ICT AND E-GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA -Prof Akunyili
ICT AND E-GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA : OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES – AN ADDRESS BY THE HON. MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS, PROF DORA AKUNYILI, AT THE WORLD CONGRESS ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS, 25TH-27TH MAY 2010.
I welcome the opportunity to address this august body on Nigeria’s journey on ICT and electronic government routes. I commend the organisers of this conference for a job well done. I also salute the host city of Amsterdam for doing for the WCIT what the city of Geneva did for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Global meetings such as this are veritable market places for ideas and goods; software and hardware. There is right now a fresh resolve with the new government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to fast track Nigeria’s efforts at becoming one of the first twenty developed economies by the year 2020. Surely this cannot happen without increased use of ICT tools including e-governance.
E-government is defined as the use of information and communication technology to enhance access to, and delivery of government services for the benefit of all.
A common feature of e-government is the automation or computerization of existing paper-based procedures to enhance access to, and delivery of government services to the citizens. More importantly, it aims to help strengthen government’s drive towards effective governance and increased transparency for better management of resources, for growth and development. E-government also aims at integrating government ministries, departments and agencies in a manner that promotes their on-line interaction.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is an umbrella term that covers all technical means for processing and communicating information. The convergence of information technology (IT) and telecom technology gave birth to ICT. Practically speaking, ICT finds expression in digital technology and all its uses and variants, including the computer, the internet, mobile telephony, the different electronic applications (e-banking, e-governance, e-commerce, etc), digital media and broadband technology.
ICT, E-GOVERNMENT AND NIGERIA
Nigeria joined the global train of ICT like most developing countries as a consumer of the technologies particularly in the areas of personal computers and digital electronics. However, over time, we have been able to innovate and make them relevant to our needs. The Oxford Business Group 2010 Report on Nigeria states that: “Microsoft’s regional office for Anglophone West Africa is in Nigeria and announced that growth in the hardware market has been between 30% and 40% in recent years…”
In telecommunications for example; although the sector had been de-regulated since 1992, it took the auctioning of GSM licenses in 2001 to give it the kiss of life. Thereafter Nigeria went from less than 500,000 fixed telephone lines to about 72 million mobile cellular active subscribers by the end of 2009. This increased Nigeria’s tele-density to over 51% by the end of 2009. This revolutionary leap was driven by investments that peaked at $18 billion made up of $12 billion of Foreign Direct Investment with the rest coming from internal sources.
The Nigerian telecommunications market has been very active since roll-out in 2002. Today, MTN Nigeria is the continent’s prime operator by subscriber base. It has been the biggest contributor to its parent company’s revenues. Nigeria today is home to one quarter of the continent’s mobile cell phone subscribers. Only recently, two Nigerian operators, Globacom and Main One landed submarine fiber optic cables from Europe to Africa. They are the first Nigerian companies to embark on such heavy investments apart from Sat-3 which is jointly owned by some African countries. Other Nigerian companies are active with strong brands in the ICT market. Examples are Zinox, Omatek and Anabel.
TRACKS OF E-GOVERNMENT
In discussing the different tracks through which e-government services are delivered, four generic ones are well-known: Government-to-Business (G2B), Government-to-Citizen (G2C), Government-to-Employee (G2E), and Government-to-Government (G2G). For the purpose of today’s discussion, we shall only be taking the examples of what Nigeria is doing with respect to Government-to-Citizen (G2C) and Government-to-Employee (G2E).
G2C refers to services rendered to members of the public by the public sector establishments. Nigeria is a nation of about 150 million people distributed over a territory of 923,768 square kilometres. It is therefore easy to imagine the logistic challenge that goes with any central government service that is accessed nationwide. The use of ICT solutions for these services range from university matriculation to public sector payments and this has enabled government to render these services with greater efficiency and less cost to the recipients.
The national matriculation examination for admission to Nigerian higher institutions of learning has just taken place last month in April. Over one million candidates sat for the examination. Their answer scripts were computer-marked, and the results released and up-loaded to the website within seven working days. All over the country, what it took for candidates to know their results was to visit the internet site of the exam body. The revolutionary dimensions of this ICT-enhanced service can only be appreciated when compared with the former system where the exam results were anxiously awaited by the candidates for close to 8 weeks. When eventually released, the notifications were sent by surface mail service through the post office. This created all sorts of mix-ups as some notifications got lost in transit partly because some candidates’ addresses would have changed in the interval. Very importantly, manually marked scripts were more prone to errors than computer marked ones.
Another recent innovation witnessed on the G2C track is in the Abuja Federal Capital Territory which is the seat of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Through a system of electronically encoding the particulars of every vehicle and driver, the need to stop the vehicle for manual verification of the status of the licences of both the human being and the machine has been removed. Any expired license shows immediately the vehicle plate number is fed into the system by a traffic control officer. This happens without having to stop the vehicle or embarrass innocent drivers, whose papers might be up-to-date. In the Federal Capital Territory, we are dealing with a vehicle population of about 200,000. Though this is a pilot scheme, it will surely be replicated across the country.
