Otunba ëDele Ajayi-Smith is the Founder President and CEO of the African Citizens Development Foundation, ACDF. The foundation focuses on the development of African citizens involved in agriculture and on quality education for the young to train the regionís future leaders. The ACDF has two colleges in Nigeria and an annex in Porto-novo, Republic of Benin, for French language development as a tool for communication and international connection. The Nigerian Federal Government has offered ACDF four of its 102 Unity Schools to serve as a School Management Organisation, SMO. Mr Ajayi-Smith was the Managing Director of Capital Preservative Limited and Chairman of the Engineering and Repairs Trade Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce. Mr Ajayi-Smith is a chartered Manager and Member of the Institute of Directors, MIoD, London, a Member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, MNIM, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, FCMA and a Fellow of the Certified Institute of Cost Management, FCCM.
In Africa, not so long ago, it took weeks to communicate with distant family members or business associates. ICT has changed this. ICT is becoming a major source of income, replacing the oil sector. Mobile telephones now reach into Africaís remotest corners bringing news from distant family members and opening new possibilities for the growth of Africaís economy and its population. Telecommunications have helped reduce corruption in government and bring innumerable social, health, educational and economic benefits to the region.
Information and communication technology, ICT, has linked the entire globe so that every voice can be heard. In the í90s, however, some of these technologies were hardly available even in many of the developed countries of the north. Today, ICT is sweeping the world and bringing unprecedented change to human development - socially, economically, politically and even spiritually. Even the most remote rural areas of many African countries are now feeling the sweeping changes. Gone are the days when it took weeks to communicate with family members and business associates situated in other parts of the world. The bureaucratic propensity of postal and telecommunications departments in many African countries to cause incalculable pain and agony has recently gone through compulsory cleansing driven by newly available and affordable ICT. I have an absolute conviction that ICT is a ëTool of Judgmentí of the new millennium. I do not just think this; I am convinced it is so. It is a tsunami, a tidal wave sweeping away all forms of underdevelopment and exposing the factors militating against human development. Nigeria, the most appropriate case study in Africa, is behind in ICT development compared to some of its African neighbours, who have been making progress since the past decade. Indiscipline and corruption prevented its ëtake-offí until early 2000. The Nigeria Telecommunication Company was an embarrassing slipped-cog in the wheel of information and communication. This held back general development tremendously. The lack of adequate communication and information technology infrastructures stunted our industrial growth. Many foreign partners were unwilling to do business with Nigerians given the lack of effective communications. The belief, then, was that telephone was not for the common citizen but for societyís most privileged members. This belief was promoted by the corruption that fostered and sustained poverty in the society and led to all forms of sharp practices in the communication sector, hampering the development of the communication and information systems for many decades. Several efforts by the government to address the problems through privatisation failed until the recent, irresistible, winds of change cleared the path to the ICT sectorís development. Nigeria has suddenly become the biggest emerging market in Africa and one of the most rapidly growing in the world. Of late, Nigeria has chosen to swim along the path to development and redeem its years of stagnation by launching a communication satellite. The NIGCOMSAT-1 is a super-hybrid geo-stationary craft with 40 transponders, 28 of which are currently active. It is amazing that Nigeria, which woke up so late, is now becoming a leader within Africa. Not even the prevailing culture of indiscipline and corruption has been able to impede the change. The technological revolution in Africa has commenced; it has come to stay and ensure sustainable human development. ICT has contributed tremendously to the fight against corruption. It has exposed the errors of past decades, bringing knowledge and light to every activity and is gradually reducing the impact of the corruption, which for the greater part of the past century had sustained poverty and the uneven distribution of national wealth. ICT is bringing knowledge to the poor and vulnerable citizens. The Internet and email inexpensively serve the poor and the rural dwellers; they have helped to accelerate growth and job creation and will eventually help Africa realise its Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. As a ëdevelopment practitionerí I see a future for ICT in Nigeria where the present instability, used by some for illicit gain, will be controlled by law and regulation. This will allow the sector to flourish and help bring peace, prosperity and knowledge to the region. ICT will become increasingly effective as a way to promote transparency, reform and efficiency in the government, and spread e-learning, e-commerce, tele-medicine, rural telephony and the like throughout the country. ICT will become a major source of income, replacing the oil sector - the current ëresource of conflictí - and its destructive effects. Hopefully, Nigeriaís and other African governments will rise to the occasion and bring effective and friendly rule of law to sub-Saharan Africa. This will stimulate changes to enrich and better Africaís societies and cultures. A revolution in regional development is needed to promote sustainable human development. Many parts of Africa resisted technology in the 1960s and 1970s. The prevailing culture lacked discipline and individual greed and widespread disorderliness made room for corruption, which increased poverty and eventually caused conflicts throughout the country. This left most people insecure with regard to their life and property. Nigeria was increasingly engulfed and enmeshed by these conflicts throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Given the size of the country, the advent of globalisation in Nigeria during this period spread its problems to the surrounding countries, if not all countries within the continent and beyond. Globalisation and ICT as a driving force are fast destroying the rigid resistance of the past. The hue and cry that greeted globalisation is no longer tenable. Since all the protesters have accepted the goodies that emanated from globalisation and used them to help themselves, especially the benefits of ICT that facilitate growth and development, they must also accept some of the inevitable disadvantages. ICT has exposed deals that might have remained secret in past times. Examples of which include the Enron scandal, the recent Cadbury (Nigeria) saga and, most notably, the discoveries that toppled ex-World Bank President Mr Paul Wolfowitz. These might have forever remained secret, but todayís powerful information and communication technology brings everything to light, to the court of world opinion the judgment of which finally toppled the powers that be. The darkness of the past is ceding to the light of the ICT disseminated information that is fostering human development throughout the world and changing the destiny of the African continent. Towards the end of the past century, the fact that more than 80 per cent of the people in developing countries were illiterate was of great concern, since the situation seemed all but irreversible. The emergence of ICT, however, and its use as a tool for distance learning has brought some encouraging news. In some of Africaís most remote communities, thanks to ICT and distance learning, citizens are learning to read and write and contributing to local development. ICT is helping to unfold the latent abilities of citizens, communities, countries and regions in less developed regions of the world. Rural telephony is spreading like wildfire in some of the most remote communities in Africa. Even very old people are becoming more literate and learning to use, and learning through, ICT. Many of them now use email and visit Internet cafÈs to send messages to their children. Some senior citizens even appreciate the features of more advanced mobile handsets and demand functions that facilitate their communications. Nowadays, ICT routinely helps families spread throughout the country and the region to keep in touch. In the past, whenever a family member moved to another region, it might be months or a lifetime before they had the time, the money and the ability to face the risks of travelling to see their friends or family. In the past, Nigeriaís Post and Telecommunication department often took as long as three months to deliver a letter within the country; there was even a case of a letter delivered after ten years. In some cases, envelopes had been opened and pilfered and the contents were missing. With ICT, the mails have been brought under control; you can now track the movement of your mail on the computer. The mail system lets you know when your letter reaches its destination and who signed for the delivery. The price of these already affordable new services will continue to drop from year to year. ICT is the driver of change offering the poor and hitherto vulnerable citizens access to the services and knowledge that can change their destiny.