Transformation of Katsina State to Harness Modern Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for Socio-Economic Development

By

Aminu Mamman Ibrahim

Department of Information and Communications Technology

National Universities Commission

Abuja

 

Being a Paper Presented at the Katsina State Development Summit

12-13 March 2006

 

  1. Introduction.

  2. ICT Status of Katsina State

  3. Development Challenges for Katsina State

  4. Recommended Strategy and Actions

  5. Guiding Principles- Setting the Stage

  6. Immediate Needs and Actionable Tasks

  7. Annexure/ Working Documents

  8. e-Nigera 2004 Communique

  9. eNorth 2004 Communiqué

  10. eNorth 2004 Draft Report: Towards an ICT Plan for the 19 Northern States

 

Introduction

This topic begs a question about strategy: should we set out to transform Katsina State in order to harness ICT, or should we aim to harness ICT in order to transform Katsina State? The answer is: we need to do both, and it has to be in that order.

 

It has to be in that order, because buying and tethering a computer (say) on the desks of senior civil servants in the state will by itself achieve nothing- except the perpetuation of corruption. Properly introduced and harnessed, however, ICT will in turn become an agent of further transformation, by impacting on almost all aspects of our personal, official, social and economic lives. The transformation that will be ushered in by ICT will be much more rapid and can be for the good, provided it is guided properly.

 

It is in the nature of development, that issues are intertwined. But, so pervasive is the impact of ICT, that it is difficult to imagine an aspect of development that should not be discussed in relation to ICT. For our present purpose, however, we have to assume that the organizers of the Summit will ensure an acceptable level of consistency and synchrony between the various reports, and try to focus our thematic discussion on:

 

  • The current ICT Status of Katsina State,

  • The Development and Transformational Challenges, and

  • Recommendations on how best to meet the Challenges in order to harness ICTs for Socio-Economic Development of the State.

 

ICT Status of Katsina State

Yes, there is some scattered infrastructure and facilities (VSATs, telephones,TVs, Radios, business centres, computers, etc.) in our State, and some have email addresses and sufficient skill to browse the Internet. But, as far as the modern information society in our networked world is concerned, Katsina State may not even exist.

 

This far, the only appropriately registered Internet domain name that has anything at all to do with the Government of Katsina State is faskari.gov.ng, and this was done only a few days ago[1].

In fact, and this is a reasonably stunning piece of information: despite all the hoopla about ICTs in Jigawa State, jigawa.gov.ng was actually registered on the same day and time with faskari.gov.ng, on morning of 6th March 2006.

 

Considering that it costs nothing[2] to very little[3] to register an Internet domain name, and registration for Nigeria has been going on since 1995, the implication of this fact is as obvious as it is depressing, for our region as a whole.

 

There might be nothing at the address and one cannot “visit” it as yet, but the Faskari Local Government at least has an address on the Internet.

 

In terms of visible content, the type of information about Katsina State that is presently available to the world is such that at least one of the three objectives of this Summit is doomed to fail. It is presently impossible to “sell” or attract any one to Katsina State. A search of the Official site of Nigeria provides little information about Katsina State. A casual global search of the Internet shows mostly information published by others, many of whom we do not even know, and most of it is very negative. Perhaps one was impatient, but the most prominent advertisements to “sell” Katsina one found on the Internet a few days ago, had to do with arts and crafts of a mythical cult of the Hopi, a restaurant in the UK that also bear the name “Katsina”, and a “University of Katsina” that is advertised to be campus of the “University of Nigeria” which specialize in training 419ers.

 

 

Development Challenges for Katsina State

In common with the rest of the country, particularly in the Northern parts of Nigeria, Katsina State faces very many development challenges, but they are mostly attributable to a very few fundamental causes or problems.

 

One of the most fundamental development problems of the State is really the lack of a strategic development plan; to that extent, this Summit is important. Problems related to inadequate, unstable and decaying infrastructure for telecommunications, power supply, education, etc. are legion everywhere in Nigeria. They might even be worse in our case, as most of the State is without fixed and mobile telephone services. But, unfortunately or fortunately (depending on view points), National infrastructure inadequacies are no longer as important a constraint as they used to be. Technical advances are such that it is possible to bypass even National infrastructure grids and networks, and education had long been on the concurrent legislative list. Since our State and Local Governments have their own funding, it is a question of choices and the development plan priorities or lack thereof, of the State and our leaders.

 

The task of producing a development roadmap has been made vastly easier by the existence of working documents all over the place. The International Community has had a plan to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA), which Nigeria has long adopted. Similarly, Nigeria has had an Information Technology (IT) Policy and a Telecommunications Policy since 2000. There have been, and continue to be Public Hearings at the National Assembly on these Policy documents since 1999: the most recent was organized by the Senate Committee on Science & Technology only last week, to provide a legal framework for IT, and debated a proposed bill on IT last December.

 

Our State could use all these resources as working documents and identify our various roles but, in common with most Northern States, ours seems not to be aware.

 

For our present theme and purpose, it is much worse. This is because, having made a presentation there, one is aware that Katsina State was duly represented at the “e-North Consultative Meeting of ICT Stakeholders from the 19 Northern States”, which was organized jointly by the Northern Education Research Project and Kano State Government, on 21st and 22nd December, 2004. There was the usual communiqué and a report with an action plan, most of which is already obsolete and regarding which Katsina State has done nothing.

