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Editorial News of Thursday, 4 February 2021

Source: thenationonlineng.net

The E- governance imperative

The photo used to illustrate the story The photo used to illustrate the story

Without doubt, Nigeria has the fastest growing information and communication technology market in Africa particularly financial technology (FinTech), yet the country is still ranked low in the provision of e-governance services to its citizens. The penetration of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has changed the way humans interact within society and is even central to public sector operations and administration in many countries. Therefore, it is only imperative for Nigeria to adopt digital innovation and fall in line and also get involved adequately.

Many countries and more and more government agencies around the world are turning to electronic methods to deliver services and communicate with citizens, Nigeria should not be an exception. With a high population and a forecast of 400million by the year 2050 according to  Worldometer, it is apparent that digital application in national planning will be inevitable for the country. More so, infrastructures are likely to be overstretched without a reliable data-driven decision-making system, and adequate scientific projections. Consequently, e-governance and the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in government operations is necessary, to achieve an increase in the outreach of government services to the populace.

No doubt, e-governance is drawing significant attention especially in government administration, businesses, and other service organizations. Governments worldwide continue to adopt ICT just as the expansion of e-business and e-commerce technologies in the private sector are growing as the new normal, thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID19) and the rapid rise in the usage of the internet and digitization.

It is important to stress that no meaningful government can improve the lives and livelihood of its citizens without a reliable citizens’ data and a national database portal. For instance, the government cannot adequately provide social infrastructures without adequately knowing how many people in the country, or provide school infrastructure without children’s data need or know the numbers of cars/users or number of unemployed youths or even the unbanked and illiteracy levels in the country.

The events in the country in recent times such as the implementation of COVID-19 palliatives, social interventions, and the linkage of National Identification Number (NIN) to citizens’ mobile phone numbers have been chaotic, stressful, and even risky amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For the NIN registration, it will be a herculean task to meet the set deadline because it took only 42 million out of the 200 million population 10 years to be captured into the country’s National Identity Database, according to the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz. How realistic will it then be to have over 150 million population registered within a time frame of two months deadline?

The NIMC-DG also asserts that his commission was only able to successfully harmonize 14 million Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) with National Identity Numbers (NIN) nationwide within this period. Sincerely, the required scientific method to adopt before any data harmonization can be meaningful and reliable is to conduct a national survey and the way to go is to have a CENSUS. The issue of data management and national identity starts with having a fair idea of what the population is and a reliable demographic that can be relied upon. Currently, Nigeria has a high number of unbanked citizens without bank verification numbers (BVN), voters’ cards, driver’s license or international passport. Simply put, a large number of Nigerians are without any of these mentioned forms of identification and this is a huge risk to national development and planning.

Therefore, it is a clear that to be able to govern with any degree of meaningful impact, the government needs to be able to know and be able to identify not only its citizens but all other people living within its borders. As it is, the national identification number registration alone cannot adequately achieve this without formally having a national census and residents survey. It is expedient for the government to consider e-governance policy particularly the e-citizen portal, which will allow citizens and businesses to access all government services in the country.

Thus, it is beyond doubt that that implementation of national database portal is imperative and crucial for national development. More so e-governance can smoothen the working procedure of government and also reduce crime and insecurity in the country, due to the availability of intelligence and information for government to use from time to time. If well managed, it will be extremely useful in administrative, legislative and judicial agencies (including both central and local governments). If e-governance is implemented it will help with having the right government regulations in place and in developmental policies to fix or alleviate, social issues such as insecurity, misappropriations, inequality between the wealthy and the poor, social intervention improvement, and determining the rate of unemployment in the country among others. The COVID-19 vaccination exercise would be a lot easier if reliable citizens’ data and a national database portal are in place coupled with a suitable e-governance mechanism.

Significantly, lots of benefits may mount up from e-governance initiatives which include cost savings, improved communications and coordination, expanded citizen participation and increased government accountability, better accessibility of public services, more transparency, and greater convenience. The transition from regular governance to e-governance has been considered as a veritable instrument in increasing the democratization process, paperless offices etc. The scope of e-governance can revolve around e-registrations, e-taxation, e-mobilization, e-education, e-service delivery, e-feedback, e-policing, e-voting, e-courts, e-licensing, and the analysis of public financial statements to mention a few. While I agree that Treasury Single Account (TSA) is a good e-governance initiative, on a large-scale, government can still do more and achieve more significantly. E-government activities can also offer around the clock information access from remote locations, reduced bureaucracy, and improve information sharing between agencies.

In business, e-governance can equally bring profit and sustainability to businesses particularly SMEs because e-governance can reduce the burden of starting a new business and also improve the ease of doing business. This is expected to have a direct positive impact on the profitability of the firms in the country and attraction of reasonable foreign direct investments (FDIs).

In summary, the introduction of an e-governance system will provide a means of reducing costs, increasing effectiveness and efficiency in the public sector. Thus, e-governance if implemented will decrease the perennial stifling administrative and regulatory burdens on citizens and businesses. It will also promote good governance and improve public services, which will encourage more public-private partnerships, and promote open government ecosystem. Invariably, with adequate implementation and transparency, citizen attitudes towards government will change because an increased sense of trust and public value will be achieved. Although e-government entails huge funds in its initial stage with appropriate investments in hardware, software, and expertise, however, it gives birth to huge benefits as compared to those from bureaucratic one in the long run.

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