ONCE UPON A VISION.......
It is said that the future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious, perhaps this should normally be applicable to an individual or a small group of people who are likely to hold the most rigid beliefs about what the future might be as a result of ignorance or simply the fear of the unknown or to say it straight those who hold the natural fear of change. This should never be the case for a country that has considerably gone through the highs and the very lows of development since its attainment of independence or of a country arguably blessed with the most enlightened and visionary men of modern history. Nigeria like most other developing and developed countries has the vision of becoming one of the 20 greatest economies of the world at least the 20th by the year 2020. This vision has come to be known as the "vision 2020". The issues I would like to address though I may likely sound pessimistic are not parallel to our great vision 2020 but in fact the essential "ingredients" if you will agree with me, towards attaining the goals of vision 2020.
One fundamental thing that has continued to baffle my mind is the manner and confidence in which our leaders talk, shout and sing of the vision 2020, and the preparedness they show towards the glorious year 2020 which we all eagerly await. At least to see our very own country standing high and "rubbing shoulders with great economies like that of China, US, Germany, France, England or even our sister in independence, Malaysia so to say. These are just some of the countries that are regarded to have great economies or fast growing economies as in the case of Malaysia that is just 3years ahead of us in independence. Oh yes! 3years is “just" because many of us can barely remember what we did at age 3. But again there is one obvious thing our leaders/ advocates of vision 2020 have failed to understand, see, or realize in our match to the year 2020. This is something that is very common among developed countries and the fast developing countries, this is something that has radically changed the way we live, work, play, communicate and even earn a living. This is something that has today made the transfer of information from one corner of the world to the other possible in a matter of seconds and with just the push of a button, it is not merely the computer we use at home and offices as some might be quick to say but what we have come to know and call the Information and communication technology (ICT) age. ICT is no doubt a force to be reckoned with, a force that has opened up and is opening up endless opportunities for developed countries and the developing countries. The future with ICT is a future with endless opportunities and possibilities.
We are today a witness to the undeniable increasing importance of knowledge. But what we do not seem to witness is that knowledge is an important resource that would drive the growth and development of economies. This is true because as it is continuously becoming obvious, day after day, knowledge is gradually replacing the traditional land and labor in economics as the important factor in the whole process of production. What we ought to understand is that knowledge is a productive factor that is becoming the key to productive competitive strength which Nigeria obviously has in abundance and of economic achievement. It is today being used as the primary industry that supplies the economy with the essential and central resource for production. Those sincerely advocating for vision 2020 if there really are, should understand that it is now the era of knowledge, and this means that different set of rules, focus and direction has to be followed. From economics to physics, as the days pass by, a new paradigm shift is taking place. It can then be argued that the economics of Adam Smith is today being replaced by that of Paul Romer, and that the science of Isaac Newton are now being replaced by that of Albert Einstein, and that the views of other great scientist like Charles Darwin are also being replaced by that of Stuart Kauffman.
So what should all this simply tell us? That the battles of yesterday are different from those of today and that those of tomorrow will certainly be different from those of today, well, that is only to be understood by those who even bother to prepare. Thus, when we analyze this, we will see that, we cannot fight the battles of today with yesterday’s weapons. Similarly, the battles of tomorrow can not be fought with the weapons of today, even in practical military warfare. Again for Nigeria to really actualize the vision 2020, if it is really a sincere and collective vision, then we must prepare and arm ourselves with the requisite skills and expertise to survive and prosper in this knowledge era. If we are really serious about our "collective" vision 2020, then we must not be passive onlookers. Otherwise, this new knowledge era would pass us by like a lighting strike. We most and I quote, "most be part of this transformation brought about by advancement in ICT". This is because it will not only help Nigeria in moving to realize its dream of becoming one of the most developed countries by the year 2020 but will also determine the possibilities of actualizing such a dream. Though with the current focus of the government in control, one would only wish that considerable amount of attention should have been focused on certain areas of the economy such as the Advancement in communication technology, tourism, energy generation which the president once called a national emergency and other relevant areas of the economy in order to fully arm and prepare ourselves for the glorious year 2020. But rather, focus is being channeled at some other areas, which I obviously would not call irrelevant, but not essential in wining the race to year 2020. This only makes us a country fighting the battles of today with the weapons of yesterday, and fully arming ourselves for the battles of tomorrow with the weapons of today.