Government-to-Employee (G2E) services have also benefited immensely from e-government in Nigeria. Just last year, the central government as part of its public service reforms, instituted the use of electronic payments for all public sector transactions. These include salaries of employees and payment for procurements and contracts. Before this, our economy had been a cash economy with most transactions done on a cash-and-carry basis. This gave birth to special bags called GMG bags with which cash often running into hundreds of thousands or millions is moved. With the new e-payments regime, movement of public sector-generated cash has been eliminated with the grave risks it often portended. This paradigm shift is acknowledged in the 2010 Report of the Oxford Business Group when it revealed that “One of the drivers of growth in 2008 was the fundamental shift in mindset away from cash by both the government and the private sector.” Electronic transactions have also made it easier to audit government funds and track the origins and destinations of each transaction. This helps to fight money laundering and financial crimes. Now public servants can draw on their salary accounts just hours after the funds are electronically-transferred on the instruction of the accounts department. Before now it took at least four days for the cheques to be cleared and credited.
E-GOVERNMENT AND BROADBAND ACCESS
Electronic governance especially its G2C and G2E tracks cannot be effective without widespread broadband access. Democratisation of broadband access is therefore central to any programme of e-government. Realising this, the government of Nigeria in 2006 established a public corporation known as Galaxy Backbone to provide the technological platform for e-government, and is working on a comprehensive broadband policy and vision document which will provide broadband definition, performance indicators, incentives for investment, macroeconomic targets, deployment guidelines and citizens charter.
This is more pertinent since the mobile telephone increasingly becomes positioned to be a primary access device for broadband access. According to an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Report, a survey of household computer ownership across Africa in 2007 showed Nigeria trailing South Africa, Namibia and Kenya and showing parity with Ghana. However, the story changes with the survey of Net Added Internet Users between 2000-2008, where Nigeria leads the table and more than triples the figures for its closest rival, Kenya. Broadband is therefore a growth industry in Nigeria. However, tracking its use can be a tricky business, because whereas in advanced countries, broadband and internet access is often procured individually, in our country, many people use the cybercafés and office facilities when they have no personal computers of their own. It is a bit like using car ownership to track those who go to work daily without considering the commercial buses.
Nigerians and many Africans are taking a different route to bridge the digital divide. This route is that of the mobile phone. Mobile phone signals are more diffused, and the hardware more affordable than the PC. With the smartphone which has combined the abilities of the PC and mobile phone, we do not have to use PC ownership, or lack of it alone, to gauge the size of the digital divide anymore. The smart-phone now enables us to access the internet and also perform tasks that were hitherto the exclusive preserve of PC’s, delivering efficiencies and opportunities for innovation. With the introduction of over 5 submarine cables (SAT-3, WACS, GLO1, MAIN ONE AND ACE ) by the end of next 2011, with an approximate capacity 10 terrabytes of data, and national fiber backbone networks, the potential for e-government will be brighter with more opportunities for investment.
Although Government has articulated a clear vision for e-Government, and provided it with top level championship driven by the Ministers of Information and Communications and Science and technology, we recognize the existence of challenges particularly in respect of human capacity building – for both the users and administrators. Other challenges include change management, harmonization of government information, and citizen interaction.
Regardless of the existence or sophistication of ICT’s, human beings remain the most critical success factor. They are the users and creators of data. They are the manager’s of the technology. Accordingly, Government has introduced cross – sectoral initiatives to build capacity among users and support personnel.
We are also mindful of processes which have existed for many years, and can be difficult to change. That is why Government continues to place emphasis on ‘cultural change to ensure users buy into the new technology driven processes, rather than manual ones that have been in place for many years.
Consolidation of information and cross – sectoral collaboration is another understandable challenge that we continue to tackle, in order to ensure all arms of Government share information and resources to ensure that policy design and implementation are driven by holistic perspectives.
Finally, an ongoing challenge is the external dimension to the structured information that citizens require from their Government. Government has witnessed an aggressive drive from public sector interaction channels especially via web portals and call centres. This is designed to introduce and entrench the open government principle promoted as the model for which government and citizens should interact.
Having taken a cursory look at ICT and e-government and Nigeria’s experiences, l invite you to come to Nigeria and explore the deep and vast Nigerian ICT market. Nigeria is a gold mine for genuine business men and women. Our population of about 150 million people and our strategic position in the West African sub-region, means that any business that succeeds in Nigeria has automatically succeeded in West Africa. The Government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is working very hard to make our business environment even more conducive, and is ever ready to embrace genuine investors in the promising and competitive Nigerian ICT market. Thank you all for listening.