By Emmanuel Elebeke
A little over a fortnight ago, a stakeholders’ forum on Broadband for Nigeria (BB4NG) was held in Abuja. It was an event in which almost all the identified stakeholder groups were represented, specifically the consumer advocacy groups; telephone operators; academia; consultants; international agencies and the Federal Government.
Also represented were state legislatures; civil society organizations; infrastructure providers; internet service providers; research and education institutions and professional associations among others. Shortly after the all day interactive event, Emmanuel Elebeke corneredÂ Dr. John Dada, CEO of Fantsuam Foundation and Chairman of the BB4NG Project Team to speak on the essence of the programme and what Nigeria stands to benefitÂ from it.
In the course of the conversation, Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu, ATCON President, added his voice, and opined that the availability of broadband will greatly help reduce poverty in the land through employment generation. Excerpts:
Looking at the theme of the event, BroadbandÂ for Nigeria, how would you explain the meaning of the theme to an average Nigerian?
BB4NG is all about the provision of affordable and efficient access to the world wide web for all Nigerians. If you are going to be a democratic government that wants to equitable distribution of wealth to its people, then you must think of how you reach everybody.
And since, the government is not in the direct implementation, it is the private sector that can do this. It is for the government to give incentives to the private sector to reach those places to which government on its own wouldnâ€™t have reached.
What would you say the forum is targeted to achieve?
The forum is aimed at mobilizing a multi-stakeholder support that will assist government develop a broadband policy for Nigeria.
How best could government and the private sectorÂ respond to your call for massive investment in broadband?
Government can create the enabling environment, including relevant fixed infrastructure that will make it feasible for private sector operators to provide broadband access to under-served and unserved communities of Nigeria
How useful will broadband be in the attainment of MDGs in Nigeria?
Broadband is an enabling technology that will facilitate achievement of government’s economic and social development objectives.
The MDG goals in Nigeria can only be on the benefit side of the broadband programme. In fact, governmentâ€™s effort at realizing MDG goals will amount to futility if it leaves broadband aside because it will make it easier and more affordable, sustainable to attaining all our MDG goals. The moment we struggle to attain these goals without broadband, it will only be an uphill task; whereas once broadband is in place, it will make the achievement of these goals more realistic.
How realizable is this BB4NG project, considering the infrastructural challenge facing the country?
Government has now appointed able professionals to look at the power situation; this gives us confidence that this initiative has come at the right time, as it will benefit from efforts to revitalise the power sector. It is critical for Government to buy-into this project if it is to succeed, and this event is aimed a convincing government that Broadband presents the tool it needs for its vision for Nigeria.
In Nigeria we are at that point where we are about to embrace broadband. We need to put in place several other policies that will help us leapfrog from where we are in the ICT world. The only thing that is missing is this element called broadband. As soon as we can put this broadband in place within three years, I can assure you that Nigeria will be rubbing shoulders with the best in the world.
During the course of the discussion, Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu, ATCON president chipped in, and talked about closing an existing gap between different categories of people in Nigeria. He explained further:
The digital divide between Nigeria and the developed economies is getting wider, and within Nigeria , the divide between the urban and under-served communities is increasing steadily. Broadband will help to address such a gap effectively.
The poor man on the street is poor because he does not have a job, food. And what we are telling him is that when broadband is available, it will help create jobs.
It will also help create avenue for affordable food. So, for him, the broadband is also important as long as he is concerned and that broadband is not for the people in Abuja alone, especially those youths who have just graduated and canâ€™t get jobs. It is equally for those artisans on the streets that canâ€™t find jobs to do. When the broadband is in place, it will create enough jobs for these people.
It is an enabling technology on its own. You donâ€™t get broadband for the sake of broadband. You get it in order to alleviate poverty , in order to make sure that people have access to health, education and other good things.
Similar ideas had been presented to the Federal Government in the past without any positive response. Why are you optimistic that government will buy into this?
At this point in time, Nigeria has the human and financial resources to carry through on this initiatives, the technology needed is readily available, the international environment is also favourable. The price of not implementing this initiative is too high for government to ignore.
I can tell you that government now realizes that a lot of its big plans in this country can only ride on the back of broadband. The government has come up with this fantastic dream called Vision 20-2020 and is keen to begin to implement it.
So, what we need to do is explain to the government that it can only get to Vision 20-2020 faster if we have broadband. I think once the governmentÂ realises how important broadband is in this context, it will have no option that to agree with us by supporting the project.
Should government decide to pay leap service to this lofty idea, what are the likely consequences to the nation?
The consequences are exacerbation of under-development andÂ regression in quality of life of Nigerians. Government needs to put its feet down and agree that now is the time to move forward. Now is the time to join the Asian tigers and time for Nigeria to become the African Lion because without the broadband, we will be wasting our time.
We know that we have the technology, human resources and financial resources too to do this. So, the only thing remaining is for government to put these resources together. Broadband canâ€™t work without the government buying into it. And we know that government is capable of buying into it.
It is in the interest of the government to this. After all, there are a lot of jobs out there waiting to come into Nigeria, so, that youths can begin to get jobs. But to be realistic with you, without broadband, jobs canâ€™t come in. Government is here to create jobs and jobs are there knocking on our door to come in. So, it is up to the government to open the door for broadband to come in , so that these jobs can come in.
In laymanâ€™s language, what can you say broadband is?
Broadband is all about reducing the poverty gap in Nigeria and the gap between Nigeria and other African countries. It is also about reducing the gap between Nigeria and other developed economies.
After this stage,Â what might be your next line of action.
The stakeholders views are being collated to feed into the framework document which will be presented to Government as soon as possible.