Over the years, there have been a lot of arguments for or against the notion if the government has any role to play in the development of the ICT sector in Nigeria. While most people believe tech practitioners should face their business and only pay taxes to the government, others are of the opinion that the government has a lot of roles to play for the development of the sector before reaping the reward of their investment by taxing successful startups. In this article I want to take a look at how Governments in the Niger Delta region can develop a blue print for ICT innovations and create a sustainable platform which will accommodate millions of youths even as the graduate from secondary schools and colleges.
To achieve the needed results in combating youth’s restiveness therefore, the government must see it as a responsibility to channel the energies in this region to positive reasoning. This can best be achieved by drafting out a blue print for ICT Innovations in the States within the region. This blue print will help the government and leaders at various levels understand the inputs needed for the growth of the industry and what the expected outcome should be within a set period of time. In achieving this, we must consider the following:
Revisiting of the Roles of Ministry of Science and Technology: Presently, in states like Akwa Ibom, the Ministry of Science and Technology is known to be a ‘program ministry’. According to a one time Information Officer of the Ministry, the core area of the ministry is to superintend the training of young people in various tech businesses. Unfortunately, this feat is yet to be achieved as most training undertaken in recent times by the ministry are usually fruitless. For instance, on assumption of office, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State – Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, announced the training of 1000 youths in Oracle database creation, till date no project can be seen either online or offline to commensurate the huge investment made on the said project which was handled by the Ministry of Science and technology. Tech practitioners tried to contribute their ideas to the success of the training, but rather than seeing these young people as partners to the progress of the project, the then commissioner saw them as those coming to set a new agenda that will take the gains off her pocket.
It is therefore of essence that the Ministry of Science and Technology be given proper roles that will help the ministry extend its functionality to cover the existing tech communities and businesses within the states. Where this is not obtainable, it is needful for the Niger Delta States to emulate Lagos State by creating the Ministry of ICT. This will help tech practitioners have soft landing when approaching government for various aides that will help to grow the industry in the Niger Delta region. The ICT Ministry can then become the rallying point in building a successful blueprint for ICT Innovation in the State.
Who Leads the Ministry? It is common to appoint a politician or a core supporter of a political party to ascend the seat as the commissioner in an ICT related ministry. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a situation where these commissioners develop a sense of impunity and do not take any suggestions from practitioners, it becomes visibly disturbing. For instance, sending a politician of 75yrs and above who do not even know how to access his email or can relate on the various social media platform is a necessary step to killing the ambitions of young people who may rely on government for certain supports to rise in the industry.
In Akwa Ibom State, it is common to hear a commissioner for Science and Technology warning tech practitioners not to share his suggestions again simply because such suggestions seems to contradict the seeming focus of the present administration. A typical of such situation was when the Ministry of Science and Technology gave the Ibom e-library to Halliburton to initiate the oil and gas training centre. Tech practitioners quickly called on the State government to revisit the Ibom Science Park Project, the request, I can authoritatively say did not go down well with the Commissioner and with this all those who campaigned for the revisiting of the Science were placed on a black list by the commissioner. In fact those who embarked on social media campaigns for the revisiting of the Science Park were tagged as trying to embarrass the government – decisive notion to silence such agitation.
Therefore, a young dynamic and in some cases a practitioner is needed in the ministry for the growth of the IT Industry in this region. Academic qualification in this case may be secondary, but the knowledge of the needed solutions to the problems facing tech practitioners in the State is of paramount concern. The office of the commissioner for Science and Technology should not be given as a political compensation to aged politician either from the academic environment or any other field. It should be such that will help in the development of the IT Industry in the state rather than being a political compensation for this vital industry.
Provision of Grants: The law of sowing before reaping is still playing out in this sector. For the government to reap the results expected in the ICT Industry, the government must invest in the industry and in the young talents who are involved in the industry. To achieve this, the state government should be able to organize at least a quarterly event aimed at empowering tech startups in the state. Such tech event can take the form of StartUP Battlefield usually organized by techcrunch or StartUP Friday which is a product of Office of ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship which is powered by NITDA.
This event will not only spur up new ideas and solution but will set to encourage young people and help their startups find their feet in the entrepreneurial space. It is unfortunate that the government and her representatives keep asking of the rewards of government investment or sponsorship of necessary tech related events. This is because the government in most cases gives support to other sectors without necessarily seeking for immediate returns on investment. This, we believe is to help such sectors grow. Likewise attention is needed for the ICT Sector in the Niger Delta region to help startups grow to independent business organisations thereby paying dividends to the government and assisting in getting our young people off the streets.
Catch Them Young Approach: Most depressing is the fact that our primary and secondary schools are still at the level of learning Computer Appreciation and word processing. This is troubling because if a proper road map to ICT Innovation is developed by the government, kids in our primary and secondary schools should be fully introduced to programming and it concepts. Unfortunately, our leaders believes the only level of ICT engagement is for a young man to set up a business centre with Microsoft Word used to process documents. Therefore even in private schools where parent are made to pay heavy fees, their kids are never exposed to the concepts of programming and software development.
When the blue print is fully developed therefore, like most leading countries in the tech industry, we can develop other levels of learning and execution where our young people graduating from Secondary schools can be engaged even while they further their education. I must appreciate what some hubs are doing in Uyo and some other states around the Niger Delta region, but it is of my earnest desire that the government should come in to support these hubs to do more in the nearest future. While employment is advertised for teachers into the State Civil service, there is an urgent need to include slots for core ICT practitioners who will help build young people for the challenges in the industry tomorrow. Our dream is to export technology from our shores through effective engagement of our young people.
Finally, government appointees should be ready to work with the tech communities to develop a blue print for ICT Innovation in the Niger Delta Region. The idea of impetuously telling concerned individuals to go ahead and write whatever they like will not solve our problem of continually being tech consumers. The sooner we work together for the benefit of the society, the better for us as a people and as a government. We have a pool of young people with talents in abundance and it is only by setting out a blue print for the nurturing of these talents that we can reap positively from these talents. Remember, the evil we have in our society today is the application of talents in a wrong direction.