Reducing poverty through ICT

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With Adekunle Adekoya

For a long time, one issue that has engaged the nation’s ICT experts and others is how to reduce poverty to a tolerable level in our country especially, and generally in the world.

In furtherance of this objective, tons of text have been generated as blueprints that can be used to actualize this lofty dream of lifting the general mass of our people from the pits of despair and insecurity that poverty seems to have condemned them into. It is to this end that the National Information Technology Policy was drafted, and approved by the Obasanjo Administration in 2001.

The stated objective, then, was “to make Nigeria an IT-capable country in Africa and a key player in the information society by the year 2005, using IT as the engine for sustainable development and global competitiveness.” An agency to deliver this objective was created — the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

 Issues remain

The immediate timeline set was 2005, but we are now in 2011, and the nation is nowhere near becoming a key player in the information society, unless we seek to deceive ourselves. True, some strides have been recorded; the nation’s telecommunications sector has exploded since 2001 when the first GSM licenses were given.

In fact, if that had not happened, only God knows where the nation would be now as current experience shows that telephony has remained the sole driver of IT penetration in the country, for with GSM handsets becoming ubiquitous, internet access followed as many people now browse on their handheld devices.

But issues remain to be tackled if ICT is to be used in any effort aimed at reducing poverty. One major issue is the cost of bandwidth, but it is hoped that with huge investments made in that area as witnessed by Glo-1, Main One and others, bandwidth prices may soon be within easier reach than previously experienced.

However, there are other issues, like growing local capacity in the manufacture and assembly of ICT devices, from the simplest handsets to the most sophisticated servers and mainframes. In this regard, government must tackle the issue of efficient power supply.

 Need for ICT in Nigerian languages

It is also important is to have ICT devices coming in our languages. If the search engine, Google, can offer services in Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, there is no reason why handsets and laptops should not come in our languages too.

Right now, there is no computer brand that has the NAIRA (N) sign on keyboards offered for sale here. One thinks that is a rudimentary thing that both NITDA and the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) should have tackled long ago — simply bar computer brands without the Naira sign from being exported here. NITDA can initiate action towards ensuring that computers we import speak our language.

The global computer brands can start at least with the three major languages and work further from there. It should not be difficult — they can contact the Bible Society of Nigeria for help.

If ICT information becomes available in our languages, more of our compatriots who don’t speak and write English can thus join the information super highway, in their own language, just like the Japanese, Chinese, and many other South-East Asians who don’t speak a word of English.

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