I Want To Leave A Legacy Of A Strong Digital Economy Nation – DG NITDA

Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi (CCIE) is a Nigerian Technologyexpert and the DirectorGeneral of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), In his ExclusiveInterview with Segun Tomori, The Executive Director(Communications) RedPole Media, he spoke extempore onNITDA under his leadership, the giant strides over the  past one year, the rebrandingand plans for the future. 

It’s been over twelve months since you’ve been appointed as the D.G of NITDA , what has your time in office been like thus far ?

It has been amazing and sometimes it’s not that easy, because like you know doing things in Nigeria and also in  general, the way Information Technology (IT) is dynamic, things are changing so you need to catch up with the way things are changing. So being the head of the IT Agency in charge of regulating and developing IT in Nigeria, we need to keep ourselves above all, so that we can set the pace and direct the sector on the best way to go in terms of the IT ecosystem in general, capacity building and advising Government to do more in terms of digitization. 

We started on a good footing. As we progressed COVID-19 hit unexpectedly, so it turned everything upside down, but luckily for us, COVID-19 has been a silver lining for the IT industry because it accelerated the pace of embracing  technology in general , most of the technologies were emerging before the pandemic made them more profound.

A lot of people did not  know what is Zoom and Microsoft themes before the COVID-19 but today almost everyone knows about them and people  are using them for business, for learning, for weddings, for church services for parties, so it’s an exciting journey so far 

Since you assumed this position, what goals did you plan to achieve in NITDA and in the Nigeria IT space, which of those goals would you say you have achieved so far?

When I assumed office I set two goals for myself firstly, to reform the agency and market a smarter organization and secondly to reform the IT sector in general. The second one isnot something I started after been appointed, it has been part of me for seven years; it started when I working with Galaxy backbone as a support engineer. One day my manager assigned a ticket for me to resolve incident for an influential customer,when I visited the customer I found out the problem isn’t even the technology it’s like they invested in the wrong technology so that changed my mind set about IT in general and digitaltransformation that means it is even beyond the cutting edgetechnologies,   You need to look at the people, the processes and other things.

So I branched into the solution architecture which broadened my horizon about digitalization in general and digital transformation. Then joining the Apex Bank of Nigeria ,the Central Bank it opened my eye more about digital transformation generally and working with my mentor, and my boss the Honorable Minister of Communications and  Digital Economy as his technical assistant while he was  DG NITDA gave me a lot of aid on what I can do or what kind of goal I should set for myself as the DG when I was appointed. Before then we’ve already had a strategic broad map we are implementing in 2017  to 2019, and we have achieved a lot, that’s what made it easy for me when I was appointed to just continue implementing it.

So for that if you look at it from 2017, ICT was contributing less than 8% to the Nigerian GDP, but today it is contributing 17.3%I think or 17.38% of the GDP. Looking at this you can see we have achieved a lot. Now ICT is almost enabling all the sectorsin Nigeria, then the second goal is  about transforming the agency, that one I can say with all sense of humility, we have achieved that within a year, because the NITDA you have today is entirely different from NITDA of last year, or years before. The agency has been transformed, we have rebranded the agency ,we are working on countenance reorientation for the staffs in general. We have set our core values as an agency. Now, our core values we have are people first, because we need to see ourselves as a service provider to the nation in terms of IT advisory to the government, regulations and other things andalso professionalism is key, because as the regulator we need be above the people we regulate or the sector we regulate, because we set the direction for them so we need to be professional in whatever we do. 

Thirdly is innovation, we need to be innovative in whatever we do. IT is dynamic ,things are changing ,if you look at the paradigm shift from the COVID 19 to today ,a lot of things have changed. Now people find it  more easily and convenient to participate in summit workshop virtually than going there in person. If you remember, we at NITDA, we blazed  the trail in virtual activities in Nigeria. We started it the week Abuja and Lagos was locked down, we started working virtually.

It has been a remarkable year for the NITDA, there have been major development in the IT space. Multiple initiatives have been executed to support Start ups and Entrepreneurs in the digital economy. What projectdid NITDA execute in the past one year?

