By Adewale Jones
The very positive stride recorded in the global development of Information Communications Technology has made human existence easier than could have been imagined. The developed countries of Europe and America have taken advantage of the numerous benefits of ICT to appreciably enhance their developmental profile particularly in the areas of human capacity building, knowledge acquisition and the creation of innumerable opportunities for the individual to optimize his potentials.

The result is that day in day out new discoveries are unfolded which challenge the status quo. The developing and under developed world of which Nigeria is a prominent part, is not left out of this unfolding scenario. In their own little way, they are partakers of the positive revolution although not at the pace of the developed world.

The question which readily then comes to mind is- What should be done by those countries in the latter category to get the best out of the many benefits of the ICT revolution. In more specific and narrow terms, what should we be doing in Nigeria to aid the development of ICT and by implication increase the pool of benefits accruable to the country?
This write up owing to lack of space, will only highlight some critical steps that we should take in the short run.

First, there is need to develop the basic set of laws which are germane to grounding ICT. Apart from the Communications Act, 2003 (there is a proposed amendment on this before the legislature) there has not been any substantive law coming from the National Assembly in this area. One notes with pride however that there are quite a few bills being considered presently. A few examples will suffice-

The bill on the Legal recognition of Electronic Messages in Commercial Transactions; the bill on the Interception and Monitoring of Certain Communications; the bill on the Use, Security, Facilitation and Regulations of Electronic Communications and Transactions and to encourage Electronic Government Services etc; the bill to Facilitate Electronic Transactions in Nigeria, the Computer Security and Protection bill, the bill for the establishment of the Cybersecurity and Information Protection Agency etc. From the foregoing, the number of bills awaiting passage is encouraging even though some of them do overlap in terms of content among others, thus making it imperative for some harmonization to be undertaken.

The key point to note here is that we must put the first foot forward by creating the required legal regime. There will also be need to provide the needed legal education for stakeholders particularly ICT professionals, lawyers and Judges. In respect of the latter, it is important to do this because they may be called upon at some point to handle disputes emanating from this area.

Even though as a country, we have taken some giant strides in providing ICT education at various levels, there are still obvious gaps in the content, quality and relevance of the education in this area. Nigeria will need to continue to fine tune how it implements this aspect of the ICT rollout programme. Some coordination is required. This will be better provided at the Federal level. There is need for the creation of some standards against which deliveries in this respect are assessed.

There are also gaps even in the spread of ICT equipment. It should be possible for every child of school age to have access to a computer on a regular basis regardless of the poverty level of his parents. This challenge should form part of the universal basic education arrangement which is always in the news.

There is also the urgent need to create villages for the promotion of technology. It is the vogue in other climes. We should not be left out of this. There is need for us to organize the skills we have, identify who they are and where they are in terms of skills set.

For example, there is need to have sufficient information regarding what is going on in Computer Village, Ikeja in Lagos where apart from the sale of computer and electronic equipment, there are also programmers who write software. We need to have some information on their knowledge and general competence level.  India today earns substantial amount of foreign currency from the sale of software. This is an area Nigeria needs to develop skilled people and organize them so that we can begin to write and sell programmes to other countries particularly in Africa.

IT Outsourcing particularly Offshoring, has become a veritable source of foreign exchange for some countries e.g.  India, China and Japan. Nigeria can join the league of providers of Offshoring services. For us to succeed in this respect we would need to emplace an enduring privacy and data protection law in addition to ensuring the security of data.

The opportunities in this area are many and we should begin to take advantage of them. Apart from the legal framework deposed to in the foregoing, there is need to ensure that those who will be involved have the necessary skills to successfully provide the service.

To begin with, there should be effective and productive domestic IT Outsourcing. If a positive reputation is built around this, it may engender the requisite foreign confidence for the provision of Offshoring services. A lot of work is required in this area especially having regard to the current negative reputation of Nigeria as far as the electronic world is concerned.

On the whole, we still have a long way to go as a country but we must take the right steps and quickly too. The bills before the National Assembly require urgent attention. There were bills in this area in the 2003-2007 Assembly which did not see the light of day. It is hoped the current bills will not suffer the same fate when the life of the current legislature ends in 2011. Without the enabling legislations, not much can be achieved no matter how the various stakeholders try.
lAdewale Jones is           Partner, Ashfield and Bowman Attorneys, Lagos


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