Without a culture that appreciates, embraces and rewards the pursuit of knowledge for societal progress e-Government is dead on arrival. This attitude and way of life must be evident through the transformation of the education system. Education at an early age needs to go past passing exams, pro- motion to the next class or “certificate-at- all-cost” mentality. Knowledge focus should be on contribution and solution provision. The education system, formal and informal, at all levels, needs to be one that prioritises entrepreneurship, lifelong learning, creativity and merit based performance. These are the tools of advance- ment today – knowledge that adds value, knowledge that changes society. Educated young people with such knowledge economy capabilities are the engine room of the knowledge society (e- government, e-Business, e-Payment, e- Learning, etc). So, are we educating the young ones for tomorrow or for yesterday? Are we satisfied with the status quo or is a mindset of creative thinking, inno- vation and entrepreneurship being culti- vated at an early age – in nurseries, pri- mary schools? Entrenching innovative DNAs from birth? Access has improved. But what are we doing with enhanced avail- ability of internet and PC facilities? What is that secondary school student doing with the ipad? Simply taking pictures, listening to music, watching movies, downloading the latest games, and similar stuff? Many young people and educators are still outside the digital loop, especially in the rural areas. The truth however is that there are more PCs, tablets, laptops in the educational sys- tem than ever before. But the intense focus on consumption rather than creativity high- lights the contradictions. You see access can only take you so far. My question for you in that school, university, educational centre is – what are you doing with access? Just as rote, dogmatic, unthinking learning can- not support and drive e-Government, ICT is also not just about consumption.
>> Societal Value for Knowledge and ICT
It is however not just about the education system, is there a knowledge culture within society? Let us ask some questions: what does society support, appreciate from its citizens, especially young people? Will society reinforce the stereotypes – support local content, or does it embrace foreign brands? Does it encourage youth innovation, women in ICT, or is society’s priority for the youth sports and entertainment? The love of sports and entertainment comes naturally to many young people, besides these areas are now big business, so it is easy for society to flow along. But does society have a strategic vision for the fu- ture in innovation? Or we must continue to consume like there is no tomorrow? What is society’s perspective on ICT – importation of the latest foreign products, or tools with which to change society? A society that encourages mindless con- sumption at the expense of knowledge driven creativity and productivity is not go- ing anywhere. Such a society lacks the ability to support and sustain e-Government. It is not just about the schools and government, but parents, guardians and teachers must wake up to their historic responsibility! So-ciety must get serious! Sports and enter- tainment industries have done a lot to create jobs and help improve the country’s image. However, the reality we need to knock into our heads, into our systems, every waking day is that knowledge professionals are the backbone and drivers of the economies that advance. Knowledge has always been a societal growth essential. Access to, and management of resources, are still important but in the innovation society enabled by ICT, the importance of knowledge can- not be underestimated. The importance of ICT knowledge cannot be ignored. Knowl- edge is a differentiator, an advantage and a driver. Ignore knowledge at your own risk. A knowledge culture is essential for growth, it is essential for e-Government.
The massive problems of infrastructure (road, transport, water, telecom, power) and national security threats cannot be solved by focusing solely on sports and en- tertainment. ICT is an undisputed source of growth and opportunity. Apart from advocacy groups such as the Nigeria Com- puter Society (NCS), Information Technology Industry Association (ITAN) and the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) what is society doing to champion the cause of software, broadband, local content development, ICT education, youth innovation, women in ICT, Rural ICT and ICT entrepreneurship? It is a knowledge culture ques- tion and challenge to our commitment to growth in the knowledge driven society. Do we want to remain at onlooker level? Knowledge thinkers, architects, innovators, creators, doers and industries are our hope for the future. A knowledge culture inside and outside the educational system is needed to ensure they thrive and deliver. Otherwise we run the risk of reducing e-government to just another fanciful government project guzzling taxpayers money and national resources. The e-government environment must have realistic knowledge culture strategies. e-government in a way fosters the growth of knowledge culture. Rollout of government online encourages not only increases participation in governance but can also generate significant spinoffs by spurring more ICT awareness as well as interest and activity in ICT education.
