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By Adekunle Adekoya, Emeka Aginam & Prince Osuagwu
LAST Friday in Lagos when stakeholders in the Nigerian ICT sector gathered to discuss the draft national ICT policy, leading voices contended that except issues like local content, open source software, full engagement of industry players, youths, women among others were included, the policy, as drafted may not be of much use in the bid to transform into a digital and knowledge based economy.

The objective of the public forum, convened and presided over by the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson was to gather additional input into the draft policy and make it more embracing.

Though some speakers lauded the draft policy as a step in the right direction, it also was criticised by stakeholders, especially from the private sector who noted that the draft was not inclusive enough for holistic transformation of the nation's IT sector, said to be among the fastest growing sector in the world.

FORUM: A stakeholders forum to discuss the Draft National Policy on ICT was convened last Friday in Lagos by the Ministry of Communications Technology. From left: Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs.Omobola Johnson; Executive Vice-Chairman of NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah and Mr Gerald Ilukwe, CEO of Galaxy Backbone at the forum. Photo: Emeka Aginam

Despite the robust discussion and debates on the draft policy document, players present at the forumĀ  advised that more time be allowed to enable stakeholders make more inputs before sending the final document to the executive.

It would be recalled hat the draft ICT policy document was earlier released by the Communication Technology ministry for comments and suggestions from the stakeholders and the general public.

A committee had been set up by the ministry to harmonize all the existing policies, reflect new realities where necessary in order to provide a working document and an effective take-off point for the sector.

Also, the ministry had a few weeks ago met with industry associations like ATCON, ALTON, ISPON, NIG, NCS, ITAN, CPN and NATCOMS who had sent in their inputs on the Draft ICT Policy to discuss the comments and suggestions sent to the ministry.

Policy as statement of intent
Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson during the forum had expressed commitment to a robust ICT policy that will contribute to national development. Describing the policy document as a statement of intent, Mrs. Johnson noted that the ministry was resolute on how to develop the ICT industry, stating that the contributions of stakeholders to the policy document will help strengthen the document for the benefit of all.

'Today, we are here to discuss on the harmonised draft ICT policy which will enhance the intended robustness of the policy,'' the minister said, emphasising that though the ministry was in a hurry to get things done and develop the sector, adding that the goal is not to make mistakes in haste.

Harmonized policy will reposition IT sector
She explained that the harmonized draft policy would help reposition the nation's information technology sector, accelerate the growth of the ICT industry, and create the enabling environment for the rapid expansion of ICT networks and services that are accessible to all at reasonable cost.

Converged regulator
She stressed that the converged nature of the industry through the media, broadcasting and telecoms, has made it possible for a mobile device to be used to make a call, watch films and broadcast. This she said has made it necessary for a converged regulator that will recognize this fact.

Aggrieved stakeholders
But these received mixed reactions from the stakeholders who were aggrieved that they were sidelined at the incubation stage of the draft ICT policy, as speaker after speaker at the event said the ministry should take policy document back to the drawing board again with private sector inclusion.

Craft Nigeria's IT vision from competitive capability

In the opinion of the ISPON President, Chris Uwaje who pioneered the incubation of the old IT policy, local content is imperative otherwise Nigeria will miss the knowledge economy.

'On national IT vision, our position is that Nigeria's IT vision should be crafted from its competitive capability - with is Indigenous software creation and development. That is the best and logical roadmap for IT Nigeria,' Uwaje added.

Need to strengthen our OEMs
For the President of ITAN, Engr. Florence Seriki, there was need for the government to strengthen local Original Equipment Manufacturers, (OEMs). According to her, government needs to increase its support base for the local PC makers.

She recalled when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration issued a directive that all MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) must patronize local P makers and consider foreign brands only if the local brands could not meet up with the requirements.

Government policy, according to her, was designed to help generate employment in the PC sub-sector and grow local capacity in computer assembly. Local content policy, which was operating before, and enjoyed during the Obasanjo administration should be brought back.

Local content
Similarly, the the President, Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria, (CAPDAN) Mr. Tuni Balogun told the gathering that federal government needs to encourage local PC manufacturing in the country, adding that anything short of this will slow the development of the industry.

'We need to strengthen local PC market for global competitiveness,' said Balogun who is also the Managing Director of Brian Integrated Systems, a local PC manufacturer.

Youths, women
Again, President of ITAN, Engr. Florence Seriki, noted that the draft policy document must specify policies for youth empowerment, foreign investments, and local content. Seriki, who is also the Managing Director of Omatek, one the approved local PC makers in Nigeria, said except youths and women were engaged in the policy document, much may not expected from the document.

Open source
For the President of Open Source Association of Nigeria, Mr. Dele Adesomo, Nigeria must embrace Open Source which he believes is now a key area in the ICT policy document of many developed economies of the world.

While calling for inclusion of Open Source in the policy document, he urged the present administration to encourage mobile software applications locally if the country must survive digital economy. Open source software , he said is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner

Focus groups
For a national inclusion from both private and public sector of the Nigerian economy, Tomi Davies, a renowned ICT consultant in Nigeria suggested that there was need to break the policy into focus groups including software, telecoms, hardware, braodband among others for people to react and contribute online.

By so doing, he said, experts will use their comparative advantage to make input for a robust policy that will take us to the next level.