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ICT is critical to governance, says Ekuwem

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Ekuwem

Emmanuel Ekuwem is the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government (SSG). Prior to the new appointment, he was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Teledom Group, a leading Information and Communications Technology (ICT) firm.

An alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife (formerly University of Ife), Ekuwem holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering Physics, double Master’s in Physics, Electronic & Electrical Engineering (Microcomputer-based Instrumentation and Control Engineering) as well as a doctorate in Electronic and Electrical Engineering (Computer-based Instrumentation and Control Engineering).

He is a former National President of the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) as well as president of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG). He spoke with AYOYINKA JEGEDE, in Uyo, about his plans to revolutionise ICT in the state, among other germane industry issues.

How do you feel about your new appointment?
It is a call to serve the people of Akwa Ibom State I greatly appreciate Governor Udom Emmanuel for the honour because there are many eminently qualified Akwa Ibomites out there.

It is a humbling experience and I am here to give the governor my best in terms of commitment, provisioning of leadership, loyalty and making sure that what we do fit into his overall vision.

I will offer my service to my state under the umbrella of the government to the best of my ability and will deplore the totality of my competencies and skills which I have acquire over the years by God’s grace. Governor Emmanuel has a very patriotic vision, chief which are to get the state industrialised, get unemployed young people off the streets as well as educate the people through payment of examination fees and award of scholarships to brilliant but indigent students.

As an ICT expert, what are you plans for the state?
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a tool and an enabler. It is an instrument for development, be it in education, health, transportation, agriculture, politics, democracy, judiciary or legislative arm of government. In law enforcement like the police, ICT is required, and in the ICT world of today, things had been made so easy. Take for instance the concept of tele-presence that allows a patient and doctor to relate effectively from two locations far apart. Theequally abound other innovations.

ICT is an automation platform, the same thing in law enforcement .Why should a serial offender break traffic laws in Oron, drive to Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Aba, and Owerri and still commit same offence? Why should that happen? Because when the police apprehend him or her, there is no criminal database to check his or her status. Have you ever seen a Nigerian policeman with a laptop to check the database of criminals? We have no criminal database that is accessible by the Police, Army, Navy, SSS, Customs. We need a structured database in the country to check criminality. We can also apply ICT in education. Take for instance, we can have smart classrooms. I am here to use the totality of my skills and competency as a technocrat and professional. I will use ICT to help my governor actualise his vision and having understood his vision, we want to look at health facilitiesand see how we could to link them to the teaching hospitals to deepen access.

We are thinking of how activities in the health could be made seamless through the enablement of technology in key operations such that even pregnant undergoing antenatal could get updates through text messages and even get appointments via same medium.

That connectivity will come from ICT and once you put that facilities in place, then you are able to help people have access to the teaching hospital thus save lives and handle emergencies better.

There are some states that women receive text messages telling them what they should do with their children including bringing them out for immunisation or vaccination.

What is the major challenge to ICT growth in Nigeria?
The major challenge that we have in this country today as far as ICT is concerned is insufficient patronage of made in Nigeria goods by government and agencies nationwide.

What can be done to improve ICT deployment?
Stop the tendencies by some state and local governments to doubling tax operators because they have already paid their VAT and Tax. They have paid their dues as operators but you go to some local government areas they will tie rope across the road and expect them to come and pay tax sometimes they’ll even arrest whoever you went with.

Can we fight corruption with ICT?
Yes, by taking a lot of things from hardcopy to softcopy, from physical to visual, when you minimize human interactions in processing and treatments of documents then the probability of bribing someone to process a document is reduced when you take away interfaces in processing of governmental transaction in carrying out government transaction the fewer the number of human interfaces the better, am not advocating unemployment by laying off staffs No!, what am saying is let staff automate processes as much as possible be put in place to minimize interfaces with visitors .

Nigeria’s march towards broadband revolution is so slow, what is your take on this?
Yes, broadband has proven and shown that every 10 per cent increase in its penetration leads to about 1.3 per cent increase in GDP. That is a phenomena leap! So you can imagine now if ordinary 10 per cent will increase our GDP by 1.3 or 1.5 per cent, you can now imagine what 30 per cent will do. 30 percent will be a minimum of 3.6 per cent, it increases GDP. The Federal Government’s target is realistic because when we have the infraC broadband service providers in all the six geo-political zones and in Abuja and they roll out their networks, the effect will be great. But we must work to ensure that state governments do not earmark on multiple taxation where the Federal Government taxes us that is multiple taxation, they should not tax operators in a multiple of ways.

Will there be a link between 2019 elections and ICT?
2019 elections will be premised on automation of processes to minimize voters’ fraud, ballot box stuffing, hijacking of ballot boxes and declaration of fake, inadequate, or premature declaration of elections result in our polling units, all these can be stopped by proper utilization of ICT. We are going to automate processes. If we don’t want rigging, card readers must be used.

One, with 3G, this broadband we are talking about, if we have broadband in all the voting units and you have cameras mounted in all the voting units, there can never be any irregularities because you’ll be monitored remotely online real time and the police will track you because your face will be shown since there won’t be any form of masking.

Secondly, card reader and the bio-metric census on the card reader or on the laptops will give proper authentication of would be voters. We can check and make sure that voters accreditation and all the verification activities is linked to the database where the parameters are genuine and authentic. Any accreditation exercise on or for any particular voter that does not correspond with what is in the database, a prompt action is taken to refuse accreditation of the voter concern. ICT is needed to provide online surveillance or monitoring of the voting units. ICT is required to ensure voters, accreditation by use of the card readers and the computer systems aside electricity via solar power will be required and thank God elections will be held early in the year, which means that Harmatan will still be in place and there will be no cloudiness there will be sufficient sun for solar power platform to actually power the card reader and the laptops that will help electric powering of the equipment on site.

Accreditation, verification, electric power, storage in the laptops and then the card reader uplink and downlink what we called end access to the backend server to authenticate a particular voter correspond with what you see at the back end when you log on the Internet website or Google.

ICT can be used for voters’ authentication and accreditation that is what we call back end querying, to query the back end from the card reader with use of ICT 3G network to query the backend, transmission of result, you do know that counting is manual, then you collate so to transmit the result from the unit to the nearest ward, after they would have been counted is via ICT network 2G or 3G network then the transmission of the result from the local government headquarters to the federal constituency or state headquarters is via ICT, 2G or 3G network and then transmission from the state headquarters to Abuja is through ICT.


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