In a sense the knowledge culture questions the values of society. e-Government is achievable when the values of society are directed towards laudable goals. What does society value? Import dependence or local knowledge based creativity? Get-rich-quick or hard work and merit? Get rich by any means or knowledge driven wealth creation? Are ICT champions celebrated or tolerated? ICT serves society’s interest so is society breeding the next generation of technopreneurs? How well are inspirational ICT-based solutions to developmental challenges supported? The answers tell the stories. How does society reward what it values? Is ICT education and entrepreneurship fostered and encouraged through incentives, funding schemes, innovation competitions, local and international and global networking opportunities, capacity development or business support initiatives? ICT is too important to be left to the ICT profession and industry alone. Knowledge culture is not an ICT question; it is a societal question. Is society promoting the develop- ment of an inclusive information society characterised by lifelong learning, creativity and mass public awareness? Learners, can you deliver, or even with knowledge, must the results always come from far away lands? Is it “our knowledge” or “their knowledge”? Building knowledge strengths must be complemented with belief in our abilities and reduction of de- sire for the foreign. Technology is just the tool. ICT for development requires inner strengths. We must see the worth in our stories, our values, our vision. We must see our worth clearly. A “can do” atti- tude with respect to innovation is essential to the knowledge culture.
There will be mistakes and chal- lenges in ICT implementation and product development and other as- pects critical to the smooth functioning of e-government but “can do” and “can bounce back” – part of the knowledge culture – keeps the train on track. Pressing forward, surviving and thriving in the midst of ups and downs. Advance by being en- trepreneurial and taking ownership on per- sonal, organisational and national levels. No- body is coming from Mars to make digital Nigeria and e-Government Nigeria happen. No nation is an island, but our knowledge culture is uniquely ours. Knowledge, knowledge everywhere but is it making a difference? Is knowledge making any im- pact on e-governance? What role for local content development? Cartels could also gang up to protect the status quo. We must take responsibility by being resourceful and managing knowledge resources for optimum benefit even in the face of hostility. Nobody said it would be a tea party. It is one in which playing safe is not on the menu. Because of their self worth, knowledge cul- ture innovators disrespect status quo- they are continually rocking the boat. Knowledge culture is about ensuring the authenticity of e-government. Electronic go- vernance must incorporate our values, worth, priorities and vision. It is about the refusal of Nigeria to be reduced to a consuming nation (fastest growing mobile market in Africa) and dumping ground for external interests. E-government flows from strategic vision – not the “borrowed” vision of the importers but our vision to use ICT to create a new, better Nigeria. Knowledge culture imperatives for e-gov- ernance include – promotion of entrepreneurship, youth development and empowerment of the populace to take advantage of the new livelihood opportunities; promotion, recognition and celebration of innovative initiatives for organising work and business, especially those that are youth led; encoura- ging the establishment of private ICT train- ing institutions and recognition of excellence amongst training providers; local content development for e-Governance.
Smart government is critical for long term, sustainable growth. A recent news report quotes the Minister of Finance and Coor- dinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as stating that the nation has “a foreign reserve of nearly 50 billion dollars, a stable exchange rate, strong banking sector, massive human and natu- ral resources”. But what does that mean to the failing business in Sokoto, the rural farmer in Ilorin or the unemployed gradu- ate in Uyo? Paper growth is not enough. Potential is not enough. Smart government that leverages effectively on the infrastruc- ture of ICT is essential for realising the nation’s potential in today’s digital world. Smartness however comes not just from technology alone; smartness comes from well thought through strategy. ICT invest- ment and deployment is crucial for stimu- lating socio economic growth. However, investing massive amounts of money in jumbo projects all over the country without strategic vision and unambiguous priorities is sheer wastage. Massively investing in ICT in government in the absence of relevant knowledge and strategy is not E-Gvernment; it is electronic misgovernance (e-MisGovernance). Invest- ing in ICT has never been enough. E-Government is also not an end in itself. So who profits from E-Government? It is not about the number of E-Government pro- jects. Widening or closing of gaps – what is E-Government doing? Is E-Government just a structure, are we just keeping up with the trends (“me-too”), or is it helping in mo- ving the nation forward? The desired thriving e-society will not just happen on its own. The reality of E-Government is that strategy is what determines impact and effectiveness. Deliberate strategies and actions are required.
