The global pandemic has had devastating effects across the world which led to a dramatic loss of human life, restriction of human interactions, loss of livelihood, and grave economic impact,
Since the Government announced the Lockdown in the commercial capital, Lagos, and other neighbouring states, it has become evident that Nigeria lacks functional systems to provide necessities to citizens during a period of prolonged human confinement. COVID-19 has exposed the weakness in our public services as governments at the Federal, State and local levels have struggled to provide healthcare and social benefits to Citizens.
In response to the crippling effect of COVID19, the private sector through the Coalition Against COVID-19, an umbrella body of business leaders, philanthropists, and corporate organisations raised over 25 billion Naira to support the Government’s effort through the provision of palliatives and relief materials for poor households, supported in the setup of isolation centres, procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources needed to curtail the spread of the virus.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development also launched a nation-wide cash transfer programme for the vulnerable during the lockdown, however, there have been questions on how the Government identifies the poorest of the poor and beneficiary of the social intervention program. The lack of data, identity, and technology systems for identifying the most vulnerable in our society has become evident during COVID.
This has raised questions on the transparency of the process and there has been an allegation of corruption in the distribution of palliatives and disbursement of funds through the cash transfer programme. The disorganised disbursement of relief materials and funds are currently being tracked by Civil society organisations using accountability tools to track the Government’s response, tracking spend, disbursement of funds, and monitoring of COVID19 cases. However, limited solutions are addressing the paucity of data for providing relief during the pandemic, there lies in an opportunity to use technology to support public sector delivery of service to citizens, serve businesses better and improve the lives of citizens.
The challenges posed by the pandemic also led to restriction to accessing public service while the private sector who have existing systems that support remote work and virtual meetings, services in most public sector agencies were largely affected as most Ministries, Department, and Agencies were not set-up for work in the digital age. Public institutions struggled to adapt to remote work, virtual conferencing, and providing services during the lockdown. Interestingly, one of the key pillars of the 2017-2020 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan (FCSSIP) is the deployment of enterprise content management systems (ECMS) for the automation and digitisation of Government service.
This component of the plan didn’t see the light of the day, again, the COVID19 pandemic has also created an opportunity to address inefficiencies in the public sector using digital technology to improve systems, processes, and service delivery. In response to the realities caused by the Global pandemic, the office of the Head of Service in June 2020, published a circular mandating all Government MDAs to digitalise files and records with minimum specifications for Scanning, Data Entry, Storage, and retrieval.
Considering our paper-heavy Government processes, creating digital files is a baby step to the disruption that could improve public services. There is a need for public service reform that drives investments in digital technology to transform the way government works, improve service delivery to citizens, improve the ease of doing business, increase efficiency and transparency in Government processes.
The challenges posed by COVID-19 has made the value of Government technology “GOvTech” more evident. There is a huge potential for the demand for Govtech solutions in all Government institutions. The market size for the application of Govtech services encompasses the use of innovative technologies in all Government agencies, data intelligence for planning and proving social security, generating and Government revenue, tracking public spending, improving the ease of doing business, supporting the legislative process, and extends to improving the judicial processes in our courts, virtual court seating, and other benefits.
The vast application of Govtech solutions in Nigeria are largely untapped, there is a need to create an ecosystem where governments, private sector, civil society, and start-ups community collaborate to develop tech for good solutions that solve everyday problems, improve service delivery and use data-driven solutions for planning, implementing public policies and providing social services.
Beyond the Digitization of Files in Government MDAs, how can we accelerate the growth of GOVTECH in Nigeria?
The key to the successful adoption of GovTech is to co-create and sustain a collaborative GovTech ecosystem. Public sector officials, the tech community, and reformers in civil society will need to come together to use technology to make services easily accessible to citizens and bring the Government closer to the people using innovative products.
Nigeria is part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global partnership that brings together state (Government) and Non-state actors (Civil society and organised private sector)to promote the principles of innovation, co-create and bring about reform, promote accountable, responsive, and inclusive governance.
Taking the lessons from the impact of the COVID19 response in Nigeria, the OGP can make GovTech solutions an integral part of the implementation of the second Nation Action Plan (NAP II). The OGP can accelerate the use of innovative technology to improve the governance process and improving the lives of citizens.
It is time for the Government, the private sector, and civil society to collaborate and build an ecosystem to implement digital technology solutions that can bring the Government closer to the people especially at a time of restrictions to meetings. The government must show a commitment to investing in digital and data platforms to provide services, generate revenue, crowdsourcing solution, provide channels for citizens to receive feedback, and contribute to the decision-making process.
The Ministry of Federal Ministry of Communications & Digital Economy should implement policies that support the creation of GovTech teams and working groups to drive technology solutions to respond to the challenges posed by COVID19. International interventions, donor, and impact investors should also consider funding COVID19 responses that support Government and Citizens.
GovTEch and CivTech platforms have come to stay and more citizens need to under the Usage of digital technology for everyday activities and services, therefore, the OGP reformers should consistently “market” and create awareness on the usage of GovTech platform to help more citizens adopt the new normal.