Hope rises for the digitally excluded in Nigeria
For Mrs Mary Uduma, president, Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA) and convener, Nigeria Internet Governance Forum (NIGF) 2013, there is hope for the digitally excluded in Nigeria. Her optimism was also buoyed by the spirit and letters of presentations made at the Forum by a potpourri of stakeholders which included the Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr Eugene Juwah, the DG of NITDA, Prof Cleopas Angaye and Co-chair of the Presidential Broadband Committee, Ernest Ndukwe among others. NIGF 2013 edition was one in a series of such forums meant to harness cross-sector ideas on the way forward for internet governance in Nigeria. It was also a prelude to the global summit on internet governance.
According to Uduma, since the birth of the NIGF, it has precipitated the formation of National Local Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group (LMAG) and real life proactive engagement of more than 400 active participants from industry, government, law maker, academia, civil society and all domestic stakeholders in the strategic national debate on Internet Governance issues. Other milestones of the NIGF include: Delivering opportunity to advance Internet Governance issues through a local multi-stakeholder framework, facilitation of local partnerships and coalitions that deliver coordinated domestic response, initiatives, and synergy that best promote and protect the nation’s position on the internet ecosystem.
Then, there is federal government recognition and active participation in the Forum activities through her agencies as well as regional recognition by West African Internet Governance Forum. All of this, she said, culminated in the coordinated representation of Nigeria at the Global IGF.
The theme of this year’s forum was: ‘Internet Governance for empowerment, national integration security through multi-stakeholders’ engagement’ and it lived up to its billing by proffering solution to the myriad problems posed by the growing insecurity in the nation.
The Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, challenged the Forum to creatively come up with ways of boosting digital inclusion and integration, building trust, confidence and assurance on the Internet, evolving policy and regulatory model for the Internet, encouraging local research on Internet development in Nigeria, and addressing infrastructural challenges in the cashless society. These, she said, are at the core of what her ministry is doing to take Nigeria out of the backwaters of digital inertia.
“We have made gains in reducing the digital divide and are increasing digital inclusion and integration. Initiatives such as the Rural Broadband Initiative have seen an extension of broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Various initiatives on the provision of Public Access Venues have seen the establishment (in total) of over 2,300 e-Libraries, Community Communication Centres and Rural IT Centres across the country.
“We have also made students a priority, expanding access in our schools and tertiary institutions; testing of a fibre-optic network connecting 27 Federal Universities is on-going and the National Research and Education Network (NgREN) will be formally launched next month. The School Access Project and Tertiary Institution Access Project, as well as our Student Computer Ownership Programme are helping to get devices into more hands”, a delighted Johnson told the audience.
The icing on the cake was the keynote by Ndukwe. For a man who has watched the Nigerian ICT industry from the private sector to the public corridor, his words are to be believed. He decried the threat to ICT infrastructure as a major mitigation against digital inclusion.
According to him, the term critical ICT Infrastructure for Nigeria in the new Nigerian National Broadband plan is defined as: ‘ICT networks and systems that are crucial to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the extent that the damage, destruction or ineffectiveness of such networks and systems, whether physical or virtual, would have adverse impact on national security, economic wellbeing, public safety, food security or any combination thereof’.
Ndulwe says ICT networks are making it possible for African nations to participate in the world economy in ways that were not possible before. ICTs including Broadband constitute essential infrastructure of the digital economy today, Ndukwe said as he added ‘no modern economy can be sustained today without adequate and pervasive ICT infrastructure’.
His words underscored the need for government to take a deeper interest in the protection of ICT infrastructure across the nation. This stemmed from the recent terror attacks on telecom infrastructure in the northern part of the country. Attacks of such nature, it was agreed, tend to widen the digital divide and further exclude a part of the country from the evolving ICT revolution.