Similarly, let me try and analyze for instance the importance of the telecommunication industry in our match towards actualizing the vision 2020. Perhaps many observers will agree with me that there is no industry which is as furiously science-and-technology-driven as the telecommunication industry. So fast has technology grown and expanded that even the telecom’s people and people in related and unrelated telecom industry are quite breathless in trying to apply the technological capabilities and potentials of the ever evolving and revolving technological industry. In developed and fast developing countries, wireless is everything; it has virtually replaced, outdoes, and out priced cables. This is so because of the obvious reasons of efficiency, speed and low cost of maintenance. Wireless has no doubt taken over even before cables have been fully utilized. Technology is really pushing the world faster than the world can even utilize it. And it seem like Nigeria is not even in the starting line up.
Again so fast is the speed of technological improvements that today, applications may become obsolete and outdated in a matter of few month. This means that unless and until a country understand or at least prepares for the continuous change and improvement in technology, and until it accepts to follow its path, there is every possibility that its people are likely to be outdated in every aspect of life and human development. It is true that some little steps are being taken towards improving the telecommunication industry for example, and by improvement I mean, both in the service being offered by telecom companies and in the regulations being imposed on them. The quality of transmission has so far improved though not to a satisfactory level. I can still remember when I have to shout into the mouthpiece when making long distance call; I mean call from Abuja to Katsina. The service was so bad then that I regarded a call from Abuja to katsina as a long distance call. But another problem we still face is that today the transmission is "so good" that we can not attempt to make a single call without getting a "network busy" notification, until after several redialing before the call might finally get through. This might sound flimsy; it is important to note that a country planning to have one of the best economies by 2020, should not still be stuck and choked up with little transmission problems like this, at least not at this time. Though the telecom industry is largely driven by the private sector of the economy, the government still has a very important and crucial role to play in ensuring that while its poor and helpless citizens are being ripped off, excellent services must be provided to complement the high tariffs, since price control is difficult to implement in the telecom industry for obvious reasons. But then, if still the government is not sure of how to handle and tackle these problems, how then can we hope to compare ourselves by year 2020 with even South Africa , let alone the rest of the world out there. In the same vain, we can not always be deterred or pessimistic about the possibilities of actualizing vision 2020, though the facts on ground are too obvious to support our pessimism. It is still very much realistic and a lot of us are optimistic that it will be a dream comes true, that is only if we can wake up from our slumber and "smell the coffee".
When I am talking about the digital divide in Nigeria , then it is no doubt synonymous with the knowledge divide. This is true because, When countries developed, they move into a higher level of knowledge, its people become more enlighten and more innovative ideas flow out. Today prosperous economies are essentially, knowledge based economies. When I talk about knowledge-based economy, I am really taking about information sharing. I do strongly believe that for any country to move strong into this new era of knowledge based economy, then, technology should never be a privilege, or accessible only to the urban areas, or private schools even rich countries. Everyone, whether the rich or poor, privileged or unprivileged, those in private or public schools must be able to access and share this knowledge. The use of information technology must be freely democratized.
However, while prescribing technology as a means to bridge our country's "digital divide" one must remember that technology simply provides the means. As such it is a means to an end. The important thing when dealing with technology is the application of the data and information that can be accessed. Handling data and information is a different skill. It requires wild imaginations and innovations. It is not just the question of doing what other countries are doing or what have been leant from others. It is about applying data and information to do old things and to devise new ways so that greater efficiency and productivity can be achieved. Being in the IT field I am always so amazed that someone else's application or innovation is so simple that one should have thought of it. Take for example the idea of creating a search engine like google.com , or of youtube.com and a host of others. Thus the idea of selling goods and service via the internet was still a dream 20years ago. But today, it is not just someone’s dream come true but a new trend and a way of living. Based on these issues, I believe the government of Umaru Musa Yar'adua can and should play a meaningful role in narrowing the current digital divide by committing funds, resources and computer and internet training to all educational institutions and government agencies without leaving the less privileged, before we continue to fall further behind in technology and knowledge wealth. I do understand that there have been ongoing activities and technical cooperation programs being implemented in some states and ministries. But so far noting positive and commendable has come out of those activities and programs, maybe because they lack sincerity of purpose. But nevertheless, I hope greater focus will be directed towards addressing the issues of digital divide, unless if we intend to remain the way we are today, and possibly never actualize the vision 2020.......The struggle continues and victory is certain....... Insha
By Abdulhafiz Musa Abdullah