 

Seven calendar years ago, three of us spent about two months discussing these issues as a civic responsibility. We prepared a report[4] with recommendations. We also prepared working documents on other important issues that were being discussed by others- most of which are billed for discussion at this Summit. I was assured that the materials were duly submitted to the (then, new) Government of Katsina State. As has been published elsewhere, Affafairan! For details, the Summit Committee should refer to that report, specifically to the following recommended Project Components: 2 (pages 5-6), 4 (pages 8-9) and 5 (pages 12-13).  By way of a summary, the following are significant development challenges if Katsina State is to be transformed:

  1. widespread illiteracy;

  2. poverty and loss of dignity of labour;

  3. inability and/or unwillingness of our leaders to dispassionately keep track of, and utilize the State’s human resources;

  4. the set of fundamental problems that have made so many, perhaps most elites and professionals from Katsina State chose to live, work and invest elsewhere in Nigeria. For, if the State cannot attract and retain its citizens in diaspora (except for weekends and festivities), it is difficult to see how foreigners would be persuaded.

 

In other words, the real fundamental problem may not be the lack of awareness of working document resources. Accordingly the only issues that are more important as a challenge than the lack of a plan are the lack of baseline information and the other reasons why the State still has no plan. Not less than a renaissance is required to resolve these issues.

 

 

Recommended Strategy and Actions

Information and Communication Technologies are tools, and even the process of identifying the type of tools one needs assumes some knowledge of the tasks and processes to be simplified or made more efficient, and the objectives to be achieved. To harness ICT for development, the State should first have a development plan and targets. That is, ideally the State should have a strategic development plan before designing an ICT strategic plan. Nevertheless, it is possible at this stage to identify a few guiding principles and critical tasks, and perhaps even a draft policy guide. Subsequently, this can be reviewed and enriched to produce a more detailed and precise ICT Plan for the State.

 

Katsina State might be lucky to benefit from the ICT-development hypothesis that “the last can have the best, and/or become the best”, which is a consequence of the extremely rapid pace of advancement in the technology. Of course, the merit of starting late has to be balanced with the possibility of extinction if one starts too late[5]. Providing that there is a rational and solid start, we could learn from what others have started, in terms of best (as well as worst) practices; what works; what does not work; and what to avoid.

 

Guiding Principles- Setting the Stage

 

Modern Information and Communication Technologies have truly changed the world. Because distance is no longer an issue, the entire world is now a stage. It will be a very limited vision and a false one, if Katsina State plans and sets out to catch up with (say) Lagos, Jigawa, Delta, and/or Kano States. Our State and citizens are now required to compete with the rest of the world.

 

The great equalizers of the modern world are education and ICT.

 

  • Real and sustainable development without education has not happened anywhere, and will not happen here.

  • It is not true that India suddenly emerged to become a significant player in ICT; this followed two-decades of investment in education.

  • ICT is also largely a young persons’ field, and our schools and educational institutions are where our young persons are (supposed to be) concentrated: that is where to begin and concentrate.

  • In school or not, literate persons (should) show up in libraries; that’s another place to begin and concentrate.

  • ICT is a tool for everyone but, first and foremost it is a basic tool for knowledge workers and these are mostly in research and educational institutions: that is where we have to begin.

 

Especially in ICT, common sense makes a lot of sense, most of the time. Development can be accelerated, but it is a process with an almost organic logic; principles of socialization apply; and everyone has their proper role to play. Examples:

·        Societies with well-stocked library shelves are also the ones with functional virtual libraries.

·        It is not about equipment and infrastructure; these are just tools.

o   It is about the people to use the tools.

o   The best or most expensive tools in the wrong hands achieve nothing.

·        It is senseless for you to communicate with a person in the next room on an external telephone line;

o   that’s what intercom systems are for

o   ICT is about sharing and collaborating

§  We should develop and contribute content to be shared

§  Something is either very wrong or will become very wrong, if we talk to others more easily or frequently than to ourselves; local networks and intranets are where to start.

·        Threatening senior teachers and civil servants (become digital or else; throw away typewriters within 3-months, etc) will be totally counter-productive.

o   It is good if our Directors can type or process documents on a computer, but is that such an important role for them to play? Etc., etc.

 

Immediate Needs and Actionable Tasks

 

Working documents to enrich discussions are provided in the annexure to this paper, including guidelines from the eNorth Meeting and various communiqués. However, based on the principles discussed above,

 

1.     The State needs competent advice on ICT policy/ administration and technology now and at all times, and a Board that can take decisions.

a.     The Board should have among its membership, the Librarian and Heads of Research and Higher Education Institutions in the State; and representation form other educational institutions and relevant ministries, NGOs and the private sector.

b.     This Board should have an Administrative Secretariat or an information clearing house located in a place or an office that would normally:

 

  1.  not be subject to turf wars

  2.  have access to most information and be respected by all, and

  3.  be in a position to reach everyone and up to the very top

2.     Start identifying and keeping track of resources, beginning with citizens but also other sources of help.

3.     Re-focus on education at all levels.

4.     Ensure that at all levels, every agency has a budget for ICT Development and Training.

5.     Arrange to register proper domain names, develop and host some content and services for the State and Local Governments and educational institutions; and organize some training for the services to start being used.

6.     Set out to give a chance for every tertiary educational institution and model secondary schools, etc. in the State to become a Network Centre and/or a Centre for Capacity-Building, each according to its present ICT status. This means:

a.     Identifying and training technical staff, and training trainers for user education

b.     Setting up at least a networked laboratory or Learning Centre

c.      Where local area networks or labs exist, these should be interconnected to grow a campus network

d.     Such Centres and network backbones should be power protected and power conditioned.

