Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
THE WONDERS OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY:
CAN NIGERIANS LIVE WITH THESE?
Emmanuel Uzo Obi
This is not an academic or technical paper but an attempt to explore in simple language, the I.T World and the many benefits it could offer and also consider the big question; are Nigerians ready for this? Nigerians in this context are those ‘on the ground’ and not those overseas .The enthusiasm shown by Nigerians in the field of IT is unparalleled; many Internet cafes, computer schools etc.etc. As expected, NEPA is not supporting this new area but Nigerians are undaunted as they rely mostly on Generators.
I have broken down the discussion under the following headings namely; The Economy and Banking, Crime Control, Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Public Safety, Education and School System, National Identifier and of course I have made use of personal experiences to throw more light on the some of the wonders of the IT World.
The most important resource or tool in the management of any Economy is Information.
With IT, information can be readily available when needed and thus support managerial decision making etc. The Ministry of Finance could even better plan and manage the economy and Nigerians should not have to wait a whole 10 years to see results when this Government has less then 4 years in office. So who will take the blame in 10 years when these folks are no longer in office? Sounds like Mike Ejeagha’s country music!
Already, Banking in Nigeria is becoming more convenient and efficient with the new generation banks. For example, it is possible to deposit funds in one branch and withdraw same in another branch of the same bank. People who are ignorant of the wonders of the IT world may be wondering how possible this is. They wonder for example, suppose I have an account of say N1, 000,000 and try to withdraw same at the branch in Enugu, while I have a friend at Malumfashi try to withdraw same in the branch over there. Could N2, 000,000 be withdrawn? The answer is NO. The Banks use networking to link their computer system and also has what is known as a Data Base Management System to prevent this kind of withdrawal. (Concurrency control)
Another wonder of IT in Banking is that an account holder who deposits a check in his/her account can have the account credited same day if the drawer has an account in the same bank and has funds.
These are only a few of the wonders of the IT in Banking. Others include easier credit management, easier withdrawals using Automated Teller Machines.
As a matter of fact, it is possible to make the society a cashless society where more people depend less on cash. Under this system, people could use checks or their Bankcards to make transactions. The high point is the fact that account holders could manage their accounts through the Internet known as Online Banking. Transfers from one account to another, and bill payment are possible in Online Banking.
One could pay NEPA bills, NITEL Bills, Insurance bills and other bills in the comfort of the home and without the hassle of driving down to NITEL or NEPA through the heavy traffic.
NITEL and NEPA could contract out collection of bills to payment centers that are electronically linked by computers to the NITEL and NEPA computer information systems.
During my recent four-week vacation in Nigeria, I was able to log into my bank account in the U.S from a Computer in Enugu to pay my Phone Bill and Light Bill and also my car insurance. It took me about 5 minutes to pay all these bills which originate from the U.S from a Computer in Enugu and I spent about two hours to pay similar bills in Enugu.
These are only a few of the wonders of IT in Banking but there are other wonders that some Nigerians may regard as the downside of IT in Banking.
The Board of Internal Revenue can know how much you have in your account and can see if it matches your tax payments. It is possible for Law Enforcement to even query your sources of income .
Can Nigerians live with the wonders of the IT World?
IT plays a very crucial role in managing poverty alleviation programs as it could enable Government to target families within the poverty income lines or that meet relevant criteria.
The Insurance industry, automobile, health insurance etc could be planned and managed very effectively with IT. Without a National identifier and IT, Government would be daydreaming about implementing a National Health Insurance Scheme and so far Government has been day dreaming.
Do we need to talk about payment of workers salaries? With IT all that Employers of Labor including Government need to do is to have Computer Information Systems installed in their establishments. The workers should maintain Bank Accounts or use what is called the Pay Card system. Those with Bank accounts provide their Bank Name and Account Number while those without accounts register a Pay card with virtual accounts. If salaries are paid on the 25th of every month, then the computers could be programmed to transmit payroll information to banks on the 25th of every month. The payroll department on a timely basis of course must input this information, perhaps on or before the 20th of every month.
