Introduction: Information Technology Sector has been one of the most neglected sectors of the economy by any government in Akwa Ibom State. Though most leaders in the state accepts the fact that the sector plays a vital role in building the economy and is fast replacing the depleting oil sector, successive governments in the state places little or no importance on the growth of the industry. The last time we saw a beam of light in the sector was during the Obong Victor Attah’s administration, though some of the projects were later marked as fraudulent, there was a conceited effort to draw up a plan for the future in the industry. We can still recall projects like the VADOC which was to be used in training and retraining of Akwa Ibom youths at the Ministry of Science and Technology premises. We can recall the Ibom Science Park which was to house all IT Practitioners in the State and serve as an incubation centre. With the master plan, the project was marked as the best in Africa as regards technology. After the Obong Attah’s administration and the stories that followed the projects, ICT has been left to young practitioners to fathom ways to give life to the industry while the government looks the other way. In fact, recently some government officials term it “your business” referring to the practitioners in State. Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio whose administration concentrated on infrastructures established the Ibom e-library which considering it usage is more of the structure while IT practitioners continues to pray for when the structure will be fully put to use for tech innovations in the State. Then enters Governor Emmanuel whose 3 years as witnessed by practitioners, I will review in this article.
Training and Retraining: In establishing the roadmap for the sector, there is need for a sincere investment in the training and retraining of young people in the sector. When Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration came on board, the governor immediately announced the training of 1000 young people in Oracle – a step that was highly commended owing to the need for database management. This, to tech practitioners in the state was to be a program of ‘training the trainer’.
As days passed, the ministry of Science and Technology announced that the training was no longer in Oracle but MySQL and while probing further we were informed that the training was only an introduction to MySQL and was to last for just 2 weeks. Many questions were asked on how a complete novice can understand and use the various tools within the said period. At the end of the program it was only discovered that the program was a laptop empowerment program where laptops were given to supporters and relatives of politicians in the State. Till date no single project is seen on the internet or on a local network as one executed by the trainees in the said program.
This was not only disappointing, but it portrayed the government as one who is out to play politics with the development of the sector. To help the government build something sustainable in the area of training and catching them young, a certain forum was established “Akwa Ibom Technology Advancement Forum” – AKITECH Forum. The forum’s main aim was to come up with solutions that will stall such a disappointment as witnessed during the ‘Oracle training’ while the government attempts investing in the training of young people in the sector. One of the suggestion reach at the maiden event of the forum was that government should employ tech professionals to handle core IT training in Secondary Schools from JSS 1 and if possible from primary 5. This accord was reached when during a panel session at the event it was discovered that the highest knowledge in computer that is given to young people at this level is the use of Microsoft Office and some graphic tools like Corel Draw to process documents. It was agreed that the world has long moved on from such level of computing and what we as Akwa Ibom people should invest in is the creation of various tools that will help us access the internet better and proffer solutions to our immediate ecosystem. Programming therefore was of paramount need and the earlier young people are introduced to core programming and coding at the late primary and secondary section, the easier it will be to fish out talents among these young people. The report was submitted to Dr. Elizabeth Obot, the former commissioner for Science and Technology and till date members of the forum are still waiting for government’s action on that report. Therefore, the expectations of techies in Akwa Ibom State in the area of training and retraining of tech practitioners to act as trainers in the state had long been smashed.
Ministry of Science and Technology under Governor Emmanuel: It is not uncommon to listen to the commissioner for Science and Technology in the present administration lament of paucity of funds to even carry out photocopying and other necessities in the ministry. Before the present commissioner for Science and Technology declared the author of this piece an “enemy of the State” he had confided in me that the ministry was so broke that it could not even promote the basic programs of the ministry in the media. This was very unfortunate for an administration that promised young people a facelift in entrepreneurship which technology presently leads. It must be noted that the ministry of science and technology in the state is one ministry that is closer to young people. This is because tech is the newest trend in business and most practitioners are merely young people.
Therefore, depriving the ministry of funds as confessed by the commissioner and other directors in the ministry and even as witnessed in the annual budgets for the ministry by the present government amounts to limiting the powers of the ministry in reaching out to young people and bringing them into the industry. Unfortunately, while the present government turns her face away from the ministry, the commissioner for Science and Technology also seem helpless in bringing in investors to fund the different programs the ministry needs to address. I have personally expressed various ideas directly with the commissioner on how to raise funds for the ministry and while there seems to be a level of helplessness and insecurity about the commissioner, he had resorted to shutting his doors against any ideas that seems to emanate from the tech ecosystem within the state. Therefore, Governor Emmanuel’s industrialization agenda which covers tech entrepreneurs in the state presently seems to be limited by the inability of practitioners to access the commissioner and of course the governor. It is also very imperative to observe that with the emergence of Governor Emmanuel as someone whose experience in Lagos State cannot be questioned, we had expected the creation of an ICT Ministry to complement the Science and Technology Ministry and carter for the needs of the industry in the State. A step our Lagos counterpart has taken years before today.
Funding: There are a lot of programs that could be put in place to help startups in the State grow faster and even compete with well-established ecosystems like Lagos and Abuja. Top on the governor’s agenda was the creation of wealth and this could only be done by giving startups the necessary supports financially to get their businesses up on their feet. One of such events is the Startup Battlefield organized by Tech Crunch which brings the world’s top early stage startups together on one stage to compete for the coveted Disrupt Cup, a $50,000 prize, and the attention of media and investors.
Such events could be organized by the present administration funded by the government or investors brought in by the government, to boost tech activities in the state. Unfortunately, such ideas are not only seen as being unachievable by the present administration in the state but once such ideas are brought to the authorities concerned, it is seen as causing embarrassment to the administration. After three years in the present administration, it would have been glorious to point our fingers to one or two startups that can stand out and get funding outside the state via an initial capital provided by this administration.
Conclusion: By May 29 this year we will be celebrating the third year of this administration. Going through various experiences IT practitioners have faced in drawing government attention to the needs of the industry in the State, it is now mystifying if the problem of government’s negligence of the sector is caused by the governor’s lack of interest in the sector or the various offices appointed to assist the governor in working with the tech communities are not competent enough for the tasks ahead.
Considering the role IT plays in the development of any economy, it is hard to believe that the governor will purposely refuse to fund and support the sector’s growth in Akwa Ibom State. We therefore look forward to the next four years of this administration and pray the governor listens to tech practitioners in the State and work on modalities that will enhance the growth of the industry in the State. For now, we are only watching and expecting the best for the industry.