Nnaji: Fighting poverty through the legislature with ICT

Egbo Mon Charles

Writing on Ethnicity and Stolen Opportunities in Public Service: Anti-corruption, Where is thy Reach and Victory?, Prof. Kenneth Amaeshi lamented that “Corruption goes beyond stealing public funds, although it is a major understanding of the word. As much as it is important to curtail the opportunities for embezzling public funds, and bring perpetrators to justice, it is also important to cast a wide net on corruption, and frame it as an act of “stealing opportunities”.

The view of corruption as stolen opportunities can offer a different lens to appreciate the anti-corruption agenda. …….poverty is unfreedom. It is a lack of freedom, because in such situations, choices are limited, and the capability to meet the very few available choices is significantly constrained…. Some people are trapped in poverty because they don’t have access to opportunities. This can be as a result of poor education, lack of access to resources, and inappropriate social networks…….. Good education helps people to explore good opportunities to improve their lot in life…… Notwithstanding, opportunities can still be stolen……. This is a form of corruption that is hardly talked about in the current framing of the anti-corruption agenda in Nigeria.”

The bottom line of this narrative is that the surest way to liberate a generation from poverty is to avail them access to relevant information and  a wide range of choices for entrepreneurship, employability and community development. And,  in what appears to be giving impetus to this, President Muhammadu Buhari while presenting the 2017 budget proposal at the National Assembly, openly admitted that digital skills are essential and as such, ICT as a deliberate policy is slated for priority attention as a key objective in revamping the collapsed economy. He hinted that “…..we also have an ambitious programme for growing our digital platforms in order to modernize the Nigerian economy, support innovation and improve productivity and competitiveness. We will do this through increased spending on critical information technology infrastructure and also by promoting policies that facilitate investments in this vital sector.”

But before then, the UK House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee published its “Digital Skills Crisis” report in June 2016 and stated that: “digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the Government’s forthcoming Digital Strategy.”

From the foregoing, given the intensity of the global need and demand for digital skills and competencies and of course the consequent emerging ICT revolution in developing nations, there is a logical and gloomy prediction that certain “white collar jobs such as accounting, law, journalism are next in line to see technology remove vast numbers of existing jobs in the next five to ten years.” Computers would assume numerous roles and only the skilled can play competitively and productively fore entrepreneurship, employability and community development. The big question, therefore, is: How ready is Nigeria to fill this yearning gap?

The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, while speaking on the readiness of the Federal Government to establish in Nigeria an ICT university which will be first of its kind in Africa with one of the campuses in Enugu courtesy of Senator Gilbert Nnaji, cheerfully announced that “we already have what is called the Digital Bridge Institute which is for short term training programmes in six locations across the country and we hope to transform this institute into the ICT University of Nigeria. I am already talking to a lot of operators at the international level, Facebook, Motorola, Ericson, all of them. We are encouraging them to come and adopt the university campuses as their own. Nigerians will, therefore, be equipped with the best skills to look for jobs all over the world. If we have Korean telecoms companies coming to adopt one of our campuses, that will strengthen us instead of going to South Korea. We can have all the training and the number of people who will have the training locally will certainly be more than those who will have opportunities of going abroad to train. So, we feel that the ICT University is one of the big legacies that this government wants to give to Nigerians by adding value to computer science education,”

This aptly explains why Gilbert Nnaji, apparently over-whelmed by the tragic neglect that bedeviled his Enugu-East Senatorial District for-which he aspired to represent them at the Senate had declared that   he would “certainly make sacrifices in order to bridge the gap between electoral promises and fulfillments”.  As such, after being appointed the Chairman of Senate Committee on Communications, he quickly sought ways to avail his constituency of the benefits of Information and Communication Technology. He was convinced that it was only through a broad-based, sound and qualitative technology education that Nigeria can effectively achieve the knowledge-based economy being projected in the Vision 20-20-20. This, he proved by investing energies and resources in the enhancement of education with specific campaigns that secondary schools in the country practically integrate ICT into their curricula,  and he has sponsored a motion on that.  He, however, used his Enugu-East Senatorial District to demonstrate the efficacy of this proposition.

