The 21st century has ushered in a radical revolution across all aspects of life, driven by digital technology. The unprecedented changes in how we live, work and connect with the world are here to stay, continually evolving.
Developed nations are racing ahead in embracing this digital transformation, and developing nations are striving to catch up. The allure of technology is reshaping our world, but there is a significant concern in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, where 46.48 per cent of the population resides in rural areas.
These rural communities are often distant from the epicentre of development. They lack access to basic amenities such as electricity, clean water, and proper roads. They are, in many ways, marginalised and labelled as the “unreached” of society. Given their limited access to basic facilities, how can they thrive in an era where technology dominates?
While some rural residents have access to mobile phones, they have not fully harnessed the potential of this technology due to poor network coverage in their areas. Mobile network providers have not prioritised these communities, driven by financial considerations. They may question the population size of these villages, the financial capacity of the residents, and the return on investment. From a short-term business perspective, this might make sense. However, when considering the overall contribution of rural communities to food security and agricultural production, this stance becomes questionable.
Rural dwellers play a crucial role in ensuring food sufficiency in society. Yet, the more we neglect them in terms of access to essential development enablers, the more they are inclined to migrate to urban centres. Rural life has its unique charm if we rethink how these communities are treated and provided with basic amenities.
Recently, I visited Ilado, a village in the northern part of Oyo State, Nigeria. This village, situated in Ibarapa, Oyo, defies expectations. Despite its small size, it boasts facilities that could rival those found in mini-cities or towns. The key differentiator here is the installation of solar facilities, providing reliable and sustainable power. The entire village is well-lit at night, and they can preserve their agricultural produce effectively. The residents have found comfort in their rural setting and are content without the lure of urban life.
The Ilado model can serve as a blueprint for providing digital technology facilities in rural areas. The 46.48 per cent of Nigeria’s population residing in rural areas represents a substantial demographic. Neglecting this significant portion of the population in our development planning can only foster social ills, especially in a society where success is often equated with material possessions and access to urban amenities.
The ministries of Innovation and Digital Economy, as well as Science, Technology & Innovation, must prioritise rural development in their policy formulation. We need to shift away from urban-centric policies and focus on rural communities. The potential for development, particularly in terms of food security, is enormous. Our farming population is ageing, and it’s imperative to make rural living attractive to the younger generation to prevent severe food insecurity.
Beyond policy-making, actions must follow words. All stakeholders in the digital realm should invest deliberately in rural areas. While these investments may not yield immediate returns, they will prove immensely profitable in the long run. Benefits include the decongestion of overpopulated cities, rekindling the younger population’s interest in agriculture, and ensuring food sufficiency through technological advancements.
It’s time to make rural areas attractive and habitable by deploying modern technologies and other 21st-century infrastructure. The potential for growth, sustainability, and equitable development in these communities is boundless, and we cannot afford to overlook it. The digital age is here, and it is time to bridge the urban-rural divide with technology.