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Information Technology and Digital Inclusion in Nigerian Universities as a Tool for Modern Reform

Re-echoing the words of Jelani Aliyu, MFR, “Our powers lie dormant, that dynamism and those powerful capabilities within us continue to remain inside and unproductive. You may argue that we are not standing still, that we are making some progress, but when you observe the pace of technological advancements around the world, you know that we might as well be standing still.”

Similarly, during his lecture at the 35th, 36th and 37th joint convocation of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Jelani Aliyu, the Director-General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council, said in the end, we may remain still while the rest of the world leaves us behind.

Today, from the far North to the tail end of the universe, technology makes the world function efficiently. It has made a digital revolution inevitable. As ‘information technology’ becomes one of the ingredients used in the making of a new order in the lives of individuals, groups and communities, it is now more pertinent than ever to ensure a technology-driven university system in line with the best global practices.

It is noteworthy to stress that information and communication technology has made digital inclusion in all areas of the society pertinent. Specifically, with ‘globalisation’ the world has become a better place. Going down memory lane, Marshall McLuhan predicted the interconnectedness of world societies which, according to him, would be as a result of the revolution in the information communication technology.

For the Institute of Museum and Library Services, ‘digital inclusion’ is “the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies.” It is also “the condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in the society, democracy and economy.”

Digital inclusion is meant to be pragmatic and policy-driven, addressing the needs of individuals and communities. While some argue that tertiary institutions in Nigeria are ripe for a digital revolution, others believe that the system is right on track and it is only a matter of time until we achieve this. Of the differing views, one thing holds true – Nigerian universities need ‘reforming.

Government-owned tertiary institutions in Nigeria have surely seen better days. They were once good examples of emerging giants attracting recognition from different countries of the world. But, today, they are left in cold ruins owing to their inability to embrace technology faster. Technology makes it more efficient for lecturers and administrative staff to handle office functions and grading papers, thus cutting down long working hours. But, sadly, Nigerian universities are outrightly benighted.

Despite the rest of the world being decades into the technology age, there are still calls by students and graduates of Nigerian universities to embrace technology. It is quite worrisome that students in Nigeria wait endlessly for results to be released and queue for hours to sign forms which could have been done electronically.

In this age of information explosion, a skill in processing and distribution of data using Information Technology will determine one’s value in the force of work. Pathetic, innovation in Nigerian Universities is at its infancy. The universities in the country still rely heavily on the conventional “teaching-learning” method when others have gone head-on to incorporate global requirements into their system by leaning towards technology-driven perspectives. These universities publish their course materials via the Internet, updating it regularly and have students that spread across the globe through distance learning programmes.

Sadly, most of the supporting materials in Nigerian Universities are manually gotten and largely outdated owing to the dearth of the needed technical knowledge to meet up with global best practices. It is, therefore, not out of place to outline that ‘poor network and communication imbroglio’ is one prominent obstacle to the integration of ICT in Nigerian Universities.

As the digital age progresses, tertiary institutions in Nigeria will have to extend access to ICT broadly.  A state of emergency should be declared in our tertiary institutions until the desired effect is achieved. Thus, the promotion of research and learning in emerging technologies should be given the utmost priority in a longterm plan that will ensure our tertiary institutions are self-sufficient without necessarily relying on government for their runnings.

Apart from the indisputable fact that maintenance of information technology resources requires stable electricity, which Nigeria has not been able to provide, technological and science laboratories cannot run without electricity. However, some universities have an added advantage owing to the situation of the zone they are based. Like sunlight in Northwest and Northeast, rivers and dams in North Central and coal deposits in Eastern Nigeria. These will help universities located in these areas to tap into the power at their disposal to keep information technology resources running, thus reawakening the universities as a force to reckon with in the comity of universities across the globe.

One cannot gainsay the fact that when technology-driven knowledge is prioritized, Nigeria universities will be able to tap into a previously unrecognized potential. Some institutions in the country have taken giant strides in technology especially in e-learning deliveries; the University of Ilorin, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife boast of the best-developed ICT systems in the country. UNN became the first institution to produce an electric car in the country – a development which moved the institution up the ladder in the webometric info ranking of world universities (July 2019 version 8.1.0 BETA), a ranking based on the quality of research outputs, as number one in Nigeria, 17th in Africa and 1,108 in the world. 

Thus, engaging in innovation and emerging technologies will be a stepping stone for Nigerian Universities to becoming flag bearers in the global education scene. Like Jelani Aliyu strongly asserted, until Nigerian universities dance to the tune of technology and build on their research outputs, our universities will remain a laughing stock in the global scene but with technology, our universities could be self-sufficient and reclaim their lost glory.

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