For a start strategic priorities must be clearly defined and identified. Effective E- Government causes massive and often drastic change. Will such change be re- sisted or embraced? For example, how will inter-agency rivalries be addressed? Is the environment ready for E-Government or is hostility the reasonable forecast? Electronic processes involving critical and sensitive information will also raise security and pri- vacy concerns. Strategy is required to ensure buy in from the populace, private sector, civil society and other critical stakeholders. Other challenges often encountered in the E-Government experience include inadequate funding, lack of coordination of multiple initiatives, digital exclusion, provision of irrelevant services, skills challenges, inadequate integration, weak delivery and impact of government services, conflicting priorities and poor top level sup- port and leadership. Any of these issues can derail the E-Government process. Lack of strategy is a luxury digital governance cannot afford. Thinking strategically E-Government must have a vision, identify and meet needs, build efficient, well integrated and connected services and systems, achieve value for money, enhance capabilities (of the populace, private and public sectors and civil society) and drive sustainable development.
>>ICT Policy, National Priorities
In a competitive world driven by ICT effective leverage on ICT can be achieved through the development and implementation of an ICT policy that concentrates on core priority issues. The nation does not have to remain a digital consumer when it can become a tech creator and producer. It should include strategies for achieving widespread ICT diffusion and facilitate meaningful participation by the populace in the global digital realm. It is about tapping into the benefits derivable from the exploitation and deployment of ICTs in significant numbers. Globalisation can be a doubled edged sword. Countries with realistic and well grounded ICT policies are better able to seize the advantages of globalisation. The proactive ICT policy helps in promoting inclusion through strategies to close the gap between digital haves and digital have-nots”. Such a policy will not only address specifics of how ICT should be utilised in governance, it will also work for coordination and consistency of ICT efforts in governance with other sectors to reduce redundancy, avoid wastage of resources and duplication of efforts. The aim is good governance through ICT.
In Nigeria, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is responsible for developing a national framework for the development of ICT in Nigeria through policy formulation, as well as regulation, monitoring and evaluation of the ICT Sector in Nigeria. NITDA in collabo- ration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) coordinated the development of the National ICT4D Strategic Action Plan. NITDA provides leadership and champions the ICT policy, standards and guidelines in the nation. In addition to facilitating the coordination and collaboration in policy formulation and implementation, it assesses progress to- wards E-Government and ICT development in priority areas. It has a major role to play in building E-Government foundations. NITDA in implementing its mandate assists States of the Federation to develop their own ICT Policies. National and state policies are developed within the context of the NITDA Act, national development goals, (Vision 20-2020 and Transforma- tion Agenda), World Summit on the Information Society WSIS Agenda, Millennium, Development Goals (MDGs), etc. NITDA is therefore expected to provide leadership in making effective E-Government a reality.
But policy development is not simply a govern- ment affair. What are the views, roles and responsibilities of businesses, educators, students in policy development? ICT development is multidimensional – a multi-stakeholder approach is required for the development of inclusive and meaningful ICT policies and strategies. Individual citizens, public institutions, private sector, civil society, academia, ICT industry, consumers, the public, SMEs must be involved – as well as other parties interested and committed to making progress through ICT. Already the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), a major player, being the umbrella association of IT professionals and stakeholders in Nigeria is raising policy issues and promoting engagement in E-Governance, through its upcoming national conference which has the theme, “E-Government and National Security”. Policy development is not simply a government affair. Policy development is a governance issue; it is critical that a culture of good governance is entrenched – one that embraces diverse engagements and contributions,
transparency, accountability, honesty and the rights of the citizens. Innovative and partnership-oriented approaches to policy are needed for sustained development to be realised. In this way policies will accurately reflect genuine needs, relationships amongst the public sector, the private sector and the citizen as well as overall national aspirations. Such an inclusive approach recognises and resolves conflicts, overlaps and gaps. Interests are diverse but inextricably linked. The need for close coordination and coherence among ICT-related activities and initiatives is obvious.
