ICT, Major Tool For Transparency – Special Adviser

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In a bid to instill transparency and good governance in the system, which is the hallmark of the present administration, the Rivers State government on the 5th of this month inaugurated the ICT department. This all important department is charged with the responsibility of training all civil servants nay Rivers State people to be computer literate free of charge. To this effect The Tide Roundtable, a personality interview programme of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation invited the Special Adviser to Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi on ICT, Engineer Goodliffe Nmekini to throw more light on his activities. The Special Adviser was put to task on many issues ranging from the target audience, benefits of the training, time span to the fear of loss of job and many more.

Here are the excerpts. Ride on:

How   would   you   want   us   to  know  you?

Well my name is Goodlife Nmekini, I’m a Rivers man who has always felt challenged by the poor state of ours. I attended primary school at Oromineke here in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. It was then known as CKS Oromenike. Therefter, I attended Federal Government College also in Port Harcourt before leaving for the United States of America (USA). As God will have it, I’m back here to serve my state in the capacity of Special Adviser to the Governor on Information and Communications Technology (ICT). So, I am here to give you update on what I have been doing.

Lead us a little deeper into your family background to enable us appreciate how your childhood experiences modeled your life, who knows, we might well be seeing a new role model.

Well, I am from a beautiful place called Rundele. Most of you may know it as Ndele which is in Emohua Local Government Area. I am from a modest family and having attended both primary and secondary schools here in Port Harcourt, I guess I can be called a Port Harcourt boy. I grew up here in PH. But my uncle with whom I lived through school had always been my number one role model.

He is a business man, but because he had this penchant for education and pushed us as hard as you can imagine, we all tried to be like him.

Most of us believed that we actually grew up from house which was more or less a military school and often joked about it on our way to and from school, FGC, Port Harcourt on a daily basis.

I don’t know what the Federal College is like now but when I was there between 1974 and 1979, it was quite an institution that promoted strong moral values and ensured that people were  disciplined. After my graduation from secondary school, I was one of the very lucky few to be awarded scholarship for further studies aboard. You recall that in those days the state used to have different forms of scholarship award including what was then called Governor’s Special Award. And at my time, it was Governor Okilo of blessed memory.

The Governor gave nine people scholarship to study anywhere in the world and I happened to be one of those who went to the United States. I went to Miami, Florida where I got a Bachelors Degree in Industrial and System Engineering and later did Management Information System in the graduate level or Masters Degree level.

Thereafter, I worked for the State of Florida for 18 years. It was while there that His Excellency invited me to join his administration and here I am.

Are you married?

Oh yes, I am married to a very beautiful lady who is also from Rivers State, as a matter of fact from my village. Her father, Chief  S.H. Weneka was at some point, the Auditor General of this state, and we have three beautiful kids, two boys and of course the owner of the house, my little girl, Oroma. So I have two boys and a girl.

I know you are prepared to talk on ICT but before we get there we will like to know if since you returned from your study abroad, whether you have  found time to visit your former schools, CKS, Oromineke and Federal Government College, Port Harcourt to see how they are like today?

I have, unfortunately it was only one term I spent in Rundele but I have been there. I have also gone to see my school at CKS Oromineke here in D/Line and found out that it has been transformed completely and it is far different from what it used to be.

As a mater of fact anybody who is near the school will know that even the modern day College of Education or University of Education cannot be as good as the primary school is today. This was the end of my primary school. I have also been to FGC Port Harcourt. Some of you may not remember that the Federal Government College actually started at Rumuola whereyou have the Rivers State College of Arts and Science (RIVCAS) today. That was our campus, it started in 1972 and we were the 1974 set, and as a matter of fact I actually received an award recently from the College, Secondary School if you will, and I hope that FGC will continue to be what it has always been. Of course, I was told that there have been some challenges there in terms of quality of education but I do believe that they haven’t strayed far away from what it used to be, a very fine school and I hope it continues to be that way.

Let’s move close to ICT, in Rivers State Government Circles, you are seen as a super Special Adviser because you are one of the very few, if not the only one with the privilege of attending the State Executive Council (SEC) meetings, why so?

Well, with all due respect I don’t know about being a super Special Adviser, His Excellency, still refers to me as (SA) Special Adviser to him on ICT, everybody else is an SA, the truth is, those of you who have listened to the Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, you will realise that His Excellency has a mission and he puts it in the form of a statement.

