Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: IT Penetration - Our Three-in-One Strategy, By Johnson

To fast track IT penetration in the country, the Ministry of Communications Technology has perfected a three-pronged strategy through the Student PC ownership scheme launched last week by the Minister, Mrs Omobola Johnson. The student PC ownership scheme is the first leg of the strategy, the other two being reversal of poor acceptance of local computer brands and poor capacity utilisation of indigenous PC assembly plants. It is hoped that the student PC ownership scheme will trigger action in the desired direction.

Speaking at the launching of the scheme last Thursday in Abuja, Mrs Johnson noted that "we have a fairly well established device assembly industry. Some of the companies that you see represented here today are over 20 years old and have operations in countries other than Nigeria.

Unfortunately, our preference of international or global brands who have much better marketing, research and production capacity has led to the poor capacity utilisation of these assembly plants. Federal and state governments have been their biggest customers which means that they are dependent on the most uncertain world of government supply contracts."

As a result, she said her ministry and the implementing agency, NITDA, "saw a very clear window to literally kill the two birds of poor PC ownership by students and poor acceptance of local brands and poor capacity utilisation of our PC assembly plants with one stone. As you well know, our youth tend to be most critical, vocal and demanding of goods and services they procure.

Once they are sold however they will be the greatest advocates of the brand and will demonstrate loyalty well beyond their student years. Providing them with computers that are built to exacting world class standards, designed with Nigeria in mind and aesthetically pleasing will go a long way to earning this loyalty."

To actualise this desire, the Ministry and NITDA, in partnership with original equipment manufacturers, OEMs, Intel Corporation and Microsoft launched a students PC ownership scheme for students in 12 selected universities in the country.

The scheme hopes to deepen PC ownership penetration in Nigeria, empower local brands by creating an active market for them and aid Nigerian students to achieve better certificates through integration into the digital and information community. The scheme was aimed at creating a brand loyalty and patronage for local computer assemblers through a minimum non government subsidy but with quality assurance from Intel and Microsoft as active partners to sustain the programme.

The minister added that the current three percent PC penetration in Nigeria is very disgraceful and should not be allowed to continue if Nigeria must move ahead in realization of its goal of becoming a digital and knowledge based economy by year 2020. Her words:

"What is happening here is a collaboration in a way that President Jonathan's administration is structured and operates. We do not work in isolation. We have been working with other stakeholders to birth a programme that will benefit our students. The objective of this programme is about PC penetration. The three percent PC penetration for Nigeria is disgraceful. That is not acceptable to us and we need to address it.

"We want our students to participate meaningfully in the digital economy and graduate students that use PC to learn and interact and contribute well in the global community. Again, we want to increase local capacities and create jobs. For every local original equipment manufacturer, OEMs, so that any young person can start up his own company and compete with the rest of the world; building capacity and creating jobs for young Nigerians is our goal," she said.

On sustainability, she said "the sustainability we brought into this scheme makes it different from previous and similar schemes that failed. What you see here is a chain and any of these links that grows weak is going to affect this project. That is why we are not leaving any link behind at ensuring that we succeed."

She then charged all the partners not be the weak link in the chain, so that the scheme would surpass the set target towards building a digital economy.

"This programme will transcend us and everybody that has contributed to it. We will make sure that government play the role it should play as a gardener and enabler and a catalyst and not contracting anything, she added. What we done is that we are the enabler and this project will take a life of its own. The ecosystem will work for the sustainability of it. It will take a life of its own and sustainability will no longer be an issue," she added.

She also called on parents, guardians to support the scheme by sponsoring young Nigerian students whose parents may not be able to buy them computer and to fast track PC penetration in the country.

In his remarks, the Director General of NITDA, Prof. Cleopas Angaye said the student PC ownership scheme was born out of the dire need to increase PC penetration among the students of higher learning especially in Nigerian universities.

He said that the scheme was designed to ensure that students have access to learning resources, promote local content and develop competencies and capacities among the young people. The twelve universities were selected from each geo political zone at a random.

The NITDA boss also said the scheme was also a means of challenging the licensed OEMs to boost their productive capacities, which is expected to have a multiplier effect in job creation, poverty reduction and increase their market share in the global competitive economy.

"What we are witnessing today is just the beginning of some of the government policies targeted towards ensuring increased access to information technology resources and youth empowerment," he said.

He challenged OEMs to develop, train and employ middle level manpower to ensure that the systems are adequately maintained for after sales services that are competitive with international standards and urged them to collaborate with the computer science/information technology departments in the tertiary institutions for the management and maintenance of the PCs, this according to him, will assist in building the necessary capacity and experiences in the institutions to create the needed synergy between the higher learning and the industry.

The selected universities from the six geo political zones of the country were selected at random. The scheme has three entry levels agreed by the stakeholders so that students can have an option to choose based on the capability of their sponsors. The first entry level is from N48,500; the second level is at the price of N70,500 and the third level goes at the price of N85,000 to N100,000.

NITDA would be the programme manager through quality assurance and managing sustainability while Intel would supply processors and Microsoft will supply software. Other programme facilitators are banks, university administrators, insurance companies and ministry of Communication Technology sponsoring and monitor success. OEMs will champion local brands and while telcos will provide aggregate bandwidth.

Benefitting universities will play the role of validating and authenticating the students, support the programme across all the institutions, provide academic studies of the students and include up to date payment as part of the procedure. Universities will also ensure that students coming into this are regular students and genuine.

The whole process will be managed by a porter, as it is going to be technology driven and information driven. The consortium assured that the prices were negotiated with OEMs and that the products will be comparable with those in the market and payment will made over a period of 15 to 18 months.

Also speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian University Commission, NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie described the scheme as a laudable project said pledged the willingness of NUC to partner with the stakeholders to ensure the success of the scheme.

He however, called for the expansion of the scheme to other tertiary institutions in the country to boost the PC penetration and enhance learning process.

"This is a good project, the NUC buys into it. NUC will ensure quality education in Nigeria and would not hesitate to support anyone working in this direction. The CT ministry is a worthy partner.

This project would help to address the challenge of poor access to information and technology. I lend my voice in saying that this should not be limited to the 12 universities alone. It will be useful and meaningful if the project is expanded to capture the entire university system. This should be the drive because what is good for these pilot universities will be good for others. You have done the university system a lot of good," he added.

Speaking on behalf of the OEMs, Managing Director of VEDA Computers, Bode Pedro said the OEMs were glad for the opportunity given them to showcase their capacity and boost their market share in the country. He assured their readiness to work within the given guidelines and specifications.

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