During the recent G20 Summit in India, Bosun Tijani, Nigeria’s head of communications, innovation, and the digital economy, engaged with Indian digital public service transformation experts. He revealed intentions to collaborate with India to gain insights from their digital service experiences and mentioned an upcoming workshop in Abuja focusing on Digital Public Infrastructure for governmental services.
This collaboration signals a promising step for Nigeria. A focused strategy on digital public service design and implementation can pave the way for further digital advancements in the governmental sector.
Understanding Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)
DPIs can be seen as the bedrock for digital operations. Just as roads facilitate faster transportation and telecom towers allow swift electronic communication, DPIs provide a digital framework for service delivery by various entities.
DPIs serve as the backbone for digital evolution. They’re not just technological structures but are envisioned with scalability and public interest in mind. Their creation can be attributed to governmental efforts, private sector initiatives, or non-profit organizations. Governments can develop their own or modify existing infrastructures depending on resources and preferences. One notable example of such infrastructure is Digital Public Goods (DPGs), open-source tools promoting sustainable development goals.
The Significance of DPIs
For governments, DPIs offer a platform for enhanced digital service delivery in education, health, and welfare sectors. With the right infrastructure, services can be more efficiently rolled out and refined.
Forcitizens,the presence of DPIs means streamlined access to governmental services, leading to cost, time, and effort savings. For instance, in Nigeria, the redundancy of data submission across different governmental departments could be eliminated if identity DPIs like the National Identity Number (NIN) or Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs) were effectively utilized.
Digital businesses and other entities can also harness DPIs to innovate and offer better solutions to their clientele. Furthermore, DPIs can simplify business processes, making business registration and licensing more straightforward.
Types of DPIs
1. Identity: These DPIs are designed to verify digital identities and connect them to various services. For instance:India’s Aadhaar system is a prominent example. It’s the world’s largest biometric identity system, having identified over a billion people. This system is also linked to India’s public services.
– In Nigeria, the National Identity Numbers (NINs) and Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs) are DPIs that can potentially streamline government service delivery.
2 Payment: These DPIs facilitate financial transactions across different platforms and channels. Examples include:In Nigeria, the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) and Remita are prominent payment DPIs.The United Kingdom has GOV.UK Pay, developed by the UK’s Government Digital Services. This system allows various UK government departments to integrate the payment DPI into their digital platforms.
3.Data Exchange: These DPIs are designed to securely exchange information, with the consent of the data owner, to facilitate service delivery. For instance:Estonia’s X-Road platform, which is also a Digital Public Good (DPG), is a prime example of this type of DPI.Nigeria has introduced the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) Act, which is a step towards ensuring data protection and transparency in data exchange.
Guidelines for Nigeria’s DPI Utilization
Whether Nigeria aims to create new DPIs or adapt existing ones, it’s crucial to ensure:
DPIs should be designed in a manner that allows both the government and other service providers to build upon them. They should be able to integrate their digital solutions with these infrastructures or use them to enhance their service delivery. Standards and principles should be introduced to ensure and enforce this interoperability.
DPIs should be accessible to everyone, similar to how everyone should be able to use a road or access electricity.They should be designed, delivered, and iterated upon in a manner that typically enables self-service by everyone. In extraordinary situations, assistance should be provided. Access to these DPIs should not be prohibitively expensive, either directly or indirectly. If not managed properly, the introduction of DPIs might worsen Nigeria’s existing digital and other disparities.
- Accountability to the Public
The introduction of DPIs requires governance frameworks that ensure transparency in how the government and other stakeholders engage with these infrastructures It’s crucial to focus not just on the technology but also on the standards to ensure that DPIs are inclusive and safeguard the rights of citizens.
These frameworks should be developed through a multi-stakeholder approach. They should address questions like, “What rules should govern the exchange of citizens’ data?” An approach that prioritizes safety, rights-based considerations, privacy by design, and transparency should be adopted when developing and deploying DPIs. This will help in building trust and, consequently, improve the adoption of DPI-enabled services.
In addition to these guidelines, the Nigerian government should adopt a broader approach to digital transformation. This includes long-term planning for digital service delivery, informed and agile procurement processes, digital talent and skills development, user-centered service design, and political support for digital transformation both now and in future administrations. This holistic approach will ensure that Nigeria and its citizens fully reap the benefits of digital transformation.