A critical examination of information and communication technology policies: effects on library services in Nigeria.

Author:Baro, Emmanuel E.


The pervasiveness and importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) throughout the economy and society can't be ignored. The former United Nations Secretary-general Kofi Annan, stated that, "If harnessed properly, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have the potential to improve all aspects of our social, economic and cultural life ICT can serve as an engine for development in the twenty--first century" (Annan, 2003). The question that readily comes to mind, how can the ICTs policy challenges be addressed at both national and international levels, and in all sectors? It is worthy to note that, there are other key areas of national development that collectively with IT development policies forms the complete web of national ICT growth oriented strategy. Adomi (2006), asserted that for the past two decades, most developed countries have witnessed significant changes that can be traced to information and communication technologies (ICTs). These multidimensional changes (technical, financial and economic, cultural, social and geo-political) have been observed in almost all aspect of life: economic, education, communications, leisure, and travel. Furthermore, the changes observed in these countries have led to what is now referred to as the knowledge society. ICTs have made it possible to find fast access to, and distribution of information as well as new ways of doing business in real time at a cheaper cost. However, a considerable gap exists between developing countries, notably African countries, and developed ones in terms of the contribution of ICTs to the creation of wealth. The gap tends to widen between developed countries, the technology suppliers, and the receiving developing countries. At the same time, the gap between the elites and the grassroots communities within these developing countries is also expanding in terms of their access to ICTs. If measures are not taken to make ICTs both affordable and easy to use, access to them will be insignificant in developing countries like Nigeria (Adomi, 2006).

The question of digital divide has appeared in library and information science literature frequently as impacting negativity on the provision of library and information services. The digital divide, a disparity in access to ICTs between countries and communities is caused by many factors. They include; inadequate infrastructure, high cost of access, inappropriate or weak policy regimes, inefficiency in the provision of telecommunication network, language divides, and lack of locally created content (Mutula, 2004). The divide creates an environment where the disadvantage groups in society are unable to contribute and benefit from the information age and global communities created by the Internet. In most countries of Sub-Sahara Africa, the high cost of access to telecommunication services, is an impediment to access to ICTs. This is exacerbated by the fact that IT has not effectively been integrated in the development agenda of most countries as reflected in the lack of ICT policies (Mutula, 2004). The question of digital divide phenomenon and its implications for the provision of information services should concern information professionals regarding how it should be addressed. The digital divide, if is not properly addressed, has the negative impact on the provision of information services, under-utilization of information resources in libraries, and information sharing. The diffusion of ICT into Africa is at a snail's speed, such that the gap between the information-rich developed countries and Africa continues to increase everyday. Africa has 13% of the world population, but only 2% of world telephone lines and 1% of Internet connectivity measured in terms of number of Internet hosts and Internet users (Ogunsola, 2005).

The advancement in technology has created so many ICT tools that are necessary and useful in the development process. These new technologies have become central to contemporary societies (Aswalap, 2005). Basic classifications of these modern technologies are:

* Information Technology: uses computers, which have become indispensable in modern societies to process data and to save time. The use of computers is so pervasive to modern development in commerce, education and government among others.

* Telecommunication Technologies: includes telephones-mobile, and broadcasting of radio and television-often through satellite etc.

* Networking Technologies: these includes the Internet, but which has extended to mobile phone technology, satellite communications, and other forms of communication that are still in their infancy. All of these have come to dominate modern society and become the basis for the survival of the modern man. Olubamise (2006) remarked that "there are two issues that are critical to diffuse information technology--access and liberties". Access has to do with making it possible for everyone to use the Internet and other media. In societies where only minorities have telephones, ensuring affordable access to the Internet is a huge challenge. Much of the response would rely on social solutions such as community or public access centers. In developed countries, basic access to Internet is available almost to all, and faster broadband connections are widespread.

Information Technology Policy in Nigeria.

The federal Executive Council approved a national Information Technology (IT) policy in March 2001 with the establishment of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), charged with the implementation responsibility. The policy recognized the private sector as the driving engine of the IT sector. NITDA is to enter in strategic alliance, collaboration and joint venture with the private sector for the actualization of the IT vision which is to make Nigeria an IT capable country as well as using IT as an engine for sustainable development and global competitive. It is also used for education, job creation, wealth creation, and poverty eradication. Emphasis is to be laid on development of national information infrastructure backbone (NIIB) as well as the human resources development (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2001).The National Information Technology Policy has the following general Objectives. It will:

* Ensure that information Technology Resources are readily available to promote efficient national development.

* Guarantee that the country benefits maximally, and contributes meaningfully by providing the global solutions to the challenges of an information age.

* Empower Nigerians to participate in software and IT development.

* To ensure local production and manufacture of IT components in competitive manner.

* Empower the youth on IT skills prepare them for global competitiveness.

* Integrate IT into the main stream of education and training.

* Create IT awareness and ensure universal access in order to promote ICT diffusion in all sectors of our national life.

* Stimulate the private sector to become the driving force IT creativity and enhance productivity and competitiveness.

* Build a mass pool of IT expertise using the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), National Directorates of Employment (NDE) and other platforms as "train the trainer" scheme (TTT) for capacity building.

It is sad to note that Nigeria has not made any headway in terms of implementing the objectives stated above in its National policy on IT. Till date, Nigeria still dependent on foreign countries for importation of computer hardware, software packages, and depending on foreign experts for the technical know-how (Adomi, 2006). Omoigui (2006), stated that in terms of information technology development, South Africa stands in sharp contrast to other Africa countries including Nigeria. It is estimated that there are about 270.000 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in that country. The IT policy has a mission statement that says: "To make Nigeria an IT capable country in Africa and a key player in the Information Society by the year 2005, using IT as the engine for sustainable development and global competitiveness." As stated in the IT policy, by 2005 Nigeria was to become "an IT capable country in Africa." We are now already in 2009; can we say that Nigeria is a capable IT country? To put it plainly, Nigeria is not yet an average ICT country in Africa. The desire is there, the awareness has been created, but the will power to budget sufficient funds to propel the ICT wheel of progress has been lacking. If Nigeria is not yet an average IT country, her university libraries cannot be any better.

Telecommunication Policy in Nigeria

In 1998, the ministry of communications published the maiden edition of the National Policy on Telecommunications. The policy was approved and published three years after its production in 1995. Consequently, at the time of publication, certain prescriptions contained in the policy were outdated, overtaken by events or required further modification, in other to be consistent with new developments and emerging industry trends both locally and internationally. The need for Telecommunications Policy in Nigeria becomes compelling. The former President (Chief Olusagun Obasanjo) approved the National Policy on telecommunications presented by the committee on telecommunications policy for Nigeria and the policy was launched in October 1999 (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2001). The overriding objective of the National Telecommunications Policy is to achieve the modernization and rapid expansion of the telecommunications network and services and social development, and integrate Nigeria internally as well as into global telecommunications environment. Telecommunications services should accordingly be efficient, affordable, reliable and available to all. Some of the short-term objectives of the National Policy on Telecommunications (Federal

Republic of Nigeria, 2001) are;

* To promote widespread access to advance...

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