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A Nigerian minister has urged African leaders to increase access to information and communication technology (ICT) — but his country's own scheme is floundering because of inadequate government support.

At a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week (16 March), Frank Nweke, Nigeria's minister of information and communications, called for access to cheap ICTs for every African citizen in line with the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Nigeria took steps toward increasing ICT access last year, with the launch of the Computer for All Nigerians Initiative. It aims to increase the number of computers in the country, which according to the International Telecommunications Union is as low as seven per 1,000 inhabitants.

But local manufacturers say the government is failing to support the initiative. Computers built in Nigeria are still expensive and low awareness for the initiative has led to a lack of demand.

Florence Seriki, managing director of Omatek Computers ― one of two local manufacturers collaborating on the initiative ― says Nigerian laptops sell at about the same price as imported ones.

"Everything is supposed to be discounted, because we are assembling the parts here, but the cost of manufacturing is very high," Seriki told SciDev.Net. She cited a lack of a steady power supply, the cost of running a generator and import duty payments on equipment and software as reasons for this.

The government had agreed to remove import duty for the scheme, but this promise has yet to be fulfilled.

The Nigerian government sponsored almost US$1million worth of computers for its public servants last year. Local partners are also collaborating with some banks to enable citizens to buy a computer by opening a bank account and paying by instalments.

Nigeria is also preparing to start its satellite communication project with the launch of a communications satellite in May. Developed with support from the African Union, it is set to serve telecommunications, broadcasting and broadband communications across Africa. 

Nweke said the satellite project holds great promise and will ensure that African nations are competitive in worldwide communications network growth and not isolated from the global economy.

Turner Isoun, minister of science and technology, said the satellite would allow Nigeria to export bandwidth worth US$50 million to other African countries.

"This is very important for us because it will create jobs, it will create wealth and it will position Nigeria to compete globally," Isoun told SciDev.Net.