This Day (Lagos)

28 March 2007

Nigeria: ICT as a Development Tool

analysis

Lagos — In this analysis, Efem Nkanga looks at the importance of Information Communications Technology (ICT) as a tool that drives development, particularly in the developing world.

Has any one heard of a small and remote village in Kafanchan, Kaduna State called Fantsuam?. It's the smallest village in that state in the northern part of Nigeria. It is a rustic village dominated by mud and thatched huts and inhabited by locals who are not like the ordinary folks we are used to. This is because the Fantsuam locals are a savvy digitally compliant lot who in a few years have become a living example of what information communications technology can do to usher in development where none existed. The digital growth of that village is driven by the Fantsuam Foundation, a non governmental initiative that is slowly transforming that locality into a digitally compliant village. From the deployment of the internet, computers, community radio and even solar power for cooking by the local women, Fantsuam is slowly turning into an ideal village that cannot be ignored. Another village trying to become digitally compliant is Oke-Ogun in Oyo State. It's a large rural area in the north-west part of Oyo State, Nigeria. The activities of the Oke-Ogun Community Development Network, an organisation working to make the community ICT-compliant shows that rural communities in Nigeria are gradually being introduced to the power of technology.

For example, the Fantsuam Foundation founded in 1996, in Jos has been in the forefront of pioneering ICT services in rural communities in Nigeria.

It's a non profit organisation desirous of pioneering gender and youth focused micro finance and ICT services and development in rural communities. It is a group and individual membership organisation with about 3,500 members from clan women's groups in rural communities in the chiefdoms of Atyap, Bajju, Godogodo, Gwong, Gworok, Ham, Fantsuam, Moro'a and Numana. The Fantsuam Foundation is doing what the Grameen Foundation is doing in Bangladesh by empowering especially the women to work their way out of poverty through the platform of ICTs through the provision of microfinance to clan women groups, promoting the use of ICT in support of traditional governance in rural development, education, rural-urban-rural and rural-rural connectivity, eCommerce, IT transfer for the manufacture of tropical solar-powered computers in our rural areas and accessibility, among others. It has won several awards for its work, including that of the first African Hafkin prize, first rural Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Nigeria, first rural Cisco networking academy in Nigeria and winner of the First Global Knowledge Partnership Seed Grant and Small Innovative Projects Fund.

The fact that ICTs can trigger and aid development is not in doubt. The Internet as a tool is an enabler of opportunities in social, political, and economic spheres of any nation.

Wikipedia defines ICT for development as the application of information and communications technology in development programmes in under-developed countries. It is the bedrock of any meaningful economic growth. It plays a very important role in any nation's ability to access, adapt, produce and apply information to develope human lives and capacities. Take the example of an African country like Senegal where fishermen are already deploying ICT to enhance their trade. Fishermen in that country subscribe to a GSM and send SMS text services that give them scientific estimates of suitable fishing locations on the sea, weather forecasts that make them know if it is profitable and safe to go fishing or not as well as current fish market prices.

Other examples of developing nations deploying ICTs to develop the communities abound: From Bangladesh, where the Grameen Foundation is working to totally eradicate poverty from the women through the rural village phone project and using its mobile network to connect hundreds of booths run by local entrepreneurs in the rural communities to the internet. The villagers use the booths for different purposes like contacting relatives overseas, comparing market prices, or seeking medical aid.

Other examples are India, where the biggest obsession right now is the mobile phone; Mozambique, where ICT is being used to tackle the malaria scourge; Uganda, where Linux-based solar power Wifi VOIP stations are being used to bring ICTs to the locals and Rwanda, where the technology is being deployed to curtail the spread of HIV and speed up the supply of medicine to people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Ethiopia is another example where ICTs is being used to provide market information to rural communities to help small producers in the countryside find better prices for their products while in Zambia, ICTs are used to improve the production of farmers, and aid their purchasing and marketing decisions, among others. A nation's wealth and economic power can be measured through the yardstick of its digital technological advancement. Most countries in the world, according to an ICT expert, Abdul Hakeem Ajijola, have woken up to the fact that you cannot separate development from technology as the two go hand in hand. Any nation today that wants to be relevant in the scheme of things must embrace information communication technology because it has become one of the most viable instruments, of utmost significance to mankind, and the single most important channel through which a nation can impact positively on its citizens. ICT is now deployed by countries to drive economic growth. Since the advent of ICTs in the world, incredible advancements have been recorded and are being recorded on a daily basis. We have digital technologies like fibre optic networks, instant messaging, cellular phones, new data networks, automated recording, 2.5G technology, 3G and so on and so forth. That technology can be used to champion local economic development, health, education, social justice, human development, and reduction of poverty is no longer in doubt.

In Nigeria, there are several initiatives geared at accelerating development via the technological platform. eNigeria initiatives geared towards connecting communities, vital agencies and institutions of government and educational institutions at all levels with ICTs are currently being pursued by the government. The Obasanjo administration is currently in the process of providing telecommunications infrastructure in 343 local government areas with telephone facilities through the National Rural Telephony project. Other laudable initiatives are the Nigerian telemedicine initiative, Public Service Network initiative, Internet Exchange Points Initiative, Wire Nigeria Initiative and the development of a keyboard for the three main Nigerian languages aimed at enabling the rapid development of the Nigerian nation. Since, the liberalization of the nation's telecommunications sector in 200, Nigeria has witnessed a leap in information communications technology that stakeholders hope will put the nation on a development drive that will set it apart from other developing nations and help to eradicate poverty, lack, ignorance and illiteracy from the land.

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