He wants all of us to serve our people with humility and one of the key things that he always likes to emphasise is transparency. So, he wants to serve the people with humility that would usher transparency and accountability into the picture but most importantly, the need for them to be anchored  on integrity and good governance. Because of this good governance and and transparency, he now sees ICT as a tool to achieve this. That is why he believes that it is very very important for an ICT person to be present when decisions are made because ICT cuts across every discipline, whether it is Ministry of Works or whether it is Ministry of Water Resoruces, you name it. It is an important tool that cuts across the entire disciplines. I was telling somebody who once said “I studied English, why should I do all these, why should I go for ICT training? And looking at him, I  said well, you studied English, how do you communicate? Sometimes you will not use the pen and piece of paper to communicate with people. I told him, in these days of our age there is no difference between a pen and paper and a computer so sometimes, instead of writing on a piece of paper, you might write on word processing and be able to send whatever you have written to some one else via E-mail.

Just by doing that you are already using a different tool but it hasn’t changed you from what you studied, just another tool to enhance your profession and for you to move forward with what is happening in the 21st century.

From what you have said, part of your key responsibility is to help the governor achieve his very passionate dream of enshrining transparency, good governance and all that. What exactly is your mandate and how  have you tried to achieve that?

My mandate is very simple. To really maximise the use of technology for the state and then come up with a way to sustain the delivery of government services through the common portal.Simply, from what is happening it means that we have to first find out how government works and properly articulate better ways of making different government processes more effective.

How does Ministry ‘A’ perform? How does it do its job? How does Ministry ‘B’ do its job? And what are the different processes and once we get those, the next step is to ask, how do we streamline those processes so that they become easier to use. Thereafter we then apply technology. So, our mission and mandate is to coordinate the processes of government, make the processes easier, infact the work of government should be easier by applying technology, in this case being ICT and ensuring that information flows very easily. How then do we ensure that information flows very easily? We need to create a repository of vital data on a daily basis and then out lay application on top of that.

You see when we first took over, there was absolutely nothing on ground so we came up with three fold strategies and those were, building of infrastructure, building capacity and then application development. So what we did then was to ensure that there was connectivity within the hub of government which is the state secretariat.

As of today, every building in the secretariat is connected to the Network Cooperating Centre, or what I might call data centre on the ground floor of Point Block, same place which is the hub of our technology or the hub of our computing. Indeed, every building there is connected to that centre via a satellite object. And we also have redundancy in Radio links. Having handled that, we even extended that to the House of Assembly, the Deputy Governor’s Office, His Excellency’s Government House, we went into each of the buildings, using cables and connected every building with wireless access point, so that people will now be able to connect and get on the internet and get on to other resources, we have done the first. Part next is the second part which is capacity building, over which we have now come up with what we might call state of the art Training Centre, at the same Point Block Ground Floor where we have started training of civil servants, I can tell you that we have trained over 1200 employees in the use of the basic ICT and word processing on most of the Microsoft products and so on and so forth.

It is a weeklong training from 9am till 4pm, Monday to Friday and basically we get request from ministries concerning individuals who we want to be trained and we go ahead and do that.

Now, we have ventured into application development. Before we took over almost every government official whose call cards we saw, had yahoo email account and as we know that should not be the portal for such sensitive government business. Why should we send or receive data in Public Domain Accounts from such? So, we now created a State Owned Email Account.

For example in my case  my e-mail address is G Nekini @ Rivers State Gov. ng. As you can see, we have started to operate this account so that people will be able to have information in this manner. We are also moving on into access control and management as well as credit and few applications so that people will now start sharing data and ensuring that data shared is also protected and secured.

What class of people benefit from the training?

All, including civil servants. In fact, His Excellency had always wanted everyone who works for the government to be ICT literate. As a matter of fact, he wants the whole state, to be literate but we are starting  with the civil service level and it is free of charge.

Some people have this fear that as soon as the processes of ICT are completed, there will be jobs loss and that fear is really high among civil servants. How true is this? Secondly what has been your perception of the civil servants throughout this period of training?

Well, let me start by saying that I’m not in a position to say whether one will lose his job or one will not lose his job, certainly I hope everybody will keep their jobs.

The essence of ICT is to make their lives easier. When we started the payroll automation, that was also the fear, it was something very very strange, but it was quite a good experience, I must tell you, a lot of people were afraid that they were going to lose their jobs. There were even rumours that the ICT department would soon start creating payroll and paying workers directly, therefore, all those whose job it is to pay salaries will lose out. So I had several meetings with them and what I explained to them was this, your job today is to make payroll, how do you do it. Every month you write for some kind of money and do all your tabulations and then you take the piece of paper to Ministry of Finance. But I told them that if  we automate the system, they will still be the same person that will take care of the same payroll for their various departments, the only difference will be that instead of doing it on a piece of paper and taking it to Ministry of finance, they will now do it on a computer and then shift a key and whatever they’ve done will still be transmitted to the Ministry of Finance.

