Draft ICT Policy: Need For Effective Road Maps

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Mrs. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communications Technology
Mrs. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communications Technology

The Ministry of Communications Technology on January 9, 2012 unveiled a  draft of the National Information and Communications Technology Policy, which is to harmonise all the disparate policies and acts in the telecommunications, broadcasting, information technology and postal service sectors into an all embracing national policy.

For years, stakeholders in Nigeria have called for review of the different policies in the ICT industry in line with the global trends especially as it has to do with the blurring of the lines demarcating telecommunications, broadcasting and computers.
In today’s world, technology convergence has enabled people to access the internet through mobile phones, whilst also using the same device to make calls and do functions that only computers were able to do in the distant past. It has also made it possible for mails to be delivered through the internet at the click of a  key within seconds.

Mrs. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communications Technology, in line with the above, on August 25, 2011, set up an ad-hoc committee to harmonise all the different policies in the telecommunications, broadcasting, IT and postal service sectors in the country. According to the minister, the ad-hoc committee was given six weeks to go through 16 different policies, Acts and reports that guide the day-to-day operations of the ICT industry.
On January 2, 2012, the work of the ad-hoc committee chaired by Professor Raymond Akwule, President, Digital Bridge Institute, was hoisted on the Ministry of Communications Technology website and blog for public consultation before it would be sent to the Federal Executive Council and thereafter to the National Assembly for enactment into law.

Exclusion of Private Sector Representation
One of the first things a careful reader will observe going through the Draft Policy is that the composition of the ad-hoc committee members lack a single representation from the entire ICT private sector. All the nine members of the ad-hoc review committee came from the public sector. Four of the members came from the office of the minister and her ministry.

Private sector organisations like the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Nigerian Internet Group (NIG), Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN), Association of Licenced Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and ICT consumer groups were left out in the drafting of a national document which they have a major stake in.

Also, a shortcoming of the nine-man ad-hoc committee was the inadequate time frame given it.  It took the committee six weeks to condense 16 different national policies, Acts and reports into a 55-page document that was lacking in substance. Meanwhile all the 16 policies and Acts had inputs from a large representation of private sector.

Mr. Maxwell Onoja, an ICT expert, said Akwule’s Committee was, “Expected to produce a draft document for a sector-wide industry workshop, leading to setting up of a broad-based ICT Policy Review Committee to articulate and fine tune the positions reached by the industry and  which will in turn ultimately produce a draft policy for final inputs and adoption.”
He said the ICT industry was too huge and sensitive to be guided by a policy drafted exclusively by civil servants who may pander to the wishes of their superiors while stakeholders are left out. However, a source close to the minister said that a stakeholders’ summit would be held in the next few weeks to rein in the contributions of the private sector.

Absence of Effective Road maps
One of the key things lacking in the draft policy is the absence of effective road maps and targets that would deliver the dividends of ICT to the Nigerian citizenry. Mrs. Johnson, at a public function in Lagos last month, announced that the draft policy would be unveiled in January.

According to her, “The ICT policy will be the overarching guide of what we will do in the industry. I really believe that with the new policy we will be well on the way to making  the ICT industry what it should be in a country as large and as diverse and as important as Nigeria.”
She talked about how she intends to create a digital economy for all Nigerians but it is absurd  that the Draft  national ICT Policy lacks effective roadmaps and targets that would deliver broadband to all parts of the country, internet access, personal computers (PCs) and telephony for all.

In the telecommunication and IT sectors, no mention of how the policy intends to increase internet penetration, computer access and telephony per 100 inhabitants was made. No mention of the linkages between the public and private sectors in building cottage industries for the manufacturing of ICT accessories was equally made.
ICT experts said the misguided focus as reflected in all the recommendations, was that the policy document ignored the role to be played by the private sector under the new framework. It also ignored key issues like attraction of investments in the sector, advancement of human capital development, local content or localisation of ICT products and services, leveraging the employment opportunities in the sector.

Need For Achievable Targets
Mr. Sola Fanawopo, an ICT analyst said Nigeria needs to define what exactly they want to do. “We must avoid the usual buzzword that means nothing in real context. The policy must be specific in what it will deliver by 2020. For example, it  should specify targets such as making all government processes and functions to be driven by ICT by 2020;  building an ICT industry directly employing at least two million Nigerians by 2020; creating an ICT industry generating at least 5 per cent of national forex earning by 2020 (not GDP) and building the largest IT industry in Africa by 2020.

   In his words, “A critical analysis of the policy further revealed that the draft policy and strategies for the ICT completely ignored the current state of Nigeria and in my opinion seems to represent wishful thinking  on the part of the committee, rather than something that will focus stakeholders’ action in order to realise some measurable goals.

   “If one of the goals of the policy is to make all government process and functions to be driven by ICT by 2012, why can’t we make a rule that all taxes be ?led electronically, that all applications for company registration be electronic, that all enquiries and complaints to government be electronic, that all payroll be electronic with specific time frame?”

Another ICT expert who didn’t want his name in print said that the  draft ICT policy because of its all encompassing nature, does not have goals, visions, strategies or missions that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.
He said the national ICT policy should not be a statement of function of the ministry, but suggested that the ministry and the industry adopt a mission analysis approach where the overall goal is split into vision(s) that have specific measures of success that can be set to be achieved in definite time frames. Each vision would then be supported by a sequence of missions for different stakeholders with different measures of success. These missions, he said, would further be broken down into specific tasks whose achievement will add up to the successful mission.

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