The Employers of Labor need to enter finance arrangements whereby employer accounts are surcharged if their accounts do to support the payroll transactions.
During my last vacation in Nigeria I remember meeting one of my older cousins at the old park Okpara Avenue in Enugu waiting for a ride home. She was just back from Awka to collect past due pension which she still failed to collect.
With IT her pension should have been transmitted electronically to her Bank Account in Enugu and that trip would have been unnecessary.
As I ran short of money during my vacation, I needed a money transfer from the US.I did not trust that our phone lines was secure so I logged onto the Western Union via the internet. Using my Bank Card I did money transfer and then went to a nearby western union to pickup the money. IT makes life easier and we can avoid all the unnecessary hassles. Why on earth should Government owe arrears of salaries to workers in a high inflation but oil rich economy?
IT could help Government manage its filing system so that the issue of missing files, as a means of extortion would vanish. In Computer Information Systems or Database Management System, there is what is known as Database Security and Authorization and it is possible to plug all the avenues that lead to abuse.
Even in the Transportation sector, I.T could help in making airline reservations or bus/train reservations. Today our domestic airlines transact business more like the touting system at motor parks and this is not good for our image as a people.
A credit system could be created in Nigeria to assist the economy and IT will be the backbone and other factors would come into play such as a reliable National Identifier discussed in the later part of this article.
Apart from the economy, I.T also brings information about all kinds of illnesses and one can even help manage their health conditions and ask Doctors the right questions. IT can even help reduce stress.
I had a very busy schedule on a Monday and I had to be in class less than an hours time and I had also ran out of medication and also had some bills to pay. One hour was not enough to conclude these very important lives’s routine. I picked up my laptop from the trunk (booth) of my car hooked it up in my office, paid all the bills. I jumped into my car and drove out of town towards school and on the way while in my car; I called the automated phone line of the Pharmacy and ordered a refill of my prescription. There was no need for the pharmacy to physically see my health insurance card because each time an order is placed the health insurance information is revalidated through the computer information system. After class I only had to drive by the ‘drive thru’ window of the pharmacy, gave my bank card for the co-payment and pick up my medication in less than five minutes without stepping out of the car. Big deal? Less hassle, convenience, time saved!
Crime Control and Law Enforcement.
This is my favorite area and it is unfortunate the Police and the Justice Ministry has not explored the use of IT or developed this area using IT.
IT is powerful in the administration of Justice and particularly in maintaining an interface between the Police, the Court system and the Prison system.
The Police Reports we generate today are avenues for extortion and do not provide any information that one can count on even though the Police Boss likes to paint an “alright” picture of the status quo. The interface of the Police, the court system and prison system can produce arrest records and criminal records that help in crime control and administration of justice.
Nigerians like to mimic what we have in the advanced countries by just providing a few gadgets in a couple of vehicles and making a show of them and pretend we have a system. Do we have a National Emergency Response Plan in Nigeria? NO.
Do we have IT in Nigeria? YES .So what are we doing to improve this area of crime control?
One day in my office, I thought I had dialed the area code 1910 to place a long distance phone call but what I actually dialed was 911 before the rest of the telephone number.
The City Emergency Response Center picked up the call and tried to speak to me but failed. The Dispatcher called me back and because I had call waiting I ignored the beep because I was talking to my cousin. In 3 minutes a city Police Officer arrived and wanted to know if all was well. Of course I was surprised and the officer said they received a 911 call and they tried to call back but received no reply. It was then that I recollected the sequence of events and what actually happened and I was full of apologies. Whenever calls are placed to 911, the dispatcher sees the address you are calling from and the phone number. Soon they will be able to locate callers from cell phones.
Apart from two-way radio system, Police vehicles should normally be equipped with laptop computers that would enable the officer access information he needs he performance of his duties.
