As unemployment bears its fangs on Nigerians, especially youths, experts have harped on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) as portent tool for turning things around if deployed optimally.
Although, there has been deliberate effort by government to promote digital inclusion and leverage ICT to improve quality of life of women, persons with disabilities, youths and other vulnerable groups in the country.
Also, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) through the Digital Inclusion Programme (DIP), tasked members to empower all persons regardless of gender, age, ability, or location by promoting ICT accessibility to create a more equitable and inclusive digital society.
To actualise the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government, experts suggested that no one or group of persons should be left behind.
They noted that equal opportunities to accessible ICT and assistive technologies were critical to building inclusive societies.
In realisation of this objective, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in the last 12 months has made digital inclusion one of the most urgent priorities under the stewardship of its Director-General, Kashifu Abdullahi.
The Guardian gathered that the need to promote digital inclusion has made it more urgent in view of challenges posed by outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
To bridge the digital literacy gap especially among the most vulnerable groups in the society, NITDA trained 200 women in Ekiti, Nasarawa on ICT and entrepreneurship at different times, where they were provided with laptops and pre-installed with the requisite e-resources as support for their start-ups.
The support had created more than 500 jobs while 650 artisans from Warri, Suleja, Okene, Ogbomosho and Owerri have been trained in phone repairs.
Also the agency has commenced a specialised ICT training for Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs), where about 30 Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWD) were trained in Kano, 100 in July and 130 farmers were adopted in the NAVSA project.
Already, these interventions have created an employment for about 30,000 youths.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 brought a huge setback to the global economy, NITDA under Abdullahi saw it as an opportunity to further accelerate Nigeria’s journey to digital economy through various initiatives.
Speaking on the various initiatives aimed at boosting digital penetration, the NITDA boss said rescue effort in growing Nigerian digital economy post-pandemic was a strategic plan developed by the Agency’s Tech4COVID-19 Committee to support about 100,000 ICT jobs and create an additional 30,000 jobs.
He added that the agency has set up a Virtual Start-up Clinic, mostly for young people to meet with mentors, successful entrepreneurs, investors, industry specialists, business consultants and hub operators to solve problems and challenges they were facing during the pandemic.
Again, under the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative, put in place by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to take small scale farmers to commercial level using a performance-based approach, the agency has trained and empowered 145 farmers to utilise digital, smart and precision technology to improve farm yield.
Speaking on some of the strides recorded by the agency since his assumption of duty, the NITDA boss said the agency had set up 80 digital capacity training centres across all geopolitical zones within a year and has also established three IT hubs, four innovation and incubation parks, six IT community centres and three IT capacity-building centres in higher institutions of learning as well as in unserved and underserved communities across the country.
According to him, NITDA so far has supported 246 start-ups while 125 IT hubs while ecosystems builders have received support through Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV).
The NITDA boss revealed that the agency has embarked on massive online open courses initiative for Nigeria’s tertiary institutions adding that the outbreak of coronavirus is a challenge to prioritize e-learning in the country.
On future of digital technology in Nigeria, he hinted that the ICT sector accounts for 17.83% of Nigeria’s GDP, saying NITDA is targeting at least five per cent quarterly increase on every achievement in the years ahead.
He hinted that in its quest to boost job creation initiatives, NITDA is already seeking partnership with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
He stated that there is ned to stimulate the IT industry through content localisation, rather than importation from other countries especially that the large population of Nigeria consist young and brilliant innovators.
An IT expert and founder Jidaw System, Jide Awe told The Guardian that government needs to invest in programmes that build capacity of the socially excluded, adding that the society loses out by not utilizing the ideas and potential contributions of people/groups that are excluded.
He explained: “Digital inclusion is practical and much needed in this era. We must identify the groups and build their capacities in 21st century skills, especially digital skills which are important and which they use to add value, solve real world problems and transform their lives. Transferable skills are particularly important as well. Concrete interventions are needed to support the capacity building and to make sure efforts are sustainable. Education is critical, for example, we can imagine economic and social impact, if the disturbingly large number of out of school children can be educated. But education must be practical and must deliver relevant impact not just the usual routines based on outdated systems and techniques. Groups such as people living with disabilities, physically displaced, the poor (rural and urban), unemployed youth, women excluded due to traditional and societal norms and practices, those living in rural areas should be areas of focus”.
Awe noted that NITDA in the last one year has made some commendable efforts such as establishment of Digital Job Creation Centres, Scholarship programmes, Capacity Building initiatives, building knowledge centres and the creation of the IoT/AI STEAM Unity Board which is particularly useful for fostering important emerging technology skills in education.
Awe noted that COVID-19 is both a challenge and an opportunity adding that a lot still needs to be digitized and the country must rethink our processes to incorporate and add new ways of adding value.
He added: “We must explore how to exploit technology to improve our speed and relevance as digital infrastructure and solutions offer opportunities for continuity even in times of uncertainty. Automation, innovation, data driven solutions are ways to add value. Culture and mind-set are also critical. Technology is essential but not enough. The innovative mind-set and the enabling environment are the critical factors. For example, embracing collaboration and lifelong learning and leadership qualities of clarity in communication as well as empathy are all essential to use the digital to succeed in the new normal. Invest in digitizing critical sectors such as health and education. These are investments that pay. This is particularly important as we head into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) which is disrupting labour markets, shifting industries and changing economies like never before.”
He stressed the need for government to overhaul the education system with practical skills development, knowledge and mindsets for 4IR and emerging technologies and also create awareness of digital enabled businesses and opportunities, online education, e-commerce, etc.
While local efforts are on to reduce gap in digital knowledge, the plan by Facebook to open an office in Lagos will serve a timely boost to the initiative.
Indeed, the establishment of an office in Nigeria by the gigantic global brand excites the Federal Government.
Facebook said the Lagos office will be home to various teams’ servicing the continent from across the business, including Sales, Partnerships, Policy, Communications as well as Engineers.
In a chat between Vive President Yemi Osinbajo and Facebook’s Vice President on Global Affairs and Communications, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Nick Clegg, was focussed on the digital economic pillar of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP).
Clegg and other Facebook officials, including Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, Africa, had informed the Vice President about the decision to open its second African office in Lagos possibly by the end of this year or next year.
During the chat, the Vice President reiterated that the focus of the Nigerian government on the digital sector is crucial in various socio-economic aspect of national life, from education, e-commerce, social investments programmes to the activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government.
The VP also noted that the Federal Government is collaborating with the private sector to fund, establish and expand e-learning and education platforms, and other areas of digital technology growth.
On his part, Sir Clegg noted that he was impressed with Nigeria’s broadband goals and what government is doing to improve the digital sector.
The Facebook officials added that the establishment of the Lagos office is aimed at supporting the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, adding that the office is expected to become fully operational in 2021.
The Facebook Nigeria office will be the first on the continent to house a team of expert engineers building for the future of Africa and beyond.