Recently, I received an invitation from the Federal Ministry of Communications to attend a stakeholder workshop on the framework and guidelines for Public Internet Access (PIA) in Nigeria. Looking at the invitation, it was sent late on a Friday, few minutes to the end of working hours for an important event slated for Monday or so. However, looking at my schedules, I realized the date was free and I did plan to attend the event but I asked myself, would this event be different from the ones attended or organized by various government agencies in the past, knowing how this set of people behaves? Well, I began to research what is the PIA framework as developed by the Ministry via its sister’s agency, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Kudos need to be given to NITDA for looking beyond and ahead in establishing a framework for public Internet access, even though there are still some grey areas, which are not the focus of this discussion.
Anyway, the day came and all headed to Transcorp Hotel, the venue of the event. Again, don’t let me bother you about the event management but permit me to tell you the heart of the matter. First, the event was sponsored by Google and in which my mind appreciated them for supporting Nigerian government at this critical time. But I begin to feel concerned when I realized that the focus of the event is changing from accessing the Public Internet Access (PIA) document to Google free Wi-Fi hotspot network in Nigeria, even though that was the intention of the organizer but we were not in the loop. I could recollect the Google Nigeria’s Head of Partnerships for Next Billion Users, Saidu Abdullahi was happily stressing the locations of Google network sites in Abuja and Lagos, and what jobless, unemployed Nigerians are doing with the free Wi-Fi in locations such as Wuse Market, EFAB Plaza and Barnex Plaza to mention but few. The Head of ICT at the Ministry of Communications was equally happy about this gesture and support Google gave to them in hosting the event.
Then and then I began to think about my essence at the said meeting, it came to mind that we do not know what we want as a nation, from policymakers to the people, from government to the governs, we lack purpose and depth. How can we as a nation be gloating over free public Wi-Fi in which the Nigerian’s Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, NCC had kicked against even before the occasion? Equally, I saw it as an embarrassment when the Vice President Yemi Osibajo went to launch Google’s free public WI-Fi in Lagos, it was all about news, not substance. I looked at it, is it (free public Wi-Fi) that we need as a nation? Even though, we do not owe Google in doing this, but I know that we deserve more than this as a nation.
Anyway, after much time spent at the event and after I have conversed with some of the participants about the reason for the event, it is question time, people have made comments and contributions in the previous sessions but my head is still booting until this time. By the way, I have visited more than fifty ICT centres across the nation and have carried out projects in rural and urban communities, so I knew why it took me time and why am about to ask this question. And when the anchor called for questions, no hands were up except mine and I threw this question to the organizer, the Ministry of Communications and Google, hear me: “In Nigeria and as a country, we have more than 200,000 computers in over 1200 ICT, Knowledge and Resource Centres in more than 740 Local Government Areas; the main challenge to most of these centres apart from power is internet access and now that we have opportunity from Google to provide us free Internet access, why can’t the Ministry set aside certain ICT centres for Google to provide free Wi-Fi when this opportunity came rather than reveling over free Wi-Fi in Wuse market or big cities where people can afford internet? Even, from the answer the Director gave, I knew, it is because we do not have vision as a country hence we do not know what we want as a people at any time opportunities arise and those people representing us at policy or legislative level are only looking out for their interest and not the collective interest of the nation.
I was not surprised that Google did not set up their first Africa’s Artificial Intelligent (AI) Lab in Nigeria, Google know who we are and what we are, they know what we are looking for. They know that as a nation, we do not have vision; they understand us that even though we have beautiful policy documents, we lack cohesion and synergy in implementation. They know that we love hype and trending stories, we always want to be in the news, we loved to be seeing hence the reason for them to give us networking stations, what is networking stations compare to an AI Lab. Because we do not know what we want and do not understand where we are going as a nation, we cannot ask for suitable opportunity or negotiate for a better one for our people. I saw the Ghanaian President on TV recently announcing this huge opportunity, the implication of it for his people and stating same to be one of his Administration achievements. It is incomparable, Artificial Intelligence Lab versus free public Wi-Fi, only time will tell the impact of these two different opportunities.
I won’t blame Google, which organization will trust a nation without vision with such huge opportunity? How many international organization headquarters for Africa are in Nigeria, I sensed, none! International organizations prefer countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Ghana ahead of Nigeria. How many Africa Regional Coordinators for international programs and organizations are Nigerians? We all know USA, China, Singapore, South Korea, and India for one or the other, what are we known for as a nation? I guess nothing positive. As a nation, we need to think, especially this government, one good thing they need doing urgently is to define who are we as a nation, where we are heading to and the direction to follow. It is through this that we can come out from the messy and sorry state and negotiate what we want from whoever. If we continue the way we are today as a nation and people, we will continue to lose and miss out from opportunities available.Casey Olugbenga Adeleye, National Coordinator, African Centre for Citizens Orientation writes from Abuja, Nigeria