by Henry Okelue
While I waited inside a shuttle to take me to the plane that will fly me from Abuja to Lagos about a week before Christmas, a lady walked in quietly and took her place at the back. When we arrived in Lagos, she walked out of the terminal dragging her own luggage.
Many of the people on that flight didn’t know who she was, but I did. She was Omobola Johnson, the Honorable Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria. She carried on without the arrogance that is common among people in government; no retinue of tenders, no visible police orderlies or secret police, nobody prostrating or kneeling, none shoving people aside, not one person struggling to help her walk on air.
So no surprise at how she is carrying on with the assignment of fast tracking the adoption of information technology in government and in the Nigerian society in general. For her, there is a job to be done, and put her back into it she has.
Within two years of the current administration setting up the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology and saddling it with an objective that many concluded was another white elephant project, Mrs. Johnson has doggedly pursued the business of succeeding.
Her brief included supervising a connected Nigeria via ubiquitous broadband access leveraging a national optical fibre backbone and implementing e-Government as a means of enhancing the efficiency and agility of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of government. These objectives are expected to create jobs and transform the country into a knowledge-based society were citizens have access to more information and can do business with government and government with itself electronically.
To achieve these goals, she reached out to the private sector, her previous constituency, and integrated it into the process of crafting a strategy that will eventually bring Nigeria as close as possible to the position other nations in Asia, North America and Europe have reached, with regards to deploying information and communication technology for national development.
Mrs. Johnson has not only shown she is capable of achieving all she has set out to do, but that she can also go the extra mile.
In 2013, she inaugurated the National Broadband Council which culminated in the National Broadband Plan being approved by President Jonathan. The plan maps out a strategy to get broadband internet access to almost every part of Nigeria by 2018. This expected to stimulate further growth in the economy. Aspects of these plan are already in progress.
She also oversaw the launch of the Get-Government-Online (GGO) project. This project is part of a bigger drive to embrace e-Government. With the GGO project, websites belonging to MDAs are being standardised while removing those heinous looking ones that have been a source of embarrassment to government. To date, about 150 websites have been migrated to the GGO’s standard formats.
There is also the Government Services Portal at www.services.gov.ng where all of government’s services have been brought under one roof for easy reach by citizens. This will be supported by a government Single Point of Contact (GSPOC), a call centre that citizens can call into for various needs. This is a standard found in countries like South Korea who are at the forefront of e-Government.
A part of the GGO project is the Government Wide Messaging and Collaboration (GWMC) initiative which now makes it a policy for official email correspondence within the civil service to be done via email accounts with the .gov.ng top level domain. The old practice of using commercial email services like Yahoo and Gmail was a national security concern.
Mrs. Johnson has encouraged more involvement of the Private Sector, OEMs, and international software companies in the Nigerian technology ecosystem. This is to enable cheaper ICT consumables. She has also taken the message of Nigeria’s ICT development to Silicon Valley where she recently addressed major players in the United States. This is expected to encourage venture capitalists to pay more attention to technology entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
She has also continued to actively encourage technology incubation centers and startups.
Mrs. Omobola Johnson is one of the masterstrokes of the Jonathan administration, and remains one of the real shining lights who have continued to be effective and visionary. She seems to be in government to work and leave a legacy.
With someone like her, you are tempted to conclude that there is a realistic hope of Nigeria achieving the mythical vision 20:20:20. It is not all gloom and doom.
– Okelue is an engineer and social commentator