Martin Luther King, Jr. the prominent African-American Civil Rights Movement leader in his "I Have a Dream" speech said, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy". 2013, for Nigeria, is not a time to advance the fear of mistakes as a basis for a less than aggressive developmental push that recognises the importance of timing in the affairs of National development.
Democracy promises and represents the best platform for creation of opportunity, fairness, representation and much more. It requires a vision. It requires viable existence for citizens. It requires the creation of opportunity and aspiration. It requires education, healthcare and jobs. It critically requires governance, and at the heart of all these are some central themes including 'Shaping our youth for a viable Nigeria', and 'how ICT can be leveraged to deliver a knowledge based economy that can thrive,' especially as dependency on fossil fuels become less reliable over the coming years.
Success in these areas will depend on how we develop ICT as a sector itself and of course how we leverage it for cross - sectoral macroeconomic development. The current signs, in my humble view are not all too encouraging. I premise this on five pillars which we must address urgently, if 2013 is to be the pivotal year in our development drive.
The first pillar is that of a structured ecosystem because without a blueprint for success, the likely outcomes will be wasted and diverted resources, conflicting objectives and duplications, absence of measurable indices and overall dysfunction. This is why many industry watchers are keen to see the 'approval in principle' granted to the National ICT policy evolve to an implementable approval, upon which sector players can plan and dimension their investments. The corollary is continued confusion, promotion of unnecessary legislation, and stymied development - if any at all.
The second critical input is the appropriate orientation of our youth's attitude, and this is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of developing a future Nigeria. As it stands, the older generations have all but lost moral authority to preach good conduct, value of hard, National cohesion etc. to the youth. The Nigerian youth has grown up bearing witness to little else but plunder, impunity, dysfunction, 'get ahead at all cost' mentality, electoral drama, occultist practices and regular breakdowns of commonsense; and can therefore be hardly expected - in the midst of all these influences- to be instinctively upright and morally correct.
Therefore, ICT competencies in their hands represents a potent weapon, should they apply it negatively. Many may not be aware, but there are organizations in Nigeria who have been blackmailed out of business by young software hackers. Others pay ransoms to prevent their IT platforms being hijacked and damaged. Others are duped or provided with sub-standard work. This is already happening today. Yet, those that simply want to thrive and develop far outweigh the 'get rich quick" practitioners; but unless a vigorous orientation and attitudinal campaign is designed, and aggressively implemented, the notion of a value driven ICT sector ; the notion of merit as a basis or progress, the notion of a community that works etc. may become increasingly alien to the young generation/s. Therefore, the actions and inactions of yesterday and today may result in the youth inheriting - in addition to the debts, negative branding and infrastructure deficit etc. - a mindset of "anything goes', which will probably lead this blessed nation into chaos.
In that orientation drive, the youth also need to be aware that the very internet which is their integration resource into the global village also represents an avenue for numerous skills to be contracted for, from anywhere in the world. Already, software development work, virtual assistant roles, graphic designing, etc. ; are roles that are increasingly being shipped to other countries, including developed economies like the USA and the UK (as the need for jobs in those economies become even more pertinent by the day), often times on account of the supposedly bad attitude of Nigerian youth. I have witnessed a young graphic designers arrogantly presented N250,000 / 14 - day delivery offer bettered by a 24 - hour turnaround / limitless reviews / $250 (N30,000) offer from someone in Mexico!! And they delivered. It is a wakeup call. The youth cannot continue to disadvantage themselves by continuing with the mindset of generations that have led us to this pass. They must be oriented to strive for quality and excellence. This is a major orientation task.
The third pillar is the specific targeting of certain aspects of governance with ICT input. Every sector of this economy requires the propulsion offered ICT tools, technologies and knowledge. And it seems that some standard components must be put in place, across all sectors, as part of a drive to make government more efficient, responsive, accountable and innovative. This drive already has many critical components under development, and perhaps even implementation, courtesy of the Ministry of Communication Technology - which this President boldly created to bolster development of the sector. Nonetheless, government must look at ensuring critical components are put in place on a sector - wide basis. These include sector databases, digitization of documents and records (especially as fire outbreak become increasingly rampant), Call / Contact center platforms for service delivery related organizations, and comprehensive knowledge acquisition programmes with established minimum baselines that will allow these assets to be securely managed.
These things are too important to be subjected to the locust like, short sighted focus on transactional aspects that have historically accompanied many - or even most -large scale ICT projects. That approach will be unfair on many generations unborn, who are by default plunged into a technology centric world where they may be forced to play second fiddle, unless we change course, now.
The fourth pillar is that of local manufacturing content. We simply cannot continue to import at the rate we do, deriving only nominal value from the sales and support activities of the overall value chain. Jobs may never come in the required quantum and quality. As even electrical items like TV screens become ICT delivery platforms, government must place before the private sector a well thought out plan to create subsidized manufacturing / assembly parks that will drive down costs usually occasioned by infrastructure deficit.
2013 cannot be another year where these shared infrastructure parks remain on concept papers. Executing shared assembly facilities can be done quickly if approached with sincerity of purpose, rather than political considerations and the usual shenanigans that often times slow down the pace of development. We will die if we continue to lap up mobile phones, chargers, computing devices, television sets, etc. at the rate we do. As we speak, Ethiopia is embarking on its ICT park project which is expected to deliver and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. As part of that project, it is reported that China's second-largest maker of phone equipment, ZTE, is building a $45 million - 200 hectare facility to support the Ethiopian government's plans of establishing a technology manufacturing sector.
In Kenya, companies like Samsung are part of the Malili ICT park project. In its Vision 2030 document, the Kenyan Government identified ICT as a key economic pillar, with Business Processing and Outsourcing a key flagship project. Already, the Government has spent Sh1 ($11.5 million) to purchase 5,000 acres of land (the Malili Ranch), where it intends to put up an ICT park to house BPOs and other ICT businesses.
These developments portend grave economic danger for a slumbering Nigeria, as ICT and lifestyle related spending continue to explode in Nigeria, as they attain the status of necessities. Unless urgent action is taken, we could be laying the foundation for a future where other African countries - in addition to our already established sources- become our primary sources of ICT goods.
Finally, all the jobs in the world will not represent the dignified existence that jobs are meant to provide if government does not act decisively to stem the inflation in basic elements of human existence. Accommodation is a key point in this respect. With the current property prices - fuelled largely by corrupt and greedy acquisition by a few renter minded people - it may become almost impossible for a "job" to fund dignified living, even at the most basic levels. That situation will lead to jobs that will have to be augmented, often with criminal activities. Whilst I am not excusing criminal conduct in anyway and for any reason whatsoever, it is a common trend to find that criminals almost always have daytime jobs that simply cannot make ends meet, in a society where virtually everything is commercialized. Many of our less principled young women also transform seamlessly from daytime office workers to nighttime "runs" practitioners as part of an income augmentation drive to ensure that roofs are over their heads and food on the table.
I believe that the vast majority of people who resort to these methods do because they lack innate integrity - after all those who are already comfortable and wealthy still plunder with unbridled intensity. Notwithstanding, a society that promotes the decimation of values cannot be a good breeding ground for inculcating integrity. Corruption must be subjected to rapid decline, if jobs are to be truly meaningful to the vast majority of well-meaning Nigerians. Otherwise, many who would otherwise not will be pushed to the wall, and may resort to criminal activities to augment income. And who knows where such a situation will lead.
Adeagbo writes from Abuja