Today, there are roadblocks all over Nigeria’s highways and sometimes the Police require the driver to produce ‘particulars’. In the State of North Carolina, it is ‘license and Registration’. No officer ever asks for Insurance papers even though the laws of the state requires all vehicles on the highway to maintain continuous liability insurance. Why do the officers not demand for insurance papers? Because by law once your vehicle insurance lapses, the insurance company must notify the division of motor vehicle through their computer information system and the DMV notifies the vehicle owner of their intention to revoke vehicle registration. Once registration is revoked, the Police officer can pull this information from his laptop computer.
Back to our checkpoint! Our Police officers receive as ‘particulars’ photocopies of documents they have no means of verifying. Experts in the use of Microsoft word could be good at producing documents that look ‘genuine’ and make a living while the purposes of Police checks are defeated.
Now that I am on this subject, it would shock Nigerians overseas to learn that there is no vehicle registration database or driver license database in Nigeria.
It is possible to use the same name and personal information or bio data and obtain as many driver licenses as possible from different Road Safety offices and Nigeria has a ‘Computer’ Driving license.
I went to obtain a duplicate National driver license since I had lost the original. The officer demanded for a photocopy of the original so that they could issue a new one or I should just fill a new form and be issued a new license. I filled a new form and three days after received a new license and there was nothing on it to show it was a duplicate license.
But Nigerians are convinced they have a ‘Computerized’-driving driving license that looks foreign. If there was a Database, all the officer needed was another Identity from me such as a passport and all the information could be pulled and then a duplicate copy of the original would be produced.
I once had a Nigerian friend visit from Lagos and who needed a North Carolina Driver license. We went to a Driver license office out of town but within NC and the officer there told her that she had a fine to pay on a ticket before she was considered for a license. This friend argued that she was out of the country on the date the ticket was issued, but the officer was adamant and referred her to Wake County Clerk of Superior Court. When we left the Driver license office she admitted to me she had a ticket four years ago on her international driver license, but wondered how the driver license officer knew since the ticket was issued in the city of Raleigh and he was in the city of Durham.
I responded that this was America and that the system was computerized but being a proud Nigerian she maintained the attitude of ‘ after all computer license is no big deal’I have one in Nigeria.
When we went to Wake county court house, the Nigerian lady almost collapsed when she learnt there was an arrest warrant out on her. All fines paid, we went back to the same driver license office where she was processed without asking for a receipt. This lady was again surprised and I had to give a free mini-lecture on networking and database system.
Recently, I had to send my car to the repair shop and as a result I had to use my backup car back and forth to work. As a backup car, all was not well with it; expired registration, power steering not working, no horn, engine oil topped every three days, speedometer malfunctioning etc. The only good things in the car were the tires but again, speeding in Raleigh is a big deal for the Police or 5-0 like they are called. I went to the shop and had the correct speedometer readings and a conversion table I placed on the dashboard.
With this I made sure I never drove over the speed limit to avoid the Police being in my business; like expired registration. Well it worked for a very short time, as at a particular spot I had to make a U-turn with great difficulty battling with my stiff steering since the power steering was bad. A state highway trooper who observed me took interest in my vehicle pulled closer to me and typed in my car license tag number on his laptop computer and it showed the registration had expired since March.
The officer activated his blue light, and I pulled over he gave me a citation with a fine of $125.00. I had two options, namely mail the fine to the courthouse or get my car registered and have the citation dismissed. There is a ‘block’ on my vehicle by another county because I failed to pay property tax on that vehicle. So to get the vehicle registered, I have to pay the property tax to that county, then pay the vehicle registration fees. So either way I must kick out some money to either the Court or to the other county and the state division of motor vehicles. I never intended to pay the property tax or renew the vehicle registration so we see how one thing leads to another with IT playing a key role.
There was a guy who was doing some illicit business but had a broken headlamp. The vehicle was pulled over by Police and the vehicle tag number ran on the computer. The owner of the vehicle had an arrest warrant for a minor traffic offence and as he was about to be arrested and driven to the jailhouse, the officers decide to search the car. They discovered some substances that landed the guy in prison for 5 years. There are several other scenarios that show how IT can help the Police in their job. This is a very vast area outside the scope of this discussion.
