Opinion

Digital Culture or Digital Economy?

 

WITH TUNDE AKANNI, PhD

Don’t be surprised that Kaduna State Government was recently declared
as the most transparent in the country. The journey started way back
in 2016. My witness account: Veteran media professional and well
wisher of all times, Taiwo Obe, affectionately hailed T.O, constituted
a gender-balanced team of younger colleagues including yours
sincerely. In his democratic way of doing things, he  told us we were
going to Kaduna to interact with colleagues in the civil service of
that state manning the information desk across all ministries,
departments and agencies. He was the lead trainer. On account of my
development work experiential assets, I was made to lead the session
on Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. I titled it “Leaving No One
Behind”. With me also in that team were multiple award winning travel
writer, Pelu Awofeso and distinguished communication amazons, Iyabo
Olubunmi Akinkugbe and Anike-Ade Funke Treasure.
After each of the sessions T O himself led clarifications with
comments and or questions. He reiterated to the participants the
all-important relevance of the online media to their work in this age.
That training programme immediately initiated online groups enabling
participants to henceforth, professionally ventilate information,
including photographs and other forms of illustration, on the
activities of their respective organizations. Since then, the online
presence of Kaduna State Government online, remains unmatched, even as
it has improved relentlessly.
Kaduna’s Governor El-Rufai appears to have learnt so much from the
values that accrued to campaigns from the use of social media and he
was determined to tap into them and even sustain them for his
government and the development of the state.  Ironically, the huge
lessons El- Rufai imbibed, perceived to be the handiwork of its
party’s publicity team had been lost on the arrowhead of the team then
and now the Information Minister, Lai Muhammed. Consequently this is
impacting the vision of the government given Lai Mohammed’s strategic
position.
Sometimes you wonder how inexplicable, far reaching decisions are
taken by government functionaries, taking the communities of the
informed and others alike by surprise.   I was in the thicket of a
media mapping of Nigeria for a global media player when the story
played out: The old Ministry of Communications has been renamed to
Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. It was a little
exciting against the preceding era of what I had described as that of
“communication governance of
indifference”(https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2016/12/19/nigerias-communication-governance-of-indifference-by-tunde-akanni/).
Nigeria couldn’t have had a worse regime in the sector, I had thought.
But even the recent movement from the public subsector of
communications to the private sector by the same people who had played
regulator to the same private sector rendered one somewhat hopeless.
Minister Pantami’s seeming initial enthusiasm was therefore
interesting. Pantami reinforced my excitement further with his
engagement with the price regime of data and allied issues.
As one tried to ruminate further on the renaming of Ministry of
Communications, Minister Lai Muhammed blared out the plan by
government to regulate social media. Incredible! Nigerians thought
they had fought the last battle on this when one strange Senator
Na’Allah introduced that bill during the Dr Bukola Saraki-led Senate.
If anyone was in doubt, the Senate President, Dr Lawan, later broached
a rather more severe one that his Senate was working on the
legislation that would ensure that anyone who runs foul of the planned
hate speech law would face death penalty. To achieve what? Many have
queried. Nobel Laureate Soyinka even asked: Is it now cool to kill?
While Minister Pantami seems to be interested in calming the troubled
nerves of those who have been bothered by the seemingly ceaseless
abuse of privileged positions in the regulatory sector, the gesture
leaves so much to be desired.  His renaming gesture is as seemingly
intuitive as it is exclusivist. Digitech is rather all- encompassing,
economy being just one of the  variables.
Communication professionals and scholars of diverse leanings locally
and internationally have  engaged deeply with the evolution of digital
technology. Almost consensually, they have also reiterated that it is
as multidimensional and open as much as it is rapidly transforming the
lives of people globally even as much more is expected with the
looming Internet of Things, IoT, phenomenon. A particularly convincing
multidimensionality of internet which is even a strand of digitech
manifests in the decision of Oxford University to set up what it calls
Oxford Internet Institute. It harbours specialized internet-related
programmes from the perspectives of communication, political science
and so forth.
Even in Nigeria, such is the stretch of digital technology through the
gamut of human life that no fewer than three recent, well researched,
multi-author publications by Nigeria’s leading communication scholars
of diverse bent have focused on it in varying degrees.   And more are
in the works, indeed, believably to the knowledge of Minister Pantami
himself.  Given the obvious cross-cutting relevance of digital
technology therefore, the Ministry should have been made to have a
more accommodating outlook by renaming it rather as Ministry of
Communication and Digital Culture.  Ministry of Communications and
Digital Economy is rather exclusivist rather than being
all-encompassing.
If the renaming suggested above would be reflective of the minister’s
readiness for genuine democratic disposition to business, it should,
in conjunction with the Information and Culture minister, be extended
further to the repealing of the Cybercrime Prohibition and Prevention
Act of 2015. The Act, among others, provides for Cybercrime Advisory
Council with members drawn from different public sector organizations.
In spite of the centrality of the internet to the operations of the
operations of all contemporary media organizations, none of the media
inclined professional bodies is included on the council.  Not even
either of the Guild of Online Corporate Publishers, GOCOP, or the
Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, whose main operational
terrain is the internet. And to think that a GOCOP member, Premium
Times, is a Pulitzer awardee, with all the global respect and
reckoning?
Most important perhaps is the need to perpetuate democratization in
the scheme of things in relation to what has been described as the
most open technology in the world. But what is the current level of
participation in  the annual global Internet Governance Forum, IGF, as
well as the regional ones which avail us all with the inspiration to
update on global best practices?   It may as well not be out of place
for our policy makers to reckon properly with the two major annual
conferences of communication experts held here in Nigeria annually.
They should ensure that representatives of  all relevant government
organs especially those in charge of communications, Information and
Culture attend the scholarly conferences dutifully.
Akanni, PhD, is Director of Digital Media Research Centre, DMRC, of
the Lagos State University, LASU.  Follow him on Twitter
@AkintundeAkanni

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