The Director-General of the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr Isa Ali Pantami has made an interesting note about Nigeria and the Smart City Project taking over the world. Speaking on the panel of The Platform in Abuja yesterday, Dr Pantami notes that Nigeria is not yet ready to take on smart city projects given our low level of digital literacy. Thus, the commencement of any such initiative would simply be a case of misplaced priorities on the part of the government.

What makes Dr Panatmi’s argument interesting is the bigger issue it underscores when it comes to Nigeria and development – we always seem to want to start from the finish line.

Following the Transform Africa Summit which held in Kigali, Rwanda last week, the Nigerian Federal Government announced that it plans to hold the “Smart Cities Nigeria 2017” summit in June in order to work towards integrating Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the Internet-of-Thing (IoT) technology with managing assets in cities across Nigeria.

The Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu stated that despite some operational delays within the government, the government is currently seeking foreign investment to boost the initiative which would see Nigeria join its African counterparts in their technological transformation.

However, Dr Pantami insists that Nigeria needs to first develop our level of digital literacy, e-governance, and software development before the country can tackle a smart city initiative in any of its cities. He goes on to elaborate on how much work the aforementioned need.

Smart cities are increasingly popping up across the globe with the majority of them found in countries in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia. Of course, as we’ve noted earlier, African countries such as Rwanda, South Africa, and Kenya are also stepping up to the target.

While it is wise to plan to adopt the smart cities initiative here in Nigeria, Dr Pantami makes a good argument as to why our motivation is inorganic, as it comes from a more trend-oriented place than a growth or development-oriented one. In his words:

“…Some of us, when we travel to other places we want to replicate what we saw there without thinking if we are ripe for that kind of development. We must try to take our peculiar situation into consideration. That is why I say we should think ‘glocally’. That is thinking globally and acting locally…”

‘Acting globally’ is an inherent problem in the country, made even more difficult by the fact that the Nigerian government already has a history of leaving pertinent local developmental projects halfway; taking longer than required to finish, or undertaking them to the socio-economic detriment of the residents of the area. This can be attributed to a certain level of negligence in carrying out the necessary investigations while taking any data and evidence into account.

Some of the instances, in this case, are the ongoing cross-country light rail projects, as well as the plethora of projects abandoned in Akwa-Ibom, the Niger Delta, and other parts of the country. As at December 2016, over five trillion naira worth of projects have been abandoned throughout Nigeria.

Smart cities and what they represent are great ideas, but the African and global cities that have succeeded thus far had the existing technological framework to see it through. Perhaps, if Dr Pantami’s suggestions are considered, we might be looking at more sustainable smart cities in the country when the time comes.


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