7.     Encourage partnership between the Centres with the private sector to deploy certificate and diploma level courses, including Operating Systems, Database Design, Digital Design, Multimedia and Web Design / applications. It is an achievable target to ensure that within the next 10 years or less, every child graduating from:

a.     a secondary school has basic computer education

b.     any tertiary education institution in the State also has a proficiency certificate in ICT field

8.     Start the process of planning and growing a Katsina State Research and Education Network, in a rational and organic manner.

9.     Create an enabling environment for ICT stakeholders, including the private sector, investors, NGOs to flourish in the State.


 

 

Annexure/ Working Documents

 

e-Nigera 2004 Communique

 

THE ABUJA DECLARATION ISSUED AT THE END OF THE THREE-DAY e-NIGERIA 2004 CONFERENCE HELD BY THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT IN COLLABORATION WITH ECOWAS AT THE ECOWAS CONFERENCE HALL, ABUJA, FROM MAY 24 – 26, 2004.

 

1.0   Preamble

1.   In keeping with the expectations of the WSIS Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action adopted in Geneva 2003, and conscious of the need to prepare the West African sub-region for the second phase of WSIS in Tunisia 2005, the e-Nigeria 2004 conference, with the theme “Implementing the WSIS Process in West Africa,” was held from 24– 26 May, 2004, at the ECOWAS Secretariat, Abuja, under the auspices of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, and ECOWAS.  The conference, which was attended by over 200 participants from the West African sub-region and the wider international community, attracted dignitaries from the public sector, the organized private sector, civil society, the media and youth organizations.

2.   Convinced that ICT applications are essential to achieving sustainable development in the sub-region;

3.   Aware that the West African sub-region suffers disadvantage in the digital imbalance, not only from the North-South dichotomy, but also among member nations and within member states;

4.   Convinced, therefore, of the urgent need to bring the sub-region into the emerging information society, the conference discussed six key sub-themes:

  • WSIS Process: Implementation Strategies and Perspectives;
  • Role of Stakeholders in Implementing the WSIS Process;
  • Implementation of WSIS Process: Challenges of ICT Infrastructures;
  • Implementation of WSIS Process: Policy Issues;
  • ICT Deployment for National Development; and
  • Preparation for the Tunis phase of WSIS.

 

2.0 Observations

1.   Very aware of the urgent need for partnerships among all stakeholders in order to promote regional cooperation, collaboration, and interdependence toward the development of ICT in the sub-region;

2.   Being also aware of  the need to create an enabling competitive environment that will facilitate investments in ICTs by providing a regulatory framework, appropriate institutions, quality human capital and scalable infrastructure;

3.   Recognizing the need to reflect the African cultural diversity in ensuring relevant local content, and address gender imbalance in the implementation of the WSIS process in the sub-region;

4.   Mindful that appropriate universal access policies and e-strategies, as well as their means of implementation, should be formulated in the various countries of the sub-region;

5.   Knowing that unprotected systems and networks are vulnerable to abuse and criminal intent; and conscious of the fact that citizens expect and demand transparency, accountability, and improved services; the conference also devoted two syndicate sessions to working out sectoral, national and regional frameworks to address the issues.

 

3.0 Resolutions

Whereas the foregoing observations were extensively discussed in papers presented;

Whereas conference participants have extensively explored the sub-themes in plenary and syndicate sessions;

Whereas also, there is need to make declarations that would form the reference points for the sub region; and

Whereas the conference is desirous of putting the preparations for the Tunis phase of the WSIS process in full gear,

Whereas the conference is also desirous of formulating the framework for the implementation of the WSIS plan of action adopted in Geneva 2003, we the representatives of our countries and stakeholder groups do hereby resolve as follows:

 

3.1. Our Governments in the ECOWAS Sub-Region shall:

1.   Urgently enact appropriate laws (where none exists) on such areas as electronic transactions, cyber and computer-related crimes, among others, for the development of ICTs and to address the criminal abuse of the technology in their respective domain.

2.   Formulate WSIS and NEPAD-compliant policies that will ensure universal access (especially for youth and disadvantaged groups) to ICT facilities and applications in the sub-region, including policies for the reduction of cost of PCs and ICT equipment.

3.   Create an enabling environment for private investments in ICTs.

4.   Take urgent steps, through their relevant institutions, to ensure the development of appropriate local content in cyberspace.

5.   Take adequate steps to make ICT the driving force in teaching and learning through the revision of existing curricula at the three-tiers of the educational system.

6.   Take necessary actions to ensure transparency, accountability and efficient use of public funds through the early implementation of e-Governance.

7.   Also look inward for the mobilization of financial resources and make appropriate budgetary provisions for the implementation of WSIS Plan of Action, and for investments in the manufacturing sector of ICTs as foreign donors and creditors are only interested in financing the purchase of their equipment.

 

 

3.2. We also resolve that:

1.   ECOWAS shall formulate a regional framework to assist member states develop and implement their own e-strategies, including strategies for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of ICT policies.

2.   ECOWAS shall undertake the audit of ICT facilities and infrastructure to facilitate cooperation and a cost-effective implementation of the WSIS process in the sub-region and strive to obtain and implement a harmonized regional ICT Policy

3.   ECOWAS shall ensure that all member states finalize their e-Strategies and Action Plans by 2005 in line with WSIS recommendation, and set time frames for the implementation of the policies.

4.   ECOWAS shall initiate action for the establishment of a high level African ICT Summit for progress and exchange of experience during the WSIS implementation time frame.

