Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has said despite the huge investment his administration has made in terms of infrastructure development to meet the needs of the people, it was apparent that the future of the state's economy lay in the development of Information Technology (IT).
Fashola, who disclosed this when he played host to the Executive Chairman of Google Inc., Mr. Eric Schmidt, who led a high-powered delegation to discuss the deepening of the state's role as the hub of the multinational internet corporation's initiatives in the country, said there was a conscious decision that the population had outstripped the infrastructure.
According to him, "while we were bringing in economic relief, opening up opportunities, attracting investment, what would be the future on which the economy of our state would be built was clear to us and that is Information Technology."
Explaining the reason for the huge investment on infrastructure development, Fashola said: "We thought the quickest way to bring relief to the economy was first to invest on infrastructure-bridges, roads, schools train and so on."
Fashola said his administration had been working ahead to establish infrastructure for IT in the state, stressing that: "We could not build forever."
"All you have heard about providing Right of Way, at cost not at profit, was not accidental. It was clear to us that the profit lies ahead. We had many arguments and many fights in a bid to answer the question, do we want to make money now and make no money in future? Do we want to lose the opportunity to the competition? We are conscious of the fact that if any other state does it, we lose the business," he said.
Fashola, who said his administration had also taken the IT campaign to schools, declared: "This is the language our children find easier to communicate with themselves. So, it is no longer about us, it is about them. I do believe we will drive them through."
On areas of partnership with the company, Fashola, who listed the state's University, Ojo and the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), among others, said he would like the focus of the partnership to be on access and the opportunities that the university could get from Google.
According to him, "the reason this is important, especially at the artisanal level, is that we have 17 skills development centres training young people in all sorts of basic skills-shoemaking, hat-making, pottery, dress making, plumbing, photography and all that-and the basic course all of them must take, in addition to whatever course they choose to do, is Computer Appreciation Course that teaches them how to keep their accounts and how to use software to propel and develop their market."
Fashola also drew the attention of the company to the plans of his administration to make Katangowa, a blighted suburb of the State, "a major IT hub", saying it would enable the state Government locate the IT appliances, tools and others as well as the market in a residential area.
"For us, it can become a major IT hub. It is a few kilometres away from the State University. We are thinking of an IT warehouse and just taking everybody to the place," the governor said, stressing that: "I think what we have decided a few weeks ago is that Government will take the lead and that we are going to put buildings, shops and warehouses there and hope that people will follow us."
The governor said his administration has invested in Independent Power Project to create enablement for institutions in the state to utilise IT, adding that the 10 megawatts IPP in Lagos Island initially built to power the courts is currently powering two courts, two hospitals, 20 buildings, no less than 26 streets, while more streets would soon be connected.
Briefing the visitors earlier on the activities of her Ministry, the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mrs. Sola Oworu, said there was an existing programme with SMEs, whereby annually youths and holiday-makers as well as undergraduates and unemployed graduates are engaged by the ministry to go round the state taking data of SMEs adding that the information they gather are put in a directory called Yellow Pages, which are distributed all over the state.
Similarly, the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Dr. Olufemi Hamzat, in his briefing, said the state has invested massively on Geographic Information System (GIS), adding that hitherto, one of the challenges for the administration was tracking where things were.
"By doing our GIS, we can now map every infrastructure in the state, we can get the size of land, we can model things, we can map out watershed and other things," he said, stressing that with the help of the GIS, the government could also give Right of Way.
Introducing the visitors earlier, the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr. Adebiyi Mabadeje, said the company was in Nigeria to survey the socio-economic landscape and see how it could take advantage of the market for internet.
In her remarks, the Country Manager, Google Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan, said Google had been in Nigeria for about three years and that the company had been helping to build online ecosystem, noting that Nigeria is a vibrant market with lots of opportunities.
Earlier, Chairman of Google Inc, Mr. Eric Schmidt, said the company believes there was a huge growth in Nigeria giving Brazil as an example where, according to him, "we started with a smaller size group and we grew incredibly quickly to the point that we have 1,000 people."
Also present at the occasion were Deputy Chief of Staff, Ms Moji Rhodes, a member of Lagos Innovative Council, Mr. Tomi Davies, and Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University, Professor Obafunwa, among others on the state government side, while on the Google Inc side were the Director Google Idea, Mr. Jared Cohen, with other top officials of the company.