The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Prof Isa Ali Pantami has stressed the need to brainstorm on the provision of reliable access to and use of print/electronic information as well as artificial intelligence within government at the international, national, state, municipal, and local level governments, citizens, and businesses for sustainable national development.
Prof. Pantami said this at the commemoration of 2022 Universal Access to Information Day organised by the National Committee on Information for all Programme in Nigeria (IFAP) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
“On the 28 of September 2022, the event took place in Pakistan which is not more than a week today, the United Nations through UNESCO on the 15th of November 2015 which is almost seven years designated every September of each year to be marked to create more awareness and also advocate for free access for information and work towards educating the global citizens”, he said.
While emphasising the importance of taking a position on international policies and guidelines for action on access to information and knowledge in knowledge-based societies, the Minister described this year’s theme which was “e-Governance and Access to Information” as relatable as it was in alignment with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy for a Digital Nigeria (NDEPS).
He observed that the thematic keywords could be found in some of the eight pillars of the policy which reflected ongoing efforts by the Federal Government towards achieving a Digital Nigeria.
“In other to be very proactive in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and as the Minister in charge of our communications and digital economy, I developed a Policy which I directed the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to implement by establishing the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR)”.
“Initially, while I was at NITDA, I started building the centre but the name was NITDA Academy, but when I became Minister, I discovered that the interest and priority were not just about the academy, rather, trying to provide some key elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly under emerging technologies and to focus more on the eight pillars”, Pantami noted.
According to the Minister, “software is dominating the world in the last few decades and there is a high probability that AI would consume software and dominate the world in the same manner and this is what the training is showing today”.
When it comes to access to information for all, the Minister affirmed that so far, Nigeria had many initiatives in that regard.
He further highlighted the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, which he maintained, allowed the free sharing of information except for some restrictions like personal information.
Prof. Pantami assured the Committee that the Federal Government through the Ministry was working tirelessly towards achieving its ambitious target of going paperless at least at the Federal level by 2030.
“We have been training different categories of Nigerians, particularly in the public space; we will ensure that we train and retrain Civil and Public Servants on government digital services until we e-Government is Implemented 100 per cent in Nigeria”, Pantami stated.
The Minister who acknowledged the lack of funding as one of the challenges plaguing the implementation process of the e-Government initiative expressed confidence in the country’s digital drive to succeed.
“You need to be funded before you would be able to upskill your Civil Servants; On the other hand, some of the Civil Servants are still struggling to be digital natives but we are trying to get them onboard”, Pantami assured.
The Minister reminded his audience that he was currently the Chairman of the World Summit of Information Society and had been appointed by United Nations through the International Telecommunications Union where he chaired 193 global ICT Ministers.
He added that the appointment underscored the position of Nigeria regarding e-Government and Access to Information.
“Our entire mandate focuses on making information available to global citizens, so by occupying that position is sufficient enough to say that the theme is very dear to me at a personal and official level”, he avowed.
The Communications and Digital Economy Ministry Boss encouraged participants to crisscross ideas and at the end of the roundtable, come up with some key recommendations for the Government of Nigeria to implement and hopefully others too for the World Summit on Information Society to also implement at the global level.