By Chisom Juanita Mefor
In the heart of Nigeria lies Anambra, a state teeming with untapped potential in agriculture, tourism, trade, and commerce.
Anambra is like a vibrant individual stuck in the constraints of uncertainty, yearning to unleash its full brilliance upon the world.
The possibilities are boundless, but the burning question remains: Can Governor Chukwuma Soludo turn this dream into a reality by transforming Anambra into a smart city?
It has been two years since Governor Soludo embarked on a journey fuelled by grand campaign promises, envisioning Anambra as the Southeast’s digital excellence hub and a shining ‘African Dubai-Taiwan.’
The road to transforming Anambra into a smart city is no small feat—it is a complex narrative that demands both visionary foresight and practicality.
As we ponder on whether Chukwuma Soludo’s two—term tenure can truly realize the dream of an ‘African Dubai,’ we must understand that monumental achievements around the world often started as audacious dreams.
Consider the example of Singapore, a nation that once existed as the visionary dream of Lee Kuan Yew. Just like Singapore’s transformation, turning Anambra into a smart city is achievable.
By definition, a smart city is a city that uses advanced digital technology and data-driven solutions to improve the quality of life for its residents, by enhancing performance, optimizing resource consumption and promoting sustainability across various urban services and functions.
Consider the e-banking system in Nigeria as a prime example of a smart city initiative. Now electronic transactions are seamlessly processed in seconds without the need for physical cash.
This not only enhances efficiency but also reduces the potential for issues like money laundering or diversion that can occur with traditional manual processes.
In essence, a smart city embodies a commitment driven by visionary leadership to leverage on modern/advanced technology to harmonize urban life, resulting in greater efficiency, sustainability, and a citizen-centric environment, ultimately making life easier for local communities.
Moving forward, I was genuinely surprised to learn that seventy-two (72) real estate developers and contractors submitted bids for the “Anambra Smart City Project”.
So, in my little “journalistic” endeavour to gain deeper insights and context, I ran a comprehensive check on major dailies and even went as far as seeking input from a trusted friend who works in the state house.
To clarify, a smart city should not be confused with a luxurious vacation destination like a “baecation” in the Bahamas, where you pack your bags for a delightful getaway.
Unless there are conflicting definitions or misconceptions about what a smart city truly entails, it is essential to recognize that the concept goes far beyond a mere glamorous destination.
The concept of developing residential areas is indeed a commendable step to address urban growth; however, it’s crucial to understand that this initiative stands distinctly apart from the broader goal of developing a smart city.
Smart cities involve the digitization of already existing state infrastructure and the comprehensive integration of cutting-edge technologies into the day-to-day lives of Ndi Anambra.
Development of residential areas addresses one aspect of urban expansion, while building a smart city involves a comprehensive and multifaceted transformation that encompasses digital technology, infrastructure, sustainability, and citizen-centric services.
Often, we look at countries like Israel, which have made significant strides in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, education, transportation, and energy infrastructure, and we cannot help but wonder, “Why can’t Nigeria do this?” or “Can Anambra achieve something similar?” After all, Anambra is small in population size as Israel, we can work to digitize at a similar scale too!
A practical and worthwhile first step would be to study the limitations of our own e-Governance system. One significant factor hindering Anambra from becoming as technologically advanced as Israel is the literacy gap.
As of 2021, Israel boasted a relatively high literacy rate, supported by a well-developed education system that emphasizes ICT literacy, sensitization, and a comprehensive education for its citizens.
In fact, based on what I have observed in many countries that have embraced smart city initiatives, the initial focus has been on ICT education and widespread awareness.
For instance, in the early 90s, the Estonian government implemented an IT policy through a programme known as Tiigrihüpe pronounced in English as “Tiger Leap”, whose primary objective was to bridge the digital divide among citizens, enhance ICT adoption in education by equipping schools with computers, establishing internet connectivity across the country, and integrating technology as fundamental tool for everyone. By 2001, Estonia had already met this goal.
Beyond education, electricity and internet accessibility are also crucial factors to consider. A smart city relies heavily on internet connectivity. The Anambra ICT Agency in collaboration with ANSG must ensure that smart city initiatives are extended beyond Awka and encompass even the most remote parts of Anambra to ensure inclusivity at all levels.
Identifying a specific area within the state for the implementation of a smart city initiative is indeed a viable strategy.
This approach can address challenges such as hacking issues related to “Ndi Agbero” and revenue taxation and collection. Currently, the digitization of revenue collection has not yielded the desired results.
Therefore, it’s essential to explore how to improve and optimize this digital system to make it more effective and efficient.
One could even ask; how can Onitsha main market be turned into an e-market as part of ANSG’s smart city initiative? Onitsha main market into an e-Onitsha main market would involve a multifaceted approach. Firstly, it would require the development of a robust digital infrastructure, for high-speed internet access within the market area.
Secondly, the creation of a user-friendly and secure e-commerce platform specifically tailored to the needs of main market traders would be essential. Vendor registration and participation and inventory management systems would be implemented to track products efficiently. To ensure the success of this transformation, effective delivery and logistics mechanisms should be established, along with dedicated customer support services.
Moreover, given our shared cultural context and values as a people, the potential for scaling this e-market model, if successful, to other markets like Eke Awka or Oye Olisa becomes more attainable, further promoting economic growth and inclusivity throughout our region.
Realistically, can Soludo achieve a smart city in 8 years? The answer is a big fat NO. The dream is undoubtedly ambitious, but eight years will definitely not be sufficient because there are too many pressing infrastructure issues that must be addressed. It’s worth noting that such a goal should not have been included in the manifesto in the first place.
For instance, in Abatete, there is no connected drainage system, which may extend to the entire Idemili North local government area. Drainage systems are a fundamental component of urban infrastructure; essential for managing stormwater, preventing flooding, and detecting disease hotspots, controlling pollution, and maintain a healthy environment for residents. The same goes for waste management and the need for a comprehensive database system to manage these structures effectively.
Lastly and, perhaps most importantly, the responsibility for good governance cannot be solely entrusted to one individual (Soludo). While visionary leadership is crucial, it’s equally fundamental for Ndi Anambra to share a connected vision for the state’s future. What do we collectively envision for Anambra in the next twenty to fifty years?
How can we build upon the foundation that Soludo is laying today to realize the dream of a smart city and a prosperous future? This collaborative approach ensures that any incoming government’s goal, manifestos and priorities resonates and perfectly aligns with the needs of the people, all these considerations are necessary for successful realization of a smart city and greater and brighter Anambra, long after Soludo is gone.
…Chisom is an Anambra local working in systems interoperability.
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