Intel Corporation, Nigeria and the Student Personal Computer Scheme0
Punch’s Olabisi Deji-Folutile, interviews Olubunmi Ekundare, the Country Manager, Intel Corporation, Nigeria.
Why is Intel collaborating with the Federal Government on the student personal computer scheme?
We realised that most students don’t have access to computers probably because there is no credit facility for consumers. There is a large population of youths who don’t have access to computers whether it is in terms of ownership or broadband connection. We came up with the idea that instead of government subsidising and providing all the funds all the time, we could encourage students to invest in computers for their own benefit, we think by doing this we could also encourage ownership. If they invest their money, they are likely to take ownership more seriously. We are focusing on universities and the National Youth Service Corps orientation camps. We thought that would be better than turning out graduates that don’t have computer training or education and I can back this up with facts. During the last orientation camp, we went to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, we asked them questions like ‘ how many of you are ICT compliant, how many of you have computers’ and 95 per cent of the corps members said they have never touched or worked on computers in their lives.
You mean ninety five per cent of corps members said that? That is pretty high
Yes. We have their names and some of them are Computer Science graduates, some of them are Electrical and Engineering graduates. They don’t have computers and probably some of them never worked with computers throughout the duration of their studies in the university. So we came up with this idea. The question is how do we ignite our consumer market? Fortunately, government bought the idea. We decided to focus on university students. We are out to empower them, we wrote a proposal to government, brought together all stakeholders-banks, local OEMS, telecoms operators, we all sat down and looked into the issue. We looked at what could be consumer-friendly, we also brought universities together through the National Universities Commission and the vice-chancellors. It’s a special package of connectivity that would be affordable, something that would make it easier to have access to computers. We are working with the ministry and the companies involved are guaranteeing the products for two years. The universities will verify if the students are bona-fide students. We have special packets of connectivity that will make ownership and connectivity affordable. We have special rates for the project. Banks have brought down their interest rate to 15 per cent. On the government side, we are starting with 12 pilot universities, the National Universities Commission, Committee of Vice-Chancellors are all involved, there is a portal where all stakeholders have interface
How do you plan to achieve your objective?
We are organising free training programmes on basic use of computers and entrepreneurship. For instance, we train youth corps members for three days per batch. We are trying as much as we can to accommodate as many youths as possible. For Lagos NYSC orientation camp alone, we have registered over 500 youths so far. We are not supplying computers, we are doing more of bringing the ecosystem partners together, government is supporting but doing so by providing the enabling environment. Government has helped us to get universities to sign on the project, without universities, you can’t get the students. All the parties involved are helping in form of subsidy so that at the end of the day, students could afford and have access to these computers.
What does Intel stand to gain from this intervention?
For us at Intel, the question is how do we grow the totality of the market? How do we help the local economy to grow? We want to see the industry grow. That is what we do in every country where we have presence. We are interested in the growth of the economy. I was at Omatec last week, Omatek has inaugurated a new factory that is what happens when you launch a project like this, you begin to create jobs. We have had experience in other countries and that has helped in shaping our desire to live a permanent mark wherever we find ourselves.-sharing our experience in other markets.
You said you were starting with 12 federal universities, are you restricting your operations to federal institutions alone?
No. We know the size of the country and we want to work with as many universities as possible. We are not restricting our activities to public institutions either. We will accommodate any university that is ready to partner with us. They are free to join if they have structures that can support the programme. Remember, most of the things we do are done online so interested universities must be ready in terms of infrastructure. They must have a reasonable degree of infrastructure on ground before they can key in. We are not stopping anybody, our goal is to make computers available at the lowest price possible. We are looking at something like N50, 000. All the stakeholders have discounted the cost.
We have over 124 universities in the country and you are talking about just 12 as pilot studies. What happens to the rest of the students?
Any university can join once their structures support what we are doing. We want to make these products available in shops. We have over 200,000 students in the 12 universities. If we reach 20-30 per cent, we would have made some good marks of extending ICT to these students. They can pay within 18-24 months. When you put all those factors together, it has lowered the cost. All the universities in Nigeria are free to participate. In Nigeria, we have about five to 10 centres where people can easily go in and buy computers. Nigeria is underserved. We want people to be more involved in this business to expand its scope. We need to increase the retail reach. There is still a large population that is underserved. We are saying people should have a total package. People should have a total solution that is why we have brought all the stakeholders together, we are offering a total solution. This should be our focus. What government is doing is to provide an enabling environment. We are saying people should have access. Remember too that most of the graduates that do not have access to computers are those that came from other parts of the country, most of the people serving in Lagos are not from Lagos.
What is your take on the decision of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board to adopt computer-based test for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination?
It is a forward-looking policy. To an extent, the country is prepared but we need to put in place infrastructure that can support what the exam body is planning to do. What should be done is a deliberate policy and a push for broadband technology which is relevant to our country. People register online now, and we are taking a step forward. Some countries see ICT in education as a social service- a critical service for that matter. This is the kind of push we need from government. If we don’t make it a deliberate policy, we won’t move forward. For instance, the decision to create a cashless environment is a deliberate push, it will bring down the cost of producing notes for the Central Bank of Nigeria in the long run. People need to be nudged to do things right. We should have subtle ways of making people to do the right thing, but I don’t support adopting punitive measures to force people to do the right thing.
How will you describe ICT infrastructure in Nigeria?
Government is trying especially at the federal level. We have the school access programme, the one-on-one learning programme of the Federal Government has been on for five years, it has been supporting the practical use of computer learning. But we can do a lot more than what we are doing now. We must start a campaign that will encourage youths to buy into their future. We should encourage our youths to create their own tomorrow through the use of ICT. These are things we should be doing now.
IT in Nigeria is evolving. The ICT industry is dynamic. New technologies are always coming out. It is a continuous progression. ICT is beginning to evolve, some Nigerians are developing software content. For instance, on Iroko TV you can watch all Nollywood films on the move. New things are coming out. A lot of our youths are into ICT. Some go to Cisco, we have Ajapa, it has digitalised all the traditional folktales, we have so much richness in our culture that can be exported.
What is your view of the interest of the average Nigerian youth in ICT?
The average Nigerian youth is very enthusiastic in terms of outlook to life. Nigerians are the largest users of Blackberry in the world. Our youths are forward-looking. The first set of Nokia tune was composed by a Nigerian. We have our pupils at the secondary school level winning awards and coming back home with gold in global competitions, we have talents in this country, all we just need to do is to channel our efforts in the right direction. We have to raise the bar. That is how to better the country.
Source: Punch Online