By Prince Osuagwu
In each of the geo political zones where the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF has taken its recent designed stakeholders consultative forum on how to leverage ICT services to the underserved communities and extend services to the unserved rural population, the Fund ended up stirring the hornets bee.
But for the maturity and expertise of resource personals as well as the USPF staff who collate the needs of the people as immediately articulated, the programme would not have lasted the second day due to the surge of ICT consciousness flowing from the rural people of the zones already covered.
Perhaps anticipating the rural folks and high level of interest they could have in ICT, USPF partnered with the Growing Business Foundation, GBF, a concern which knack in bringing out the best from growing businesses particularly in tough business environments, has earned great popularity.
Partnership with GBF may have worked out considering that in most cases, it is the GBF that has the right words to get the rural folks understand the import of the consultative forum and what the government was planning to achieve with it.
However, from Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state, representing the South West zone, where USPF flagged off the maiden forum to Yola in Adamawa state, representing the North East, Calabar, representing the South South and Awka, representing the South East, where the consultative train had berthed, floodgate of complaints, demands and genuine expectations hit the USPF from an obvious expectant under-served people who were believing on the fund for respite, like an innocent child depending on the father for survival.
It actually dawned on the fund that lotÂ of courage was needed to technologically touch these expectant group, irrespective of Nigeriaâ€™s present standing in Africa and world ICT growth.
In Ibadan, a bewildered Funso Fayomi the Executive Secretary of the fund was short of words at the torrents of demand which were flooding his way from the rural dwellers made up of mostly peasant farmers and artisans. Although most of the demands were repeated, Fayomi was reassured that his idea of holding a consultation forum across the six geo political zones to ascertain the level of demands from unserved and underserved people was, after all, a laudable one. He kept urging the people to come up with ideas different from what the fund already has in place to further bring faster technological development down their way.
From the start of the event at about 11.00 am, on the day, it took less than 5 minutes when the conference hall of the Premier Hotel Ibadan, venue of the meeting was thrown open, before the whole place filled to the brim.
Immediately the address of the minister of state for information and communication, Alhaji Ikra Bilbis and that of the NCC EVC Engr. Ernest Ndukwe were read, the anxious crowd began to show signs that the day belonged to them. With long list of demands, USPF was told that rural Ibadan and indeed entire Oyo state rural populace needed Community communications centre, equipped with modern technologies to assist farmers in the area showcase their wares in the global market. This was much as they also needed adequate training to conform to the 21st century citizens where information and how to access it puts power in everybodyâ€™s hand.
A week after, the USPF consultative train berthed in Yola, Adamawa state. The Lamido Zubairu Education Centre in Yola, where the forum held became a beehive of activity as rural Adamawa and other adjoining states that make up the North-East geo-political zone of the country, emptied into the hall.
The interest to join the connected world moved the participants who made passionate request and pleas, calling communities in the semi-urban and rural areas to form co-operatives to access opportunities offered by the USPF in embarking on the projects to ensure itsÂ sustainability.
The participants called for the establishment of a platform that will enable farmers in semi urban and rural areas access ICT facilities that would enable them get inputs and marketing of their products using the internet.
They also called for aÂ local contact solutions platform group for the North-East that will constitute various heads of the co-operative societies, where issues and problems relating to projects can be channeled to the USPF
They demanded a speedy completion ofÂ various outstanding USPF projects as highlighted by the USPF official, since most parts of the country have benefited from the projects such as school access projects, community communication centres, among other projects the USPF was carrying out.
Success of the Yola event, moved the USPF which takes its mission to Calabar in Cross River state. In the team that made the trip included the former Minister of state for Information and Communications, Alhaji Aliyi Ikra Bilbis.
The journey brought two schools in Calabar, Holy Child and Hope Waddell, to a date with history asÂ the Fund, formally launched 100 units each of computers bundled with internet in the two schools.
As the Minister inspected what the students were doing with the systems, the students expressed joy that they have not only be given the means to imbibe ICT knowledge they have also been given tools of learning which connects them to the virtual in cyberspace.
After evaluating the impact of the USPF largesse, Bilbis called the Fund a political response to the ICT needs of the Nigeria people especially the youths, adding that the present administration sees ICT as the legitimate right of every Nigerian.
According to the former Minister: â€œthe Fund is a political response of the present administration to take ICT to all wherever they may be so that our young generation and indeed our various villages can be part of the global village.
â€œThis administration believes that citizens should be guaranteed equal access to vital communication facilities and no individual should be left behind in the race towards a global community. Socially, the anticipated access should assist in bridging the growing gap between the â€˜information poorâ€™ and economically, it has been noted that the ability of the government to bridge the information gap will provide a level playing ground for all Nigerians and enable all people from all areas and communities to compete equally.â€
Explaining the school access programme, SAP, under which the systems were provided, Fayomi noted The project provides computer, accessories and high speed internet connection to selected schools, including laptops for teachers. Each school will have a wireless mesh that will connect all the computers and the teacherâ€™s laptop and the project which adapts the schoolâ€™s curriculum for computer training includes a training module for teachers.
Giving what seems to be a report card of the entire project, Fayomi pointed out: â€œAs we all gather here today to commission a few of the completed USPF projects; we want to also inform you that, we have rolled out similar projects in each of the geo_political Zones of the nation.
On the whole, we have 218 Community Communication Centers (CCC) and 240 USPF subsidized Base Transceiver Station (BTS) spread across the federation in different stages of completion. We have also provided 476 government secondary schools with 100 computers, a 5KVA generator and broadband connectivity (per school) under the School Access Project SAP, 133 tertiary institutions with 100 desktops and broadband connectivity (per school) under the TIAP Project. In Cross River State we have also provided facilities for the University of Calabar.â€
He promised that USPF will always team with relevant stakeholders to bring ICT facilities to the various ends of the country, adding that the overall plan is to be able to reach every school in the country.
That was also the message the Fund took to Awka Anambra state last week, bringing the states in the south East to the reality of USPFâ€™s crusade to make every nook and cranny of the country a hotspot.
Known for their business prowess, rural Igbo dwellers from Anambra, Imo, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states trooped to the BarnsHill Hotel auditorium, venue of the forum, turning the two days event to a platform of negotiating developments that have eluded the zone from successive governments.
By the time the event wound up Friday, USPFmay haveÂ realised that the needs of the rural dwellers in each of the six geo-political zones were not different from one another but a reflection of the fact that what the served is enjoying is desired by the unserved.