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Published On: Mon, Jun 23rd, 2014

Propelling Nigeria into the digital civilization via e-government

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Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola JohnsonBy Katurak Yashim

It is common knowledge that Nigeria has the largest mobile network market in Africa. Observers partly attribute this feat to the increasing use of Information and Technology (ICT) products by the citizens, including those in the rural areas who now use mobile phones for interpersonal communication.

They, however, note that over 50 per cent of the ICT products in Nigeria are imported brands, adding that the development somewhat signify apathy towards the development of an ICT industry in the country.

They insist that the absence of a good ICT industry in Nigeria has also led to a deficiency in Information Technology (IT) infrastructure and manpower resources, which are critical to efforts to launch the country into the digital age.

Dr Kwangsok Oh, the Senior Research Fellow, National Information Society Agency (NIA), Seoul, South Korea, said that Nigeria still depended on imported ICT products in spite of its capacity to develop its own ICT and telecommunications industry.

Kwangsok made the observation, while addressing the participants of the 2014 e-Government Capacity Building Programme in Seoul recently.

“Nigeria should not be satisfied with just importing ICT products; the country ought to develop its own ICT and telecommunications industry.

“The government must be fully committed to creating an information-based society by initiating and following up ICT projects to the letter.

“This commitment and strong determination will create a culture of change and innovation for the Nigerian society,” he said.

Kwangsok stressed that the Federal Government should exhibit strong, positive leadership and commitment in efforts to tackle corruption and transform Nigeria into a digital society.

“The Republic of Korea, Rwanda, and the U.S., among other technologically advanced countries, enjoy good leadership, national growth, improved employment rate and low corruption due to their investments in the ICT industry.

“A developed ICT industry would facilitate the development of a good IT infrastructure, easy and cheap access to the Internet to enhance communication and information sharing, as well as constant power supply to maintain the technology infrastructure,” he noted.

Dr Kishik Park, the Vice-Chairman, Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, Seoul, who noted that technological advancement was taking place at a fast pace across the world, stressed that Nigeria was more than 20 years behind South Korea.

“Networking, ICT infrastructure and standardisation are important and relevant for any national development effort and Nigeria ought to have the political will and ambition to achieve this,” he said

However, Kwangsok stressed that the effective use of ICT would improve the efficiency and productivity of the public and private sectors.

He, nonetheless, argued that the government was the major driving force of an information society, adding that it should, therefore, formulate pragmatic policies and strategies to harness the potential of ICT to foster national development.

Speaking on the Korean experience, Kwangsok said that the country longer focused its attention on developing basic ICT infrastructure, adding that it was now improving on the existing infrastructure through continuous research and development activities.

“With a developed ICT infrastructure in place, the Republic of Korea was able to adopt e-government in 1987 and this has helped the country to improve efficiency and transparency of government, while creating citizens-oriented services.

“Now in South Korea, citizens no longer visit government offices seeking for any service or standing in queue to make payments; they can make any transaction or application with their mobile phones anywhere, anytime.

“Every information from all sectors have been electronically compiled into one database and government created different websites to enable the citizens to have unlimited access to these information and services,” he said

Dr Nag Yeon Lee, an ICT consultant, said that e-government basically used digital technologies to transform government operations in order to improve the quality of public service delivery to the citizens.

He stressed that South Korea’s adoption of e-government had transformed the mode of government operations, adding that since the citizens had unfettered access to all information and services, the government was compelled to be more transparent, accountable and committed.

“The availability of ICT infrastructure allows the citizens of a country to participate in government affairs, as they have access to government portals, and public service delivery is enhanced, as the government operates an open system through online services,” he said

However, Nag emphasised that the adoption of e-government would eliminate paper-based administration, thereby reducing the level of corruption in government offices and bad leadership.

“In a nutshell, e-government creates a knowledge-based and transparent administration.

“However, e-government cannot work in an invisible society where only the government has access to everything and controls everything. It can only work in a visible society where all citizens also have access to government processes and can actively participate in them.

“To develop e-government in Nigeria, the ICT infrastructure must be available. The country must have a data centre, a strong legal system and Internet security in place.

“E-government policies and strategies which already exist should be sustained by any succeeding government and specific e-government budget must be created and set aside, as societal changes will take many years to materialise,’’ he added.

Nag reiterated that the e-government budget should not be made to compete with other budgets, adding, that it should, therefore, be classified as capital investment.

He noted that Nigeria had a large population of mobile phone users, stressing that the government ought to take advantage of the trend to develop citizens-friendly websites to enable Nigerians to access government services online.

He underscored the need for the Federal Government to jettison the independence of its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to facilitate information sharing and exchange of ideas among them, insisting that this would improve the quality of public service delivery.

“When agencies function separately as independent entities, this creates difficulties for the citizens, as they have to go from one agency to the other in efforts to obtain information and services which can be provided by one agency,” he said.

However, Kishik said that in efforts to implement e-government, the Federal Government should initiate pragmatic plans to progress from use of Personal Computers (PCs) to more advanced communications technologies.

“The ambition, strong determination and commitment of our leaders facilitated Korea’s success in achieving a technologically ubiquitous society.

“We now have a 3-per-cent unemployment rate and our youths comprise more than 50 per cent of the workforce; these feats are due to our investment in human resource development.

“Nowadays, Korea is a leading country in electronics manufacturing, telecommunications, automobile and chemical production, ship building and steel industry,’’ he said.

Kishik said that the primary duties of a government included the creation and promotion of an ICT industry, the provision of services to the people, as well as the development of information services and information system.

He particularly underscored the need to engender business process re-engineering in Nigeria by replacing old and worn-out equipment with new and sophisticated equipment so as to facilitate the inauguration of e-government in the country.

“Innovation is one of the underlying factors in plans to launch e-government; the Federal Government, therefore, needs the help and cooperation of the private sector, investors and citizens in this regard.

“Corruption is in every society but those societies which have adopted e-government have witnessed a decrease in corruption. To achieve good governance, the government must make the political process open, while encouraging public participation,’’ he said.

Kishik stressed that Nigeria needed leaders with vision; commitment and strong political will to develop an ICT industry which would be integrated into the public administration system to facilitate the implementation of e-government.

He said that the adoption of e-government would address some of the challenges currently facing the country such as poverty, unemployment, digital divide, corruption and insecurity.

He stressed that the implementation of the e-government would also facilitate sustainable development in every sector of the national economy.

All in all, the experts underscore the need for Nigeria to adopt e-government if the country truly wants to remain relevant in the development framework of the 21st Century civilisation.

NAN

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