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GOVERNMENT'S APATHY CONCERNING ICT

By NBF News
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With Adekunle Aekoya
AS you read this, Nigerian students, along with one of their lecturers are in New York, USA, attending this year's edition of the Imagine Cup. The Imagine Cup is the software equivalent of the football World Cup, and is the initiative of software giant, Microsoft Corporation.

First, it is extremely disheartening that an event of this nature is holding and there was little interest in it by the authorities, despite the fact that we have a Ministry of Science and Technology, with God knows how many parastatals.

Ahead of the global contest, a competition to select participants was held, but that too was known to only those in the ICT arena. Meanwhile, the contest is about designing software that can be used to solve problems militating against the achievement of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).

As it is, these problems are very much with us - child and maternal mortality, extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender inequality, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, and environmental sustainability.

So if some whizz-kids are being encouraged to design solutions to these problems using IT, shouldn't we all be interested, especially those in charge of governance? It is not likely that any government official with authority over a vote even knew that we were participating in such a competition.

For years, the various sub-groups in the IT community have been calling government attention to this enabler called IT, which can be used to fast-track national development, but it seemed nobody wants to listen.

Meanwhile, they (you know who) all carry around the most sophisticated GSM handsets and tablet PCs made in other lands where they took, and still take IT seriously. Just what is our problem? What is the problem with having made-in-Nigeria hardware and software for our devices? When late Mao Zedong slammed the cultural revolution on China, not a few people, especially his countrymen thought he was mad.

His madness then, is what has turned China of today into the emergent world economic superpower. Why is there so much apathy about IT development by government officials? I suspect it is this crippling apathy by those in government that has made IT professionals begin the clamour for a Ministry of Information Technology.

If I know my country well, the powers that be will grant that wish and create the ministry, just so the IT professionals will get off their backs, shut up, and allow business go on as usual. But that would be a tragedy.

We are a football nation, or so many of us claim. How has football helped in achieving the MDGs? I am sure that were it the football World Cup, there would have been no hesitation whatsoever in appropriating billions for our representatives, and the army of mandarins who feed fat on that sport.

Even the football, we do not manage well - evidenced by how good our league is. It is a major reason we have become a football talent exporting nation.

Let's face it: to develop this country within the shortest time, the shortcut is to embrace IT wholesale. We can start by redesigning the national education curriculum to be IT-driven, so that the teaching-learning process nationwide at all levels, is powered by IT.