This article presents Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a phenomenon that fits into the globalization project of making the world a global village where everyone enjoys the benefits of modern development. The article acknowledges that there are obvious potentials for development in the use of ICT in Nigeria. It consequently examines the various ICT projects targeted at Nigeria and attempts an appraisal of how these digital projects have been able to promote social, political, economic and human development in the country. The submission is that existing social problems, government regulations, dependency on foreign software and unequal access to information knowledge and infrastructure remain frustrating challenges to the implementation of plans that could transform the digital divide into a digital opportunity for development in Nigeria.
In the Nigeria of today, the possession of a cellular of mobile phone has ceased to be an exclusive preserve of senators and expatriate officials of oil companies. Everybody, at least in the cities, now carries one kind of handset or another. Similarly, Cyber café and Internet kiosks, with satellite connection, have become proliferated and instant messaging and online chatting are the leisure activities of high school kid. All the banks in the country have computerized their operations and many are beginning to replace customer passbooks with plastic cards with digital chips. Television and radio stations now operate twenty four hours programming schedule. Live broadcast of events is no longer left in the hands of the federal stations and their advertisers. Penultimate week president Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria announced that the country is going digital and Microsoft has been given the exclusive right to hook the country to the rest of the world. Politicians say all these are dividends of democracy and the government spokesmen boast that they are signs of development. But are they indeed?
Development refers to a rise in the standard of living of the population in such a way that most people can satisfy their economic and social needs adequately, and enjoy life more fully. Thus the true meaning of development is the realization of human personality through the progressive elimination of poverty, unemployment and inequality. It also involves the linking of the local or peripheral market with or into the central or national market, thereby extending the scope of exchange. It involves increase possession and utilization of resources. Development policies are thus strategies aimed at those structures or patterns of resource possession and use, which can elicit, channel, and transform resources most satisfactorily to meet people’s needs more fully, (Szentes, 1997).
Digital Technology And Development
Two age long impediment to access to information are Time and distance. The ability to overcome this obstacles – the death of time – is inherent in the popularity of the use of Information Communication Technology in the modern world. It should be noted here that while these technologies are tools that do not in themselves substitute for development, there are conspicuous evidence that development has been promoted by digital technology. (Alcantara de, & Hewitt, 2001).
To be sure the continuing economic boom in the western world and the integration of markets around the planet are both attributable to astonishing advances in Information communication technology. New data networks, automated banking and trading systems, fiber optic networks, instant messaging, cellular phones and automated recording and retrieval are all evidences of the potentials of digital infrastructure. The Internet has increased the speed of these developments. Digital information has thus become a critical tool for development because the potential for developments rely not only on access to information but also on how the Internet adds leverage to what access can provide.
Today, corporate wealth and nation’s economic powers are embodiments of the high level of digital technologies available to these corporations and countries. The argument for a digital empowerment, however, goes beyond economic sphere. Communication technology is expected to accelerate global development when directed at education, health issues and politics. (Hammond, 2000). Connecting the world through digital technology is calculated to improve the quality of life more generally, by allowing people, even in geographically isolated areas of the world share and benefit from a wider horizon and new opportunities.
Nigeria And The Digital Agenda For Development
Given the potentials of communication technology to accelerate economic growth, to promote human development, to assist in health care, to bring new initiatives to education and health care and to reduce – If not eliminate – poverty, it has become a universally attractive phenomenon. The socioeconomic impact of the knowledge and information revolution derived from Information and Communications Technology has been compared by UNDP to the industrial revolution, providing nations and individuals alike an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate economic growth, promote human development and eradicate poverty. (Ferdinand, 2001). Many African countries, in order to benefit from these gains that communication technology promises have sought the digital empowerment and are still doing so like they sought after independence in the sixties. These countries of Africa seek to develop national capacity and effective policies. African countries, including Nigeria, look at the astonishing advancement in western world, made possible by digital technology and seek for strategies and implementation plans to help transform the digital divide into a digital opportunity for their countries and the continent.
The Nigerian government in a bid to get hooked up to the advantages that digital technology promises has become an active participant in many international projects. The country has similarly become a “beneficiary” of many digital benevolence from businesses and corporations that also want to hook up with the Nigeria oil and gas wealth.
One of these projects that Nigeria participates in is the Internet Initiative for Africa (IIA). This project was launched in 1996 by UNDP to provide Internet connectivity infrastructure, policy advice, and capacity building support to Nigeria and nine other African nations. The project, which – in many instances – established the first national Internet gateway, national backbone infrastructure, increased national bandwidths and established Internet points of presence was funded through a cost-sharing partnership with the governments of these countries and UNDP.
Another such project in Nigeria, involving UNDP is the CISCO Networking Academies. This is a strategic partnership with Cisco systems and others to establish facilities in Nigeria to provide network technology skills and training facilities to prepare students for the 21st century workplace.
A number of recent events have served to advance the focus on ICT Development and ICT for Development in Nigeria, especially with respect to the United Nations ICT Task Force and its partners. At their 2002 Summit meeting held in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada on June 26-27, 2002, the Heads of State of the G8 industrial countries endorsed the program and Implementation Plan of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the strategic development initiative of the continental organization. (Okpaku, 2001).
The pledge by African leaders in the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is to establish a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, on the pressing duty to eradicate poverty and place their countries individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development by participating actively in the global economy. NEPAD ICT development objectives are articulated in the basic NEPAD Document. They are:
- to double teledensity to two lines per 100 people by the year 2005, with an adequate level of access for households;
- to lower the cost and improve reliability of service;
- to achieve e-readiness for all countries in Africa;
- to develop and produce a pool of ICT-proficient youth and students from which Africa can draw trainee ICT engineers, programmers and software developers; and
- to develop local-content software, based especially on Africa’s cultural legacy.
Consequently, Nigeria has made some efforts to enhance telecommunications infrastructure and telephone penetration. The implementation of the G.S.M. project and the attempt to privatize the National Telecommunication Firm, (NITEL) are in tune with the script of digital empowerment and globalization.
Other projects targeted at wiring Nigeria digitally for development include those initiated by the United States Agency for Development and the Microsoft Initiative. The first initiative includes a A $19.9 million agreement signed by USAID in July 2000 to assist in Nigeria to reform and expand access to education through efforts to support education sector assessment for all levels, facilitate policy dialogue, and encourage broad civic participation in the reform process. This project include the establishment of six Community Resource Centers equipped with modern information technology including internet access in each region of Nigeria. The centers are supposed to help bring the benefits of modern information technologies (IT) into a broad spectrum of educational activities. The U.S. Education for Development and Democracy Initiative (EDDI) provided the sum of $4.5 million to establish the centers. The Centers are meant to train and support local educators, support distance education programs of Nigerian universities, provide computer, IT, and targeted vocational education training to local communities, and support adult literacy and AIDS education. The Initiative was also meant to provide $500,000 in scholarships to girls who would otherwise lack the means to attend school at the primary, secondary or university levels.
Similarly, The U.S. Department of State provided an additional $120,000 to support up to 12 “Azikwe Professional Fellowships.” These fellowships, named after Nigeria’s first President, was to enable Nigerian professionals to pursue up to three months of professional training in the U.S. in such fields as educational or public administration, business and journalism.
Microsoft the world’s leading information technology, IT, solutions provider, has been given a blanket approval by the Nigerian government, to support its objective of bridging the digital divide between Nigeria and the developed economies of the world. Apart of supplying computers and software, the company has been involved with local PC production such as Zinox, and has facilitated the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and South African Information Technology Agency (SITA) and supporting and collaborating with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) in its battle against piracy in the country.