Saturday, July 01, 2006

Framework for IT Penetration into Rural Nigeria

In line with the global trend, the 20th Annual National Conference of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) held from June 13 to June 16, 2006 in Yola, Adamawa State. The five star government-house banquet hall was the venue of opening and AGM while the wireless internet access enabled and air-conditioned halls of the ABTI American University of Nigeria (AAUN) were used for parallel plenary sessions. Focus was on creating wealth with Information Technology (IT) through extensive rural and urban diffusion.
The goals were to ensure actualization of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) objectives and in particular that of the States (SEEDS).

Keynote address at the opening was delivered by Prof. Charles Uwadia, the representative of the Unilag VC and the distinguished Sen. Prof. Iya Abubakar chaired the occasion.
The Deputy Governor and other government dignitaries graced the occasion. In his opening remarks, the chairman commended NCS for bringing the conference to Yola in fulfillment of the theme. He analyzed emerging global trends and the need to refocus our development strategies towards development of a knowledge-based economy. In his intellectual assessment, he corroborated that the wealthiest people of today are found in the IT sector, particularly in the software domain. He reasoned that Nigeria has the human resource to compete in the IT arena, provided the rural areas are empowered with IT facilities. He finally urged the conference to come up with workable solutions to empower rural Nigeria with IT for nation building and global competitiveness.

The NCS President, Dr. Chris. Nwannena in his welcome address thanked Adamawa State for hosting the conference. He advocated national empowerment through IT diffusion and urged on accelerated passage of the National IT framework bill.
Goodwill messages were given by ISPON, ITAN, NITDA and the Adamawa State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Bello Tukur. Entertainment and cultural dances were provided by four Local Government Areas of the State.
Parallel Plenary sessions commenced after the opening and ran till Thursday, June 15. Technical papers addressed a broad range of themes including

  • Empowering rural communities through IT
  • Evolving a National IT Infrastructure
  • Restructuring the National IT Policy
  • Professionalism in IT Service delivery
  • Public and Private partnering in IT delivery
  • Developing IT parks
  • Framework for Remote/Distance education through IT
  • Rural Internet access: Development and Availability of IT in NEEDS and SEEDS

Some of the papers aimed at re-inventing the wheel while some built on previous achievements but most offered practical IT Solutions for accelerated IT development and penetration in Nigeria. Some key contributions indicated that language and culture did not serve as barriers to IT penetration. For example, many northerners hitherto considered illiterate were actually proficient in Arabic language. The challenge is packaging IT in an innovative way such that it effectively interfaces with all classes and stakeholders in our nation. Fast developing nations experiencing increased IT penetration such as China and India have found a way to package IT such that more of their citizens could participate and reap the benefits of the information age, neo-liberalist capitalism and globalization. Developing first, a psychological NII (National Information Infrastructure) that emphasizes innovation, problem solving and content uploading (rather than constant downloading) and then a physical NII founded upon a national gateway and a fiber-optics network backbone spread through the nation constitute the initial phase of implementing penetration and diffusion.

All stakeholders were represented at the event including government, industry, civil organizations and of course, youths led by Martins Madueke (the National President of NACOSS; Nigeria Association of Computer Science Students). Stakeholders aired their differing views and perspectives but we all concluded on the need for a robust, all-inclusive, sustainable, scalable and proven NII that will help actualize our vision for diffusion and penetration.
I attended the event both as an active veteran participant and in my capacity as the Technical Director of the InfoTech Corps Community Development Service group of the NYSC, Zamfara State. My 14 hour trip from Zamfara to Yola was worthwhile at the end of the day. I contributed particularly in the sessions addressing SMEs development in Nigeria and NII/fiber-optics backbone implementation in Nigeria. Developing vibrant, innovative, entrepreneurship skills and business acumen amongst Nigerians and implementing a robust, scalable, national electronic information network has been my passion for several years running.

My personal point of reflection was birthed by a conversation I had with one of the deepest analytical minds of IT development in Nigeria also known as the oracle of the NCS, Dr. Chris Uwaje of Connect Technologies. He inquired if I was adequately engaged in Zamfara and the status of welfare. I responded I was engaged at their youth skills acquisition center but that general remuneration was low. He reiterated that what was important was that I was impacting my students with adequate information, knowledge and skills and not the pay. What a reply!
There were other informal events that added spice to the conference such as the grand dinner at Sen. Prof. Iya Abubakar’s mansion, the Suya/Cultural night, excursions to farms and the much anticipated conference banquet that concluded the conference.