broadband density is particularly low as there is a great gulf between broadband and voice telephony penetration. Nigeria must move beyond voice telephony. Furthermore, cost is a barrier. Lack of awareness and access excludes many from the digital environment. In a country where poverty still walks the streets, ICT remains a stranger. Computing and telecom resources are unaffordable to the majority.
ICT does the L-A-P (Lagos-Abuja-Port-Harcourt) dance while the rural areas remain in the wilderness. Urban concentration of ICT has created the rural-urban digital divide. Let me reiterate that there is ICT deployment in Nigeria and though quality of service is still low, there has been some progress. But ICT is nothing without inclusion. There is no independence without inclusion. ICT is meant for all not for some.
Software is at the heart of the global knowledge economy. Any nation that values its sovereignty must take software serious. Software opportunities in Nigeria are not being fully exploited to unleash the potentials of the Nigerian people and the Nigerian nation. Realistic open source strategies need to be promoted. And software localization should be considered in promoting local language content. Local developers however face challenges of ignorance and patronage. Existing software promotion policies have not made much impact. Bureaucratic sloganeering will not get us anywhere. For the local software industry to grow we must aggressively promote, reward and encourage local software developers and entrepreneurs. Practical initiatives to encourage the mass usage of indigenous software and the stimulation of demand locally and locally and globally for local software products and services should be explored. Empower the software industry and you’re talking independence.
Human capital development
Sustainable growth in Nigeria’s ICT sector and using ICT to drive other sectors depends on its people. People are Nigeria’s most important resource. Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. But independence isn’t just about numbers. What is the level and quality of human capital?
The ICT skills gap in Nigeria indicates the need for people with ICT user, ICT professional and IT Entrepreneurship skills. The enormous gaps are hindering the effectiveness of ICT. Though digital literacy has become a necessity for all – a life skill - the majority in Nigeria lack basic ICT user skills. Is dying of hunger in the midst of digital plenty the dividend of independence?
The excluded comprise the poor, the rural dwellers and the informal sector. But most of the economy is in the informal sector. So can Nigeria truly establish an inclusive knowledge-based society if there is no development of ICT human capital in the informal sector? In the rural areas? The people disconnect weakens other efforts.
In addition to basic digital skills a strong ICT sector requires professionals and entrepreneurs in sufficient numbers to meet technical and non-technical ICT expertise requirements. The education system in Nigeria needs to be transformed to meet these human capital needs. Nothing short of a revolution in education strategy and concepts is required to exploit opportunities and meet knowledge society challenges. Nigerians must be employable and entrepreneurial. The demand is not for degrees or qualifications. The demand is for innovative people who can contribute meaningfully to the economy and society.
It’s about true independence which enables people in Nigeria to compete globally and participate in practical terms in the global networked economy.
Too many people are spectators. It’s time for people to build confidence and cast away chains. To live better lives and contribute their quota, individuals must stop waiting for the authorities to “wake up”. They must seize the initiative and equip themselves with these important, life skills. It is never too late to start. To those who have made mistakes, it is never too late to turn back from a wrong path. It is never too late to do well.
Apart from the learners and students, it is important to support educators and trainers who are responsible for knowledge transfer.
Nigeria must focus on what matters - enhancing existing educational facilities and capacity. Most importantly, we must simply disrespect the established status-quo. The existing state of affairs has little relevance in today’s knowledge economy. We must “rock the boat of convention” to cater for the needs of the traditionally excluded, to promote non-formal education and to incorporate digital entrepreneurial thinking and doing into the educational curricula. Independence in essence means building a solid foundation to take advantage of the massive need for IT Entrepreneurship.
Digital consumption is high, but what does Nigeria produce? The biggest market or the biggest producer? And in a world where job security is dead, in a climate of rising unemployment and the associated socio-economic problems, enterprise development is a necessity. The importance of fostering entrepreneurial abilities cannot be over-emphasized. Nigeria needs to be proactive in exploiting ICT for enterprise development. Developing a culture of entrepreneurship in IT is long overdue. It is entrepreneurial thinking and doing that creates jobs. Unfortunately, because of status quo mindsets and other environmental barriers, entrepreneurship is not seen as a viable career option.
This will have to change.
Jide Awe is the Founder of Jidaw.com
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