The theme of the conference of National Council on Information and Communication is “Information and Communication Management to Foster Service and Democracy”. The inherent wisdom of this theme derives from the fact that our world today is ICT- knowledge driven, and for Nigeria to remain relevant and indeed maintain its position among the comity of nations, we must as a matter of utmost necessity and urgency, begin to think of how to perform even better on the Information and Communications super highway, under a democratic dispensation.
The meeting of National Council on Information and Communications is significant and timely for several reasons. It is the first Meeting of the Council to be held in the tenure of the present Administration. It is also the first Council Meeting following structural adjustments that resulted in the merging of erstwhile Ministries of Information and Communications by the Federal Government, as part of its reform agenda. The emergence of a bigger and more strategic Federal Ministry of Information and Communications has necessitated the re-designating of the Meeting as the National Council on Information and Communications.
Furthermore, is the significant role information and communication access plays in enhancing service delivery, participatory governance and democracy. Coincidentally, it is also the first Meeting the Minister of State and I are attending after our appointment. We hope that the Council will contribute to the Ministry’s Roadmap and Agenda on Information Policy and its direction.
To achieve a harmonious fusion of the erstwhile two ministries, there is the need to devise and evolve a new policy to drive the information and communications sector in line with global perspectives and national objectives. The emergent National Information and Communications Policy should ensure that there is sustenance of the present democratization process in Nigeria through enhanced popular participation in good governance. This policy should ensure universal access to information and modern day communications systems, so as to engender freedom of expression and exchange of information that will lead to social integration, enhanced cultural promotion, economic vibrancy as well as preserve the unity in diversity of our great nation, Nigeria. It is not surprising therefore that both the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Agenda and the Doha Declaration support this idea of universal access to information.
It is pertinent that the new policy, through systematic and effective use of information and communication strategies and organs, should provide support for other national development initiatives and programmes that positively affect the quality of life of Nigerians. State Governments and other stakeholders should therefore take up the challenge to contribute their quota to this emergent policy process and its implementation thereafter.
Essentially, this policy will drive Nigeria’s vision to become one of the 20 global giants by the year 2020, through active participation of all stakeholders. The liberalization of the telecoms industry, dynamics in the information industry and indeed the recent launching of the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NigComSat) provide reasons for a review of the existing policy.
Let me state that our role in this sector is to propose policy options that will yield desired results and make recommendations to government on such critical issues as legislation, fiscal policies and incentives as they affect the information and communication sector. In addition, the recommended policies should not only promote universal access to information but enhance communications infrastructure in every part of Nigeria, as well as undertake overall management and monitoring of government information and usage of radio spectrum in the country.
Most projects in the Ministry have been directed towards improving the Information and Communications industry. This is aimed at ensuring that every Nigerian has access to public service information and is able to communicate as easily as possible. The on-going Rural Telephony Projects is one of the many projects being embarked upon by the Ministry. We urge State Governments to assist in facilitating these projects within their domain. The first phase of the project is almost completed in some locations across the country. The take-off of the second phase will soon commence in earnest.
The same applies in the area of Postal Services. There have been tremendous improvements in the running of our postal services. In line with international trends of provision of global access to Information using latest Communications technology, NIPOST has established Cyber Cafes which are open to the general public. The agency has plans to provide such services in all its Post Offices before long. The Ministry’s Zonal Information Resource Centres located in the six geo-political zones also have Cyber Cafes opened to the general public to complement those in the post offices. I use this opportunity to implore the State Ministries of Information and State-owned media organizations to assist in enlightening the people of their states about these facilities and the great potentials they offer to the general public.
The present administration has resolved that democracy in Nigeria must begin to translate into development. Our people must begin to enjoy the dividends of democracy in earnest. It is imperative for us as managers of Information and Communications to begin to put in place for Nigerians the required infrastructure that would ensure service delivery in the information and communications sector. This is the challenge for us at this meeting.
Our deliberations should focus on fashioning a dynamic action plan for achieving success in the Information and Communications sector. Realistic benchmarks and timelines need to be put in place for the achievement of the critical elements in this sector, and most importantly the Seven-Point Agenda of the Administration.
Our duty and responsibility must therefore hinge on how to attain the goals and objectives of the Seven-Point agenda within the targeted time frames.
I am confident to state that Nigeria is endowed with both human and natural resources required for the attainment of these objectives. The vision 20-2020 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are for us, a critical road map to greatness. We should therefore prepare ourselves through hard work, dedication, value and attitudinal reorientation to meet all challenges before us in order to attain our set goals.
It is also incumbent upon us to carry our youths along in implementing activities of government at every level, particularly activities directed at enhancing their development. It is our responsibility to project our moral values that will help mould the character of our youths. The Broadcast industry both practitioners and regulators, here represented by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON), and the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), have key roles to play in this area through censorship of foreign and local films that breed immorality, terrorism and violent behaviours amongst our youths.
Equally critical is the issue of violence in the Niger Delta region. This should also be a focal point, which this august assembly should look into, with a view to proffering solutions intended to help reverse the current worrisome situation.
Finally, my charge is that all hands must be on deck. As we brain-storm on new policy options and implementation strategies towards achieving success in our mandate, I want to urge us all to put in our best in order to come up with ideas and strategies that will not only ensure greater relevance of the Information / Communications Sector in the socio-economic life of our nation, but equally foster service delivery and deepen democracy in the country.
* This piece is from the address of Hon. John Odey, Minister of Information and Communications at the meeting of National Council on Information and Communications held in Jos, Plateau State.