Despite several largely uncoordinated efforts, the digital divide in Nigeria remains very wide. A great many individuals, groups and even certain organisations and government parastatals still lack access to basic ICT infrastructures like the internet, computers, software and a host of others.
Several peculiar factors have continued to militate against efforts to bridge this divide. They include lack of quality education, lack of electrical power infrastructure, miserly income which means many Nigerians live in squalor, and of course, a variety of other social and political factors.
Obama Leader, Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho believes that having the right kind of leadership with the right kind of mindset is the most important factor towards bridging Nigeria’s digital divide.
Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho is one of the few women leading their own companies in Nigeria’s IT sector. She is a digital technology solutions expert and the founder of Future Software Resources Ltd, an IT company she launched in 2008.
After 15 years in the tech sector and being in the mix of various innovations in the country, Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho is of the stance that although we have made progress as a country in closing the divide a bit, we still lag behind other countries. In this interview, we discussed ways to bridge the digital divide and create an enabling environment for innovations in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem.
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the true import of the digital divide that exists locally among Nigerians as well as the divide that exists internationally between the country and other nations. The local divide is between those who can pay to access the internet and those who cannot.
At different stages of the lockdown, schools shut down physically and learning transitioned largely to radio and TV broadcasts because most families could not afford for their children to learn online and most schools were not equipped to hold classes on Zoom and Google Meet.
Recalling the plight of this set of learners cut off by the digital divide, Uwaje Begho said, “There are children and adults who are cut off because they do not have a phone, cannot access the Internet or cannot afford to purchase data as it is too costly for them.”
Statistics also show that this is the case. At the end of 2020, Nigeria’s broadband penetration stood at 45.02%, according to data from the Nigerian Communications Commission. This represented a YoY growth of 7%. Although the rate of growth increased from 6.32% in 2019 to 7% in 2020, it is still a slow growth rate considering that the country’s population is expected to hit 400 million by 2050.
The issue of achieving digital economy readiness requires that the critical mass of youths in the country be equipped with the right tech skills in order for them to be creators and not consumers.
But as more companies and organizations come up with more initiatives, access to the internet will become more democratized and easier. At this point when young people now have access, they need to also be in possession of the tech skills that can help them to use this access to create solutions.
Without creating, what we will largely do as a country is to consume products from other countries and that means we will fuel the continued growth of other nations while stifling our own. Besides the increased spending on imported goods and services, the contribution of tech to the nation’s economy will continue to be less than it should be.
Tech’s contribution to the national GDP in Q2 2020 was 17.83%, a figure that has dropped to 9.91% in Q1 2021. The percentage of the sector’s contribution to the GDP has a chance to increase a lot more if there are more creators within the country that reduce the need to import software, hardware and skills.
“If we do not have the right policies in place, we are headed to the point where, as a nation, all we do is import and consume foreign technology. We have a small window of 5 to 7 years to turn things around and develop our human capital and transition from being consumers to being creators”Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho
The policies that are needed are not necessarily tech in nature. One of the critical ones is in the area of education. If questions like ‘How do we rethink education for the 21st century?’ ‘How do we rethink education for the digital economy?’ ‘How do we reform our curriculum so that it teaches the right things?’ are answered by new educational policies, we would have taken an impactful step in bridging the digital divide locally and internationally.
The educational system that we embrace does not need to mimic that of other countries and should primarily focus on providing the necessary digital skills for students starting from the primary level.
As the problem of access is being solved, on one hand, the other part of ensuring that youths are equipped with the right digital skills from a young age must also be taken care of. With both in place, when youths join the workforce they have more to offer and the country has more cutting edge solutions sourced locally for its growing population.
Beyond policies, a mindset shift in leadership is needed
Although having policies that focus on bridging the divide is necessary, bringing more people into the digital economy will be hinged largely on a mindset shift within the country’s leadership.
As she puts it, “it is really a mindset shift that will create major change and that is one of the hardest things to do.” Leaders have to be willing to put personal and any other interest aside and really want the divide to be reduced.
This shift will prompt a major change in human capital investments and the type of education that our youth are exposed to from the lowest to the highest levels. It will also ensure that digital skills are incorporated into every stage.
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