IT Agency Bill: A Quest To Position Akwa Ibom as a Tech Hub

IT Agency Bill: A Quest To Position Akwa Ibom as a Tech Hub

HON. Kufreabasi Edidem

By Ekemini Simon

In the last few years, the world has relied enormously on digital services that have shifted world economy towards the digital economy. This digital economy is transforming businesses across industries, speeding up rapid fundamental changes and their operating models. While digital technologies have already changed the ways businesses interact with their potential customers,and government with her citizens, it is gradually assuming the stage as the new normal. This must be reason many tag data as the new oil and new blood. Yet, how is Nigeria faring in the face of this advancement?

A new World Bank diagnostic report from World Bank Group’s Digital Economy for Africa Initiative in support of the African Union’s digital transformation agenda notes that Nigeria is capturing only a fraction of its digital economic potential and will need to make strategic investments to develop a dynamic, transformative digital economy.

The Nigeria Digital Economy Diagnostic says that with improvements in digital connectivity, digital skills, digital financial services and other core areas of digital development, Nigeria can fully unleash new economic opportunities, create jobs and transform people’s lives.

World Bank Senior Digital Development Specialist and co- author of the report, Isabel Neto notes that : “As the biggest economy in Africa with one of the largest populations of young people in the world, Nigeria is well-positioned to develop a strong digital economy, which would have a transformational impact on the country.”

She says that through innovations and investments, the Nigerian economy can harness digital data and new technologies, generate new content, link individuals with markets and government services, and roll out new, sustainable business models.

The report provides an assessment of the state of the country’s digital economy around the five pillars of the Digital Economy for Africa initiative (DE4A); digital infrastructure, digital platforms, digital financial services, digital entrepreneurship and digital skills—key foundational elements of a digital economy.

The report also offers specific, actionable recommendations to the government and stakeholders to further its development of each pillar which aims for every African person, business and government to be digitally able by 2030.

Interestingly, Nigeria stands a great chance to generate huge revenue through digital economy. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) renowned as the second largest professional services firm network in the world, Nigeria’s 16.1 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) in internet revenue will be the fastest in the world in the period of 2016-2020.

While most of that growth is projected to be powered by mobile access, PwC recommends that government policy must be directed at boosting overall access including through fixed broadband.

The FG keys in

The Federal Government appears determined not to let the opportunities slip away. Hence, the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020 ( ERGP) aims to increase the number of internet users from 47 percent to 75 percent and mobile broadband subscribers from 21 percent to 50 percent within the period of the plan.

This is in tandem with the 8 Point Agenda of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which is underlain by the 3As principle of availability, accessibility and affordability of ICT service.

The aggregate effect of these market and policy trends is that Nigeria will enter into the world of “Big Data”.

What then has the country done to see this aspiration come to fruition?

The Federal Government discerning that the plan cannot work only at the centre, in October 2016, the highest consultative body for Nigerian Government on matters of ICT development, the National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT), issued a 16-point plan.

One of them was the recommendation that: “All States of the Federation should establish their State Information Technology Development Agency”.

To actualize the plan, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) requested the NCCT to consider approving its request for all of the States of the Federation to establish their State Information Technology Development (SITDA), with all powers and responsibilities similar to NITDA at the Federal level.

Consequently, many States went to work. So far, Ogun, Plateau, Kano, Adamawa, Delta and Cross River State has so far developed their ICT policies in collaboration with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Be that as it may, with some States laying the foundation to take over the digital economy, one is persuaded to ask: How ready is Akwa Ibom State for the ” Big Data Scramble “?

Akwa Ibom State Begins To plough

With foresight, the Member representing Itu State Constituency, Hon KufreAbasi Edidem discerned that the World may move pass Akwa Ibom State as the State is currently lacking in strategic ICT framework and policy direction.

Thus, on Thursday, May 28, 2020, he sponsored a bill for a Law to establish Akwa Ibom State Information Technology Development Agency (AISITDA). What does this bill really hold, you may wonder.

Insight into AISITDA Bill

The Akwa Ibom State Information Technology Development Agency (AISITDA) bill when passed into law, the Agency will perform different functions, chiefly amongst them, will be:

To Create a frame work for the planning, research, development, standardization, application, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of Information Technology practices, activities and systems in Akwa-Ibom. This will include providing universal access for Information Technology and systems penetration including rural, urban and under-served areas.

The Agency will Provide guidelines to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of appropriate information technology and systems application and development in Akwa-Ibom for public and private sectors, urban-rural development, the economy and the government.

It will be empowered to develop guidelines for electronic governance and monitor the use of electronic data interchange and other forms of electronic communication transactions as an alternative to paper-based methods in government, commerce, education, the private and public sectors, labour, and other fields, where the use of electronic communication may improve the exchange of data and information.
What then does the State stand to gain?

Advantage of AISITDA

The Sponsor of the bill offers insight to the fact that establishment of the Agency stand to provide over 1000 direct employment to Akwa-Ibom citizens especially the youth.

He says it will provide over 2000 indirect employment to the citizens through private technology hubs.

Hon Edidem notes that the Agency will boost and encourage the operations of information technology through establishment of tech hubs like Root Hub, CCHub, NG Hub, Lead Hub, among others to achieve economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Itu House Member assures that the Agency will also provide cyber security for government departments and institutions by protecting government information.

The Sponsor adds ” There is urgent need for the state to be at par with contemporaries especially in line with the post COVID-19 economic realities, which Information Technology will play key role.

“Despite the importance of information technology in our lives and modern society, Akwa Ibom is yet to fully embrace, tap and harness its potentialities. This has cost the State a great fortune and has made the State to lose out on a number of opportunities information technology renders.

“It has become imperative to establish an agency called Akwa Ibom State Information Technology Development Agency (AISITDA) to manage and promote the operations of information technology”.

As the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly hopes to deliberate on the bill coupled with contributions from the public during public hearing, it is the hope of many that Akwa Ibom State government will grab this opportunity to establish the State in the World map of digital economy.

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