In this interview with our Editor VICTORIA N. IKEANO, the senior special assistant on information, communication technology (ICT) to Governor Abdullahi A. Sule, MARYAM MUHAMMAD GAJERE, gives an insight into the quiet digital revolution taking place in the state.
Question: What is this Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) agency which is now under the office of the Executive Governor all about? What do you do?
Answer: The Bureau for Information, communication and technology (ICT), was established during the previous administration of Umaru Tanko Almakura by his executive order number 4, establishing an ICT agency which will be saddled with all the responsibilities of IT regulation, the state’s ICT policy, content promotion and many other things that surround the world of ICT. That is why we have need for ICT. When Governor Abdullahi Sule took over the mantle of leadership in Nasarawa state and knowing the importance of ICT in our day to day activities, knowing that for him to implement the policies and programmes of his government he needs ICT tools to do that, that is why he ensured that he empowered the Bureau to go beyond what they had been doing in the past. In the past it concentrated on the E-libraries and the command Centre. When this administration came on board, we expanded the scope to touch on all aspects of ICT; we touch education, we touch health, agriculture, because everywhere, you have what we call e-government and when you have e-government, you are going to have everything electronic in terms of e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, etc. And for you to position Nasarawa state as an agricultural state, you need these ICT tools to make work very effective and efficient.
When you came in you saw a lot of students writing their JAMB examinations. Nasarawa state is the only state that has a state-owned CBT centre where applicants can write their JAMB comfortably without the stress of travelling to other states and the governor is trying his best to see that he replicates what we have here in the Lafia zone to the other two zones, namely Keffi and Akwanga.
Question: Could you throw more light on the concept of e-agriculture?
Answer: Everything about this administration is digital transformation; now that the country is moving from oil and gas to digital economy, Nasarawa state will not be left behind in transitioning to digital economy. The Abdullahi Sule-led administration has partnered with the Central Bank of Nigeria to give some loans to our farmers and these loans will be employed in various agricultural sectors – livestock, crops, poultry, fishing, etc. There is a platform that the state government is trying to create so it will have a data base of all the farmers so that if it wants to give out fertilizers for example, it will give them to the right people, not to marketers or middlemen or fake farmers that would collect them and resell to the real farmers at a higher price. The governor wants to deal with the farmers directly, so that we know them, their problems and be able to provide for them using that platform, that is the platform for e-agriculture. The ministry of agriculture is encouraging mechanized agriculture and creating a platform where farmers can rent agricultural equipment like tractors, etc. This will also create some revenue for the state government. The process of getting the loans from the CBN has gone far, forms have been distributed to most, especially youths so that they will venture into agriculture. We are in the process of collating data now, after which the platform will come on; cooperatives will also be included in the data base.
Question; How can women benefit from this ICT?
Answer: The first thing that the Abdullahi Sule government did was to empower women. The vision of his government is to pull women out of poverty and ICT is another tool for doing that. Women are engaged in trading even at home and ICT can help them market their goods and services. ICT has the right tool to market such products and services by these women. That is why Governor Abdullahi Sule visited NITDA (Nigeria Technological Development Agency) twice for their intervention when the current Minister of Communication and Digital Economy was then its director-general. We visited him and made requests which they responded to. First, they gave us 100 lap tops which we have in our E-libraries and ICT hubs. Secondly, they gave Nasarawa state the hosting right for the NITDA Gender Entrepreneurship programme for the north central zone. This programme trained about 100 women in ICT. They gave them laptops and also some stipends. The training is all about ensuring that women are not left behind in the ICT capacity building training so that they can utilize it to transform their businesses. They were taught digital marketing, both design and development and basic computer training. This training gave them the knowledge of how to create websites to market their business, they know how to use the social media handles to sell and market products.
In terms of empowering the women the government is doing a lot to see that women in Nasarawa State are ICT compliant and leveraging on ICT to transform their lives and curb poverty.
Question: And in the education sector?
Answer: In the area of education, if you may recall the state government flagged off an ICT training scheme for civil servants and also had an arrangement where they were able to obtain loans to buy their own laptops at subsidized rates. Civil servants in the state have undergone a three-month training programme, from October to December, and teachers in the state have started their own in November; they are done with the theory and they are now into the practicals. Aside that, due to the importance Governor Abdullahi Sule attaches to the education sector because a society without quality education would be backward, he is bringing ICT to the educational sector; he wants to catch the them young in terms of ICT knowledge, from primary to secondary. The governor Engr. Abdullahi Sule visited Microsoft in Lagos for a meeting and there were subsequent follow-up meetings here. They are proposing to renovate our schools and digitalizing those schools. Every school is going to have a computer laboratory. The governor stressed that it is not enough to just have computers and the others but that the teachers have to be adequately trained on how to use this equipment so they can impart the knowledge to others and the students, to make it sustainable.
Question: How is the state boosting its internally generated revenue with ICT?
Answer: At the federal level digital economy contributed 12 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). So, you can see digital economy is the solution and the way to go. With regard to increasing the state’s IGR, now that we have full treasury single account (TSA), we now have a central billing system, all revenues are accessed and pass through the central billing system which enables the state government to know what is coming into the treasury and what is going out and allows the government to leverage on other sectors in the state that will add value to the digital economy. The state already has a blueprint called the Nasarawa State Economic Development Strategy (NEEDS) of which ICT is the engine to drive its implementation. The state generates over ten million naira for each session of Unified Joint Admissions Matriculation Board, JAMB examination at its CBT centre. And there are other third party exams that the centre undertakes which also adds a lot of revenue for the state. Also the ICT hubs that the state governor flagged off is another way of increasing the state’s revenue through the digital economy. So the digital economy drive that the federal government is embarking on and which Nasarawa State has keyed into is bringing a lot of returns in terms of revenue generation.
Question: From our discussions so far it appears Nasarawa state would be the hub of ICT soon?
Answer: Yes, Nasarawa state is going to be an ICT hub entirely. From e-governance, e-education, everything is going electronic. This e-governance is going to bring about transparency, accountability, effectiveness in government’s duties. The governor won an award as digital governor. When we participated in the ICT peer review during the National Council on Communication and digital Economy meeting held in Gombe, Nasarawa state was the best state in ICT capacity building and the second best in ICT infrastructure. So, you can see that since Governor Sule came on boad he has not relented in seeing that Nasarawa state becomes a digital state.
Question: How do you see the future of
ICT in Nasarawa State?
Answer: We foresee a digital Nasarawa state in the future that will also leverage on ICT to have a digital economy. Most of the e-government initiatives we have been talking about is what the federal government is also driving at. I remember last year in November, Governor Sule alongside President Mohammadu Buhari flagged off the e-government masterplan during the e-Nigeria conference at Abuja and Nasarawa State was selected as the pilot state to implement e-Nigeria, e-government masterplan across the 36 states of the federation. So, we foresee a digital state with ICT compliant citizens which will bring about accountability, transparency, effectiveness in discharge of government duties and responsibility.
Question: What is your final message?
Answer: Finally, I want to call on all stakeholders – civil servants, philanthropists, everybody – to support the administration of Governor Abdullahi Sule. He is an industrialist, he wants to make Nasarawa state an industrial state, he cannot do that alone. Everybody should join hands to have all hands-on deck to ensure that this administration achieves all the policies and programmes it has streamlined for the benefit of everybody and we are calling on the citizens to be ICT compliant.