By: Ali Sabo
Internet connectivity is becoming part and parcel of humans’ lives all over the globe. However, the story in the undeveloped countries, 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. Moreover, the emergence of the covid-19 pandemic has exposed how fragile humans are and their dependence on the services internet provides to their daily lives.
Reports have indicated that only less than 50% of the Nigerian population is connected or has access to the internet. Of this 50%, many do not have the resources to own smartphones or computers that will allow accessing these services due to the high level of poverty ravaging the majority of the country’s population. To ensure more people are connected and have access to internet services in Nigeria, the government, through its communications agencies such as Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agencies (NITDA), have brought 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 the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), whose 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 the 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 centred on training women on digital technology and digital entrepreneurship in northern Nigeria, focusing on Abuja rural communities, Kano and Bauchi states. It, later on, included Jigawa State. The program has achieved tremendous success as the lives of hundreds of young girls and women have been changed and transformed. Many 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 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 the community network project by CITAD, supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through the Association for Progressive Communication in Nigeria, CITAD had set up seven (7) computers in the past centres in two states in Nigeria. The aim was 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 in rural Abuja communities, Jama’are and Itas-Gadau in Bauchi State.
At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need and necessity of connecting everyone with an 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 community 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 policymakers to enact policies and provide the support that could enhance the flourishing of community networks in the country. Due to resource constraints, CITAD piloted some sites in seven communities across three states: Jama’are and Itas in Bauchi State, Kafanchan in Kaduna State, and four sites in the rural communities of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (Tungen Ashere, Dakwa Community, Pasepa and Leleyi Gwari).
Some of the activities carried out by CITAD under this project include training of the community champions in these communities on the need for setting up community network centres in these areas and on advocacy to engage their representatives more effectively; forming a 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. Through the House Committee on ICT, the Nigerian government has drafted a bill that contains provisions on community networks; Itas and Jama’are local governments, both in Bauchi State, have donated a piece of land to CITAD to build community network centres in their communities. In addition, following meetings with CITAD, NCC has indicated that it will develop a policy to guide the development of community networks in the country.
Ali Sabo is the Campaigns and Communications Officer of CITAD and can be reached via his email address: email@example.com or his Twitter handle @a_sabo12.