CONNECTING THE UNCONNECTED: HOW CITAD IS BRIDGING DIGITAL DIVIDE IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
ByAli Sabo Opinion
Internet connectivity is becoming part and parcel of humans’ lives all over the globe, but the story in the undeveloped countries most especially those living in the African continent is different and not encouraging. Millions of people in Africa are finding it difficult to access this network and even in places where these networks exist most of the time it’s inefficient and costly. The emergence of covid19 pandemics has exposed how fragile humans are and their dependence on the services the internet provides to their daily lives. Reports have indicated that only less than 50% of the Nigerian population are connected or have access to the internet. Of this 50% many do not have the resources to own smartphones or computers that will give the opportunity to access these services due to the high level of poverty ravaging the majority of the country’s population. To ensure more people are being connected and have access to internet services in Nigeria, government through its communications agencies such as Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agencies (NITDA) have bring about many programs such as Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and provide free computers and internet services to some communities and academic institutions in the country.
Non-profit organizations such as Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) whose their main focus is using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to empower citizens have initiated many programs that will liberate Nigerian people from this digital “darkness” and make the country one of the developed nations in terms of internet connectivity and other areas of human development as internet gives people ample opportunities in their academic pursuit, businesses and in the health care sector, among others.
To ensure no one is left behind in the process, CITAD in 2016 launched the Digital Livelihood program which centered on the training women on digital technology and digital entrepreneurship in northern Nigeria with focus on Abuja rural communities, Kano and Bauchi States, it later on included Jigawa State. The program has achieved tremendous success as lives of hundreds of young girls and women have been changed and transformed, many of the trained girls have now become digital entrepreneurs; graphic designing, web designers, online marketers etc. In an interview in one of the Nigerian Newspapers, one of the beneficiaries, Sadiya Danyaro stated that the training “has drastically changed her life and made her to become an employer rather than a job seeker. She also described the training as the turning point of discovering her passion and dream”.
Before the commencement of community network project by CITAD which is being supported by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through Association for Progressive Communication in Nigeria, CITAD has in the past set up seven (7) computer centers in two states in Nigeria to ease internet access to these underserved and neglected communities in terms of internet connectivity. The communities are Tungan Ashere, Dakwa Community, Pasepa, Gaube and Leleyi Gwari all in rural Abuja communities, Jama’are and Itas-Gadau in Bauchi State.
At the peak of Covid19 pandemic which highlighted the need and necessity of connecting everyone with affordable and efficient internet connection, the community network project was launched by APC with support of FCDO in three continents; Africa, Asia and Latin America and championed by CITAD in Nigeria. Community networks are telecommunications infrastructure deployed and operated by local groups to meet their own communication needs and also a communications infrastructure, designed and erected to be managed for use by local communities. This communication needs can be voice, data, etc. and can be a point of convergence for communities to come together to address their common community problems.
This initiative is aimed at enhancing the capacity of communities to design, deploy and manage community networks to meet their communication needs while at the same time engaging regulators and other relevant policy makers to enact policies and provide support that could enhance the flourishing of community networks in the country. Due to resource constraint CITAD piloted some sites in seven communities across three states namely Jama’are and Itas in Bauchi State, Kafanchan in Kaduna State and four sites in rural community of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (Tungen Ashere, Dakwa Community, Pasepa and Leleyi Gwari). Some of the activities carried out by CITAD under this project are: training of the community campions in these communities on the need for setting up community network centers in these areas and on advocacy in order to engage their representatives more effectively, forming community network advisory committee which consists of individuals from Civil society Organizations, ICT sector, Government and members of the communities, high level engagements with government (NCC and NITDA), engagement with House of Representatives and championing discussions on designing policies on community network in Nigeria.
So far with persistent engagements and advocacies visits by CITAD progress on setting up community networks in Nigeria has been made. The Nigerian government through the House Committee on ICT has drafted a bill which contains provisions on community networks, Itas and Jama’are local governments, both in Bauchi States have donated a piece of land each to CITAD to build community network centers in their communities. NCC has following meetings with CITAD given indication that it will develop a policy to guide the development of community networks in the country.