Digital Literacy In Nigeria Vs Unrealistic Projections

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Isaac Oluyi
Isaac Oluyi

Digital literacy, defined as the possession of essential skills required to function effectively in a society where communication and access to information rely increasingly on digital technologies such as internet platforms, social media and mobile devices, is a cornerstone of achieving sustainable development.

These skills are pivotal in ensuring that every segment of society can actively participate in the digital world and employ technologies in their daily lives.

To underscore the importance of digital literacy, it’s imperative to consider its role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Take, for instance, the global issue of nearly 800 million people lacking access to electricity. In this context, alternative energy sources are critical. But can we truly accomplish digital literacy when one of the means to access these technologies remains unavailable or inactive? This becomes particularly pertinent when we examine SDG 9, which aims to provide reliable infrastructure for all, promote sustainable industrialisation, enhance access to small-scale industries and enterprises in developing countries, make industries more sustainable, and boost technology in all sectors. Clearly, digital literacy is indispensable in the quest for sustainable development.

Achieving digital inclusion requires a concerted, strategic effort to instill substantial digital literacy across Nigeria’s vast population. Consequently, it was heartening to hear the Minister of Innovation, Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani make a bold projection on Channels TV’s Sunrise programme on Thursday, October 12, 2023: “The plan is that by 2030, 90 per cent of Nigerians should be digitally literate. Digital literacy doesn’t mean that you become a technical talent, but it gives you the foundation to be able to choose to participate in the digital economy.” This is a commendable goal, but the question remains, is it realistic?

Similar projections were made by Tijani’s immediate predecessor. As reported by The Guardian Newspaper on September 5, 2022, “The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, at the weekend in Gombe, said Nigeria’s march towards attaining 95 per cent digital literacy by 2030, as outlined in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030, now appears more promising than ever.” With Tijani aiming for 90 per cent and Pantami’s projection being 95 percent, one cannot help but wonder about the continuity of governance. This conflicting information raises some important questions: Where does Nigeria stand currently in terms of digital literacy? Who is monitoring our progress? Can we quantify the ministry’s efforts in this regard thus far?

The year 2030 is less than seven years away. Presently, over 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population, which exceeds 200 million people, lacks digital skills and is unable to utilise data services (as indicated in the 2021 World Bank Development Report). This is a staggering reality. Yet, we set projections to achieve 90 or 95 per cent digital literacy by 2030? It’s crucial that we reevaluate this approach. While it’s commendable to dream big, it’s even more prudent to establish realistic goals for realizing those dreams. Public sentiment should not lead us to make grandiose promises. Although 2030 marks the deadline for achieving the SDGs, not every country will meet this target. Realistic goal setting that brings us closer to these objectives, in my view, is preferable to public statements that may come back to haunt us. Given our current circumstances, achieving 90 or 95 percent digital literacy within less than seven years seems like a distant goal.

What I would expect from Tijani is to begin by assessing how close Nigeria is to achieving digital literacy by 2030, based on existing documentation. Once this baseline has been established, the ministry should devise a roadmap to reach that objective. It is essential to develop key performance indicators to gauge our progress. Even if we are unable to achieve 90 or 95 per cent by 2030, we will have made significant progress. In 2023, a country with nearly 50 per cent of its population residing in rural areas with limited access to basic infrastructure may face significant challenges in realizing digital literacy by 2030.

The activities encompassed by science, technology, and innovation necessitate a deliberate and systematic approach. These objectives are not achieved through mere rhetoric but through concerted efforts. While projections of 90 or 95 per cent digital literacy may be attainable, it is crucial to adopt a realistic approach and pursue these goals one step at a time, without overpromising and setting unrealistic expectations. It’s essential to focus on making tangible progress in the face of the real challenges and limitations we currently face. As the saying goes, “Don’t promise to build a bridge where there is no river”.

Isaac Oluyi
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