Rivers builds massive ICT backbone, set to launch digital revolution and e-governance structure

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– 2020 to witness 22 digital projects

– Rivers website and App to boost e-governance out soon

– About 188,000 taxpayers, private and public sectors, captured on tax-net

(First published in BusinessDay by Ignatius Chukwu)

The Rivers State government which has been incrementally building its Information and Computer Technology (ICT) backbone in recent years now seems set to launch its digital revolution that may usher in an e-governance system where most government transactions and interfacing with the public would be conducted electronically. By this, everything tax will start and end digitally, school registration would be done e-way, patients would register and pay online while court filing including affidavits would be sworn to and paid for online. Corruption may reduce and government revenue is already swelling by the day.

The revolution is being engineered at the ICT Department overseen by one of the computer wizards the state has produced, Ibifuro Asawo, now the Special Adviser (SA) to Gov Nyesom Wike on ICT.

According to the SA who spoke to newsmen on Monday, February 17, 2020 at the ICT Centre opposite Pleasure Park on Aba Road, the Department is saddled with

responsibility of developing and regulating ICT activities in the State. “Consequently, the department in the last two years and seven months has embarked on several ICT development activities funded by government which led to the setting up of the Rivers State Technology and Innovation Hub also known as the TechCreek”

TechCreek is an attempt to change the perception that comes from that name; which include violence, kidnapping, and oil bunkering, to something good in the form of a tech revolution that would sweep the Niger Delta region by the feet, he said. This goes with capacity development for the Rivers youths, creation of Job Portal for youths which has already grown to almost 200,000 persons with about 25,000 being trained and assisted to get jobs, automation of MDA processes, biometrics and physical verification of public servants, and information, security and emergency services, he added.

Data speaks

The work of the ICT backbone is believed to be speaking very loud especially in the area of IGR where Rivers State is flying higher every month, next to Lagos State. The work of the ICT backbone has not only made tax administration run more smoothly and without violence but has made the state to cross the N12Bn per month IGR dream on its way to N15Bn state target, sources in government said previously.

So far, over 6,778 organisations are believed to have been captured in the data base in payment of taxes in the state. There are also 139, 169 registered individuals on the tax platform, according to Asawo.

There are 2,952 approved private schools in the State with 1,949 public schools, making it almost 500,000 schools captured. There were 337,480 candidates of BECE (Junior WAEC) that migrated to the RivEMiS Platform covering 2015 – 2019 exam years, the SA further disclosed. .

The state’s health system is also going digital. The biodata records show that 61, 708 patients were migrated to the RSUTH HMiS. Now, over 500 lawyers are registered and doing business on the Court Management Information System (RicCMiS); while 5,246 civil servants and 3,888 pensioners were captured in 2019 with 48,317 public servants being captured and physically verified since the inception of the 2018 exercise.

More wonders

The ICT Department has been mandated to automate the processes of all government MDAs. The SA said; “To this effect, the following solutions have been developed and deployed: Rivers State Tax Management Information System; Rivers State Education Management Information System; Rivers State Public Service Management Information System; Rivers State Courts management Information Systems (RivCoMiS); Rivers State Health Management Information System; Rivers State Physical Planning and Urban development; Management Information system; Rivers State Business listing service; Rivers State Signage Authority Management Information.

No room for ghost workers and double employments anymore

 It was easy for ghosts to find space in the public space or persons to work in two or more places and collect salaries, but consistent deployment of ICT platforms is said to have eliminated this. Over 11,000 workers were said to have tampered with their age records to remain on duty while almost 5000 pensioners can’t show up for verifications for fear of being caught. This is said to have saved huge amounts of money for the government. The SA could not confirm figures but it used to be said few years ago that the state needed about N9Bn every month to pay workers but it is getting down to about N7Bn monthly. In fact, the 2020 budget stated that the state spent an average of N5.3Bn per month on salaries; N1.14Bn on pensions/gratuities; and N1.1Bn on overheads, totaling N7.54Bn.

The SA however said biometric and physical verification have been conducted for both serving and retired public servants in the state. ”Today, the government knows the number of public servants to retire at any given time”.

TechCreek is the set-up of the Rivers State Technology and Innovation Hub with the following facilities: six training halls with an average of 30 systems; 157 all-in-one desktop systems; one conference hall with a capacity of 150 – 200; seven smart boards; meeting room with a capacity of 10 – 15 persons; a broadband internet access with two STM1 capacity; a co-working space that can take 15 – 20 people; open café that can sit over 50 persons per time; a canteen; 10 co-working boots that can take 4 – 6 persons per boot; and youths being trained for free or at subsidized rates.

The exciting thing happening is that beginners in entrepreneurship can use co-offices to manage their businesses and host meetings till they grow big enough to stand alone. They share power supply, infrastructure, secretarial staff, etc, at little fees.

2020 digital revolution soon

Between March and September 2020, Rivers State may not be the same as most ICT platforms and Apps from the ICT Department would be rolled out to change the way things are done in government in the state. The most impacting one may be the proposed automation of MDAs said to be part of the governor’s major ICT dream to improve service delivery, the ease of doing business and the IGR of the state.

Security may benefit too, as the State government has concluded arrangement to launch the 112 service in Rivers. He said: “By dialing 112, a distressed citizen can easily get help from the relevant emergency. Response centres or agencies such as: Security agents, Fire Service, Road Safety, Medical and Health Emergency Centres, etc, would fly into action.” Many look forward to this.

Other major projects to be rolled out in 2020 to launch the digital revolution include Digital Literacy Course TechCreek already ongoing; 21st Century Education Skills for Teachers TechCreek in April; CODEGAMINATORS project to produce digital youths in April; TechMarketers scheme to produce marketers in high-tech area; Techpreneurs scheme in April; automation of MDAs through the ICT Dept /Cinfores scheme for Urban and engagement of Ministry of Commerce in March; etc.

There will be the roll out of the Rivers State ICT Policy in June; an ICT Challenge for Secondary Schools to create excitement and interest in schools in March; Creek Hackaton for hubs and undergraduates in April; a national conference ICT in June; an ICT week in same April; and meeting LGA chairmen on need to have ICT tributaries in the 23 LGAs in March.

There will be SME Registration in March so that ll businesses would be captured to boost informal tax drive. The state’s Website/Rivers App to go full e-governance system would be in April; the Emergency Call Centre (112) would be launched in March; the RivLands & Urban platform would be rolled out in March; TechPreneurs Meet-ups would be in March, June, September & December; CODEGAMINATOR for junior persons would be in August; eAgric Portal would be rolled out in September; the Unified LGA Identification System would be out in July; and the biometrics and physical verification of retirees and new employees would be monthly from February 2020.

Conclusion:

The outcome may be that Rivers State could become the new India of the Niger Delta with digital operations and e-governance becoming a new way of life in the Garden city. No one can swear to a false date of birth anymore and the millions ripped off the state from affidavits would come to an end. Other government services would be delivered promptly and transparently, thereby increasing confidence between the government and the citizens. Should this era emerge, the ICT Department and the work that the SA and hos team is doing would then be glaring and greatly appreciated.

 

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