Can Nigerians live with IT that would prevent escape from responsibility or liability?
Does our court library system avail itself of the wonders of the IT World?
In the United States, Public Safety is the responsibility of the Police, the Emergency Medical Service (Ambulances), Fire Department and the Emergency Response Communication Center.
Whenever there is a distress call to 911, there is a flow of information through two-way radios and computer information systems. Every distress call in the city of Raleigh has a priority ranking from 0 – 9 with 0 being the highest level of emergency. Priority 0 in the city of Raleigh has an emergency response time of 3 minutes. Emergency response time is the time it takes the first responders to arrive the scene from the time the distress call is placed.
So will Nigeria just allow the banking sector play with IT or will the Government desire to avail itself of the many wonders of the IT World?
Just as it is important to teach Information Technology in our schools, it is also important for these schools to use this to make their services more efficient and accessible.
The academic departments, the bursary, registry all need to be linked up in a local area network to make information readily available.
While in Nigeria, I was able to do my school assignments and forward them via e-mail to my Professor and also check my grades on the electronic blackboard while in Nigeria.
I could print out an unofficial transcript from my school account and also register for classes for the next semester while seated before a computer in Nigeria and my school is in far away North Carolina and it is the same IT that our banks is already using that made this possible.
How many of our Nigeria Universities have computers or working phones? If Nigeria is not merging JAMB with the Polytechnic Exam today, it is de-merging tomorrow or harmonizing and de-harmonizing curricula.
How many Universities have web sites and are our students even able to design websites for the schools at no cost and as part of school assignments?
The speed with which we embraced GSM phones with every tom and Harry wielding a cell phone suggests Nigeria should have gone a long way with I.T.
This is the main hub around which the smooth working of our IT infrastructure revolves especially as it relates to the areas just reviewed.
Every person living in Nigeria ought to have an ID number from the child born this minute.
In the US, it is the Social Security Number that also serves as tax identification number and unique identifier for each individual. Other legal persons such as businesses have the Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Banks also in addition to the EIN should have routing numbers that help in the flow of banking and financial transactions. Those overseas are familiar with the routing and customer account numbers with which account holders can do telephone payments or transactions.
Even vehicles have vehicle id numbers or VIN numbers just like we have chassis and engine numbers. Nigeria can use this to maintain databases of vehicles to pick out stolen or wanted vehicles etc.
The National ID registration exercise has long been concluded but Nigerians are yet to get their ID cards and this is just not right for the system. These ID numbers that should be unique for each person should be used in tagging individuals in various databases and in opening bank accounts and for taxpayer purposes. It should not to be too long as not to be commited to memory and it could also serve as customer account numbers for the various utilities, school registration numbers etc.
In advanced countries, it is possible to obtain fake ids, but that is a felony. If found and convicted, a foreigner could be denied a green card and deported and a green card holder will be denied citizenship. If a citizen, the person will be denied voting rights for a long period of time. A felony conviction usually denies an individual jobs and this even extends to low paid jobs. So the choice is that of the individual to make.
Many questions may arise from those that are yet to see these wonders of the IT World and one should be rest assured that in a Database Management System, the integrity of information or data is guaranteed using the tools of Database security.
Since this is not an academic paper, I avoided the use of IT jargons in my illustrations.
The organized Private sector ought to embrace IT headlong for efficiency and better decision-making and management.
Will Nigerians make the National ID work so that an IT infrastructure could allow the many benefits of the IT World roll in?
IT could help fight corruption and should be of great value to the Financial and Economic Crimes Commission.
The IT world is beautiful and on a regular basis newer applications come up that should make it an imperative for Nigeria if ever Nigeria decides to have a direction.
~ Emmanuel Uzo Obi is an Information Science Specialist and writes from North Carolina.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.