5.   The Organized Private Sector (OPS) shall invest in ICT and initiate projects to be executed in partnership with government institutions in a Public-Private Partnership Scheme for the development of the sector.

6.   The civil society and the media shall be alive to their key roles of monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the WSIS process and good governance.

 

3.3. Finally, we:

1.   Commend the liberalization that is sweeping across the telecom sector in some states of the sub-region, particularly Nigeria, which has had far-reaching and positive effect on the economy, and urged all states in the sub-region to continue with the liberalization program.

2.   Also commend the Jigawa State of Nigeria for its exemplary commitment to, and deployment of, e-Government applications; and calls on other states to emulate its example.

3.   Express profound appreciation to ECOWAS, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the sponsors of the conference for their support in the successful hosting of the conference.


 

 

eNorth 2004 Communiqué  

 

(THE TWO DAY CONSULTATIVE MEETING OF ICT STAKEHOLDERS FROM THE 19 NORTHERN STATES, 22 DECEMBER 2004)

 

Preamble

After some consultations, Nigeria formally adopted an IT policy in the year 2000, with the expressed aim of certain objectives by the year 2005. Unfortunately, one year to that deadline, few state governments in the country, seemed to have embarked on bold initiatives or are taking concrete measures in meeting the goals articulated in the document.

 

In view of the pivotal role ICT now plays in the global economy, the Northern Education Research Project of Ahmadu Bello University (NERP),

Arewa House Kaduna and the Kano State Government in a collaborative move decided to call a consultative meeting to evaluate how far this part of

the country has advanced in ICT, especially in the education sector.

 

The two day consultative meeting of ICT stakeholders from the 19 Northern states took place at at Mambayya House, Bayero University Kano, between 21 to 22 December 2004.

 

After the opening ceremony, various papers were presented at three plenary sessions on the first day, while two interactive sessions dominated the second day, including considering, debating, amending and adopting an ICT Strategy Framework document, as a first step in a consultative process that will culminate in an action plan for the realization of strategic ICT objectives. In addition, eight states made presentations on the progress being made in ICT in their respective states.

 

Commendations

The meeting particularly wishes to express its profound appreciation to the Kano state government for sponsoring the meeting and to the NERP for organizing the two day event. Special thanks to his Excellency the Kano State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, ably represented by the Secretary to the state government, the Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University and Chairman NERP for their motivational addresses. The meeting finally commends the resource persons who presented papers and the Secretariat for ensuring the meeting proceedings went smoothly.

 

Recommendations

After extensive deliberations and critical appraisal of the papers presented, the meeting adopted the Draft Document Towards an ICT Strategy Framework for the 19 Northern States which contains several recommendations on:

   

·        Manpower Development 

·        Infrastructure Development 

·        Growth of ICT Applications 

·        Growth of ICT Businesses

 

 

Other recommendations include:

 

1. All Ministries should consider ICT as a major tool for improving education and therefore take necessary steps to mainstream ICTs in

schools.

 

2. States should develop the necessary infrastructure for the use of ICTs in distance and open learning to address the challenge of manpower development in their states.

 

3. States should create the necessary conducive environment for the take-off of e-Education in schools.

 

4. All stakeholders should take active interest in the hosting and management of Nigeria’s top level domain (.ngTLD). In particular, stakeholders are urged to attend the forthcoming Stakeholders Conference that will mid-wife the organization to manage the .ngTDL.

 

5. All states should demand private telecommunication companies provide Internet connection to educational institutions at concessionary rate as is done in other countries.

 

6. States should utilize opportunities offered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development partners in the promotion of computer literacy, especially among teachers and students.

 

7. States should explore the various international initiatives aimed at bridging the digital divide to promote access to ICTs in their states.

 

8. State governments should become involved in the various ICT initiatives of the Federal Government with a view to both benefiting and learning from them.

 

9. States should work in conjunction with Federal agencies for the development of appropriate curricula to reflect new directions in ICTs for all levels of the education sector.

 

10. State governments are urged to study the adopted ICT strategy document and make additional inputs with a view to having it adopted and vigorously pursued by all the 19 State Governments.

 

11. State Governments should support initiatives especially in the development of software locally and in local languages.

 

12. That there is the need to encourage our women to take up careers in ICT.

 

13. That there is need to promote a culture of collaboration and cooperation amongst the states, especially in the area of ICT initiatives.


 

 

eNorth 2004 Draft Report: Towards an ICT Plan for the 19 Northern States

 

1.0 Introduction

 

In our ever increasing information driven world, the profound impact of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on all aspects of our lives cannot be over emphasised. ICT has already started to transform us in hitherto unimaginable ways in the diverse spheres of economics, politics, education, business and culture. Profound as these transformations have been, predictions are that they are nothing compared to the impact of what is going to come in the near future.

 

Needless to say, the prosperity and prospects of individuals, organizations, societies and nations are going to hinge on how they are able to harness the power of ICT for the pursuit of their goals and objectives. Those that invest wisely and heavily in ICT today will reap the benefits of a totally information dependent and driven world of tomorrow.

 

This trend is already becoming evident as wise countries spend an ever larger share of their GDP on ICT equipment (close to 10% in the US) with the resultant positive impact on their economies. Conversely, countries that ignore the importance of ICT suffer economic stagnation. With individuals, organizations and communities, the trend is no different with those that devote substantial parts of their budgets on ICT having much better prospects of staying in business than those that do not.

