Rural Information Technology Centers in Nigeria

In the ICT4D field, I think we have a tendency to focus largely on what NGOs, government agencies, and other aid organizations are doing for under-served countries.  While these groups obviously do contribute to and carry out countless tremendous development projects and programs, I think we tend to overlook the projects that developing countries are carrying out for themselves. 

One example of a government working toward ICT4D goals is in Nigeria, where the government formed a distinct department for ICT4D programs, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), in 2001.  This agency works solely toward the “transformation of Nigeria into an IT driven economy for global competitiveness through a faithful and creative implementation of an IT policy for Nigeria,” as it says in its mission statement.

The agency is currently undertaking several development initiatives, and numerous other programs are currently in the works, to be implemented soon.  I think that one of NITDA’s current programs, the Rural Information Technology Centers Project (RITC), is making and will continue to make great differences to the Nigerian people it affects.  The project was conceived and stated in 2010 at E-Nigeria 2010, a development summit in Abuja, and in one of the resulting reports, National e-Strategies for Development, Global Status and Perspectives, 2010, in which NITDA and other government agencies announced their commitment to its undertaking (as well as several other projects).  Earlier this month, on April 6, NITDA reaffirmed its commitment to the project.

The RITC Project aims to establish RITCs in rural or otherwise under-served areas where internet and phone services are limited or even non-existent.  NITDA works with a private local telecommunications and internet provider, Sham, to establish the centers.

The centers give previously under-served Nigerians opportunities to do much more than just surf the web.  By having an RITC in a close, safe, and convenient location, they can look for and apply for jobs, use ATMs, email or phone family and friends, access information about news or weather (etc.), communicate and collaborate with people from other cities or villages, and more.  NITDA and Sham are currently working to enable the centers to also provide e-learning, e-bill paying, e-voting, and a system for emergency calling in case of an accident.  Another stated benefit of the RITCs is their ability to help empower area youth because they provide an outlet for expression, as we saw in Egypt last year, for example, in the revolution that was largely started and sustained through internet communication. (Not that the NITDA and the Nigerian government are hoping to trigger a revolution, of course, but the kind of empowerment that e-learning, e-voting, and e-communication can provide, especially to youths, would be extremely helpful in advancing countless development goals if the rest of the government is functioning transparently and fairly.)

Performance indicators have been put in place in order to monitor the efficacy of the program.  Other government agencies and private organizations will also conduct independent inspections of the RITCs’ effects on ICTs, empowerment, and development in Nigeria as a whole.  Some are worried that, depending on where and how the centers are established, the project could actually widen Nigeria’s technology divide by making access easier for some lucky areas but leaving other areas cut off.  I do see how this could become a problem, especially if politics become involved in the process of determining locations and capabilities.  However, I do think that based on the problem, program plan, and checks on power and effectiveness, NITDA’s RITC program has a huge likelihood of success.

E-centers have been talked about before, and they will be talked about again.  I think this RITC program is unique, though, because of the wide variety of areas it intends to help (not just in communication, but in education, finance, and politics, as some examples).  NITDA and the government in general also seem extremely committed to the checks and inspections regarding the RITCs’ efficacy and helpfulness and to making sure the centers and their establishment are not being abused or used as political tools.  I think this commitment is a good sign that the project will be taken seriously by the government and will be a real source of empowerment for the country.  And of course, the fact that this project was envisioned and implemented by NITDA itself is, to me, a great indicator of Nigeria’s commitment to taking responsibility for its own development goals.  I look forward to seeing the program’s progress as more RITCs are established and put into use, and I hope for and expect its success.

NITDA website
NITDA reports
NITDA ongoing projects
NITDA ICT4D strategy
Article: Nigeria ICT4D plan implementation
Article: Nitda Launches RITC
Article: Nitda reaffirms commitment to IT development
Article: Nitda tasks Nigerian army

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