INSIGHT INTO DIGITAL GOVERNNACE BY OKEZIE IKPEAZU PhD, GOVERNOR OF ABIA STATE, NIGERIA AT THE TRANSFORM AFRICA SUMMIT HOLDING AT KIGALI CONVENTION CENTRE, KIGALI RWANDA.
Digital governance has become a trending trajectory globally, and is core to most processes and has been pushed up the contemporary corporate agenda. Countries like Denmark and Estonia have pushed the conversation to a very high level, which I think the rest of us developing countries should emulate. Many governance processes in the west have adapted perfectly to technology and innovations.
The Gaps in Africa
However, in Africa digital governance is yet to take roots in bridging gaps in the governance processes and providing solutions to developmental challenges. Africa is yet to leverage advancement in the digital space to resolve complex governance, human and developmental issues ranging from leadership, education, health, infrastructure, communication, planning.
Human endeavor in Africa is impinged by several factors like wars, poverty/hunger, poor education, lack of infrastructure etc. The challenge for Africa today therefore is how to use technology to facilitate human activity and interaction to make life easier for her citizens, by creating robust digital platforms and broadband across cities and communities to create solutions in various sectors, health, economy, infrastructure, etc.
There seem to be a glimmer of hope as there still exits greater opportunities for Africa to make a mark in technology. Today, African youths have shown serious enthusiasm in the global digital space. I feel strongly that this is the time for Africa to rise to the occasion, leveraging all the advantages of the time. Current statistics puts Africa as a place with the fastest growth in social media usage. The young population of Africa presents a great advantage that can give us a leap push in our digital journey.
My preferred strategies for Africa will be to;
- Leverage available milestones and opportunities like existing global tech advancements, local tele-density, technological enthusiasm and young population Africa still make a mark technologically.
- Adapt these existing milestones to develop homegrown technological solutions to our myraids of challenges.
E-Governance in Abia, Nigeria
Abia State is one of the oil producing states in Nigeria, though known better as the centre of Trade, commerce and SMEs in Nigeria. For us in Abia we are reinforcing some development enablers to become the real drivers of socioeconomic growth. We believe that e-governance is nothing more than creating the enabling environment for government and private sector to work together, creating solutions for everyday challenges, by leveraging existing technologies. Our E-governance strategy has four primary delivery tracks namely: Government-to-Customer (G2C); Government-to-Business (G2B); Government-to-Government (G2G); and Government-to-Employee (G2E). Sometimes our processes also provide Business-to-business (B2B) support services.
Running lean and efficient governments is now the way to go globally and we are working very strongly to use technological tools to make our government services more efficient, smart, transparent and cost effective as well as increasing our revenues through;
- Automated wage bill and Register (biometric) Management, aimed at reducing cost of governance and enhance efficiency in service delivery. After one year of implementation, we saved about 30% of recurrent expenditure.
- E-Tax/Payment Systems and E-Land Administration that has driven up government revenue by over 20%.
We are in strong partnership with international development organizations to deepen digital development in our space. Recently, the Ford Foundation sponsored an ICT Hackathon, which threw up 3 winners whose technologies are providing solutions for some of the socioeconomic needs including the promotion of Made in Aba products. Goggle, through its digital skills for Africa have trained more than 36,000 young Abians in the last two years. In the last one month Facebook launched its boost your business (BYB) with Facebook project to train 5000 SMEs in Abia through its local partners.
Digital Drivers of Socioeconomic Development in the Short and Medium Term
As noted above, there is the need to retool our people and help deepen understanding of rudimentary appreciation of not just e-governance issues but the entire gamut of digitalization. This led us to engage an Australian based NGO, Precious Kids International that has worked with our public primary school system to embed computer knowledge in our school curriculum at the same time trained 2000 primary school teachers in the use of ICT for quality and contemporary teaching on the other hand exposing our children to a world of new opportunities which the digital age offers. Our goal is to create a new generation of ICT savvy and tech stars. By December 2017, we had successfully institutionalized the programme by establishing an Abia Continuing Teacher Training Centre.
Our Tele Health Initiative
Universal health coverage is one of the bane of Africa societies, leveraging existing technology and the huge tele-density in Nigeria; we have built a platform for digital Tele-health system known as dial-a-doc-direct project. This project links all the 292 ward PHCs in our rural communities to a medical call centre where e-consulting, e-diagnosis, e-prescription and e-referral system has shortened the response and service delivery time and cost.
E-emergency, an app developed by a young girl in my state Chioma Nwakanma which won of the goggle startup weekend events for Middle East and Africa, links emergency cases to the nearest health care centre or provider thereby reducing deaths from such cases.
Globally, one area technology has created robust economic activity is in e-commerce. Abia is known as the SME hub of Nigeria, our drive for promotion of Made in Aba goods produced by over 1 million entrepreneurs in Aba, has created several private sector led e-vendors and e-commerce sites/platforms. Many young people leveraging exiting brands, platform and technologies have created sales, marketing and branding solutions resulting in increase sales, job creation and increase in state’s IGR. Other digital solutions like digital printing and automation are improving quality of products, enhancing efficiency and quantity of products.
The Startup Abia Project
We are building a strong tech startup ecosystem to help grow the existing SMEs, which will deepen our e-commerce activities, create jobs for our youths and broaden digitalization in our state. Using technologies built by our young dynamic tech experts in our tech ecosystem we are providing solutions to several sectorial issues in education, agriculture, Fintech (e-payment platforms), logistics, entertainment, transportation etc.
Going forward we intend to;
- Run intensive tech training 10,000 developers, we see the gap in global tech development market and we are preparing our youths for the opportunities.
- Provide world class co-working, innovation and incubation hubs where our youths will ideate, innovate and be incubated.
- Partner with cooperates on open innovation projects like Hackathons to build solutions.
- Invest in high-speed Internet broadband. We shall enhance ease of acquiring right of way by tech companies to deepen technology penetration across our communities to broadband access.
- Work with local and global incubators, investors, accelerators and tech companies to deepen our tech ecosystem, hence making Abia a tech destination for growing startups.
With a scope that is both deep seating and far-reaching, our models are simple, uncomplicated, our results visible and measurable; our mission is simple because our vision is clear. Beyond universal healthcare for all Abians, with ICT, we are proffering sustainable solutions to most of our challenges. The benefits of ICT in processes of governance are immense, significant and evolving. We are currently witnessing a technological ‘insurgency’ in Africa that is fundamentally altering the way we live, think, work, and relate to one another. In scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation is unlike anything we have experienced before. Not everyone sees that leadership is becoming an entirely different ‘sport’, as the core of governance is swiftly being anchored on data and digitalization, and consequently, the winners and losers in this emerging environment will be determined by their understanding of technology.