 

The recent release of a National Policy on Information Technology by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the establishment of the National IT Development Agency (NITDA) within the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to co-ordinate the implementation of the policy is a clear testimony of a commitment towards “making Nigeria”, in the words of the vision statement, “an IT capable country in Africa and a key player in the Information Society by the year 2006, using IT as the engine for sustainable development and global competitiveness.”

 

However, in spite of this National Policy on Information Technology, most of the 19 Northern states are yet to have any serious plans on ICT. In contrast, some Southern states, convinced on the future critical importance of ICT, have begun to forge ahead in the development of ICT through partnering their State Polytechnics and Universities with Australian and US counterparts for manpower training and hardware manufacturing. This is resulting in the emergence of a sharp digital divide in Nigeria between the Southern and the Northern states. This digital divide, which is daily increasing, is in all aspects of IT including the number of educated IT professionals, number of IT businesses, number of private telecommunications operators (PTOs) and increasingly the ICT infrastructure.

 

This framework document dwells on the importance of the ICT sector and focuses on the emerging digital divide in Nigeria. An analysis is made of the underlying causes and a way forward is suggested. Finally, some minimum targets are recommended for each state so as to get prepared for subsequent phases of this gigantic ICT project.

 

2.0 Understanding the Impact of ICT

 

The rate at which the ongoing ICT revolution is unfolding, makes it very difficult to measure its true impact on our lives today, let alone predict where it is heading to. Perhaps, the only sure thing about it is that our lives will be increasingly shaped and dependent on the products and services being brought about by the rapidly unfolding ICT revolution.

 

The most glaring manifestation of the ICT revolution is the proliferation of ICT equipment and infrastructure around us. Computers, telephones, GSM masts and television sets will be everywhere. They will be within the reach of virtually everybody; even the poor and those living in remote areas that earlier had no access to them. They will be cheap and their costs will keep on declining. The services that they offer will get ever wider. In particular, there will be many value added services attached to them. Telephones, for example, will have an assortment of features much more than what they offer today. TVs will have an endless number of channels with the ability to view several of them simultaneously. The applications that computers can be put to will be incredible ranging from personal entertainment to space research. An interesting development will be that these three main gadgets of IT will not remain independent as they are today. Through convergence, the differences between them will fade and they will either be integrated into a single instrument or, even if they remain, each will be able to offer services that were the exclusive preserve of the other.

 

The real impact will be on government and business; the way that government operates, how businesses are run, how employees work, the way government services are offered, how products are sold, and the way that these services are marketed and delivered to customers. In general, all these operations and services will be provided through an intricate ICT infrastructure that will make things extremely fast and efficient at the mere touch of computer buttons without moving an inch from the office or home. The resulting impact on the various sectors of the economy especially those such as transportation, banking, education, commerce, industries and tourism will be very profound to the point whereby the way we live our lives will be completely revolutionized.   

 

3.0 ICT and the 19 Northern States

 

It is a pity that Nigeria ranks amongst the least developed countries in the ICT sector. This gives an automatic bleak future to Nigeria because no country can survive in today’s world without investing heavily on IT. In fact, a digital divide between the IT-rich countries and the IT-poor is rapidly emerging and widening that is going to result in much greater gaps in prosperity and standards of living than the gaps that presently exist between developed and under-developed countries.

 

The truth of the matter is that countries like Nigeria on the wrong side of the digital divide will simply become non-entities as everything (education, business, politics and commerce) increasingly hinges on the availability of IT. Nations that do not possess that power will see their military strength reduced to nil because defence capability will depend on IT, their educational status reduced to zero because education will be based on IT, their economic prosperity completely obliterated because all transactions will be done through IT and in IT will lie all economic power.

 

The picture that has been painted above is frightening enough but the scenario is much worse when one takes a closer look within Nigeria and makes a comparison between the 19 Northern states and the rest of the country. Nigeria, as a whole, is very much backward in IT but within the country itself there is a sharp digital divide between the South and the North. This digital divide, which is widening daily, is in all aspects of IT including the number of educated IT professionals, number of IT businesses, number of private telecommunications operators (PTOs) and increasingly the ICT infrastructure.

 

While statistical figures are not available to show how deep this digital divide is, the picture below may not be far from wrong:

 

·        The ratio of IT businesses in the North to those in the South could be 1:40. It may be added that a great proportion of IT businesses in the North are owned and managed by Southerners.

·        The ratio of IT manpower in the North to that in the South could be 1:30. In terms of computer science and computer engineering graduates, this ratio may be smaller. However, if other cadres of manpower are considered such as those with professional certificates (MCSE etc) and those coming out with various qualifications from the very many computer training institutes all over the country, it is easy to justify this ratio.

·        The ratio of IT training institutions in the North to those in the South could be 1:20. The ratio is much smaller if formal higher institutions that offer computer based programmes are the only consideration. However, if all computer training places are considered, the ratio may even be higher.

·        The ratio of PTOs and ISPs in the North to those in the South could be 1:10. This, however, is increasing rapidly.

·        The ratio of ICT infrastructure in the North to that in the South could be 1:5. This is because Government has been the dominant provider of this infrastructure. Now that the private sector is taking over the area of infrastructural development, this ratio will increase very rapidly. 

 

If this digital divide is left unchecked, the backwardness of the North in the fields of education, manpower development and commerce that translates into ever increasing political and economic marginalization will reach frightening heights.

