After years of wondering when Nigeria would catch up with the reality of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) convergence, it is great to see the commencement of a process that will lead the emergence of an adequate ICT Policy for Nigeria. Of course, our problem has never been with the availability of documents but with implementation, so I hope that the final document will be one that goes hand-in-hand with the political will for implementation.
At a recent Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Ministry of Communication Technology, I raised the issue of the exclusion of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from the ministry. It is heart-warming to see that this error will be fixed through the instrumentality of the new ICT policy. The exclusion of NBC probably explains why we still have a Ministry of Information and Communications (which houses the NBC) in addition to a Ministry of Communication Technology. This breeds duplicity in name, and in function, as issues such as frequency management will have multiple line managers. Even if government chooses to retain a Ministry of Information (and National Orientation?), what Nigeria should have – within the context of present-day structure – is an ICT Ministry. By the way, what happened to the ministry’s plan of extending the perimeters of consultation to include people-groups that are not traditionally included in ICT-related discussions in Nigeria – mostly due to their absence from one (or more) of the boxes that define ICT stakeholders at the moment.
The idea of a converged regulator (from today’s NBC, NCC and NIPOST), converged development agency (from today’s NITDA), etc, is a strong point of the policy. However, the policy almost tokenises “youth” as it failed to stress that the future of Nigeria’s ICT explosion rests with this demographic. The increasing number of youth-led tech start-ups in Nigeria will thrive better with policy that creates a more favourable environment. The draft policy also touched on a related issue, cybercrime, as part of the legislative needs for the sector, but it does not speak to the huge opportunity that can come with tackling this menace. Nigeria needs legislation that will punish cybercrime, demonstrate our readiness to fix the embarrassing problem (with huge economic cost to Nigeria’s online-related businesses) and also lay the groundwork towards redirecting the energy of youth who are at risk with cybercrime towards positive internet use. Young (wo)men who search for credit card details to scam others can do research if exposed to alternatives; those who clone websites to defraud can obviously design websites; and those who have hacked government websites (National Assembly, NDDC, EFCC and the First Website, Nigeria.gov.ng, have been victims) can help protect our critical infrastructure.
It is also important to mention the need for coordinated global engagement at various regional and international ICT processes where Nigeria chooses to play an active role. There must be a deliberate policy thrust towards getting the best for Nigeria from these events and processes. For example, activities related to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Outcomes, Internet Governance Forum (IGF), etc, must have national-level deliberations with stakeholders in order to avoid policy suicide due to the unprepared nature of Nigeria’s participation. It is also important to note that Nigeria’s ICT Policy should live up to the requirements of a free enterprise system by levelling the playing field for ICT players; NigComSat and Galaxy Backbone will perform better – due to competition – if they cease to be pseudo-companies with government oversight. And one final item that appears missing from the draft policy: Open Data! Anyone who has worked with data in Nigeria knows how difficult it is to find relevant and up-to-date data, even though they exist in government offices in untold abundance. We must actively open up this data, to promote openness and also encourage hackers to build services and applications around such.
Will this be another one of those documents that government representatives will quote in defence of inaction, or a truly useful policy that will allow Nigeria build its ICT capacity? Creating a better space for ICT to grow will help Nigeria move away from our over-dependence on natural resources.