12 December 2012

Nigeria: Are We Already a Digital Colony?


PEOPLE in the ICT sector definitely must know Chris Uwaje, CEO of Connect Technologies and President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria, ISPON. Uwaje is the author of of a book, e-Knowledge: Time is Running Out, launched some two years ago. He is the man popularly called the "Oracle"of the Nigerian IT industry.

At every forum, Uwaje never wastes time to tell whoever is listening, and he has spoken to countless five-star audiences, that if care is not taken, Nigeria risks becoming a digital colony very soon. When I first heard the words, digital colony, from Uwaje, my mind went into a swirl.

How does a nation become a digital colony? However, looking around our home environment in this day and age of information and communication technology, it is not difficult to discern that our society has the distinct markings of a digital colony.

Everywhere you turn, you see ICT products from other countries, both used, and as we like to say, "tear rubber", with very little or nothing to show by way of competition as in locally made alternatives.

Last week I attended a Digital Dialogue conference which held here in Lagos, whose intent, according to the organizers, was to "kick-start the information and education aspects of digital migration in Nigeria as well as provide an opportunity to interrogate Nigeria's preparation for Digital Migration in 2015."

On the sidelines of the conference, a Nollywood personality was having a conversation with another attendee at the conference. Their conversation bordered on the fact that we really cannot play catch-up in these days of ICT, and that when digital migration is achieved in the broadcast arena, we may have to contend with foreign content to fill the airtime that will be generated as content will be a major issue. Earlier, a speaker had informed the audience that no less that 4,380,000 hours of content will be generated by digitization.

Then the Nollywood personality informed the other party that our worst fears may already be underway, as Chinese producers are already in the country, with cheap funds and top grade technology, seeking producers with content they can bankroll!

What this portends is that by 2015 when we have so much hours of content that we cannot fill, foreigners will easily step in with content they have produced and give to our broadcast carriers to air. If the Chinese are already at it, then so are Europeans, Americans, Cambodians, Russians, Japanese, Koreans, and other nations who have always seen Nigeria as the dumping ground for their products. If that is bad enough for the broadcast industry, what becomes of our culture? Are the words of the Oracle coming to pass? Are we not fast becoming a digital colony?

To use a time worn cliche, Nero fiddles as Rome burns!

In the national interest, whoever is holding on to the white paper on digitization should release it. Further, relevant committees of the National Assembly, as well as the executive should go into overdrive and give us the necessary laws so that the industry can be restructured for digital transition.

We have less than 30 months left to June 17, 2015, and it will be difficult to achieve in that period what took the UK some 12 years to do. To avoid national embarrassment and a digital blackout, action is needed in the desired direction, and time for the action is NOW!

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