 

On the other hand, if the Northern states are able to quickly close this gap, within say a five year period, and surge ahead, this may give a chance to catch up in other areas as well, where they now lag and allow them to favourably compete in the race to empower their people in 21st Century Nigeria. The thesis being advanced is that since this is a new technology which provides good prospects for leap-frogging, it may well be the last chance for the 19 Northern states and if they do not properly utilise this chance, they may never have a similar opportunity again.    

 

4.0 Roots of the Problem

 

The reasons for this digital divide within the country are not too hard to find. The Northern states have an acute skills shortage, an educational system that fails its people and is only peripherally involved in high-tech and manufacturing industries. Below are some of the factors that have brought this and are likely to perpetuate this backwardness in these areas as well as in IT if not tackled:

 

 

Illiteracy: A large segment of the population is illiterate. IT can hardly flourish in such an illiterate environment. There is need to re-invigorate mass literacy programmes, so as to carry all our people along. We should continuing partnering with the Education Tax fund (ETF) to fund capital intensive rehabilitation of key educational institutions and programmes, is the weakest, if at all.

 

Capital: No business can start let alone grow without capital. Unfortunately, many otherwise promising entrepreneurs cannot start IT businesses because they neither have the capital nor do they know the sources that could provide such capital. The concept of venture capital from which most start-up IT businesses in western countries get their funding is virtually non-existent. What we have is the Small and Medium Industry Equity Investment Scheme (SMIEIS) fund. Unfortunately only the Lagos State government has dedicated officers who link up the banks and their entrepreneurs. As a result most of the tens of billions of the fund invested so far is in Lagos. The 19 Northern states can do a lot to assist their citizens package their IT and other projects for SMIEIS financing.

 

Infrastructure: The lack of adequate infrastructure is probably the least worrisome of all the constraints. This is not because infrastructure is not important but rather because this problem applies almost equally to the South. The only concern is that this problem is being much more aggressively pursued in the South and therefore in a few years time the gap between the South and the North in the area of infrastructure will be as wide as it is in the other IT related areas.

 

 

5.0    IT versus Other Priorities

 

The case for IT is compelling but it has to be weighed against other competing needs, especially in the light of the general condition of abject poverty that pervades the entire North. Many people would argue that majority of our population requires clean water, electricity, access to medical care and good education at this time, not IT infrastructure. This argument is probably right. There is no sense in bringing internet access to a primary school where the children face starvation and lack adequate health care. Yet it needs to be understood that our world is gradually turning into an information society in which everything revolves around the availability of accurate and timely information in a form that can be processed and quickly transferred. The lack of this type of information can prevent societies from providing even these basic services such as education and medical care. The skills required for collecting the information and its processing is only possible with a viable information and communications technology strategy, infrastructure and manpower.

 

Moreover ICT today has transformed the nature of these basic services. Consequently, without ICT, the quality and indeed nature of these services is greatly compromised. For example, basic education that involves only numeracy and literacy without computer skills is considered greatly deficient and second class at best. In other words, societies that do not have ICT run the risk of offering second class services to their citizens and therefore lagging behind the rest of the world.

 

More so, in this era when a trillion dollar global outsourcing industry is looking for those to service their needs, only investment in ICT can tap this revenue source. This hard currency revenues  can be ploughed back to provide basic social services to rural and underdeveloped areas. The best example of this approach is in India where the foreign revenues being obtained from their flourishing software development industry is being used to improve education, water supply, agriculture and health all over the country and especially in the rural and underdeveloped areas.

 

6.0   The Way Out

 

6.1     The imperative for adopting aggressive ICT policies is too clear to miss. However, it must be mentioned that this undertaking can only succeed where there is visionary leadership, firm commitment, proper planning, adequate funding, diligent implementation, faithful monitoring and a sound review mechanism, for as long as it requires to turn things around.  It is a long term project with an equally long gestation period, but once the fruits start “rolling in”, they will uplift the society.

 

The starting point for this project is to have a clear vision, objectives and goals that will serve as a beacon to guide the implementation of the project.

 

6.2    Vision:

Exploiting ICT in all its facets for the betterment of our people and to compete favourably, in an increasingly ICT driven world.

 

6.3    Objectives:

 

·        Train and educate large numbers of our people in all areas of ICT

·        Institutionalize ICT in our educational systems

·        Establish first class local ICT industry that is integrated fully with the rest of the world

·        Encourage the establishment of the hardware development industry 

·        Promote the software development industry for local needs and export

·        Localization of software to attract special attention and active participation.

·        Become the dominant supplier of ICT manpower and ICT services to Nigeria and West Africa

·        Promote widespread use of ICT applications in commerce, industry, agriculture, education etc.

 

6.4    The next step would be to develop a detailed action plan aimed at achieving these objectives.  From the objectives listed above, the principal areas of the plan are likely to be in manpower development, rapid deployment of ICT infrastructure, growth of ICT applications in government and industry, and promotion of ICT businesses.

 

6.5    It is important to realize that this project must necessarily be implemented as a public sector - private sector partnership (PPP). This means that the two partners must work closely together in order to achieve the desired objectives. The state governments as facilitators must provide the necessary leadership and conducive environment while the private sector as the engine needs to provide entrepreneurship, capital and the market.

