Policy, not politics, should drive ICT
By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the governor of the State of Osun in South-west Nigeria, has called on politicians to cease playing politics with the development of information communications technology (ICT) and allow robust policies that will put the nation on the fast lane of the ICT super-highway to take centre stage.
Aregbesola was speaking at the Nigerian Telecoms Awards at The Incubator Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. He commended the establishment of the Ministry of Communications Technology, saying the Ministry would fast-track development in a world where ICT literacy is increasingly becoming a fundamental human right.
“One of the most forward-looking policy decisions of the Federal Government in recent time was the creation of the Ministry of Communications Technology to coordinate the nation’s drive towards a digitalised economy,” he said.
“This, no doubt, brings to the fore the indispensable significance of ICT to the development effort of Nigeria. It is my conviction that in matters having to do with ICT – especially in a world where ICT literacy is fast becoming a fundamental right – policy, rather than politics, should define the direction,” he said.
He added that technology, just like time, waits for nobody and now is the time to act if the country's Vision 20:20 is not going to remain a mere pipe dream in the limbo of time.
Speaking of his administration's approach to building a knowledge-driven economy, he said much of its effort is focused on massive investment in e-youth strategies. “We believe that an investment in today’s children and youth would yield the best returns in the not-too-distant future.
This is the sure path that we have resolved to follow. That is why we have invested in the Opon Imo (e-learning tablets), which is a self-study aid and a robust electronic device with uniform learning content designed for use in senior secondary schools in our state,” he disclosed.
According to him, the electronic tablet comes pre-loaded with students’ prescribed textbooks, tutorials and past questions in the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
This kind of learning aid is traditionally known to be beyond the reach of the majority of students in the country. It has an in-built feedback mechanism for monitoring students’ performance. These tablets are to be made available to all the senior secondary students for free. Through this initiative, the state government seeks to expose pupils of its senior secondary schools to information technology at an early age.
He said the government may have taken a cue from global best practices exemplified by similar project in India but added that this revolutionary e-learning device, so fittingly tagged Opon Imo (tablet of knowledge) is a trailblazing effort by the State Government of Osun; and it is meant to address the problem of access to vital educational resources.
India had in 2011 introduced the Aakash, a low-cost android-based e-learning device, under a programme to link 25,000 colleges and 400 universities. Although, the Opon Imo and the Aakash do share some basic, functional similarities of facilitating and deepening access to reading and instructional materials, they are different in terms of their architecture. The two devices were designed with features that are unique to their varied environments.
For instance, while the Aakash relies on external sources (the web) for content, the Opon Imo makes use of internal memory and hence is more suitable to our environment where Internet services are epileptic and unreliable.
The Opon Imo initiative, which is expected to deliver jobs and transfer new skills to the citizens of the state, promises to be a new, revolutionary learning experience for Osun secondary school pupils. This is one of the significant steps in our journey to a new beginning in the State of Osun.
“Our investment in computer for secondary school pupils was born out of our conviction that the future belongs to the digital age and it will be disastrous if our people are not prepared for this.
The computer has become the centre of the universe whether it is mainframe, desktop, laptop, handheld (as telephone) or palm top. It is interesting now that even artisans and motor mechanics need the computer to diagnose problems with cars and provide solutions to them.
Architects and draughtsmen now use the computer to design houses,” he disclosed, stressing that even farmers need computers - for soil testing and analysis, planning, operating certain machinery, tracking farm animals, diagnosing diseases in plants and animals, confirming bank balances, requisitioning farm inputs such as seedlings, fertilisers and agro-chemicals and forecasting harvest.
Financial transactions are carried out in the comfort of our homes. Plane tickets are booked and paid for online while virtually limitless information on varying subjects are made available on the internet ranging from dating to how to commit suicide.
“Our investment in IT however goes beyond Opon Imo. We have also set up the OYES’TECH. Through it, we are training and empowering, at the start, about 5,000 youths on information technology. They are being trained over six months on how to assemble and repair computers, telephones and other electronic devices. Our target is to have 20,000 youths benefit from this scheme,” he said about another initiative of the administration.
He recalled that last year, it entered into partnership with a private sector IT service provider on job creation under which the firm agreed to train and create employment by deploying a total of 5,000 Point of Sales/Point of Transactions Terminals (handheld machines) to 5,000 youths (OYES agents) as Equipment Loans. The firm will also train and identify various economic activities where the terminals can be used by the youths to generate income.
Under the scheme, access will be provided for various economic activities such as National Identity Data Capturing, Sale of Airtime of telecommunication companies, Central Bank of Nigeria cashless and money transfer programme.
Each of the 5,000 OYES agents (under the initiative) will be given a terminal (POS/POT machine) and its accessories, which will be financed upfront by the partnering firm. The project cost of providing the terminal, communication and associated working capital will be treated as equipment loans to the OYES agents and each agent is expected to repay the loan from his or her monthly income after which, the equipment (terminal) becomes that of the agent. The terminal will be used with skills acquired to earn a minimum monthly income of N40,000 under the firm’s mentoring and training.
There has also been an increase in awareness and application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques in various sectors of government, including agriculture. We have embarked on an aerial mapping of the entire state and the establishment of Geo-Spatial Land Information Systems. This project has reached an advanced stage.
GIS application in the agriculture programme was initially adopted in the land validation project carried out on farm settlements in the state. At the end of the exercise, farm holdings are now easily validated, records updated and geo-referenced using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) devices and the data sets were then imported into a GIS environment to allow for storage, retrieval and analysis of the spatial data sets.
The Governor explained that with the Agricultural Land Parcelling Information Systems (A-LPIS), the state is therefore in a position to conduct: traceability, plan and track input supply, offer effective support and monitoring, predict yields, precision farming etc, on its farm settlements. The goal is the development of A-LPIS for the state, thus enabling information relating to agricultural lands in the state being available, real time, on the web and at the touch of a button.
Another area where technology has been deployed is tax administration." We have stopped the old practice of tax collection by travelling clerks. Rather, all taxes, rates and levies payable in the state are now done through the banks and paid directly into the accounts of the government.
With this technological innovation alone, we have blocked loopholes and have been able to double the internally generated revenue of the government from N300 million to N600 million," he said, stressing that with the support of all stakeholders, the drive towards making human capital the fundamental pillar of development will deliver its promise in a future that is not far from now.
He commend the board and management of the Nigerian Telecoms Awards for putting together the event, saying: "It is gratifying that this initiative has become a well-respected project among ICT stakeholders in Nigeria and Africa. I want to congratulate the other awardees for their well-deserved honour."