First, it is essential to state that Akwa Ibom was the first State in Nigeria to establish and enthrone a State Information (IT) Policy and created a Science and Technology Office at the Cabinet level – represented by a Commissioner. True to type, the State has also become the first to appoint a full-fledged ICT professional as SSG. Indeed, the ‘first kid on the block’ concept in contemporary development is not new. Chief Obafemi Awolowo applied it in 1955 when he enthroned ‘Free Education’ in the South-West and Bill Gates of MS and Steve Jobs of Apple PC applied it to fire and light-up the accelerated development of global ICT Ecosystem.
It was year 2003 – sitting on the dark windows of a Night Bus to Uyo – I headed into an adventure of the unknown. The mission was to explore the e-Readiness of Akwa Ibom State ICT development. Oblivious of the challenges before me, delighting from the bus on arrival on the early morning the next day, I was welcomed by a refreshing breeze full of rich oxygen engulfed in a distant voice of ‘Welcome to Uyo’. It was at that moment that I realized that my mission was to lay a foundation for ICT as the most strategic imperative for the sustainable development and competitiveness of the State in the very near future. Today, that future is here – giving us the privilege to look back and advance our evaluation as proof of concept for assessing 21st Century development and growth at the State level. Before we evaluate the advantages of Akwa Ibom State as one of the very first to establish an IT Policy, let’s look at the future of ICT e-readiness of Akwa Ibom State in view of the current state of things. Based on my assessment of the ICT landscape in Akwa Ibom 2016-2018, the state will be one of the most advanced ICT Smart-State in Nigeria and indeed perhaps the first to deploy Robots for Education, Health, State Security, Essential public service, etc for sustainable development (derived from her current advantages of small population of 5.4m, enormous resources and abundant intelligent pioneers with ‘Can-do Sprit’); Readiness for acceleration of robust ICT infrastructure development, with respect to State-wide Broadband Internet access, State of the Art Fibre Optics Network for state security and youth empowerment will unleash monumental innovation beyond basic imagination. The State would harness the advantages of Internet of Things and Nano Technologies as diversification strategy of Akwa Ibom economy from Oil & Gas to Information Intelligence resources in preparation for Information Society (IS). Before others States realize the ICT State of Things in Akwa Ibom, the environment would have propelled the State from the shadows of ‘Smart-City’ to the villa to the metropolis of Smart-States by 2030. This would be actualized by intensifying AI and Machine to Machine (M2M) Solutions strategies and multiply the dividend to her people exponentially. The secret of all these is hidden on the probability that the State government will promote the establishment State Innovation development Fund for Software Engineering Institutes (SDI), Code-accelerator based Education, Innovation Hubs, Critical Local Data centres, ICT Research Centres, etc – leading to position Akwa Ibom as the first destination for ICT Skill Resources and solutions to serve the nation and the ICT-hungry African market. Today, as we speak, many States in Nigeria are yet to develop State ICT policy and their ICT development funding mechanisms are at the lowest bottom of the budget ladder. Flash back, the same scenario was experienced in 1955, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo established Free-Eduction in the South West Region of Nigeria, while others were asleep – making the South West the current leader in the statistical spread of those who can read, write and educated all through West Africa and beyond. That is not all, the South West ICT agenda of empowering many millions of its citizenry with ICT competence of ‘how to code’ will further put the region many miles ahead of the others in the next decades. That is where Akwa Ibom will stand tall amongst equals in the emerging creative society. The State has done well in ICT spend and investment over the years. Moving forward with the deserved appointment of Dr, Emmanuel Ekuwem – an exceptional IT Professional and renowned Tele Communications expert as the State Secretary of Government of Akwa Ibom State, the expectations are that Akwa Ibom State will undoubtedly become the first address for ICT knowledge advancement, solutions, services and creative dimensions for the sustainable future. The current landscape ICT advantage of Akwa-Ibom State was conceptualised in 2003. This established the State Information Technology (IT) and Science and Technology (S&T) Policies respectively. These sets of policy frameworks were aimed at: Creating knowledge and innovation clusters for strategic and sustainable development of the State. Retooling the workforce in readiness for e-Government programs designed to meet the basic and central needs of the State. Finetuning leadership and governance operations. Discovering and enthroning new knowledge resources to serve core business–commercialisation activities. Reposition the State’s ICT brand to engage national and International entrepreneurial and innovation culture. Engaging knowledge workers and core Stakeholders to relocate to the State for the real mission of adding sustainable value State development and prosperity. In the beginning, the central goals include but not limited to the following: Transform Akwa Ibom through ICT. Conceptualize the establishment of Akwa Ibom State’s ICT Policy and premier Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Park as the central Hub and strategic platform for transforming and accelerating the development and advancement of new Knowledge Resources to empower existing start-ups, small and medium scale businesses and industries. Apply R&D to understand and master the secrets behind accelerated ICT, future applications and related Technology development curves in innovation, electronics, advanced materials business and e-Government development. Develop and built new Entrepreneurs and Techno-preneurs Culture. While wishing Akwa Ibom State well in pursuance of her sustainable ICT mission, there is need to invigorate and apply design-thinking process to accelerate Youth employment through ICT knowledge empowerment and the commercialization of innovative State technologies. Above all, there is need to improve and protect the State’s Critical ICT Infrastructure, business incubation, knowledge coaching, skills development, strategic relationship networks and access to capital. For the records, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem shared the vision with professional advice at the founding stage of the State’s IT Policy. Those who were in the line of fire for actualizing the establishment of the foundation of Akwa Ibom State’s ICT vision and mission at the critical stage include but now limited to the followings: Obong. Victor Attah– First and Former Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Dr. Linus Asuqor First Commissioner for S &T, Chris Uwaje of Connect Technologies as Lead Consultant, Obong. Effangga, former PS of S&T. Prof. Ntuen (Department of Human Machine, North Carolina University, USA, Chief Ebitimi Banigo: Former Federal Minister for S&T, Prof. Akpan Ekpo , former VC of Uni Uyo, Yinka tanimowo, Gbenga Sesan as technical support and others too numerous to mention. Time for other States to learn ans share from Akwa Ibom’s ICT strategy and experience.