And today, by every standard of assessment, he is among those acknowledged to have keyed into Nelson Mandela’s philosophy that “education is the only weapon to conquer the world.” Despite that the National Assembly has witnessed monumental distractions coupled with government’s  poor budget implementation over the years, Gilbert so far has the following to his credit: All the tertiary schools in Enugu State, both private and public, have each a minimum of 2 ICT mega facilities, including ESUT Teaching Hospital, Parklane.

Over 35 secondary schools spread across Enugu-East Senatorial District have each a modern solar-powered computer laboratory for ICT knowledge and access,  3 units of 3-Classroom Blocks with VIP toilet and hand pump borehole in Community Primary School Amagu-Akegbe, Nkanu-West LGA and a  Modern classroom block and well-furnished Principal’s Office with VIP toilets located at the Comprehensive Secondary School Nkereffi in Nkanu-East LGA. His their projects include, Classroom blocks at Community Primary School, Ibagwa-Nike, Enugu-East LGA: three Rural Information Technology Centres in Neke, Isi-Uzo LGA,  Nchatancha-Akpuoga Nike Town Hall, Nkanu-East LGA and Agbom Community Hall, Onitsha-agu, Amagunze, Nkanu-East LGA:  Two world-class e-libraries, one each at Godfrey Okoye University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

He was also instrumental to the  Multi-purpose e-learning facility code-named Bottom-Up project at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH; an ultra-modern Digital Communications Laboratory at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology and four 4 ICT installation for free internet access code-named Wide Area Network one each at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Enugu State University of Science and Technology and Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu. There is also the  Gigantic Digital Bridge Institute (which is one of the proposed ICT Universities) along Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka Road.

   Through his Scholarship and Education Support Programme, he off-set both the tuition and WAEC fees of over one thousand two hundred  Senior Secondary School 3 students selected from the whole public secondary schools within Enugu-East Senatorial District. And interestingly, this scheme has been producing graduates yearly both locally and internationally. Clearly, these deployed facilities by Senator Nnaji have placed Enugu-East Senatorial district at a vantage pedestal for the opportune moment. And primarily, the young school leavers are already being trained  in the field of ICT and digital literacy which is the prerequisite for “productivity and competitiveness” being championed for entrepreneurship, employability and community development in the emerging global market.

Charles writes from Abuja.

They enhance teaching and learning towards qualitative education access.  It is in line with his assertion that when our schools produce graduates who are highly-skilled and very vast in ICT applications, the growing rate of unemployment in the land would be drastically-reduced. Also, these graduates can compete both locally and internationally in the areas of service delivery and wealth creation.

Though investments in education seemingly take time to germinate and bear tangible fruits, the dividends are guaranteed. One should begin to imagine what would become of the zone by the time the  beneficiaries of those interventions are  among the leading innovators and  entrepreneurs as well as drivers of the country’s economy in furtherance of his belief that “it is only through a broad-based, sound and qualitative technology education that Nigeria can effectively achieve the knowledge-based economy being projected in the Vision 20-20-20.” Even in the interim, the zone is clearly excelling in all computer-based examinations given that the students are exposed early and effectively to ICT.

The ICT University campus would equally create job and wealth creation opportunities as economic activities are gradually springing up in the area, in addition to the prospects of global ICT firms such as Facebook, Motorola, Huawei and others doing businesses directly on our soil. Besides, the e-library at the Godfrey Okoye University is being run by the Federal Government and also provides that employment levels one to six statutorily are reserved for the host community, among other benefits. It is expected that the digital communications laboratory at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, would offer similar opportunities in addition to arresting the prevailing capital flight plaguing the country. His sponsored Bill on Postal Sector Reform was adjudged by the Senate as one of the priority business-related bills with  the inherent potential to revamp the country’s economy through wealth creation and revenue generation.

In conclusion,  therefore, one can safely assert that the first four years of Senator Gilbert Nnaji at the Senate were not, after all, “stolen opportunities”. They were strikingly different from his predecessors. At least, he recognised that “some people are trapped in poverty because they don’t have access to opportunities.  It is good that he is doing all he can to provide  these opportunities for people in his Enugu- East Senatorial District possibly because of poor education, lack of access to resources, and inappropriate social network.

Charles writes from Abuja.

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Author: Uche Atuma