NIGERIA: Poor electricity supply hits ICT growth

The poor electricity supply in N igeria is proving a major impediment to the operation and growth of information and communication technologies in the nation's universities. Only a trickle of daily electricity production dribbles erratically into the country's 93 institutions, rendering ICT systems dysfunctional. Universities resort to diesel-propelled generators, but they are expensive and environmentally unfriendly. So now there are attempts to find alternative energy sources such as solar energy to accelerate ICT provision.

N igeria produces 2,500 megawatts a day of electricity out of a total maximum daily production capacity of 3,000 megawatts. The potential need of the country is 10 times that, 30,000 megawatts daily. The solution to the ongoing energy crisis lies in the proper harnessing of N igeria's abundant natural gas - the country is Africa's leading producer at some 2.5 billion cubic metres a day.

ICT provision in universities is relatively recent, with most infrastructure created in the last five years. Since then, university authorities have been encouraged by donor agencies and ICT-propelled banking institutions to fast-track information technology as an indispensable tool of communication. With the gradual death of analogue telecommunications and its replacement by digital technologies, universities also realised they could no longer rely on obsolete fax, telephone and internet systems.

"It became imperative for N igerian universities quickly to emulate universities in advanced countries if they were to remain relevant," said Toyin Enikuomehin, ICT coordinator at Lagos State University.

In confronting this challenge, universities first established ICT centres with computer and internet facilities. Their strategic purpose was to serve, among other things, as nerve centres for collating and preserving student and staff databases, hosting university websites and for satellite dishes that spread internet services to academic and administrative units on campuses.

The second stage of ICT development and growth was the creation of mini-ICT centres in departments and faculties to support teaching, research and administration. "As the new mode of communications, ICT is all-embracing," declared Anadozie Chukwu, a computer science lecturer at the University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt. Soon after establishing an ICT centre, internet and intranet facilities, the pressure is on to extend ICT provision to all sections of the university.

But the growth of ICTs on campuses has been stalled by insufficient electricity supplied by Power Holding Company of N igeria, a state monopoly. Universities have resorted to diesel-driven generators, which are polluting and expensive to maintain, for institutions with limited resources, forcing them to look for alternative sources of energy to fuel ICT infrastructures.

There are new two ICT energy projects underway, still in an experimental stage. The British Council of N igeria has signed a memorandum of understanding with Yaba College of Technology in Lagos and Private Network N igeria Limited, or PNN, a telecommunication energy solution provider. The project's focus is to develop and implement an efficient and effective power alternative to generators, said Oladunjoye Adeyinka, PNN's Director.

Project Coordinator Tina Edewor, for the British Council, said there was a need to concentrate on value-add projects and that PNN, being a leading integrated maintenance and energy service provider in the telecoms industry, would carry out the project over the next two years.

The second project idea comes from N igeria's Solartime Electricity Company, a service centre to American renewable energy companies. Director Ukaegbu Ogwo said it was imperative to isolate the power supply of ICT centre networks from central supply systems in all universities. "Once this is done, uninterrupted power supply can be easily and more affordably achieved using modern energy technology - that is, wind and solar-propelled generators."

Ogwo advocated the use of scorching sun and abundant wind available all the year round in N igeria as an alternative, affordable and renewable source of energy to power ICT centres. "Renewable energy technology involves, initially, a high capital expenditure. So the investor much realise that he is buying the future power supply all at once. The savings generated from the use of renewable energy will pay for more power back-up installed within two years," he argued.

But ICT experts believe such experimental projects are palliatives that will not provide full solutions to the energy crisis confronting ICTs in universities.

Rosaline Okon, of the computer science department at the University of Calabar, pointed out that providing uninterrupted power supplies to ICT centres alone would not work if other units in universities had no power. "The best option is to develop an energy road map where all the units will gradually have uninterrupted electricity supply for the use of ICT," Okon said.

N igeria, she argued, loses millions of cubic metres of natural gas into the atmosphere with an annual financial loss of US$2.5 billion: "If there is political will, honesty and transparency, these abundant sources of gas can provide enough energy to accelerate the deployment of ICT in all universities. We must not forget that President Shu Musa yar'Adua and his Vice-President Jonathan Goodluck were former university lecturers. While in office, it is their historic responsibility to tackle the energy problem confronting their principal constituency - N igeria's tertiary institutions."