By most accounts, a virile and well-developed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry will invariably create jobs and stimulate the development of a country’s economy.
Such sentiments are quite logical, as ICT is globally recognised as a tool of national development and planning.
This is because the economic survival of any country in the information age of the 21st Century civilisation is somewhat contingent on its access to ICT and information networks.
Mr Osaze Omoragbon, a consultant on ICT, stressed that access to relevant information and technologies would surely provoke the transformation of industries, formal and informal sectors, defence, education and financial services, among others, in a country.
“The economies of developed countries are underpinned by ICT, even as it takes the front row in the development agenda of emerging market economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“These countries have built their economic development models around ICT,’’ he said.
Omoragbon, however, conceded that Nigeria and several other developing countries were striving to develop their economies via ICT.
In recognition of the invaluable contributions of ICT to national development, the Federal Government established the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) on May 24, 2001.
The agency, which is currently a parastatal agency of the Federal Ministry of Communications Technology, is saddled with the task of bridging the digital divide and repositioning Nigeria as a major player in the ICT world.
NITDA is also mandated to ensure the empowerment of the entire citizenry via Information Technology (IT), while stimulating the development of a critical mass of ICT-proficient and competitive manpower.
Since its establishment, NITDA has been initiating some measures to enhance ICT development in Nigeria and implement the government’s plans for the sector.
It has set up Rural Information Technology Centres (RITCs) as reliable vehicles for expanding public access to ICT services, particularly in the rural communities.
Through these centres, NITDA intends to provide ICT services, including Internet access, to communities in all the local governments of the country.
Prof. Cleopas Angaye, the Director-General of NITDA, said that about 250 RITCs had so far been established, adding that more than 60 RITCs were established in 2012 alone.
As part of efforts to increase Internet access and monitor online traffic in the country, Angaye said that NITDA had inaugurated its second Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in Port Harcourt.
He, however, stressed that the agency was planning to establish IXPs in all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
The director-general said that work on the Lagos IXP project was still ongoing, adding that the Lagos Higher Education Connectivity Project (LHECP), a multi-institutional project, was initiated by University of Lagos in partnership with the Lagos IXP.
Angaye said that the IXP programme was aimed at improving local Internet services and expanding the people’s access to quality ICT services at affordable costs.
However, analysts are often tempted to ask questions about the importance of current investments in ICT infrastructure to the country’s socio-economic development.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics reveal that in the first quarter of 2012, the ICT sector made a 5.83 per cent contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
By implication, the ICT sector is the fourth largest contributor to the country’s GDP and the sector has been identified as the fastest growing sector in the Nigerian economy.
The sector has a 30-per-cent growth rate and it is employing more than two million people.
Gov. Idris Wada of Kogi, while inaugurating a RITC in Ejuku, Yagba West Local Government Area of Kogi, noted that the RITCs would spur development at the grassroots, while providing more jobs.
As part of designed efforts to strengthen ICT’s input to national development, the Ministry of Communications Technology, through NITDA, is also collaborating with local computer assembling firms, banks and ICT companies to provide computers for all students in tertiary institutions.
The Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, said that the initial phase of the scheme would start with 12 universities across the country’s six geo-political zones.
She gave the assurance that the project would soon be extended to all tertiary institutions across the country because of its importance to the country’s socio-economic development.
Alhaji Ma’sud Elelu, the Rector of Kwara Polytechnic, Ilorin, whose institution received 15 computers, commended the government for the programme.
He pledged that the polytechnic would strive to make meaningful contributions efforts to boost Nigeria’s technological advancement.
Observers have been appealing to NITDA to initiate pragmatic strategies to fast-track Nigeria’s economic growth via purposeful ICT initiatives.
However, Angaye said that the agency had initiated a special “train-the-trainer’’ programme in ICT for university lecturers so as to keep university students abreast with current trends in the ICT world.
“The goal of the scheme, under which no fewer than 74 institutions has benefited, is to equip tertiary institutions with basic ICT tools and facilities that will enhance global competitiveness of Nigerian graduates.
“The policy, when eventually launched, will provide the much-needed impetus for the rapid development of the software industry in Nigeria.
“NITDA is also involved in various initiatives, including the development of National Software Policy, which is now awaiting the Federal Government’s approval.
“We believe that the enabling environment and regulatory framework provided by the policy will provide the needed incentive for the innovative skills of the youthful Nigeria population,’’ he said.
All the same, the stakeholders urge NITDA to sustain its proactive measures aimed at transforming the ICT sector.
They note that the benefits of the sector’s development include creation of employment, reduction of the cost of running businesses and boosting investors’ confidence in the country.
Oloniruha writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).