As a matter of fact there is not a single person in my department, may be exception of my Director of finance that even had any idea on how to pay anybody. That’s not my job, my job is to handle ICT processes. And so after several meetings, they began to realise that all we were actually doing was to make their lives a whole lot easier. That no one was interested in anybody’s else’s job. That we will not even take their jobs even if we wanted to because we were not trained in that profession. So every one understood.

Now going back to the second question on my perception, one of the things I observed was that some of these workers have never been given the opportunity to even touch a keyboard, once they started getting trained, the spate of glee or phobia will go away at the end of the week. That also gives me the impression that we are now doing the right thing and as we continue, just as I said to them, this is the beginning, this is just the basic training and all we need from you is commitment, we will move into the intermediate level and advanced levels and before you know it, we will be up there. Just take kids today, and their mastery of cell-phones and computers. It’s easy because they see them as toys or play things. All adults need to do is to see ICT waves as Executives toys and it will be so easy.

You know, seriously, we want them to understand that computers are nothing but toys, so once they start using this thing on a daily basis to do their work even at home, you will be surprised what the state will transform to.

You recently presented laptops to permanent secretaries in Rivers State, how many of them are computer literate?

The  very first time the training centre was opened by His Excellency, the Deputy Governor of the state, the first batch of people we trained were actually Permanent secretaries. So they were the first to be trained.

His Excellency was so excited on seeing the Permanent Secretaries being trained that he said ICT, please look for something for the Permanent Secretaries by way of computers so that once they leave here, they can now have the tools that they need, whether they are at home or they are travelling. If email is sent to them, they should have a way of responding, we need to start communicating via electronic format. That was the cause of the distribution of laptops to Permanent Secretaries and I can assure you, it has put a smile on their faces.

Now, no one has an excuse to say, I didn’t receive my email, what we did was, to actually install all the pertinent software products that we believed they needed, before handing the computers over to them. It was quite a good experience.

How much did it cost government to provide them?

I wish, I had my DFA here. I don’t have the exact figure, but I can assure you that, since we bought them in quantity, normally, it gave us ample opportunity to negotiate and ensure that quantity discount is applied and we were able to get something decent. And of course, the benefit, frankly, speaking, in my opinion, outweighs the cost but  as a government that is responsible and also knows that it is a custodian of our public or the citizens’ money, ensures that you get the best prices for whatever it is buying.

We asked to know the actual cost because, for the people to properly evaluate cost benefits, that you have evaluated or to appreciate  the value of  what they are getting, we think they should also know the cost?

I agree with you but the only thing is that, this is why Due Process is there. I’m sure most of you are aware of the fact that, His Excellency had stressed the need to do things through proper channel, the tax payers would be rest assured. No doubt, even if we in the process make a few misstates, there are other channels down there that will catch those mistakes and ensure that they get the best for what they pay.

Are the laptops meant for the Permanent Secretaries alone or are there other categories of staff  you intend giving this facilities, who are they?

Actually it is interesting that you asked because one of the things I always tell people, even my own nephews and nieces who keep saying, we need laptops, is why laptop in the calibre of permanent secretaries, it does make sense for them to have laptops because they can work from anywhere they are.

We have trained Directors of Administration and we have also trained the DFAs. We are about to distribute desktops to their offices.

Now, this is from the ICT project, with time, what we have encouraged, is for every ministry to have something in their budget for ICT where they would be able to purchase things, I mean purchase computers for their own staff, because, the worst thing that can happen to anybody is to get trained and then not having the tools.

The ICT department, is new, we are just tidying up so we decided, “well let us take areas in stages.”

Also, the Secretaries to commissioners and permanent secretaries are being considered. We’ve said, let’s see if we can get them desktops, because these are key areas, so we are trying to give them desktops to be able to do their job. As time goes on, whoever gets trained, we will encourage the ministry to provide them with these tools.

Can it work without electricity or other sources of power supplies, knowing the erratic nature of our power supply in the state?

Well I think every one knows that. It is a common problem that we have here. This is why like the data centre which is the heart of our computing, we have different ways of power supply.

We have refused to  depend on NEPA. If we did, then we won’t be able to run a 24 hour operation. So we have back up power, we have inverters, we also have power source coming directly from a very stable environment. So actually, I don’t want to go technical, but even on different ministries, we have wireless access points in such a way that they don’t even get power directly from the power source.