The Federal Government last week, demonstrated its commitment to put personal computers (PCs) and laptops in the hands of every Nigerian, when it launched the ‘Students’ PC Ownership Scheme’, in Abuja, writes Emma Okonji
Since the landing of submarine cables at the shores of the country by MainOne, Glo 1 and the MTN West African Cable System (WACS), hopes on broadband revolution were raised, as Nigerians were told of the huge bandwidth capacity that each of the submarine cables bring to Nigeria.
Although Nigerians, including the government were happy for the expected broadband revolution, one thing that continually gave government sleepless nights, was the low PC penetration in the country, which remained a prominent technology tool that will facilitate broadband penetration. It has been argued that without available PCs and laptops in the hands of Nigerians, the campaign for broadband revolution may turn out to be an exercise in futility, since the computer is the tool with which broadband will actually work.
In technical parlance, broadband refers to the wide bandwidth characteristics of a transmission medium and its ability to transport multiple signals and traffic types simultaneously. The medium of transmission could be by optical fibre, or wireless, and it could also be by means of satellite transmission.
Bandwidth can also be described as a channel for conveying internet access by which individual terminals, computers, mobile devices, and local area networks are connected to the global internet. It therefore means that people need mobile devices and computers to connect to the World Wide Web (www), through available broadband capacity.
Having identified the importance of computers in today’s world of technology, as well as accepting the obvious fact that Nigeria is ranked lowest in Africa in PC penetration, the Ministry of Communications Technology, in collaboration with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), last week in Abuja, launched the students Personal Computer (PC) ownership scheme, aimed at driving PC penetration in the country.
To give the scheme a local content development drive, the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, had to involve the local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) like Zinox, Veda, Omatek, Brian and Beta Computers, including the software giant, Microsoft and the financial institution, Skye Bank.
Speaking at the launch of the computer scheme, Johnson said her ministry had two key mandates, the first being to promote the utilisation of Information and Communications Technologies ( ICTs) in all spheres of life, and that education was given priority, while the second being the promotion and the facilitation of the development of the ICT industry.
According to her, “PC penetration in Nigeria is one of the lowest in Africa, despite the fact that we have a youthful population that is Information Technology (IT)-savvy and hungry to not only consume but create content over electronic media. Several reasons have been given for this and they include among other things, the affordability and availability of the devices and the slow pace by which ICTs are being adopted for teaching and learning in our secondary and tertiary institutions.”
Federal and state governments through various programmes and corporate institutions and through their corporate social responsibility initiatives have sought to bridge this ICT access gap for students. The most common means being the donation of well-equipped computer laboratories with internet connectivity to schools and universities. These initiatives certainly provide succour for our deprived students but if we are to achieve our national aspiration and vision to be a digitally-connected knowledge society our students and our youth must have increased access to ICT tools such as computers and laptops, hence the launch of students PC ownership scheme, Johnson said.
She explained that there was a whole world of knowledge and learning to be found on the internet and that government must ensure that students have unfettered access to the world so they could participate meaningfully in the knowledge society that government is trying to build.
The ministry of communications technology and NITDA saw a very clear window to literally kill the two birds of poor PC ownership by students, poor acceptance of local brands; and poor capacity utilisation of our PC assembly plants with one stone, Johnson said.
According to her, while students may hungry and yearn for computers, they do not have the earning power to purchase. So while the demand will be catalysed by students it will be actualised by willing parents, wards, guardians, mentors and other well-meaning Nigerians who are willing to invest as little as N3,500 a month in the future of the country.
Director-General of (NITDA), Prof. Cleopas Officer Angaye, said the student personal computer ownership scheme was born out of the dire need to increase PC penetration among the students of higher learning especially in Nigerian Universities.
He noted that it was a means of challenging the licensed OEMs to boost their productive capacity, which would eventually have a multiplier effect in terms of job creation, poverty reduction and increase their market share in the global competitive economy.
The Need for PC Penetration
Pleased with the launch of the scheme, immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Femi Bamiro, who agreed that the scheme was a laudable one that would further deepen PC penetration in the country, said it needed to be sustained and extended to post-secondary lecturers and secondary teachers as well.
PC assemblers, universities, banks, global technology companies and telecom companies, have also commended government initiative, describing it as a scheme that will boost PC penetration in the country.
President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi, who also spoke on the need for PC penetration in Nigeria, commended government’s initiative on the scheme.
Ajayi said voice telephony grew rapidly to have reached over 105 million subscribers in few years of operation because of government policy that allowed for the liberalisation of the telecoms market.
He explained that data, driven by computers, could also attract good growth if the right initiatives and policies were put in place.
In addition to the students PC ownership scheme, Ajayi advised government to subsidise laptops and computers for all tertiary students and lecturers, insisting that it would not only enhance academic research, but will also deepen PC ownership among students.
Analysing the PC market in Nigeria, eShekels, one of Africa’s leading market research house and pioneer technology research firm specialising in the rapidly evolving ICT sector, said international brands like HP and Dell dominate the Nigerian PC market although a high tempo of marketing activity driven by the strategic imperatives for acquiring a larger share of the market is noticeable, with both international and local brands committing significant resources in this direction.
The market research company said Microsoft, HP, IBM and Cisco Systems, already had direct presence in Nigeria and that their international brands enjoyed higher sales volumes because of their popularity with computer users than the locally assembled computers.
It applauded government for involving local OEMs in the student PC ownership scheme, which it said, would enhance local content development and job creation.
Private Sector Initiative
With a strong belief that the Nigerian PC market has the potentials of growing rapidly, the private sector is also investing in PC penetration in the country.
Technology Distribution (TD) recently entered into a strategic partnership with Samsung Electronics West Africa (SEWA), aimed at enhancing the adoption of computing equipment as well as addressing the issue of affordability of PCs in all sectors of the Nigerian economy.
Director, Information Technology for SEWA, Mrs. Chioma Iwuchukwu-Nweke, said PC penetration remained low, but that the partnership would help to boost its penetration.
Managing Director, TD, Mrs. Chioma Ekeh, said the company had in the past built reputation for sourcing and supplying breakthrough technology, via reliable partnerships.