The policy will contain vision objectives and strategies. Strategies and action flow from the vision. Through policy implementation, the government must provide consistent, clear and purposeful leadership to guide the national ICT agenda. What is the vision for E-Government? What is the scope of E-Government? Government needs to provide efficiency, leadership and direction. E-Governance aims to facilitate transparency and accountability in government operations, as well as improvements in quality of citizen engagement in governance, public service delivery (especially in healthcare, education, private sector development, infrastructure and environment), government automation (efficiency, accountability, financial management, in- formation management, etc), doing business, etc. E-Governance strategy will include the enhancement of government ICT infra- structure, development of an enabling environment and provision of leadership in making ICT a national priority.
We must identify the expected scope, acknowledge the realities and start with an E-Government readiness assessment – what is the truthful E-Government situation? What are the E-Government strengths and weaknesses? It requires more than making several areas of E-Government compulsory for government offices and departments. Strategies will need to be formulated and structures, capacity and resources geared towards governance priorities. Implementation, monitoring, financing and collaboration arrangements are particularly essential. How can Public Private Partnership (PPP) be employed? Without practical strategies for resource mobilisation, financing, monitoring, evaluation and benchmarking E-Government will hit a roadblock. There is a need to bring top level leader- ship on board – Ministers, Governors, Local Government Chairmen, Legislators, Boards of Agencies, etc to ensure the inclusion of E-Government in their strategies, goals, plans and vision for their domains. What are leaders doing, how effective are they, if they cannot facilitate the delivery of E-Government through all levels of their organisations? Leaders need to make it in their interest to take responsibility and take ownership. In the political arena today there is talk of 2015, but do politicians have a clear vision of E-Governance? Digital not analogue leadership is critical for the knowledge society.
Successful E-Governance cannot be achieved or sustained without a well managed and pro people, pro enterprise environment. Creating the right environment is a strategic priority. Nigeria’s massive population has always been an opportunity in itself. How- ever there is an urgent need to create an atmosphere that promotes innovation and stimulates significant investment in the ICT sector and support ICT and ICT enabled activities. Having good E-Government initiatives and projects will not make any worthwhile impact if the environment is unfriendly (constant power failure, multiple taxation, political instability, absence of ICT legislation, high cost of doing business, insecurity, weak infrastructure base, inefficient and corrupt business and government practices ). This only serves to drive costs and risks up. Hostility in the environment affects the sustainability of businesses while fostering unemployment, insecurity and other social ills. A climate of uncertainty does not help.
Change is commonplace in government but investors do not appreciate uncertainty over future government policy. The compe- tition for capital is internationally competitive. There are no undue sympathies. Investors will go to safer and more attractive markets. The harsh operating environment is a major challenge Nigeria’s massive human and natural resources are assets that cannot be ignored. The ICT sector can be an engine for sus- tainable development. But a better and friendlier environment that attracts investors who will create jobs, enhance competitiveness and widen opportunities in the econo- my, especially in areas such as E-Government is a topmost priority. In improving the environment, incen- tives, projects and strategies that show commitment to promoting investor confidence, facilitating pro-business development and making Nigeria a local, national and glo- bal investment destination can be used. Prioritise the review of relevant rules, regu- lations and legal framework. An enabling environment is an investment in the future – both a platform and a decision to create a better, more prosperous tomorrow.
