WISD 2009: Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020 Depends on ICT Prowess

By Oreoluwa Somolu (W.TEC) and ‘Gbenga Sesan (PIN)

May 17 is World Information Society Day. To understand its significance in history, it is important to journey back 144 years ago. That same day in 1865, the first International Telegraph Convention was signed and the International Telegraph Union (the second-oldest international organization in existence) was established. That same institution became the International Telecommunications Union in 1947 – the same year that the transistor was first demonstrated, with the solid-state computer soon to follow. Since 1969, May 17 has been celebrated as the World Telecommunication Day.

Thirty-seven years later, following the World Summit on the Information Society, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which identifies 17 May as World Information Society Day. The day is intended to remind the world of the vision of the World Summit on the Information Society, which promised to build “a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society” based on fundamental human rights. According to the UN resolution, the Day will “help to raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide”.

The Nigerian telecommunications industry – which started with the postal system – is now over 100 years old, but it was only in 1999 that the National Policy on Telecommunications was launched. A National Policy on Information Technology followed in 2001, along with the establishment of the National Information Technology Development Agency under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. Fortunately, Nigeria’s participation in the World Summit on the Information Society process helped shed more light on the need for Nigeria to benefit from the undeniable convergence that has brought Information Technology, telecommunications and content together for good.

At about the same period in Nigeria’s history, a telecommunication revolution was born – with the number of telephone lines growing from 450,000 in 2000 to over 14 million lines in 2005, and now 66.6 million (February 2009 figures), thanks to independent regulation through the Nigerian Communications Commission, private sector participation, broadened competition, and consumer spending. Many benefits have come to the Nigerian Information Society since then, including a rapid rise in the number of Internet users from 200,000 in 2000 to 10 million today! Many of these users are also contributing to the growth of local content on the World Wide Web, which was previously lacking in content from Nigeria. The private sector and civil society (including the media) also continue to add immense value, using varied models to work towards the task of bridging the digital divide.

Building a strong and vibrant information society that is accessible to all Nigerians is at the heart of W.TEC and PIN’s work. The Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC) is a Nigerian non-governmental organization helping to empower Nigerian girls and women socially and economically using ICTs. This is done through technology literacy training, technology-based projects, mentoring, work placement and research. Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) is a social enterprise that connects young people – especially those in underserved communities – with the opportunities that ICTs provide. We do this through our Ajegunle.org initiative, Information Society research, capacity building sessions for youth across Nigeria and the Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria, among others. PIN’s program graduates have gone on to demonstrate the impact of ICTs on their small-scale businesses and through inspiring career progress!

This year, W.TEC and PIN wish to commemorate the World Information Society Day by appreciating ongoing initiatives in various sectors and calling on all stakeholders (government, private sector, civil society, media, individuals, etc) to act faster on efforts that will improve Nigeria’s opportunity to maximise the benefits of the Information Society. Please join us to spread the message, “Nigeria’s Information Society is making progress but we call on stakeholders to act faster. Our ‘20:2020’ vision depends on our ICT prowess!” on May 17 by:

  • Lending us your Twitter or Facebook status message;
  • Changing your email signature to reflect this message;
  • Sending this article to 5 friends;
  • Discussing the impact of ICTs in your life with friends and family;
  • Volunteering for a non-profit ICT initiative before the next WISD anniversary.

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