Following recent development globally, the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) reassured Nigerians on the efficacy of information technology (IT) tools in solving the country's challenges in e-government and national security, writes Emma Okonji.
Nigeria is faced with several challenges, and prominent among them are those associated with e-government and national security, access to government activities remained difficult, coupled with the rising cases of national insecurity across the country.
With the conference theme: e-Government and National Security, and with a firm belief that appropriate IT tools can address the country's pressing challenges, NCS, at its international conference, focused attention on how IT tools could be used to boost government activities by putting them online, as well as how IT tools could be used to occupy idle youths, that have decided to embrace violence in the country.
Paper presentations were geared towards modern IT solutions that can block leakages in government, make government activities more attractive and accessible, and gainfully engage restless youths in web application development that will contribute to the growth of the country's Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
The problem of poverty, slow pace of development, high rate of unemployment, food insecurity, environmental challenges, and security issues are serious problems in most developing countries like Nigeria, and the intent of the conference was to discuss vigorously, well researched subjects, loaded with the potentials of addressing the multifaceted developmental challenges, to enhance technological growth, and sustainable development in a way to stimulate generation of policies for good governance. These were the views of the Chairman, Conferences Committee at NCS, Prof. Sola Aderounmu, while addressing audience at the conference.
According to him, "There is need for increased awareness among Nigerians on the importance of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which is a device for hardware, software, people, policies, and procedures needed to create, manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke digital certificates. He insisted that if the appropriate technology tools were deployed in these areas, it would create jobs, build trust in the use of IT tools in online transactions and as well reduce unemployment and poverty level in the country.
Local Content and National Security
Immediate past President of NCS, Mr. Demola Aladekomo who spoke on local content and national security, said one million jobs could be created in five years, using IT tools. " In the past two years, more than 250 , 000 jobs have been created through the cashless initiative of the Central Bank f Nigeria (CBN), and that is a good example of what IT can do for Nigeria," he said.
Canvassing the domestication of local content policy in IT, Aladekomo said the federal government needed to domesticate its policies to address local content in IT, where Nigerians will have opportunity to explore their technology skills.
On the issue of security challenges in the country, Aladekomo said the challenges would be best tackled with good policies that would address the right PKI.
According to him, social security would be best addressed using PKI.
He hailed the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) for adopting PKI as a standard for the country.
Nigeria, he said, had done very well in the area of e-governance but not in the area of implementation, but much advocacy is going on to boost e- governance in the country.
"The Ministry of Communications Technology is however, implementing some IT policies through the creation of IT parks and incubation centres.
With the policies that are in place and with the implementation process that is ongoing, I can say Nigeria has done well in the area of e-governance," Aladekomo said.
Ministry's Approach to e-Government
Speaking on government's commitment to e-government, the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, said the Ministry’s approach to e-government remained the building block approach.
First of all, we have the ongoing development of a robust, secure and shared IT infrastructure managed by Galaxy Backbone Plc., which serves as the platform through which e-government services are deployed. This infrastructure is certified at the ISO 27001 standard in information security management and enables us to take advantage of economies of scale – removing the duplication in IT infrastructure, especially data centres, across ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government and creating centres of excellence for skills. Galaxy Backbone’s shared infrastructure recently won first place at the 2013 UN public service award in promoting the “Whole of Government Approaches in the Information age” category – a testimony and a validation of the appropriateness of this approach, Johnson said.
The second building block according to her, had to do with skills and talent to manage the effective and efficient deployment of a substantial IT budget. Government is not immune to the poor supply of skills and talent to the industry. This challenge is further compounded by the dispersal of our IT skills and talent across the various MDAs with little knowledge of the available skills and capacity and few opportunities for taking advantage of inherent IT synergies, the minister said.
She added government was working to professionalise the pool of IT skills in the federal government, and that ICT cadre had been established to be domiciled in the ministry of communications technology, allowing for the development of a highly qualified IT workforce within government.
IT and Cost-saving
Pleased that the deployment of IT in governance could help block leakages and generate more money for government, Johnson revealed in her speech that the federal government was able to save approximately N119 billion through the deployment of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).
She said the ministry was able to turnaround the industry in just two years of its existence by focusing on ICT in government as one of its four pillars of focus, and that the deployment of e-government in governance, helped the federal government to save approximately N119 billion so far.
The minister described e-government as the use of ICTs by government agencies to transform and improve the traditional government to business (G2B) and government to citizens (G2C) interactions.
Former President of NCS, Don Etiebet, said NCS remained a good platform for government to maximise profit, through the use of appropriate technologies.
According to him, "The N119 billion saved by the federal government through the use of ICTs is just the beginning of huge savings the government could make if government establishes the use of ICT in all aspect of governance."
Global e-Government Ranking
According to the Executive Director, Development Information Network, Mr. Bola Olubamise, the 2012 United Nations e-government survey rankings, showed that the Republic of Korea was the world leader in e-government, followed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Denmark, with the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Singapore and Sweden following close behind.
He said the steady improvement in all the indicators of the e-government development index, led to a world average of 0.4877 per cent penetration as compared with 0.4406 per cent penetration in 2010. This reflects that countries in general have improved their online service delivery to cater to citizens’ needs.
On a regional level, he pointed out that Eastern Asia topped in e-government penetration followed by Northern America, South Asia, and Africa.
"Despite progress, there remains an imbalance in the digital divide between developed and the developing countries, especially in Africa. The latter region had a mean e-government development index of about 30 per cent of Northern America and about half of the world average. The digital divide is rooted in the lack of e-infrastructure, which has hindered information-use and knowledge-creation," Olubamise said.
E-Government in Nigeria
According to Olubamise, "Among countries with the highest population, where Nigeria definitely features, our e-government ranking is not too encouraging, with a ranking of 7 out of 10 high population countries. The most surprising is the African ranking, where Nigeria does not even feature in the top 10."
This is a challenge for the entire industry as well as for the government, especially the ministry, where leadership is expected to fast-track the adoption of e-government frameworks and solutions at MDAs at the Federal, state and local government levels.
He said NITDA commissioned an e-government framework project in 2010 to provide the necessary framework for building a functional e-government platform on which the country' s vision of making Nigeria rank among the top 20 e-government nation by the year 2020.
He explained that by 2015, the World Summit on Information Society would hold a review conference to assess how far the countries of the world have gone in implementing strategies towards a ubiquitous and inclusive information society.
Nigeria must be ready to make a presentation that places her on top, not only in Africa, but among the top economies. The challenge is urgent and it demands a focused forward-looking leadership.