By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
Although Information and Communication Technology, ICT, cannot be given much credit for securing Nigeria’s independence, it has most certainly played an indispensable role in sustaining the country’s political, economic and social independence.
From the time the Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM debuted in Nigeria in 2001, ICT has opened up unprecedented doors of opportunity for the average Nigerian to become an active participant in the global village. Businessmen can now expand their international frontiers via the internet, making for a more buoyant economy.
For the third consecutive time, between 2021 and 2022 ICT has floored the oil sector in boosting the GDP. According to the National Bureau of Statistics NBS, the oil sector contributed only 6.63 in Q1 2022 and 6.33 per cent to the total real GDP in Q2 2022, while ICT’s unprecedented contribution pushed the non-oil sector to contribute 93.67 per cent to the nation’s GDP in the Q2 2022. In Q2 2021 and Q1 2022, the non-oil sector led by ICT also contributed 92.58 per cent and 93.37 per cent respectively.
Over the past ten years, ICT has maintained steady growth and a major boost to the country’s GDP. Except in 2013, when there was a slight drop, ICT’s contribution to GDP maintained a steady growth rate between 2012 and 2022. Beyond its numerous economic benefits, ICT, has also been instrumental to the development of nearly every sector. Even in social activism, ICT has revolutionised participation.
From ‘Occupy Nigeria’ to the ‘Bring back our Girls’ campaign among others, the kind of energy needed to ensure a more accountable government has been given a spring. The average Nigerian is more informed, hence, more empowered to participate in shaping the nation’s agenda. What is, however, becoming a source of concern is the nation’s own approach to the ICT industry.
But for the past six years, the goose that lays the golden egg has been subjected to very paltry budgetary allocations that barely take it beyond personnel and overhead spending. The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy was allocated a total of N129.59bn between 2016 and 2021. The budget details state that the ministry got N15.99bn in 2016; N19.33bn in 2017, and N19.77bn in 2018.
The allocation dropped to N17.62bn in 2019 and N17.41bn in 2020 but increased to N39.47bn in Out of the lot, N77.92bn was for personnel cost, N1.94bn for overhead, and N49.69bn for capital expenditure. Although the 2022 budget document reveals an N160.59bn allocation to the ministry, it is also left to be seen how the budget will translate to ambitious ICT investments seen in strong nations that have used technology for national development.
Ambitious investments in ICT
Elsewhere people celebrate technological prowess. That is the way of the new world. America built drones to protect its territorial integrity and possibly help maintain world peace. Drones are not your everyday warfare machines. They are highly technology based. The hundreds of millions of dollars expended on it may not just only be justified by the services it’s rendering at the moment but could provide economic stability that generations of Americans to come may be proud of. Only recently President Joe Biden proposed spending $58.4 billion on ICT at civilian agencies.
The funds will be used to deliver critical citizen services, keep sensitive data and systems secure, and further the vision of Digital Government. In its 2014 budget, the government of the United Kingdom revealed plans to be the best place in the world to invest in new innovative technologies. The budget provided about £60 million, for new low-carbon innovations which will support carbon capture and storage, CCS, and technologies.
That move holds significant potential to reduce the cost of low-carbon generation in the UK. Other ambitious countries are making investments in ICT, backed by a clear vision and specific plans to transform the whole of government.
To be fair, Nigeria has attempted to use ICT to transform government and governance, but the difference is in the approach to implementation. In 2019, the federal government made arrangements to move all official government documents and exchanges onto a more secure domestic security infrastructure. That was to rein in all tiers of government and their agencies and to protect state mechanisms from deliberate and unintended abuse.
In place of free email accounts, government agency Galaxy Backbone Plc, was mandated to create .gov.ng domain-based email accounts for the public service organizations. Each ministry was to customize email accounts that allow its civil servants to use the ministry’s name as their e-mail domain.
But, reliable government sources say implementing the directive still faces huge bottlenecks today, because most ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) still do not have active websites as you are reading this. Corruption, which is mostly responsible for sore-footed approaches and bureaucratic tendencies of civil servants, may hardly allow good digital policies to thrive unless a stern implementation policy is enforced.
However, implementation will require strong governance and leadership and mandated actions where appropriate. Other laudable efforts are attempts to automate the tax and accounting systems and to assign all the country’s nationals and residents to National Identity Numbers NIN and link same to their Bank Verification Numbers and mobile phone numbers. However, both security measures are still fraught with bottlenecks. The absence of a proper national database and fragmented tax regimes between federal and other levels of government are not giving them room to record maximum results.
Just last week, the Executive Chairman of, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Muhammad Nami, issued a warning to MDAs against the appointment of consultants and concessionaires to collect taxes due to the federal government or its agencies. Nami accused some MDAs of including tax administration functions in their agreement with consultants, adding that the action contravenes the law. Same time, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, while addressing guests at the National Identity Day in Abuja, also appealed to all MDAs to utilize the identity data generated by the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, in enhancing effective governance and services. NIMC has registered over 90 million Nigerians so far, yet the harmonisation of different databases in the country into a central database appears a herculean task.
Success or failure of government in ICT depends on greater business preparedness, competence in change management and effective process re-engineering. There must be a change in the approach to ICT implementation. There is a need to increase internal capability, develop stronger programme and project management skills and use common, mandated standards to underpin technology solutions to reduce the risk of failure. Going forward, the government should evolve a comprehensive implementation plan to fundamentally change how it incorporates ICT into everyday business. It should ensure the early factoring of technology into the design of policy, to increase digital inclusion, reduce the cost of operations, and ensure information is shared and transparent where possible.
It should create a more open and competitive marketplace on which the ICT sector will depend and thrive on, even as it makes it a point of duty to always work in partnership with the private sector in every policy formulation to enable all parties to adapt to the new approaches and technologies set out in implementation strategies.