Until now, not much was known about Sokoto’s huge investment in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. But that situation changed when it defeated 35 other states in the country to win the prestigious award of Best State in e-Governance at the 2016 E-Nigeria Expo and Conference. The award, instituted by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), recognises and promotes excellence in governance through ICT.
The assessment criteria for the highly competitive award include capacity building in the sector, generation of employment opportunities, improved education and healthcare services using ICT, operational efficiency of ICT tools, self-help services, among others.
E-governance is regarded as the ICT-enabled route to achieving good governance. It integrates people, processes, information, and technology in the service of governance initiatives. The expected benefits have led to increase in the efficiency of government operations, strengthening democracy, enhancing transparency, and providing better services to citizens and businesses.
The vision of e-government is the optimization of services so that government can achieve its goals. When Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal took over the mantle of leadership in Sokoto State in May 2015, he outlined the ‘Government ICT Strategy’ which aimed to ensure that, in a dynamic technology environment, it can achieve the government’s plan of an ICT-enabled transformation of public services of the state.
The ICT Strategy provided an opportunity of benefitting from several emerging game-changing trends that support better public service by putting citizens and public institutions at the centre of design and delivery of digital services.
The Government ICT Strategy 2015 has three focal areas: Enhancing Citizen Awareness about ICT; Applying ICT in public sector transformation; and Partnerships with the private sector and other stakeholders to deepen application of ICT in the state. The success of the strategy has so far led agencies to collaborate with one another and with vendors to deliver better public services to the people of Sokoto.
In practical terms, to achieve the aims and objectives of the government’s e-strategy, Tambuwal revived the State ICT Directorate and made it a parastatal under the Ministry of Science and Technology. The Directorate has helped to coordinate and spearhead transformation of the state’s ICT landscape. To demonstrate government’s commitment to the sector, the ICT Directorate was allocated the sum of N1.1 billion for its operations in the 2016 budget. This amount is staggering considering the fact that only N80m was allocated to the Directorate in the preceding year.
Realising the importance of social media to today’s governance strategy, Tambuwal, upon assumption of office, created a Social Media Unit domiciled in his office. The new unit, which operates closely with the office of the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, is enjoying the same privileges as the (traditional) media crew attached to the Government House. The unit coordinates activities of all government-assisted online groups, and interacts, on behalf of the government, with interested persons and groups seeking information about government’s policies and programmes.
Tambuwal had made it clear that he would continue to explore different avenues to widen interaction with special groups, especially the youths. “Adequate training will be organised for the youths to equip them with the latest knowledge in online information management. By the creation of this Unit, we hope to engage our youths and also get their inputs in the running of the government. Our youths played critical roles during the campaigns to mobilise our people for the task ahead. We want them to do more by offering quality suggestions on their vision for Sokoto State,” the governor had said while announcing the creation of the new unit. Buoyed by the success of the unit, the government later gave approval for the integration of Social Media Units into all MDAs to effectively publicise government activities.
In March 2016, Sokoto became one of two states to represent Nigeria at the Smart Cities Program in Washington DC, USA, which was organized jointly by the United States Government and Government of Nigeria through NIST and NITDA.
Widening the scope of the application of information technology in governance saw the state deploy ICT in the accreditation of all its students schooling abroad, thereby modernising record keeping at the State Scholarship Board. This ensured massive savings of public funds. The focus of e-governance also led to the provision of computer facilities in all tertiary institutions, and select primary and secondary schools to serve as pilot centres for ICT education. This is not forgetting the building of Computer Based Test Centres (CBT) in the three senatorial zones for students writing JAMB and other public officials writing promotion examinations.
Government has made public commitment to support entrepreneurs in the ICT sector. Once the policy is implemented, knowledge will be enhanced, while start-ups will benefit from new investment to develop their expertise.
Another important project that will come on stream in 2017 is the world class Data Analysis Centre for the state Ministry of Health. The centre will be used in tracking and analysis of health-related data in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States.
The government is not relenting in efforts to deepen application of ICT in all public endeavours. Recently, it announced that it is working with the Federal Government to develop the sector. Briefing reporters after a meeting with the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, Tambuwal said the state government will leverage on the modest achievements recorded in the ICT sector in the last one year, and welcomed the opportunity to partner the Federal Government for the benefit of the state. He said his administration has “extensively applied ICT in various spheres of governance,” and will continue to do so because the new method enhances good governance and helps in tackling corruption at all levels.
No doubt, use of modern day technologies such as medical treatment databases, cell phones to improve livelihoods, and computers to enable citizens compete for online jobs in the global market, will continue to enrich the lives of the people in many ways. The example set by Sokoto is that governments can become closer to its people through the use of information technology and communications, thereby increasing efficiency and helping to make their lives better.
*Imam writes from Sokoto and is on Twitter @imamdimam