 

7.0    Major Elements of the Action Plan

 

The major elements of the Action Plan can be categorized into the following four areas:

 

7.1 Manpower Development

 

The emerging Information Society is skilled manpower intensive. The production of large numbers of highly competent manpower is therefore a necessity. There is the need for software developers, programmers, system analysts, web designers, network engineers, computer technicians and a host of other professionals. Action Points and Targets are:

7.1.1.                  State Colleges of Education and polytechnics be directed to immediately to establish Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced Certificate Courses in Office Productivity Software, as well as professional Certificate and Diploma programmes (MSCE, MSCD, CISCO, ORACLE, Linux etc). These courses are for their students and the staff of the state government.  A model of how this can be done, can be found at some institutions, which set up such a department in three months. Within three years, all graduates of these institutions must, at the minimum, be able to word process, work on a spreadsheet, use a database and communicate ideas via email and powerpoint. Computer literacy is a qualification that must be earned like the other academic qualification, before any student can graduate.

7.1.2.                  At a lower level, computer studies curricula must be introduced into primary and secondary schools. Computer skills should be seen as essential as reading, writing and arithmetic. This subject will qualify those aspiring to IT professionalism to get admitted into relevant programmes later in life. Each state should target 10-20% of its schools for the take-off of Computer studies annually, starting from 2005/2006 academic calendar. The ICT Strategic Advisory Board should scour the world for donors, corporate bodies and the world bank agencies that will counterpart finance this project.

7.1.3.                  Fully equipped computer laboratories (at least 20 computers each) in a secondary school and smaller laboratories (at least 10 computers each) in primary schools must be provided. Target is 10-20% of the schools annually.

7.1.4.                  Qualified computer teachers should be employed in all of these schools to make sure products meet the standard. An accelerated training programme for the first batch of Trainers should be initiated within six months (by July 2005) in local franchise holders of international training centers like APTECH, NIIT in Kano, Kaduna, Abuja; the United States donated Community Resource Centres in Bauchi, Abuja and Kaduna; Legacy Computer Institute, Kaduna and the Universities. Those trained can then initiate local training of the first batch of teachers, using the first three laboratories to be set up in each local government. Each of the first target schools, should by September ending 2005, have the staff, syllabus, textbooks and laboratories for the take-off of the project.

7.1.5.                  Each state should solicit its citizens and other investors, who wish to set up private computer training outfits to come forward with the aim of clearing all obstacles in their way. ICT re-training can absorb retired government workers and unemployed gradutaes, who can then be financed to set up training schools for the thousands of youths who fail to get admitted to higher institutions and others interested. Each state should hope to see five such schools in each local government headquaters, between year 2005 and 2008.

7.1.6.                  There is also the need for computer training for all cadres of government staff. Each state should target to train at least 500 civil servants in the state on basic computer skills during each and subsequent years.

7.1.7.                  The 19 Northern states need to set up an institute of Information technology, while keeping to international advances in the field, jointly financed by them, to train policy makers, managers and top level specialist programmers to guide and lead the industry. The institute should teach certificate and diploma level courses, including Operating Systems, Database Design, Digital Design, Multimedia and Web Design / applications. The ICT Strategic Advisory Board should be empowered to engage Consultants, to submit a feasibility and timetable as well as costs estimate by the end of year 2005.

7.1.8.                  The Northern states should mount an aggressive campaign to get three of the six core IT skills Centres of Excellence (CoE) Institutions to be financed by the ETF and being established by NITDA, one each to be sited in their three geo-political zones. The ICT Strategic Advisory Board should be empowered to lobby NITDA/ETF and track implementation.

 

7.2. Infrastructural Development

 

7.2.1           ICT cannot make the desired impact unless there exists adequate computer and telecommunications infrastructure and equipment that allow fast and reliable interconnectivity amongst the various parties wanting to communicate electronically. The equipment and infrastructure is in the form of VSATs, fibre-optic backbones, wireless links, servers, workstations, printers and other peripherals. States should in the next six months roll-out a six to ten year plan for ICT infrastructure including high speed internet connectivity and networking.

 

7.2.2           In our private sector driven telecommunications sector, the bulk of this infrastructure should be provided by the private sector. However, in most of the Northern states where there is little commercial feasibility of such telecommunications networks, there is the need for joint venture partnerships between private firms and state governments. This is in addition to the need for government to provide other basic infrastructure especially electricity which is absolutely necessary for the ICT infrastructure to operate. Governments should invite reputable companies to set up a production facility for computers  in the North, for the specific purpose of serving their orders of equipping 10-20% of their schools annually.

 

 

7.3    Growth of ICT Applications

 

7.3.1           The benefits of ICT will only be accrued when people and organizations begin to employ ICT applications in their day-to-day operations. People are likely to remain with their old manual ways unless very bold initiatives and concerted efforts are made to introduce ICT applications into all facets of our lives. Governments should encourage the wide deployment and use of ICT applications.

 

7.3.2           Since government is the largest single employer and the main driver of the economy, such bold initiatives would be expected to come from the state governments. First, the use of computers must be made compulsory for all secretarial work and all typewriters must be “retired” by the end of June 2006. The offices of Directors and above should be the first to implement this by March 2005. Secondly, computation intensive tasks such as payroll, accounts payable and receivable, taxation and revenue records must all be computerized by the second quarter of 2006. Third, each state should work out a programme by the end of 2005, showing how all aspects of government that lend themselves to computerization can be, and within what time period. In particular e-government initiatives must be put in place to promote the optimal use of ICT in ensuring efficient, transparent and accessible government. Fourth, within the next six months all state organs and agencies of the 19 states must be represented or shown with their duties, complaints procedures and annual report cards (achievements in the last 12 months), on their states’ websites. The Agency proposed for each state is to manage the website, which should also showcase the natural resources, investment incentives and rich culture / tourism potential of the states.    