>>Legislation for ICT
Legislation is an area requiring immediate attention; egovernment entails ICT deployment and exploitation on a large scale. Is there legal framework in place that pro- motes trust and confidence in e-enabled activities? Despite the fact that ICT uptake is ever increasing, legislation has refused to grow up. Social media, the internet are realities in virtually all sectors; yet isn’t it amazing that up till now there is no legal recognition for such activities that are be- ginning to have significant social and business impact? Interestingly several bills aimed at the facilitating the appropriate and decent deployment and exploitation of ICT have been before the legislature in Nigeria for some time. E-Government thrives in an environment where the legal framework recognises and encourages the deployment and use of ICT for growth and development. How can Nigeria be taken serious in using E-Government to attract investors when its laws do not recognise ICT and ICT enabled transactions taking place in the country on a daily basis? Indeed it is about time (actually long overdue) the legislature recognises the need to pass laws that facilitate ICT networking, E-Governance, e-business, information security, access to digital information, etc. The right environment is one that recognises and takes positive action about the fact that the e-environment houses a hotbed of disturbing concerns such as cybercrime, online fraud, identity theft, cracking, computer misuse, child online exploitation. These and other troubling ethical issue associated with the digital culture and world cannot be over- looked. Legal protection that faces the reality of computer crime, digital evidence, intellectual property protection, electronic transactions and internet based contracts, consumer protection, privacy rights, protection against unauthorised access, etc promotes trust and confidence. Note of caution – legal infrastructure should not be used to stifle creativity. Entering and being part of the legal arena should be done in a manner that promotes risk-taking and innovation through ICT.
The need to create a conducive atmosphere for private sector operations is urgent. The cost and ease of doing business are not encouraging. Unnecessary bureaucracy, unethical practices, outdated private sector development policies and a “Government is nobody’s business” attitude within the public sector is an assassin continually killing many private initiatives. Doing business with government should not be a “necessary evil”. E-Government requires a private sector that is strengthened by, rather than weakened by, the environment. Corruption retards innovation. Impunity discourages investment. Global competitiveness will be difficult without attending to the culture of sleaze and abuse of power. Corruption must be put in its place. It constrains governance in public and private sectors. An environment with zero tolerance for corruption is integral to the solution. Sound economic and social infrastructure, good governance (transparency and accountability), sustainable democracy and the rule of law is the breeding ground for progress.
Double standards are an issue. Rules and regulations need to be enforced in a transparent and fair manner. If companies attracted to country through E-Government initiatives, or local ICT firms run into a major conflict with powerful, connected individuals will there be equality before the law? The justice system needs to be strengthened. It is important to “build a nation where peace and justice reigns.” Security is another major threat to in- vestment and business in Nigeria. ICT potential in Nigeria is high but nobody desires to commit suicide by going where safety cannot be guaranteed. Enhancement of security to protect life and property is critical to improving the environment. How effective is policing? Is government doing all it can to ensure that the operations of the security agencies are enhanced and supported? In particular security and crime prevention/detection must be brought into the 21st century with ICT. Strong, reliable, ICT driven security agencies are essential for maintaining public safety. Community efforts and the justice system too have a role to play in enhancing security. Another worrying environmental challenge is multiple taxation, which certainly is not helpful for getting the private sector involved in the E-Government process. ICT firms (in software development, hardware, training, etc) are creating jobs but the mes- sage often sent is that the priority is revenue generation at the expense of development and employment generation. Many businesses receive no support from government and their only connection with government is tax and payment of essential government services. Harmonisation of taxes that removes overtaxing of individuals and organisations is part of good governance.
Change is commonplace in government but investors do not appreciate uncertainty over future government policy. The compe- tition for capital is internationally competitive. There are no undue sympathies. Investors will go to safer and more attractive markets. The harsh operating environment is a ma- jor challenge Nigeria’s massive human and natural resources are assets that cannot be ignored. The ICT sector can be an engine for sus- tainable development. But a better and friendlier environment that attracts investors who will create jobs, enhance competitive-
ness and widen opportunities in the econo- my, especially in areas such as E-Government is a topmost priority. In improving the environment, incen- tives, projects and strategies that show commitment to promoting investor confidence, facilitating pro-business development and making Nigeria a local, national and glo- bal investment destination can be used. Prioritise the review of relevant rules, regu- lations and legal framework. An enabling environment is an investment in the future – both a platform and a decision to create a better, more prosperous tomorrow.