A case for improved e-governance strategies
By JIDE JEGEDE
The postponement of the 2017 edition of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) provoked a heated debate among journalists at the Oyo State Correspondents’ office in Ibadan recently.
The JAMB registrar, Professor Is-haq Oloyede, had addressed a press conference in Abuja to announce a major alteration to the body’s examinations schedule for the year. Besides fixing new dates for the entrance examinations to Nigeria’s higher institutions of learning, the body also disclosed its decision to put on hold the earlier scheduled Mock Examinations designed to get candidates better familiar with some of the new innovations it planned to debut. Since its establishment in February 1978, JAMB has struggled to deliver on its mandate to ensure that only the mentally capable are allotted spaces for further studies in the nation’s ivory tower. And this has resulted in the periodic review of its use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for effective delivery.
Though, long before Nigeria keyed into the global e-governance frenzy, JAMB had been known for deploying the use of technology for assessing candidates in its examinations. But, the 2017 experiment was almost becoming a disaster. With initial major hiccups in registration processes, stakeholders have expressed the fear that the exercise would inflict more dent on the image of the body struggling to sustain relevance to the education sector.
The widely reported challenges prospective candidates faced while trying to procure the e-pin for registration and insufficient accredited registration centres precipitated the shift in date for the examination and cancellation of the Mock Examination, which was introduced for the first time in JAMB’s 29 years history. The registrar, while apologizing to all stakeholders for the alteration and its consequences, was optimistic of ‘a seamless and successful 2017 UTME exercise’. He also blamed the glitches on ‘failure of technical partners’.
It was the development that recessed the Oyo state correspondent members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists into a frantic debate on Nigeria’s sprawling e-governance adventure. E-governance has been defined as the art of using tools offered by information technology in various aspects of the process of governance with objective of achieving efficiency, transparency, accountability and user friendliness in all the transactions that the citizens and business conduct with the government.
Like most other countries of the world, Nigeria is making efforts through the use of ICT to simplify governance, improve access and ensure mutual and effective relationship between and among the people and the state. The story is the same for all tiers and branches of government including the departments, ministries, agencies and parastatals. This is evident in the introduction of different websites, online applications and other ICT-based platforms to pave way for unfettered interaction between the government and the governed, and across governments. There is hardly a government policy programme today that does not have a presence somewhere somehow on the internet. Despite this, however, the full impact of the ICT deployment is still far-fetched.
The journalists-in-session shared personal experiences to highlight areas of weakness and strength for governments’ use of ICT to interface with the public.
As much as it could be argued that the scheme has reduced leakages in revenue generation for governments and promoted transparency to an appreciable level, findings show that many unscrupulous government officials still manipulate the system to extort citizens doing businesses with the government.
Experiences with agencies like the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) readily comes to mind when issues of effectiveness of e-governance in stamping out corruption is being considered. The corps is saddled with the responsibility of issuing drivers’ licences and vehicle plate numbers, among other services. But, despite creating online platforms for ease of transaction, there seem to be a ring of connivance which leaves customers with no option than ‘hire’ corrupt officials to handle the processes. For this, applicants pay far in excess of the stipulated fees for the transactions. And at times, they get scammed by individuals within the system, who collect money from people, pocket the inflated sum and keep feigning excuses to cover their track. Awful tales abound across government service-oriented establishments as bribable officials maneuver the processes to their personal advantage.
It is not all bad stories, though. There are good examples of how the use of ICT can improve the delivery of government policies and change the story of the otherwise encumbered users. To prove this, a journalist working with a government corporation related how a platform introduced by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is addressing the enrollees’ right of choice among the accredited healthcare providers in the scheme. The platform was created to allow the enrollees change their hospital of choice for reasons ranging from change of environment, unsatisfactory service delivery, among others. According to him, many of his colleagues in the civil service have taken advantage of the platform to exercise their right of choice. He said the liberation came after a radio programme monitored in Ibadan in which an health officer from the NHIS office enlightened the public on the use of the new platform and what it means to the enhancement of the scheme’s mandate.
“It sparked a new revolution across civil servants in Ibadan as colleagues now help each other to access that right of choice. One good side of this policy is that it has forced many providers to improve their services for fear of losing enrollees in their care,” he said with ting of satisfaction, adding that the platform is well secured to ensure that only the owner of an account can access it to effect changes.
A sure take-home from this is the difference a timely and appropriate awareness is capable of making in the implementation of policies, especially as governments’ desire to fully embrace ICT for effective service delivery is growing. Again, governments at all levels need to pay serious attention to feedbacks on their policies to know which one is working according to design, and how well. This is also important since it forms the fulcrum for review which should take place from time to time.
Jegede, an Ibadan-based journalist, can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org