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ICT: An Agenda For Transformation

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By Olabode Ogun

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Transforming Nigeria to becoming one of the world’s 20 largest economy, without strong and functional institutions of government, is an arduous task even with the modest intention. There is no doubt that our nation can only thrive on the strength of various institutions involved in the process of governance. Institutions to regulate trades, commerce and mobilize revenue for government; public agencies that will implement, monitor and evaluate government policies and programmes; provide services to people and businesses, superintend over public law and order; promote transparency in government activities and entrench democratic ideals and of course institution of learning to render qualitative education. And to complement public institutions, we must equally have vibrant, competitive and innovative private sector.  Just to re-echo President Obama “In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success”. It matters a lot what manner of institutions are driving the agenda for Nigeria’s development.

What are some important considerations to strengthen and build our institutions? First is the issue of leadership. Within the context of transformation, there is so much that one could discuss about the role of our leaders in reshaping the current status of our institutions. Leadership gives an institution its identity, embodies its character and sets the paths to or not to be followed. Leadership drives commitment to a common goal.  The unfettered judgement of a leader could make a difference in helping any establishment achieve its set objectives. The people ride on their leaders’ courage and depend on their vision as a source of illumination.

Second is about the people responsible for running the affairs of our institutions. Human resources are precious asset of any organization, whether it makes things to sell or it sells intangible products in form of services, nothing can move unless your people make it move. The people must have the capability to execute the mandate for which an institution was established.

The other concern, which is the crux of this piece of writing, has to do with empowering the people with tools. The extent of productivity of a workforce can be affected by the tools available to carry out various tasks. Compare the output of a farmer who has to till the soil with a hoe to a farmer that has the luxury of a tractor and a plough even when the former employs hundreds of labourers. This explains why many professionals excel in one instance better than they do in others.

ICT, as a work tool, has had a major impact on what can be achieved by any organization. It has created new possibilities; imagine a Nigerian society today without GSM. ICT has globalised the world’s economy, providing jobs and even becoming source of revenue for governments. In the 21st century, national economic development is largely attributed to those that have rapidly adopted the possibilities offered by technology to enhance their nations’ competitiveness in the global economy and improve the internal operations of public agencies and strengthen the institution of government.

In reality, just as technology can offer nations potential opportunities to improve the economic and social quality of life for its people, challenges to its adoption and national success do exist.

Huge infrastructure deficit, dwindling source of government revenue, competing demands for available funds have implied that investment in technology or research and development activities may not be given the needed attention at different levels of government. For example, a state or local government could be burdened with the responsibility of making a delicate choice of spending 150million naira to build a health management (administration) information system or a tax administration/revenue collection system – to manage information on government financial transactions – when there are no sufficient healthcare centers/bed/drugs or even when it could hardly afford to fulfil its monthly salary obligation.

The lack of people with the technical skills to use and apply ICTs is another constraint limiting successful deployment of ICT around the world.  Today, even industrialized countries have an insufficient number of trained technicians and specialists. A severe shortage of skilled labour exists, compounding the problem that many countries including Nigeria face, because few trained personnel are ever more likely to seek and obtain work abroad.

For instance countries such as India graduate an estimated 400k engineers per annum and China churns out about 600k engineers each year; it is no coincidence that the two nations have become the hub for Hi-tech multinational corporations. How well do Nigeria fair, in comparison? A teeming youth population who have become BPL-addicts, technology savvy but need skills, motivations and incentives that will turn them to become technology innovators.

Looking ahead, as a nation, we have to strike a balance between embarking on those pain-staking, long term and soft-value initiatives that could transform the entire process of governance and on those things that are politically expedient and physically visible.  Thoughtful policies and effective implementation of socio-economic development plans must include technological strategies; this is inevitable in today’s globalized twenty-first century, where development and economic advancement is largely attributed to technology-haves and technology-have-nots.

Today, technology must not just automate processes; it must create significant value by improving public services or delivering competitive advantage. Return on Investment raises the stakes on every large-scale technology development project: Technology must be proved to have a measurable impact on helping reshape the process of public administration.

What kinds of technology investments should our institutions make? How can we measure the impacts of these investments on economic progress and its overall improvements in terms of cost savings, performance and return on investments?

How can ICT be effectively deployed to promote transparency in government and improve security across the country? Given the current concern regarding new and emerging forms of crime and criminal activity such as terrorism , kidnappings and other economic vices; the level of sophistication and planning involved in some of these crimes, the imperative to improve operations and increase capacity to better fight crime in whatever shape or form is even more pressing.  Security agencies need to develop capabilities that keep will them steps ahead of outlaws.  What we have to start thinking about is not just guns, armoured personnel carriers or other military hardware, but also technology capabilities. We need to be thinking about cybersecurity and building our own home-grown and well nurtured talents (the Geek Eagles – our national defence team against cyber-threats, who are also going to write the new money-spinning computer algorithm).  Public institutions and agencies of government, at all levels, have to be adequately equipped with requite tools to track and monitor billions of naira that move – without  any corresponding value being added to the national economy – within  and out of the country.

What level of support can the government give to research and development in an effort to breaking the new frontiers in technology innovations? Technology is rapidly changing, with the future and the benefits reserved only for the barrier-breakers, the inventors.

How can we promote public/private approaches to the development and rollout of various ICT services?  In which areas can government-industry collaboration be encouraged in order to mobilize private capital as an alternative source for funding ICT projects? We need to take deliberate steps to provide opportunities for budding techpreneurs by embarking on those initiatives that will support the production and export of ICT products and services and raise local national content. Nigeria technology companies need to be transformed from buying and selling “boxes” to government to real innovative partners, who can put their money where their heart is.

How can we step up the use of ICT in public institutions? What kind of policy can be put in place to promote a culture of in-service learning and teaching of ICT within the public service and making ICT training an integral part of school curriculum?

It is time to start thinking outside the box. There has to be a national consensus on the role and economic value of ICT in government transformation.

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OGUN Olabode, Information Technology Consultant, based in Abuja, Olabodeogun@gmail.com

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