The world is fast transitioning to digital operation, which encompasses every sector, industry, and business, including the daily activities of the legislature, judiciary, and government administration office. This revolution is changing our lives, switching us from physical to virtual interactions. The days of moving files from one office to another for whatever transaction have faded in some parts of the world as they keep up with the transformative ICT nature. In contrast, developing countries are still trying to catch up with the ICT infrastructure and application demand.
The Concept of E-Government
According to the Organisation of American States, the electronic government is the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to optimise efficiency, accountability, transparency, and citizens’ participation in government functions and procedures. Centuries ago, administrative officers had to travel a long distance to move documents; citizens participated in elections by ballot papers and boxes and had limited information on the day-to-day operations and policymaking of the government.
Today, the story has changed: presidents can tweet, the senate presidents are on Instagram, elections are virtually processed, and the citizens have their influence registered in major decisions of the state. The basic models of the e-Government are Government-to-Citizens/Government-to-Customers (G2C), Government-to-Business (G2B), and Government-to-Employees (G2E).
Unfortunately, developing continents like Africa are yet to catch up with this dynamic innovation, save for countries like South Africa, Mauritius, and Seychelles. They are making every effort to keep the lead in digital government in Africa. This is a call on the Nigerian government to pace up the integration of ICT into their functions and procedures, from Abia to Zamfara State. While there are already traces of this transition, a better effect could only be felt across the nation if it is fast-tracked.
The Benefits of E-Government
Electronic government has numerous merits from which nations across the globe can benefit. The World Bank succinctly reveals that adopting e-government brings about better delivery of government services to citizens, improves interactions with industries and businesses, empowers citizens with access to information, and enhances government management’s efficiency. This further leads to an increase in transparency, convenience, growth of revenue, and a decline in corruption and the high cost of governance.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the whole world to lockdown, was the impetus that increased the demand for governments to switch to digital innovations to keep the system running. In 2020, United Nations released a survey of the 193 UN Member States leading countries that were running an effective digital government. This survey encompasses the scope and quality of online services, telecommunication infrastructure status, and human capacity. These nations are Japan, the United States of America, Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Let’s explore the e-Government in Singapore, one of the above-listed countries, and identify the factors behind its successful digital government over the years. The Singapore Government has a longing engraved in its plans to serve its citizens. To actualise this dream, they integrated efficient parameters to build a functional e-Government.
According to Eunice Lee (2004), four strategic thrusts were drawn in June 2000: to deliver integrated electronic services, use Infocomm technologies to build capacity, be proactive and responsible, and reinvent government in the digital economy. This plan ran until 2003; then, they activated another to offer an improved roadmap to the e-Government until 2006. It had three core factors: delighted customers, connected citizens, and a networked government.
These viable strategies over the years were instrumental in positioning Singapore on the list of the leading nations in digital government development. Today, Singapore exemplifies the core functions of an e-Government: easy access to information and services to citizens and businesses, increased quality of services: speed and process efficiency, and the engagement of citizens in policymaking.
The Stages of E-Government
Due to various technical, economic, and political reasons, digital government development initiatives evolve to their full potential over time. Consequently, the projects of an e-Government can be divided into four distinct stages of development: presence, interaction, transaction, and transformation.
According to Jeffrey W. Seifert, presence is the seamless and cost-effective leeway into digital governance; however, it does not offer premium opportunities to citizens owing to its limited options. A website is an example of presence and provides information about an agency, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and operational hours; nevertheless, it lacks the artificial intelligence to engage visitors.
The second stage of e-Government development is interaction. While it engages visitors, it is only limited to providing information such as regulatory services, schedules for a public hearing, public holidays, downloadable forms for printing, and probably an email address for further enquiries.
Jeffrey W. Seifert affirms that the initiatives of this third stage of the development of digital government are complex and involve effective self-service operations for such activities as tax and fee payment, submission of contract bids, services, and grants application, including the renewal of licence. However, the responses are pretty predictable.
A digital government development reaches its zenith when it evolves into the transformation stage. The conception, organisation, and execution of government functions are optimised in this stage with technologies of maximum capacities. This stage’s initiatives enhance customer relations management while providing premium solutions to questions, problems, and needs.
Is Nigeria Ready for a Fully Integrated E-Government in 2023?
Although Nigeria is recognised as the fastest and most lucrative telecommunications and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) hub in Africa, as affirmed by A. B. Adeyemo, the country ranks 143 with a score of 0.3807 in the 2020 United Nations e-Government survey. The parameters deployed in this survey are Telecommunications Infrastructure Index (TII), Human Capital Index (HCI), and Online Service Index (OSI).
While some improvements exist in telecommunications infrastructure, Nigeria lags in such aspects as E-information, E-consultation, and E-decision making. There is yet more work for the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to do to position Nigeria for a fully integrated e-Government. The government needs to consult stakeholders, private sectors, and civil society and consider their feedback in planning the blueprint for e-Governance.
According to a publication by William Ukpe, the Federal has set a goal to digitise public service before the end of April 2023, as disclosed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Mrs Ibiene Roberts. She further asserted that the procedure to switch to digital process agrees with the directive of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HOCSF) to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA). It is only hoped that this plan should not remain in limbo but should be implemented for Nigeria to rise and secure its place among the leading nations in electronic government.
Conclusively, Nigeria, its leaders, and citizens have much to benefit from if the digital government is fully integrated. Apart from a massive decline in corruption and inefficiency, our economy will experience an era of tremendous growth, especially with the teeming population of youths who are tech-inclined. The challenge of engaging every citizen can be actualised and e-Government implemented by optimising our telecommunications infrastructure, human capital, and online service proficiency.