The Information and Communications Technology has offered a world of opportunities to Nigerians. In spite of the gains, a number of challenges confront the sector, hindering its anticipated advancement. STANLEY OPARA and IME ITUEN in this report evaluate the sector vis-à-vis these developments
The growth of information and communications technologies is changing the way economic and social development occurs in most countries. New ICT-related tools have been known to make institutions and markets more productive, enhance skills and learning, improve governance at all levels, and make it easier for services to be accessed.
To further strengthen ICT development as well as the entertainment industry in Nigeria, the World Bank recently expressed readiness to kick- start a $2m (N300m) investment on facilities to promote growth and employment projects in the next three months.
Targeted at fast tracking development processes and activities of government in 2009, the fund, according to the Country Director of the World Bank, Mr. Onnul Rohl, was an initial budget that will be expanded after the government might have identified specific areas for joint efforts.
This development would go a long way to show that even if Nigerians do not see the immense challenges facing the ICT sector in view of the progresses recently recorded, the world is really aware of the lapses. Hence, the promise by the World Bank to do more to salvage the situation. The World Bank chief said, ”We have areas we have researched that we can be of help but we want the Minister of Information and Communications to identify area of priorities for Nigerians to benefit and create more employment opportunities.”
Identifying ICT and the entertainment sectors as ‘the next big wave of growth‘, he said what was needed to take the sector to greater heights remained a policy objective for a broader assistance, adding that, ”Many don‘t look at the opportunities that lie in here but it is the same industry that is creating a big job and have created a career for some.”
Responding to the World Bank gesture, the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, identified capacity building as paramount focus of the government towards enhancing career progression and development among Nigerians, particularly those in the ministry and the industry, for a better and quality output that would have multiplier effects on the nation‘s economy.
While calling for the development of a world-class website to interface with all the government agencies and parastatals and boost e-Government, Akunyili specifically stressed the need for a wide usage and exploitation of ICT tools in Nigeria .
Apart from achieving milestones in the ICT sector, the World Bank also explained that areas already underscored by the bank to assist Nigeria, which cut across the entertainment industry in the areas of copyright protection, support for film schools and distribution and marketing of films, were already being discussed with the National Film and Video Censor Board.
Recently, the International Telecommunication Union reports on most advanced countries in ICT over five-year period from 2002 to 2007, showed that out of the top 154 countries, no Third World and developing country was listed.
The most advanced countries in ICT were mainly from Northern Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Korea, which is in the Asia continent. Sweden tops the new ITU ICT Development Index, followed by the Republic of Korea , Denmark , the Netherlands , Iceland and Norway .
Nigeria has a long way to go, considering such prevailing factors like the limited access to ICT infrastructure, including fixed and mobile telephony services ratio, Internet and broadband service penetration.
It is essential to note that ICT growth far exceeds the mass importation and presence of telephones, computers and other ICT devices. Infrastructural content as well as the amount of usage of services by the populace – for instance, the level of telephony density, are factors that are key in grading the country in terms of ICT growth.
According to the President, Nigeria Internet Group, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, ”The noticeable gain from ICT is the increase in productivity which is enabled by easier and efficient communication, facilitated by increased access to telephone and then Internet.”
He said ICT had opened up access to the vast information resources available on the Internet, and we are therefore better empowered and now have better opportunity than before to get ourselves updated in various areas of endeavour especially via the Internet.
The President, Nigeria Computer Society, Professor Charles Uwadia, however, said that the rate of ICT advancement in Nigeria was not low; rather, he said,”It is growing. ICT is a combination of telecoms and computing, which have seen the country progress in a number of ways.
”There are indeed several other indications that considerable progress had been made in the information technology and telecoms sector since the advent of democracy, and the awareness of the potentials of using IT to transform the nation‘s economy is already widespread among policy makers and leaders of the organized private sector.”
Nigeria is, indeed, developing in the area of ICT but there are still some loopholes, which are affecting its total advancement in this area. According to the ITU report, the index used in selecting the top 154 countries advanced in ICT combined different factors as benchmarking tool globally, regionally and at the country level.
”These are related to ICT access, use and skills, such as households with a computer as well as the number of Internet users; and literacy levels,” the body said.
”The major challenge is that the use of computer, access to Internet and other tools of ICT are limited greatly to the urban areas, and the challenges faced by the ICT sector in the country include particularly the fact that the people in the rural areas are yet to know how to use the computer,” Ajayi said, noting that the people in rural arrears are key-board-shy.
According to him, ”They are yet to fully utilize the potentials of the Internet. Another challenge is the limited access to the Internet. Access is largely limited to the urban areas and there is an urgent need to extend affordable access to the rural areas,” he noted.
Speaking on the factors affecting the rapid growth in ICT, he said these included mass illiteracy rate in ICT tools, the high cost of accessing computers and the Internet, as well as government policies.
These challenges, he said could be resolve in various ways, and basically, a good environment for the rapid growth of ICT in the rural area was very important, while stressing that one essential and major player is the government both at the grassroots and federal level.
According to Ajayi, this issue can be dealt with by government creating the right environment and incentives for the operators to extend services to the rural areas.
Stressing the need for incentives like tax rebate, subsidy on roll out cost to rural areas, among others, he said of equal importance is the need for government to come up with a policy that guarantees that every Nigerian student, from the primary school to the University level, have access to the use of computer as well as access to the Internet.
He said, ”Everyone has a role to play. The operators need to balance the profit they make in the urban with the possible loss they may incur in the rural areas and consider deploying services to the rural areas even if it is not as profitable.
”The citizens who are the consumers need to appreciate the need to invest their resources in acquiring access to the Internet because of the immense return of such investment which comes in the form of empowerment, enhanced productivity in business and easy communications with friends and family,” Ajayi explained.
The President, Nigeria Computer Society, Prof. Charles Uwadia, emphasised the need for an increase in the literacy rate in ICT using ICT tools like e-Learning to enhance the usage of ICT tools as well as reduce the cost of gaining access to the computer and Internet.
Urging the government to work on policies that affect the ICT sector, he said the cost of acquiring such tools should be subsidized to encourage acquisition of such tools, even as more Public Private Partnership structures are cemented especially in the area of infrastructural development.
He said ICT resources were readily available to promote national development, create an enabling business environment and facilitate private sector (national and multinational) investments with government and private sector joint venture collaborations encouraged.
Calling for a special incentive programme to induce investment in the sector, he noted that there was the need to promote legislations for the protection of online business transactions, to ensure adequate privacy security and privacy.
Technology today has become an important factor in the economic growth and development of countries. The greatest indicator is the formulation of relevant telecoms and IT policies, as well as the empowerment of an independent regulator for the sector.
Though the government has taken several steps to create an environment good enough to attract investment and ventures by entrepreneurs, a lot still need to be done to check the prevailing anomalies in terms of existing infrastructure.