Daily Trust (Abuja)

20 January 2003

Nigeria: The Role of Information, Communication Technology in the Fight Against Poverty - the Nigerian Experience

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A paper presented at the symposium on ICT and the society of information, Algiers, 9th - 11th December 2003 by Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, minister of communications. Nigeria.

Globalization which has, for centuries, developed through human migrations, trade and the dissemination of knowledge and culture, is nowadays propelled by the spectacular expansion of information and communication technologies (ICT).

There are solutions available to combat this exclusion and reduce the digital divide. This requires greater solidarity, sharing of knowledge and know-how, and political-will at the international and national level.

2. ICTs as a Tool for economic and social development.

ICTs are central to the creation of the global knowledge economy and therefore play an important role in promoting sustainable development and eradicating poverty and disease.

The potential of ICTs to empower people is enormous. This is particularly the case for people with disabilities, Women, Youth and rural communities. ICTs can help to build capacities and skills; create more employment opportunities; assist small and medium sized enterprises and increase participation and informed decision making at all levels notably through enhanced education and access to information especially when accompanied by full respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

Technological innovation can contribute substantially to providing better access, health servi,ces, education, information and knowledge as well as offering a wider variety of means by which people can communicate thus contributing to and promoting greater understanding and improving the quality of life peace and security.

3. Infrastructural Development and Affordable Access to ICT Services . I

In addressing the issue of digital divide, priority and emphasis must be given to rural and those serving remote and isolated areas in the development of telecommunication infrastructure,

Global, regional and national action plan to enable the provision of a wider range of ICT services with higher performance and at affordable cost.

Concrete action for the establishment of National Network Access Points (NAP) linked to the global Internet.

The ICT objectives of NEPAD are:-

1. To double teledensity in Africa to two lines per 100 people by 2005, with an adequate level of access for households.

2. To lower the cost and improve reliability of service;

3. To achieve e-readiness for all countries in Africa;

4. To develop and produce a pool of ICT -proficient youth and students from which Africa can draw trainee ICT engineers, programmers and software developers and;

5. To develop local-content software, based especially on Africa's cultural legacy.

NEPAD will also support initiatives aimed at facilitating the development 1 deployment and roll-out of ICT infrastructure. These initiatives include:

(i) the creation of the necessary enabling environment and regulatory environment and frame work to facilitate the deployment, utilization and exploitation of the ICT infrastructure;

(ii) Development of the required human resource capacity to facilitate the ICT infrastructural development, roll-out and utilization initiatives on the continent; {iii) Development of sub-regional and regional capacity for the production, manufacturing, development and distribution of ICT infrastructure, related, equipment, systems and services;

(iv)Developing and strengthening the capacity of sub-regional and regional institutions responsible for policy, regulatory and human resource development issues in ICTs;

{v) Development of the institutional and regulatory framework and structure required for supporting the deployment, utilization and the development of ICT infrastructure and systems;

Development and promotion of the necessary standards practices and guidelines to support the deployment and exploitation of the infrastructure and its systems.

The ultimate aim of NEPAD as pointed out earlier is to bridge the digital divide and facilitate Africa's socio-economic development in the digital age. Facilitating the deployment, exploitation and utilization of the ICTs within the societies and economies of African countries will be crucial. Apart from facilitating the development, deployment and the roll-out of the physical ICT infrastructure and supporting initiatives directed at facilitating the infrastructure roll-out process, there is the need to also support 'last-mile' initiatives targeted at the utilization and exploitation of the ICTs within the society and the economy.

6. The Nigerian Experience:

The Federal Government of Nigeria, aware that the country is lagging behind in race the digital society, declared ICT as a national priority in the year 2001. In the words of President Olusegun Obasanjo " although we are starting late, we are determined to develop our ICT infrastructure with Universal Access capability in the shortest time. We shall connect our Colleges, Schools Universities, Research Institutions and the entire public sector to the Internet." The decision to make ICT a national priority is in keeping with the programme of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to accelerated investments in ICTs. A number of measures and policy mechanisms were established to accelerate this development.

