On Pantami’s Datafication of Society, by Zeenat Sambo
The recent publication of two books by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, has once again accentuated the importance of technology in national development.
The books entitled, ‘Cybersecurity Initiatives for Securing a Country’, and ‘Datafication of Society to Foster an Internet Economy’ explored digital inclusivity and growth.
The books which were unveiled at the Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum on Emerging Technologies, organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in Lagos delved into the technological realm triggering the understanding of technology and the involvement of all in the fourth-generation technology for the digital economy.
It is fascinating that a book of 129-pages on ‘Datafication of Society’ could hold its readers spellbound on a journey to tech understanding in the simplest of ways traversing through numerous chapters particularly focused on datafication in the digital age, with Nigeria as the case study.
The first chapter relates how datafication has encroached into the daily activities of a person who is being assisted with technological accessories like smartphones, gadgets, emails, and others that can easily generate, encode, transfer and receive soft information for numerous purposes with the representation of binary digits called data.
With a focus on growing National Digital Economy, the book in its 2nd chapter foresees the improvement of Nigeria’s traditional economy into a digital economy by engaging in digital tools to upgrade the ecosystem, to enable it to be an active member of the Global Digital Economy in the future.
It also predicts the transformation of the traditional economy into a digital economy through the deliberate application of digital tools to ensure that the ICT sector has the highest growth rate in the nation’s economy, and visibly contributes to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Chapter 3 of the book revolves around the understanding of the power shift of Nigeria’s wealth transition from mineral and natural resources into digital resources and innovations. The expression “Data is the new oil” has become a new identity for a nation that has depended on oil and now globally delving into digital innovation in all sectors to transform and develop the economy.
According to the author, both oil and technology play a significant role in powering the economy. Oil powers the industrial economy while the data powers the digital economy but with big data analytics and artificial intelligence, data is being refined to create insight and create wealth for the nation.
While oil is finite, data is always progressively in infinite bits which can be reused for different purposes at the same time.
For instance, it was observed by the author that leading companies and the richest men in the world today are not the standard oil resources of yesterday rather they are tech giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Thus, Nigeria’s smart citizens must delve to harness the opportunities in tech to develop the nation.
Smartphones, smartwatches, and gadgets used to count daily steps and calories are examples of datafication being applied to everyday life. For digital convenience and inclusion, there are many Google family apps available, including Google Maps for navigation and directions, Google photos for archiving, and Google Drive.
In addition, it is fascinating to see how private and public data use has gradually influenced the generation of personal and public information. Nigerians are now directed to online registrations and complaints portals, while it is common to hear smartphone users say hello to Siri or `Hello Google’ whenever they are too busy to type.
Chapters 4 & 5 of the book further elaborate on the structuring of datafication as a way of using ICT to address unemployment in Nigeria. A new strategy was conceived in the book to further entrench ICT in tertiary institutions by funding the institutions and entrepreneurship education.
This initiative is to encourage Nigerians to have unfettered access to ICT competency programmes and acquire internationally recognised skills and aptitude to fit into ICT jobs across the globe.
The adoption of datafication for the benefit of society cannot be overemphasized as priority is often given to proven skills rather than paper qualifications.
This is why the Minister restated the need for digital skill acquisition and readiness of the government through its initiatives like the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (NDIEC), and the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) under the supervision of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
This is to ensure that Nigerians are equipped with standard skills in digital technologies and business operations to end the menace of unemployment. This is evident in datafication of entrepreneurship, a method of digitizing daily transactions of the economy that will yield profits through online sales, purchases, and services by archiving and boosting data of daily transactions.
Chapter 6 outlines how technology can be used to eliminate the traditional approach to determining the population of a country during national censuses every decade. Through this innovative approach, accurate data collection will be ensured.
In terms of digitalizing the Nigerian electoral process, startups like Wardchat are quite remarkable. With the use of smartphones, this innovative application would enhance the participation of voters in the electoral process and enhance their engagement.
Furthermore, datafication has improved the interaction between human to machine and machine to machine. Thus, chapters 7 & 8 explained how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, Big Data, and others have integrated into the industrial revolution to sustain a profitable output to develop the digital economy.
Indeed the major challenge confronting datafication is cybersecurity. Thus, the author in the final chapter restated that the ministry, Nigerian Data Protection Bureau (NDPB), Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), and others be further strengthened to protect private and public data from falling into wrong hands.
Zeenat Sambo writes from Wuye District Abuja