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The Digital Leap: Why Nigeria’s Transition to a Digital Governance May Take Longer Than Intended

The Digital Leap: Why Nigeria’s Transition to a Digital Governance May Take Longer Than Intended

Digital governance - Afrocritik

The paperwork era is dying, and ready to take its place, is the digital age. How Nigeria’s rulers handle this matter will greatly impact the nation’s ability to adapt to the changing times. 

By Michael Akuchie

Although digital governance can reduce inefficiencies in public service delivery and widen access for Nigerians, factors like epileptic electricity and limited internet connectivity stand in the way of adoption. 

Nigeria’s population has constantly grown over the years – a trend that will possibly not slow down anytime soon. Findings from Statista’s research indicate that the country’s number of inhabitants will rise from 227.71 million in 2024 to 250.83 million by 2050. Given Nigeria’s current state of affairs, where inflation, corruption, and dwindling public resources have established themselves as perennial problems, the thought of an even bigger population in the next few years may seem alarming. A growing population means more people will need to access public services and to ensure that citizens, no matter the size, can efficiently interact with government services, digital transformation has to happen. 

American information technology company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, defines digital transformation as “the process of completely replacing manual, traditional, and legacy ways of doing business with the latest digital alternatives.” But to stay within the context, for this article, we will be replacing  “doing business” with “delivering government services”. 

A few years ago, applying for a passport in Nigeria – whether domestic or international – meant filling a tonne of paperwork that often took months to process. To fast-track the application, it was standard to offer a bribe to immigration officials. This amounted to increased waiting times for Nigerians who either chose to be upstanding citizens or could not afford the bribe. Today, one can apply for a passport online, with the assurance of quicker processing times. This not only removes the need for bribery but also demonstrates how effective e-governance can be.

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Credit: Nigerian Immigration Service

E-governance refers to the deployment of information technology to effectively deliver government services to citizens, according to the United Nations. To track member states’ efforts to digitise government services, the UN created the e-Government Development Index. This index ranks countries from top and bottom, rating how high or low they rank with their level of e-governance adoption. In the 2022 edition, Nigeria occupied the 140th position in the world, placing it in the group of nations with a “Medium e-Government Development Index”. While Denmark was recognised as the world leader in e-Government,  South Africa led in Africa, while Ghana topped the West African category. Of course, Nigeria’s position in the chart could be higher, but for some circumstances. 

Operating a digital government requires adequate infrastructure such as steady electricity access and a strong internet connection that covers both urban and rural areas. Beyond powering homes and industries, electricity ensures that digital systems always remain online and accessible. Unfortunately, Nigeria has repeatedly proven that it cannot provide citizens with a steady power supply. The United Nations recognises the importance of content electricity, saying that areas without this amenity can not fully benefit from digital governance. In its 2022 e-government Survey, it writes that “developments in digitisation and digital government have no impact on those who have inadequate or irregular access to electricity.” 

Amidst the 5G fanfare that telecommunications companies like MTN and Airtel have spearheaded,  many rural communities cannot boast of having a decent 3G connection. Even in some urban areas, accessing the internet can be daunting. This not only affects individuals and businesses, but it dampens the effort of any administration looking to fully migrate to a digital manner of service delivery. 

To illustrate what occurs in a government facility with the combination of a power outage and an abysmal internet connection, in 2021, I decided to register for a National Identity Number (NIN), a unique personal identifier that the government demanded everybody should have or risk the blockage of their SIM cards from making or receiving calls. I had cancelled my other engagements for the day and made the trip to the office. As expected, I met a queue that seemed to stretch for a mile. When I asked why the process was slow, I was told that the office had four computers, but just two were operational. To further complicate the matter, the registration officials complained of a poor network signal that made each registration seem like it would take a whole day to process. A few hours later, the power went out. To my surprise, the officials announced that they had closed for the day. The backup generator had developed a fault some days ago, but there was no money to hire a technician. My story would be incomplete if I failed to mention that one official approached me a few minutes after I arrived. He offered me a spot inside the office that I could claim by transferring four thousand Naira into his account.  My experience with the NIN registration official, along with the stories of many other Nigerians all point to one thing: corruption thrives, and not enough is being done to tackle this problem.

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Credit: Magenest

It is worth mentioning that beyond seemingly never-ending issues like power outages, epileptic power supply, and corruption, political rulers must adequately prepare for e-governance. In last year’s Nigerian general elections, the introduction of iREV, also known as the INEC Result Viewing portal, was a major talking point. iREV was meant to foster electrical transparency by allowing voters and other concerned citizens to view results from all polling stations online. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the gesture to be marred by human inefficiencies and irregularities. While results from many polling units were not uploaded, others appeared after some days. In some uploaded results, it was clear that some figures had been manipulated. Responding to Nigerians’ complaints about the portal’s flaws, INEC’s spokesperson Festus Okoye claimed that iREV had not been upscaled to efficiently manage a nationwide election. “The problem is totally due to technical hitches related to scaling up the IReV from a platform for managing off-season State elections to one for managing nationwide general elections,” part of the statement read. Seeing as INEC had four years and a sizable budgetary allocation to plan every general election, a better outing was expected from the commission. 

Another challenge of digital governance in Nigeria is the absence of a singular platform that offers access to many public services. In Rwanda, citizens can conveniently access many government services online using the Irembo platform. Some of the services that citizens can access online are Birth Certificate registration, e-passport application, Change of Name, and Driver’s Licence renewal. Applying for a passport in Nigeria is done on the Immigration Service’s portal. Vehicle tint permit applications are done through the Police Specialised Services Automation Project (POSSAP) Portal. Getting a driver’s license starts by completing a form available on the Federal Road Safety Corps’ website. With no single outlet to access these services and more, citizens cannot truly appreciate e-governance. 

As Nigeria’s population increases, our leaders must rethink their government strategies to ensure that public services are accessible to all. The paperwork era is dying, and ready to take its place, is the digital age. How Nigeria’s rulers handle this matter will greatly impact the nation’s ability to adapt to the changing times. 

Michael Akuchie is a tech journalist with four years of experience covering cybersecurity, AI, automotive trends, and startups. He reads human-angle stories in his spare time. He’s on X (fka Twitter) as @Michael_Akuchie & michael_akuchie on Instagram.

Cover Photo: The Conversation

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