Governments all over the world, have the age-long mission of protecting their people, providing services and developing their economy. However, the Nigerian government is today struggling to fulfill this critical mission. Citizens cannot engage with government in ways they expect; government employees cannot adequately engage with their organizations, other institutions (both public and private), and citizens, and government leaders cannot effectively manage their portfolios due to many bureaucracies and paper-based manual processes.
At the same time digitalization offers immense opportunities and promise to deliver more sustainable outcomes. The challenge in the Nigerian context is how to digitally transform public services with agility, scale, effectiveness and with minimum risk to all concerned.
What is this about?
Digitization is here to stay.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has become the primary tool for increasing national competitiveness in every sector of the economy and life. Therefore, any national strategy or development plan should take into account the opportunities offered and challenges posed by ICT.
In the light of the above, the book proposes a National Digital Agenda 2025 for Nigeria (hereafter Digital Agenda 2025) that will sustainably transform public institutions, businesses (both public and private) and citizens alike for a better life and a double-digit economic growth going forward.
The broad objective of this strategy will be to generate economic wealth through sustainable jobs, increased small and medium-scale enterprises through digital access and open government to guide against corruption and ineffectiveness of well-intended government policies.
Where are we?
Despite a history of digitizing government services dating back over 15 years, Nigeria only has an e-government development index of 0.2929 and stands at 141 out of 193 countries surveyed in 2014. This can be attributed to the importance of digital technologies and their disruptive effect on governance not been understood and a total lack of leadership in the digital arena.
Why are we here?
Over the years, government services have progressively become slow, ineffective and incredibly manual in outlook to say the least. Those tasks with delivering these services must, therefore, become smarter, strategic and people-centric. The new governance model must be flexible and malleable to government policies and needs but for this to happen the following key challenges must be addressed:
- The high cost of running paper-based government services;
- Excessive duplication and multiplicity of functions (take the example of biometric registration, birth/death registration, etc.) in the public sector;
- Archaic, bureaucratic and numerous bottlenecks built-in to public service delivery models;
- Secrecy and non-access to public sector data that can transform the economy;
- Endemic corruption and self-aggrandizement among those charged with public service delivery.
What is a digital service?
Digital public services are defined as “a service delivered electronically over the Internet that offers a simple and accessible way for citizens to transact with the public sector.” However, digital transformation encompasses far more — the change of every single aspect of public sector operations and support services for effectiveness and efficiency. A digital government will include the full range of digitalization — from the core digitalization of public services to digital infrastructure, governance and efficient processes, including both front and back-office service points.
Digitization will allow the public sector to operate with greater transparency, sustainability, and efficiency. It will also improve access to essential services and information. Above all, a digital public sector will be user or citizen-centered.
How can we change the current situation?
In addressing the current challenges as mentioned above, the public service leaders require to incorporate a new corporate service delivery model, and much more sharing of data, services, and expertise, if it is to deliver the step change in efficiency needed in today’s Nigeria. It needs to use different service models where doing so will achieve better outcomes or lower cost for the government. It needs to transform the delivery of services to the populace, moving from manual processes to a digitally enabled approach as enumerated in the Digital Agenda 2025.
The critical aspects of public sector change within the agenda document are as follows:
· Biometric Registration — Harmonisation of existing biometric databases nation-wide with distributive availability across all ministries, department, and agencies of government including reading access to relevant private sector entities;
· National ID — Overhaul of the existing national identification system with embedded data chip that contains files with 2048-bit public key encryption so that it can function as an ID within both a physical and electronic environment;
· Education — Digitise and mobilize all study materials relevant for primary and secondary schools in nation-wide and then make them available freely through an electronic schoolbag to all Nigerians of school age;
· Public safety — Digitise, harmonize and increase the ability of the security services not only to respond to emergencies but to remotely determine the location of incidences, victims and assailants within a 5-meter radius nation-wide. This will incredibly increase public safety, attract investment and make our police force 1000 times more efficient;
· Open Procurement — Expand and harmonize the existing public procurement act/open contracting portal to incorporate open procurement across public service with the mandate to publish and electronically handle procurement in a transparent manner. The open procurement portal will guarantee a single point of access to all non-sensitive government procurement/contract advertisement, bidding, selection, and award.
· Real-Time Economy — The Real-Time Economy (RTE) is an environment where financial and administrative transactions connecting citizens, business and public sector entities are in structured standardized digital form and increasingly generated automatically and completed in real time without store and forward processes.
What should public leaders do?
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and leadership have an unprecedented opportunity for change and need to pursue public service improvement measures as a matter of urgency.
Here is why a national digital agenda is critical — even amid substantive reforms across the country, public debt is still rising, and youth unemployment remains at a disconcerting level and overall health and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth severely strained, reflecting an underlying trend of an increasingly un-performing economy. As public sector braces for these inconvenient truths, technological disruptions have fundamentally changed the way our people live, work, interact and learn — over 120 million Nigerians are now on the Internet.
Private sector organizations have been quick to adapt. For instance, the retail, telecommunication, and banking industries are leading the way in fulfilling their customers’ life needs through “always-on” digital channels. The reality is that these digital consumers are also digital citizens who have similar expectations of their government to provide dramatic changes in the way they operate and offer high-quality services while delivering value for money. There is a strong national consensus on “what” needs to be done and “why.” In terms of public trust and accountability, productivity, openness, innovation, co-creation, a new mindset for public leaders are gradually emerging with a growing mistrust among the youth — see the election participation versus big brother Nigeria voting rates. Overall, public trust has taken a beating through years of endemic corruption, inefficiency and poor service delivery of public services.
Evidence from many countries, such as Estonia, the USA, the UK, and other EU states, shows that the future of public service delivery is in digital. Digital public service delivery and innovation can provide significant opportunities to transform public administration into an instrument of sustainable development. For a country with economic, social and political challenges, and opportunities, such as a digital transformation of the public service will enrich citizen-public service interactions and foster trust and ownership of governance by all.
For more detailed coverage on the topic, please get a copy of the book on Amazon: Digital Transformation: Evolving a Digitally Enabled Nigerian Public Service.