To this end, an agency, the Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) was created. The strategy for NITDA is to, among others:-

Coordinate a programme for the development of National Information Techno logy Infrastructure.

Provide adequate connectivity to the global Information Technology Infrastructure.

Addressing open standards for further liberalization and the fiscal measures including incentives to substantially improve teledensity and make IT more accessible and more affordable to Nigerians.

Establish IT packages as incubating centre for the development of software applications at National, State and Local levels.

Restructure the educational system at all levels to respond effectively to the challenges of the information age and in particular the allocation of a special IT development fund to education at all levels.

In so doing, the government recognizes IT as a strategic imperative for national development and taking cognizance of its benefits, government has resolved to provide considerable resources, for the realization of the National IT vision statement .

Infrastructural Development The draft Telecommunication Bill mentioned earlier, made provision for the setting up of a :Universal Access Fund the main function of which would be to ensure availability and accessibility of telecommunication services at affordable prices for all the disadvantaged communities most especially those living in the rural areas. The fund, which will be sourced from contribution from government, private telecommunication operators, other corporate bodies, our development partners and other donor agencies, will be managed by a Board of Trustees independent of Government.

While waiting for Universal Access Fund to take off, Government has embarked on a Rural Telephony project to connect over 500 Local Government Headquarters with telecommunications facilities.

Realising that with the size of Nigeria in terms of land mass, it will be rather difficult to achieve universal access through rural exchanges, a study has been commissioned to explore ways of providing services through the installation of V SA T terminals at the designated remote locations in the country. The aim of providing these terminals is to enable information gathering and dissemination to as many parts of rural Nigeria as possible. This will enable the delivery of extension services to the remote rural communities in education, health and agricultural and facilitate monitoring of Government programmes.

Deregulation of the Industry: Under the New National Policy on Communication, the Nigerian Communication Commission was strengthened to deregulate the telecommunication industry. The overall objective of the commission is to promote fair competition and efficient market conduct, overall regulation and creation of an enabling environment for the efficient supply of, and affordable access to telecommunication services through public and private offering.

The main functions of the NCC are:- ,

Licensing of telecommunication operators and facilitating Private Sector participation and investment in the telecommunications Sector of the Nigerian economy.

Establishing and supervising technical and operational standards and practices as well as approval of types of equipment for operators, overseeing) the quality of service provided by the operators and setting terms for interconnection of different networks;

Ensuring that the interest of the consumers of telecommunication services is protected by promoting competitive pricing for such services and combating the abuse of market power.

Mediating between carriers, operators and consumers.

Recently ,-the NCC has licensed a second national carrier to compete with NITEL and also improve on the existing transmission backbone of the country. The Nigerian Electric Power Authority has also been given, a license to operate an Optical Fibre transmission network across the country in collaboration with a Private Telecomm company, These and other initiatives were aimed at providing the necessary infrastructure for ICT development in the country.

Activities of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

The NITDA has recognized the potential of ICT education as the bedrock of the Nigerian economy. To this end, the Private organizations are working with the Government educational establishment to develop ICT Curriculum for Primary and Secondary Schools to make for an early ICT culture.

Plans are also underway to develop the National Internet Information Backbone (NIIB) with the cooperation between the Public sector, Private sector, NGO's and International Agencies. This backbone will extend to the States and Local Government Areas in the country. Community Resource Centres are to" be established to empower Nigerians in the rural areas.

VSAT terminals are to be installed across the country as a short term solution to the problem of accessibility. The long term solutions involve the setting up of an Optic Fibre backbone network for increased bandwidth and reduced time latency. The overall aim is to improve connectivity and access, while lowering cost.

A public service information Network is being designated to network the

various arms of Government into a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Information Technology Parks are to be established in the six geo-political zones of the country.

7. Conclusion

The globalization process being developed around the world has brought about expansion of Information and Communication Technologies and convergence of information dissemination.

Dr. Bello Minister Ministry of Communication federal Government of Nigeria.

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