INTERNET connectivity is becoming part and parcel of human existence all over the globe, but the story in the undeveloped countries, most especially those living in the African continent, is different and not encouraging. Millions of people in Africa are finding it difficult to access the internet and even in places where the internet exists, most of the time, it’s inefficient and costly.

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how fragile humans are and their dependence on the services the internet provides to their daily lives. Reports indicate that only less than 50% of the Nigerian population is connected or have access to the internet. Of this, many do not have the resources to own smartphones or computers through which to access internet due to the high level of poverty ravaging the majority of the country’s population.

Community networks are telecommunications infrastructure deployed and operated by local groups to meet their own communication needs and also a communications infrastructure designed and erected to be managed for use by local communities. This communication needs can be voice, data, etc. and can be a point of convergence for communities to come together to address their common community problems.

To ensure that more people are connected and have access to the internet in Nigeria, government, through its communications agencies such as Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agencies (NITDA), has introduced programmes such as Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and provision of free computers and internet services to some communities and academic institutions in the country.

Non-profit organisations such as the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), whose main focus is the promotion of usage of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to empower citizens, has initiated programmes that will liberate Nigerian people from digital “darkness” and make the country one of the developed nations in terms of internet connectivity and other areas of human development as internet gives people ample opportunities in their academic pursuit, businesses and in the healthcare sector, among others.

To ensure no one is left behind in the process, CITAD, had in 2016, launched the Digital Livelihood Programme which centred on the training of women on digital technology and digital entrepreneurship in northern Nigeria with focus on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kano and Bauchi states’ rural communities. It later on included Jigawa State.

The programme has achieved tremendous success as lives of hundreds of young girls and women have been changed and transformed, many of the trained girls have now become digital entrepreneurs; graphic designers, web designers, online marketers, etc.

In an interview in one of the Nigerian newspapers, one of the beneficiaries, Sadiya Danyaro, stated that the training “has drastically changed her life and made her to become an employer rather than a job seeker. She also described the training as the turning point of discovering her passion and dream.”

Before the commencement of the community network project by CITAD, which is being supported by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) in Nigeria, CITAD has in the past set up seven (7) computer centres in two states in Nigeria to ease internet access to these underserved and neglected communities in terms of internet connectivity. The communities are Tungan Ashere, Dakwa Community, Pasepa, Gaube and Leleyi Gwari, all in rural FCT communities, Jama’are and Itas-Gadau in Bauchi State.

At the peak of Covid-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need and necessity of connecting everyone with affordable and efficient internet, the community network project was launched by APC with support of FCDO in three continents; Africa, Asia and Latin America and championed by CITAD in Nigeria.

So far, with persistent engagements and advocacy visits by CITAD, progress on setting up community networks in Nigeria has been made. The Nigerian government through the House of Representatives Committee on ICT has drafted a bill which contains provisions on community networks. Itas and Jama’are local governments, both in Bauchi State, have donated a piece of land each to CITAD to build community network centres in their communities. NCC has, following meetings with CITAD, indicated that it will develop a policy to guide the development of community networks in the country.

Community networks are telecommunications infrastructure deployed and operated by local groups to meet their own communication needs and also a communications infrastructure designed and erected to be managed for use by local communities. This communication needs can be voice, data, etc. and can be a point of convergence for communities to come together to address their common community problems.

This initiative is aimed at enhancing the capacity of communities to design, deploy and manage community networks to meet their communication needs while at the same time engaging regulators and other relevant policymakers to enact policies and provide support that could enhance the flourishing of community networks in the country.

Due to resource constraints, CITAD piloted some sites in seven communities across three states namely Jama’are and Itas in Bauchi State, Kafanchan in Kaduna State, and four sites in rural communities of the FCT, Abuja (Tungen Ashere, Dakwa Community, Pasepa and Leleyi Gwari).

Some of the activities carried out by CITAD under this project include training of the community champions in these communities on the need for setting up community network centres in these areas and on advocacy in order to engage their representatives more effectively, forming community network advisory committee which consists of individuals from Civil Society Organisations, ICT sector, government and members of the communities, high level engagements with government (NCC and NITDA), engagement with House of Representatives and championing discussions on designing policies on community network in Nigeria.

So far, with persistent engagements and advocacy visits by CITAD, progress on setting up community networks in Nigeria has been made. The Nigerian government through the House of Representatives Committee on ICT has drafted a bill which contains provisions on community networks. Itas and Jama’are local governments, both in Bauchi State, have donated a piece of land each to CITAD to build community network centres in their communities. NCC has, following meetings with CITAD, indicated that it will develop a policy to guide the development of community networks in the country.

Ali Sabo is the Campaigns and Communications Officer of CITAD and can be reached via email: aliyuncee@gmail.com or his twitter handle: @a_sabo12.

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