Madam Minister, It’s Time To Connect The Dots!

BarCamp Nigeria 2009

BarCamp Nigeria 2009 (Photo by Edward Popoola)

No doubt, Nigeria’s ICT sector is making progress. You need to discuss with various sections of the community (media, government, private sector, civil society, interest groups, etc) and you’ll be surprised that the sad image that often comes out loudest isn’t telling the whole truth about Nigeria. I am involved in a number of multistakeholder projects that have been making significant impact with target communities and also know of many plans that are in the works. If you were at BarCamp Nigeria on Saturday, April 25 — or if you followed via Twitter, NaijaPulse, FaceBook or Roomatic — you would have paused to appreciate the volume of effort that young Nigerians are putting into the emergence of a globally competitive Nigeria! Techies, technopreneurs, enthusiasts and others converged under one roof and spent the day laying a foundation that the organizers may not even appreciate it’s depth until the structures grow on it. Trust me when I say that there’s huge interest on the development of the industry in Nigeria, thanks to our position as a huge market and human capital base — otherwise, someone would have to explain all the international book projects, media interviews, documentaries, research interests, business prospects, etc, that I’ve had to attend to especially in the last 2 months!

However, there is a huge difference between segmented progress and networked growth. While there are obvious efforts from various sectors, it is time to connect the dots. The world over, it is obvious that government plays a major role in providing leadership for all sectors (at least that explains why governments have been discussing bail-outs since we drove our economies into a ditch due to false foundations) and the same must be done by the tip of the arrow in Nigeria. Even if the presidency has failed to take advantage of the hard work done by the Task Force it set up in 2006, the onus lies on the Ministry of Information and Communication to build on what its agencies and other stakeholders are churning out. While it is true that some are only ideas (good and/or bad) and some have remained ideas for a while, we can’t discount the shinning efforts across board. Even if some of them are supposedly driven by self interest, I have no problems with enlightened self-interest which helps the initiator achieve his/her aim (political, business, social, etc) but also ensures that the beneficiaries are not left out. My respect for the minister in charge of Nigeria’s ICT sector has been expressed at various times but I think it’s high time someone asked her to please recognize the gold mine she’s not giving the better part of her attention.

While rebranding (I leave the efficiency of the adopted means to the experts) may be a great idea, I think the ICT sector is now like an abandoned baby getting second-rated attention! We need a coordinated effort to release the tucked-away fragrance of Nigeria’s ICT space — which, by the way is not domiciled in Nigeria alone but spreads its tentacles across various continents where Nigerian-born experts are waiting for the green light to add value. Having said that, it is important to say that leadership needs great followership to make sense and that means we need to kick-start self-organization that will leave the government no choice but to recognize that while we’ve chased resources below the soil for too long (it’s been a long time since Oloibiri), it’s time to pay attention to the huge resource we have above the ground — human capital best helped by the opportunities that ICTs provide. Some nation states in the Gulf region have used their oil deposit to paint (almost overnight) a clear picture of their global competitiveness in the 21st century and we have no other excuse from the bag. The other day, one of my mentors (Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu) called for ICT to be a major campaign agenda in 2011, and I agree with that 100%. Let me quickly give some advice to those who are already asking their speech writers for the buzz words in ICT: it’s not about promise, we demand delivery!

Asking for the connection of the dots is not calling for another forum to discuss, or the creation of a Task Force; it is an invitation to engage the active stakeholders while also addressing the key things that have been seen as our friction-generators: power, access and networked manpower. We need our laptops on through day and night so we can keep delivering on the change we love, and it is a shame that service providers are closing shop because of unbearable cost of power. Let’s face it, Nigeria’s outsourcing potentials are fast fading off because of this, among others. While we trust that 2009 will offer the change we’ve been expecting in terms of the provision of broadband service and commend the Nigerian Communication Commission’s continued effort in this area, the need to keep our manpower behind the wheels require urgent attention. Much of Nigeria’s youthful ICT manpower remain isolated in their various locations, tapping away at the keyboard and hoping to add some amount of luck to their undeniable hard work. Some have been lost to other industries that have no need of their ICT expertise (but at least pay their monthly bills), others are working in the wrong direction already (exploiting the negative use of their skills online through cybercrime) and some have since started paying rent in other countries.

Nothing creates energy as much as focused leadership with the appropriate body language! As a nation, we are at an opportune time when various forces can align for our good: evident hard work, youthful energy, ICT enthusiasm, global interest, interesting ideas, small-scale networking, etc. If we miss the opportunity to connect the dot now, we will be delaying the opportunity to fix many problems (unemployment, youth unrest, heavy dependence of oil, absence on the global stage, and maybe deportation headlines, among others). In fact, this is one great way to rebrand Nigeria! Imagine how much news will travel when we give India, Malaysia and others a run for their money, code for code! We won’t need to pay for adverts and special mentions on global news networks because our every step will be breaking news. As a personal committment towards connecting the dots, I will ensure that this reaches major players in the sector – from the on-the-ground young force that is shaping Nigeria’s Web 2.0 space to the public administrators whose duty it is to make sure that the wheel of progress isn’t stopped by bureaucracy or limitations that can be taken out of the way.

Madam Minister, it is time to connect the dots!

Update: This piece has now been published on the Technology Times website, in CyberschuulNews (May 9, 2009 edition) and in the MoneyWISE Newspaper (May 18, 2009 edition)