 

7.4    Promotion of ICT Businesses

 

7.4.1           Government should encourage the proliferation of ICT businesses by creating the enabling environment for the benefit of our people.

 

7.4.2           Three major contributions are needed from the state governments to promote the establishment of all such ICT businesses. First, the necessary ICT infrastructure must be in place for these businesses to flourish. As mentioned earlier, state governments have an important role to play in the provision of this infrastructure in collaboration with the private sector. A popular method that is also used, is the establishment of IT parks which are designated areas where state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure, especially broadband access to the Internet, is deployed to assist ICT companies in quickly establishing themselves and going into business. In the next 12 months, the ICT Strategic Advisory Board should identify one site in each of the three geo-political zones of the 19 Northern states for siting of an IT park. It should work out the plan, the infrastructure required, the source of finance and the implementation timetable. The Abuja Technology Village should be duplicated, even if on a smaller scale, in each of the three zones.

 

7.4.3           Secondly, the governments must help in the training of the manpower required especially to handle the technical aspects of these businesses. The ICT Strategic Advisory Board should through state ICT agencies identify short management courses in existing state polytechnics or colleges of education that will suitably equip senior management staff of these businesses with the rudiments of finance and profitable management of modern business, which will be recommended to them. States should also organize one week courses for aspiring ICT entrepreneurs. Where such courses do not exist, one institution per state should be directed to set them up. Other manpower required is treated under item 7.1 above.

 

7.4.4           Thirdly, many of these businesses may require some assistance in funding. Loans given through banks guaranteed by the state governments with all the required guarantees are one source. Another is the SMIEIS fund. Needless to say without government patronage of their products and services, especially at the early stages, such businesses may not be able to survive. In each state the ministries of commerce, trade and finance should in the next three months set up a task force that will set-up a one stop shop to assist and track entrepreneurs until they secure funding under the SMIEIS scheme. The 19 states may wish to share their experiences.

7.4.5          To encourage the setting up and  use of databases in all aspects of governmental and business activities.

 

8.0   Top Level Policy and Coordination

 

8.1          A few states have already made commendable progress along some of the areas discussed above. Many Northern states, however, are yet to start. It is important that the minimum targets set above are achieved within the time frames, subject to realistic adjustments. To ensure compliance, there is need to set up an implementation mechanism under the Conference of Governors of the 19 Northern states, the ICT Strategic Advisory Board (ICT-SAB) charged with implementation, monitoring, evaluation and modification of the targets in this document. This body will issue quarterly reports to the Governors and an annual report to the Education Summit, to show how much has been done and needs to be done. It must be admitted, only the authority of their Excellencies will move issues at the required pace. The composition of the Board could take the form of five Governors (or any number they may decide), supported by a team of six specialists (two each from the fields of ICT, Communications and business – of the two, one each shall be from the private and public sectors) and the 19 Directors heading the state ICT agencies. The specialists and the 19 Directors being the Secretariat / technical arm of ICT-SAB.

8.2           After wide consultation with stakeholders at the state level, within the next six months (by June 2005), each state should set-up an agency or department to take charge of policy and implementation of an ICT plan. It can be an independent agency or under the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, the Executive Governor’s Office or as the state may so decide. The head of this body with a rank of at least a Director, should represent the state in the ICT Strategic Advisory Board Secretariat, at the regional level.

8.3           The agency should formulate a detailed ICT Strategy and Action Plan for the state, conceptualising the targets in this document where they apply to the state, subject to any modification that stakeholders may recommend.

8.4           It is imperative to note that these targets just represent the minimum requirements for each state to achieve in order to make it ready for the subsequent phases of the ICT project, that will not only earn for it hard currency but will make the 19 states as competitive, if not more, than the remaining states and make Nigeria shine on the continent too.

 

9.0    Funding

 

9.1     There should be a definite funding policy for ICT across the Northern states. A specified percentage of state and local government annual budgets should be agreed to by each state, depending on its ability,  for ICT.

9.2    State governments should jointly fund ICT common services.

9.3    Funding should be sourced from the Federal Government agencies as well as the World Bank, IMF, UNICEF, UNESCO, Commonwealth of Learning (COL)  and other international development partners, philanthropists, individuals, NGOs, Old Students Associations and other sundry taxes.

 

10.0 Conclusion

 

The analysis and recommendations are predicated on the fact that the current level of IT development all across the 19 states is extremely low and if necessary steps are not immediately taken, the future is likely to be very bleak. Conversely, if strong and bold steps are taken immediately by the 19 state governments they will be able to catch up with the rest of the country in IT development and this will help it in addressing its multifarious socio-economic problems. Some minimum targets have been provided which if implemented within a year will make all states ready for the subsequent phases of this gigantic project. In order to ensure the implementation of these minimum targets, it is suggested that the states should assist and collaborate on all aspects of the targets. There should also be extensive mobilization of government executives, legislators, intellectuals, businessmen and the general populace on the different aspects, to ensure ownership and full support for the project. 


 

[1] Hopefully, the Faskari Local Government will now put up some services and a web-presence on the site

[2] The National Information Technology Development Agency in Abuja does if for free.

[3] The most exorbitant fee charged to register a domain name in Nigeria is N15,000.00; most do it for N2,500.00

[4] Usman Bugaje, Wada maida and Aminu Mamman Ibrahim.  Mobilization of Katsina State towards a Cultural and Economic Renaissance; 26th June 1999: 13 pp.

[5] It helps to remember that in the field of ICT, 42 days is presently regarded by some to be as long as a whole calendar year.