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UN E-Government Survey in the News  
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Odili-Idiagbor: Better Governance Through e-Government
Source: The Guardian, by Victor Odili-Idiagbor, http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/columnist/131008-odili-idiagbor-better-governance-through-e-government
Source Date: Monday, August 26, 2013
Focus: ICT for MDGs
Country: Nigeria
Created: Aug 29, 2013

Opinion: The fact that the United Nations Global e-Government Survey scored Nigeria low comes as a surprise to no one.  What is surprising, however, is how governments continually start off with noble ideas and concepts but always fail woefully at implementation. From engineering to software projects, as we progress through initialization to implementation, as soon as money is earmarked, the projects are doomed.  This continues to happen time and time again but it seems no lessons have been learnt, as we embark on these white elephant projects that don’t materialize. 

   Virtually every project is politicized or self interests override national goals or money embezzled with impunity.  Projects such as the National Identification Card scheme, e-passport, e-procurements, e-health, e-taxation, e-tourism, fight against massive corruption, tackling youth unemployment, electricity generation and distribution, census, launching of satellite into orbit and recently e-government, have all failed at implementation stages. How did we get to this mess? The only thriving project is “e-corruption”. The giant of Africa has indeed fallen and has become the grasshopper of Africa. But hope is not totally lost. 

   e-Government is the use of information and communication technologies (internet, wide area networks, mobile computing, and databases) to facilitate speedy and transparent dissemination of information to her stakeholders – state governments, local governments, organized private sector, development organisations, and religious organisations, etc. It is geared towards providing information to the public as well as her agencies in a most cost effective, accurate and timely fashion.    

   It focuses on service delivery, security, transparency and trust.  Emphasis is on creating a “one-stop shopping” environment for government information and services.  Many governments today have built functional portals to make information accessible to her citizens and at the same time be transparent in their dealings with all. This is not the case with Nigeria.

   Millions, if not billions of naira have been wasted on so-called government portals that are outdated or lack content or display the same information daily. Portals are supposed to be dynamic, storing and pulling data from reliable and updated databases as well as interact with other systems.  Some of the links on these websites are broken and what you see may not be what you get. You wonder if these websites were ever tested before being rolled out. Internet connectivity is so slow and yet very expensive compared to countries like Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya, not to mention South Africa.  How could government portals serve Nigerians when very few can afford internet connectivity? It is much cheaper and more reliable to house one’s server outside the country than locally, given the unpredictable and unreliable nature of the country’s power supply. One may be surprised to learn that most of these so-called government websites are located abroad. How can we as a nation continue to move at a snail speed when smaller African nations have long embraced e-Government?

   A functional e-Government portal would benefit everyone. This could link the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), military/air force, immigration/Customs, healthcare/hospitals, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Road Safety Commission, banks, universities/JAMB, state/local governments, statistics, National Population Commission, with the National Identification Card scheme. 

Would it not be nice for healthcare professionals to share information about their patients? Any doctor, whether located in Abuja, Ibadan or Agbor is able to see your medical history while carrying out diagnosis. The pharmacy system will be able to manage administration and distribution of medicines as well as outpatient clinic system. We cannot achieve better healthcare delivery without e-health.

   e-Police system could be designed for police personnel in the field who need to report accidents and crimes. Police personnel can access live databases of criminals, cars and cases, along with essential police contact details, news and events on PDAs, Internet and even via SMS. They can store real-time data, images (moving or still) and pictures on their handheld devices at the time of an incident. The stored information is submitted online to a central monitoring system for the department to take appropriate action. Any further instructions can be communicated to the officers via SMS, e-mail or GPRS.  The traffic management system will provide invaluable, real-time traffic information in congested cities like Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Abuja.

   If you have ever tried to obtain an international passport from immigration offices in Festac or Ikoyi, you will know the frustration Nigerians go through, especially, if you don’t know the “oga at the top” or refused to patronize touts in uniform. This is after the Federal Government spent billions in building and promoting e-passport.  The entire process is still mundane, time consuming and background checks not conducted apart from collecting fingerprints and taking photographs. Yet, files are still being carried from desk to desk. A fully e-immigration would help maintain databases of residents and visitors, providing instant messages to concerned authorities during emergencies and alerts for expired visas and passports. I was disappointed when the Nigeria High Commission in Ottawa told me there is no way to verify a Nigerian driver’s license from her office because her computers cannot talk to our local drivers/vehicle licensing offices.

   As the 2015 election approaches, politicians are already talking about e-voting without putting the right technologies in place. This will be another project doomed to fail or disenfranchise Nigerians from voting.  We are not ready for this exercise. Let us stop wasting tax payers’ money and focus on building infrastructure and creating jobs which are more important to Nigerians at this time.  INEC should be more transparent by making public registered voters by state, local government areas and cities before elections. We are tired of getting results of elections ever before the election and numbers that do not match registered voters.

   The Nigerian banking sector has really embraced e-banking and there is phenomenal change going on in this industry. One major setback in the sector is government not being able to provide the industry with updated and accurate database of Nigerians. The banks are seriously pushing e-payments and when fully implemented, would make business transactions faster, more reliable and hassle free.

   e-Taxation and revenues will enable tax payers to access personal tax information, read about new laws and make payments online. So many private individuals and small companies do not pay taxes and even when taxes are collected they end up in private hands.  

   The Nigeria Customs needs to reposition itself through the use of complete e-Customs solutions to administer shipping and logistics by allowing submission of applications electronically, calculation of customs duties and automated billing and tracking of customs payments and able to interface with other government agencies and international trading communities.

   According to the Chairman, National Population Commission, Eze Odimegwu, “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1816. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible.  I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute.” Now he wants to adopt a high-tech approach for the 2016 census. This project is doomed to fail.  The rest of the world gets ready at least two years before full implementation. He is asking for N600 billion to conduct this exercise. That money should be channelled into our demography needed for national planning. Let us put an end to this joke of wasting tax payers’ money. The rest of the world has adopted e-census, but we are not ready.

   No nation building can occur without accurate statistics. Statistics coming out of Nigeria are based on post-colonial forecasts or are politically motivated, when we do not even record births and deaths. Most countries post the population of each city as you drive through. 

Some universities and higher institutions have attempted to build information systems to manage students’ records but most of them are not interactive enough or able to interface with government agencies like JAMB, NYSC, National ID Card or banks. Try asking for your transcripts in any of our universities, you will understand the frustration involved. 

Corporate Affairs Commission could streamline most of its operations (incorporation of companies, registration of business names/trustees, conducting searches, etc) through the use of a functional e-CAC that interfaces with other government agencies. 

   The administering of contracts and procurements could be made more transparent through the use of e-contract and e-procurement systems.  

Nigerians have a right to demand accountability from their government to provide accurate and updated information about governance through e-Government portal.

• Odili-Idiagbor is a Middleware IT Consultant based in Ottawa, Canada.

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