‘Why Nigeria’s eGovt drive is slow’
Nigeria’s electronic governance (eGovt) drive is said to be slow because of hydra-headed challenges.
These challenges, including lack of adequate Information Technology (IT) infrastructure; epileptic power/electricity supply; reduced budgetary allocation for ICT, lack of trained and qualified personnel, and the resistance to change by public servants and other related issues, have impacted negatively on the pace of eGovt growth.
However, the need to have a paradigm shift was the centre of discussion at the Nigeria eGovernment Conference 2019, organised by DigiServe, in Lagos, led by a former President of the Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi.
Experts, who gathered at the conference, argued that efforts must be harnessed if Nigeria must achieve something substantial from eGovt.
Speaking on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, said although many resources have been committed into eGovernment across Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs), most of their activities are still in silos, hence, the need for harmonisation.
Danbatta noted that in addressing the identified barriers, eGovernment must be built on certain pillars like processes, people, and technology, while paying more attention to people as they actually drive the processes.
He said NCC has discovered that eGovernment can be achieved across MDAs, if fibre connectivity deployment is increased from the current 42,000km to 127,000km. This, according to him, implies that Nigeria needs additional 30,000km of fibre infrastructure, aside the expectations from operators to expand fibre development
Danbatta said government at Federal, State and Local levels, is facing a number of issues ranging from huge unemployment, corruption, crime, low internally-generated revenue (IGR), to poor service delivery in some quarters.
He added that efforts are being made to substantially reduce paper work in government offices.
“Today, it is clear to government at all levels that one of the ways to reverse cases of huge unemployment, corruption, crime, low internally-generated revenue (IGR) and leakages in government revenue, among other issues is to use ICT. This will drive government’s internal processes, and service delivery to its citizens and other stakeholders with capacity to enhance efficiency and convenience in the delivery of government services and create high skilled workforce in the country,” he said.
Danbatta added that NCC is also working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and other necessary stakeholders towards addressing the perennial industry challenges. These include the Right of Way (RoW) issues, multiple taxes and regulation, vandalism/fibre cuts, theft of telecoms equipment, insecurity, power problem, among others, which are critical industry issues impeding fast broadband infrastructure deployment in the country. These have also impacted the level of access to government, businesses and individuals to enjoy e-government services.
On data sovereignty, Danbatta said NCC will protect local internet service providers, grow local internet traffic, and localise internet traffic generated within Nigeria. Currently, Nigeria has between 40-50 per cent local internet traffic, but it could be increased to 80 per cent if local service providers are encouraged with favourable policies.
President of ATCON, Olushola Teniola, said there has been recorded evidence of latent demand for localised content and associated services, but the potential remains untapped due to multi-faceted recurring structural challenges.
Teniola added that the infrastructure gap in Africa is massive, and many governments are struggling with budget deficits against budget sizes totally dwarfed by the average annual revenue line; yet there are many opportunities for future growth in the mobile broadband space.
According to him, the challenge as always is what comes first, effective government policies or the ability to manage technological innovation in the absence of an environment that is characterised by much uncertainty.
“The ICT sector is fragmented and the telecom terrain is in a state of flux in the absence of an updated regulatory regime that includes the fundamental application of regulatory tools and directives that promotes local content, and prepares a foreseeable landscape for the data centric digitalisation that the new paradigm requires.
“Continually focusing on infrastructural rules that have a voice only technology ambit to it will not suffice, and misses the underpinning adaptation that technology has brought as a disruptive enabler for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics to exist. These will be common with the commercialisation of 5G networks in just under 7 to 8 years from now (2025-6).
“We, in the industry, reluctantly recognised the sheer complexity that this brings to our current way of operating, and are yet to absorb the nature of this technological advancement in addressing our multi-lingua society that exhibits a technology deficit from one spectrum (haves) to the other end (have nots). Also, our basic education and tertiary institutions are still reeling out computer graduates, taught in COBOL or FORTRAN only,” he added.
On the way forward, Teniola proposed an Information Communications Technology (ICT) ecosystem that truly collaborates and imbibes the spirit of trust and partnerships, right from the academia to the government.
President, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, hopes the new Ministry of Digital Economy will help change the narrative.
“If we don’t take reference to driving infrastructure, we have a problem. Our industry should now be seen as the most critical infrastructure, and those who work in the sector be classified as essential workers,” Adebayo stated.
He however said protecting critical infrastructure is germane because private firms spend so much to acquire them.