The use of technology to facilitate development is no longer news. Bearing in mind the difficulties associated with communication in the continent, it is seen as a relief. However, two separate adoptions of mobile telephony as an agent of development in Nigeria ignited varying reactions.
The Ministry of Agriculture announced it’s plan to give out free mobile phones to Nigerian farmers. The kernel of their intervention – as espoused by the Minister of Agriculture - was to:
… get subsidized high quality fertilizer and seeds to our rural farmers by introducing the GES (Growth Enhancement Support) scheme in April of 2012. The GES scheme delivers inputs (fertilizers and seeds) to farmers directly by using farmers’ cell phones.
However, this plan generated shrill ring tones from Nigerians. I curated the reactions of Nigerian digital natives in Free Phones for Nigerian Farmers? A sampler of the negative response is represented thus:
Such white elephant projects will only reinforce the perception of Nigeria as a laughing stock of the rest of the world where we like to teach the blind sign language. Any developing country such as Nigeria, wishing to develop its agricultural sector will focus direct government intervention to help farmers and boost food production on achieving steady supply of working capital, improve research and development, water supply, ensure low cost of fuel and labour, (corruption-free) subsidy on farming equipment and basic infrastructure.
This shows that the crux of the argument above was not due to digital determinism but viability and sustainability of the project.
Another development intervention was driven by mobile phones. In Ondo State, Nigeria, mobile phones have aided the successful reduction of maternal and infant mortality.
Eugene Ohu explains how How Cellphones reduced Maternal Deaths in (Ondo State) Nigeria:
Their findings: the number of women who were delivering babies at the basic health centres was low and many were dying. Why? When labour contractions start, pregnant mothers do not get quickly enough to health centres and they can sometimes die from excessive bleeding or other labour complications.
The solution: provide the mothers with cell phones so that they stay connected to health care providers who monitor them regular and provide routine counselling. If there is an emergency, they can be quickly evacuated to health centres with experienced personnel instead of home self-help or untrained traditional caregivers.
Two similar tales (adoption of mobile phones): one is stewed in controversy before it’s impact is felt while another has left the ‘drawing board’ and is already giving positive results. Both are stories from Nigeria and side-by-side, reflect the Nigerian story of angst and hope.