The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta has identified digital poverty as one of the key factors that has hampered the rapid industrialisation of the nation.
Presenting a paper with the theme “Mainstreaming ICT for poverty reduction in Nigeria” during the Senior Executive Course (SEC) at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, he described ICTs as enablers of other developmental efforts and infrastructure required for sustainable development, saying only a banquet of strategies duly implemented could attempt to resolve the global menace of poverty. He added that ICT is not only a game changer, but also a revolution.
Danbatta said: “The poverty level in Nigeria is not a true reflection of our population size, natural and environmental endowments. This is because the poverty level in the country contradicts the country’s immense wealth.
A large percentage of the people wallow in absolute poverty with no food, clothing or shelter.”
According to him, “In Nigeria, ICTs must be considered a critical key driver for social development and economic growth. To stimulate the Nigerian economy particularly in production, agriculture and intellectual property, we should aim to improve ICT penetration in both mobile telephony and broadband services to all parts of the country no matter how remote.
“The target should be increased ICT interaction and usage in agriculture, health, trade, finance, insurance and transport. This would automatically affect the nation’s GDP, improve the quality of life, reduce dependency on forex and improve the value of the naira.”
The NCC boss noted that the challenge encountered by developing nations was no longer poverty in its traditional sense, but a lack of access to ICT tools and the vast potentials derivable from ICT.
Defining information and digital poverty as the lack of access to the internet in the developing world, he asserted that “digital poverty is the lack of means with which to access ICTs, the lack of skills to use the ICTs, and inadequate information about the usefulness of ICTs”, pointing out that “digital poverty thus incorporates a demand component (the service cannot be afforded), a capability dimension (the skills to use the service are not available), and a supply component (the infrastructure to deliver the service is not in place)”
Danbatta said the challenge for the poor was inability to access information due to inadequate infrastructure, ignorance or illiteracy, adding the availability of information sources for the poor should be of great concern if poverty was to be reduced.
“Nigeria like most developing nations is not enjoying the full benefits of the ICT revolution due to inadequate telecommunication infrastructure, capacity to maintain existing infrastructure, policies for equitable public participation as producers and consumers of information and knowledge,” he stated.
He urged the Federal Government to eliminate poverty in the society by providing the necessary infrastructure to promote access to information by bridging the digital divide in the nation.
He added: “For most developing countries, particularly those with large populations, inadequate infrastructure has made it difficult to participate as equal partners in the worldwide enterprise of knowledge production and dissemination. This portends an unequal distribution of access, resources and opportunities in this new economy. To avert the birth of a new type of poverty (information poverty), the ICT gap (digital divide) between the developed and developing nations must be bridged.”
The acting director-general of NITDA, Dr Vincent Olatunji, in his remarks, described ICT as an enabler that takes the society out of poverty.
Olatunji who was represented by the director of Software and Outsourcing, NITDA, Mr. Christopher Okeke, said: “ICT is not a magic bullet for poverty reduction rather it is an enabler to take a society out of poverty,” pointing out that any society without ICT would continue to be undeveloped.