Report written by DAYO OKETOLA | Published in the Nigerian Punch Newspaper | MARCH 12, 2012 Information Communications Technology stakeholders, who discussed the draft ICT policy document at a public forum in Lagos, on Friday, offered constructive criticism to make the policy more robust for industry growth, writes DAYO OKETOLA There was a deluge of constructive criticism against the draft National Information and Communications Technology policy released by the Ministry of Communications Technology on January, 9, 2012. Most stakeholders, who gathered at the Lagos City Hall, venue of the public forum on the draft ICT policy documents on Friday, offered more constructive criticism of the document than commendations. From simple shortcomings such as the composition of the Ministerial Committee on ICT Policy Harmonisation to complex issues regarding the substance and content of the policy, which experts said lacked depth and was not inclusive enough for holistic transformation of the ICT industry, the forum created an opportunity for stakeholders to air their views on the ICT policy. Experts said the policy harmonisation committee, which consisted only members from agencies under the Ministry of Communications Technology, was not representative enough as it failed to include private sector players who were the real drivers of ICT growth in the country. As such, they called for the immediate re-composition of the committee. To the more critical issues, however, stakeholders generally criticised the policy for not making adequate provisions for broadband and computer penetration; tackling multiple taxation and regulation, and providing support for local computer manufacturers. Other shortcomings, according to experts, include inadequate provision for women, children and people living with disabilities; inadequate provisions for local content and Internet governance; as well as proper convergence in the ICT sector and failure to make provisions that will categorise ICT equipment as critical national infrastructure fully protected by the government. More specifically, the Nigeria Computer Society expressed worry that the policy did not set a target and time line for broadband penetration, which currently stands at seven per cent in the country. In view of this, the Chairman, Education and Manpower, NCS, Dr. Vincent Asor, said it was important for the government to drive broadband penetration in the country. He urged the government, via the draft ICT policy, to target a 50 per cent broadband penetration within a stated time line. Asor further said it was equally imperative for the country to focus on outsourcing as an economic enabler as it was done in India. The President, Information Technology Association of Nigeria, Mrs. Florence Seriki, who also doubles as the Chief Executive Officer, Omatek Ventures Plc, lamented the poor PC penetration in the country, adding that the IT segment of the ICT industry was not properly provided for in the draft policy document. Seriki, who called on the Federal Government to drive local PC manufacturing as the epicentre of ICT industry development in the country, said, “We want to develop IT industry but we cannot achieve this without encouraging local manufacturing of PCs and other IT devices.” The ITAN president, who emphasised the need to establish IT departments in schools across the country, said the draft policy document must specify policies for youth empowerment, foreign investments, and local content. She argued that there was no way the ICT policy would make significant impact without developing manufacturing in the IT sector. The Omatek boss explained that the policy enjoyed by local Original Equipment Manufacturers during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime was no longer there and this was affecting their operations. In view of this, Seriki urged the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, to facilitate the restoration of those policies for the benefits of local OEMs in the country. Speaking in the same vein, the President, Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Tuni Balogun, called on the Federal Government to encourage local PC manufacturing in the country. He stressed that this was important if the country wanted to be self reliant in the area of ICT development like countries such as India and China among others. The President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Mr. Deolu Ogunbajo, said the draft policy didn’t make enough provisions on how to tackle multiple regulations and taxation in the country. While urging the ministry to focus on those areas, Ogunbanjo advised the Federal Government to categorise telecoms equipment as critical national infrastructure fully protected by the law. The Executive Director, Development Information Network, Mr. Bankole Olubamise, recalled that the draft policy document failed to make any provision for women and children despite mentioning them in the opening of the document. He advised that the Ministry of Communications Technology should adopt universal access to ICT as a human right. “ICT divide is still very wide in the country. There is no way we can achieve vision 2020 with the current ICT access,” he said. According to him, Internet governance is an important issue that the draft policy document does not mention. He also advised that this should be looked into. Similarly, the Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Network for Cybersolution Limited, an anti-cybercrime campaign and cybersecurity solution organisation, Mr. Segun Olugbile, said the draft policy failed to make provision for cyber security in the country. He said this against the backdrop of the rising cyber fraud and insecurity in the country’s cyber space and urged that measures should be put in place to address the problem through the ICT policy. According to the President, Open Source Association of Nigeria, Mr. Dele Adesomo, open source is a key area in most developed countries’ ICT policies. He called for adequate policy provision for open source in the country while urging the government to encourage mobile software applications locally. Despite the robust growth recorded in mobile telephony, the lack of convergence in the nation’s ICT sector has been said to be responsible for the fragmentation and inefficiency in the management of resources in the sector. Experts had, therefore, underscored the need for convergence in the ICT sector, in line with the global trend. They, however, lamented that the draft ICT policy did not provide adequate ICT regulatory framework that could guarantee complete convergence in the sector. Speaking on behalf of the ICT Publisher Alliance, the Publisher, eWorld Magazine, Mr. Aaron Ukodie, stressed the need for proper convergence in the ICT industry, adding that this was the only way to fast-track the growth of the industry. According to the document, the main objective of the National ICT Policy “is to create a conducive environment for the rapid expansion of ICT networks and services that are accessible to all at reasonable costs, and for the transformation of Nigeria into a knowledge-based economy.” The Managing Director and Chief Executive, Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, Mr. Timasaniyu Ahmed-Rufai, who expressed satisfaction with the level of response received at the public forum, lauded ICT stakeholders present for their constructive crtiticisms. He said, “The contributions were fantastic. What happened here today was constructive criticisms because in making a policy, you are trying to chart a course. If somebody says don’t go there, there is a pit there; don’t go that way, there is danger there, it is not criticism, it is advice. You will see that it is the ministry that presented itself for criticism because it wants to get all issues addressed. At the end of the day, the policy document that will be released will be an all embracing and comprehensive one that will reflect where we want the ICT industry to be.” The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, said the objective of the public forum was to get critical inputs from industry stakeholders, adding that the contributions would make the final ICT policy more robust for proper execution.