Monday, November 28, 2005

The Computer For All Nigerians Initiative

Many innovative interventions and initiatives have been designed to bridge digital divide worldwide. With the launching of its first low cost personal computer and Simputer, India is clearly way ahead of the pack of countries that have taken vigorous efforts to increase PC penetration in their respective domains.

Despite being the fastest growing telecommunications market in Africa, and the forage of some indigenous investors- Omatek Computers and Zinox Technologies- into the local production and assembly of computer and its related accessories, Nigeria's PC penetration is at an abysmal low rate of 7 per 1,000 inhabitants, according to data from International Telecommunications Union. The high cost of computer equipment and the grossly under-developed technological base are the major reasons for low PC penetration in Nigeria.

There is a glaring and stong correlation between PC penetration and economic well-being of a nation. The ratio of 7 computers to 1,000 Nigerians is disturbing and embarrassing to say the least. So, what are the plans and strategies of the government to narrow the digital gap in the Nigeria? I've often wondered. There is indeed a plan in the making as I later found out. As I understand, preparations are at the final stages on the Computers for All Nigerians Initiative, a homegrown intervention to bridge the digital divide in Nigeria.

The Computers for All Nigerians Initiatives (CANI) is a government-private sector collaboration aimed at increasing PC penetration in Nigeria, thus creating a more computer-literate workforce. The initiative is also expected to stimulate the Information and Communication Technology sector particularly in hardware and software development. The program is scheduled for implementation sometime in 2006.

Despite the drought of information on this program in the Nigerian mainstream media, Grandiose Parlor is able to discern that private and public sector employees are expected to be the beneficiary of the 500,000 PC units slated for the first phase of the initiative.

It is expected that some form of insurance and credit will be offered to interested employees. According to reliable sources, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Intel, Microsoft and some local-based ICT firms will play major roles in this program. In fact, Microsoft may have agreed to some form of price discount, according to Technology Times.

The Computers for All Nigerians Initiative is the Nigerian model of Government Assisted PC Purchase Program (GAPP). Many countries worldwide have implemented GAPPs- usually through incentives driven models- to boost their PC penetration, productivity levels and economies of . Intel, a frontrunner in GAPP implementation, offers some description of some commonly used GAPP models on it website.

The implementation of CANI will be a much-awaited step in the right direction for Nigeria, and it is commendable. However, GAPPs fail and have failed in some instances becuase of factors relating to poor planning and coordination between policy makers and business leaders. Other troubling issues such as the incessant power outage, low Internet uptake, and waivers on import duty of computer equipment and software must be addressed.

The role of Open Source Software in the scheme of things is not clearly discernable from the information at my disposal. Likewise, the payment structure and issues relating to credit facilities since Nigeria seriously lacks fully functional credit bureau services.

The issue of OSS is particularly relevant given the high cost of computer equipment and GAPPs. “Concerns about cost—along with requirements for openness, self control, and security—have led to the linking of GAPPs with open source software (OSS)”, writes Mark Stone in his report on Government-Assisted PC Programs and Open Source Software. See also GP’s article on Ubuntu-Linux, an example of OSS. Microsoft, one of the major payers in CANI, has clearly stated its aversion to OSS. Juxtaposed on all these is the endemic problem of corruption and the total disregard for transparency and ethics in the Nigerian bureaucracy.

As events begin to unfold in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how these issues are addressed and what direction CANI takes Nigeria.