We have executed a lot ranging from the development regulations. We’ve issued supplementary regulations around NDPR – National Data Protection Regulations. 

Most of our regulations we called them developmental because we regulate a lot of opportunities and create jobs. Our regulation is not to stifle innovations. With NDPR alone, we’ve createdover 2,700 jobs, from that regulation and also sector value of over N2.5 billion. 

Then we also issue framework on business process out-sourcing, also this is a regulatory instrument that we are targeting tounlock potentials in the business process out sourcing, because it’s an untapped market in Africa. India and Bangladesh are dominating the market today ,but Nigeria we have competitive advantage over India and Bangladesh in terms our time zone and  English speaking people because they are running out of English speaking people in India.  So we want to tap . Inaddition to that we are working on a Strategy of adoptingartificial intelligence to have a frame work so that people can start using them for commercial activities on Nigeria. 

Then in the area of capacity building we also done a lot during the lockdown we conceptualize and executed an initiative ofvirtual learning because people are at home. We looked at howwe will engage them, so they can spend time with in a different thing so we came up with the NITDA academy and today we have over 27,000 Nigerians learning on that platform.

If you look at the capacity building, it is key because people need to re-skill themselves. Microsoft predicted recently in the next five years there are going to be 149 million new jobs as a result of COVID-19 in the area of programming , artificial intelligence and other imagine technologies so we see as an foropportunity for us ,to have skilled our citizens that they can benefit from it new jobs can be created as a result of COVID 19.

Also, In the area if digital education, we done a lot of intervention  to the unserved and underserved  communities.We’ve deployed 80 digital and literacy training centers around the country. We have built four innovation and incubation part, three IT Hubs, Six IT community centers and three capacity building centers in various institution and communities in general across the six geopolitical zones in the country.

Then on the area of government digital services also we have trained so many civil servants, and also we’ve come up with initiatives on digital transformation, on technical working copeon how to promote digital transformation to the government and also we enforced our IT clearance mandate whereby we make sure before any MDA invest in ITwe check the project and we make sure it is line with our enterprise architecture framework  and government frontal probability framework. Within the year we declare around project worth over 1.1 trillion naira and alsosaved over N5 billion naira from this project. Thenon the area of local content also we have done a lot in terms of engaging Tech innovation ecosystem.

The first week of the Covid-19 lockdown, we set up a committee, “Tech for COVID” which helped us do some research about the impact Covid-19 will have on the techecosystem, and to advise on the type of government intervention the ecosystem will need for them to protect existing jobs and also create new jobs in the ecosystem.

The committee came up with some recommendations which we have started implementing. One of the recommendation are about helping the IT hubs and the startup in general with somescholarship scheme whereby startups can  be sent to IT hubs for training. Like if you go for  3-month training, we will pay the IT hub, after the training, the start-up will work for the IT hub for another three months as an Intern, we will pay the startup. While working for the IT hub as an Internship and we pay the start up salary for working for the IT  hub, while the IT hub is getting someone working for them free of charge.

So the scheme also is in progress, we have advertised for it and we will are receiving application. We are still working with the committee to finalize on the best way to go about it and also we help the committee during the lockdown to get like movementpermit for some startups offering essential services under the lockdown, and we’ve organized innovations challenge whereby three startups emerged winners, we gave them prizes and we are funding them to develop prototype. one or two of them have developed a full prototype. One, “Decontamination Chamber”, while the other developed “Ventilator”, and now we are working with NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health to test it on animalsfirst, before testing it on human.

Then the third, has a platform, it is called “MClinic”, it is like a virtual hospital whereby you can consult a physician, thephysician can send you to a laboratory for test. After the result, he can prescribe. All this is to contain the virus, because at thetime, hospitals are one of the places where people easily  get contaminated with the virus.

The idea is to come up with a innovative ideas that can help us contain the virus, as well as cushion the financial impact of the ecosystem in general. So these are part of the achievements we’ve worked on during the year.

During the execution of this projects, what are the challengesyou faced?

We have a mechanism of our getting our lessons learnt and that has help us to address all those issues. We have a project monetary unit which provide monetary evaluations for all our projects. So at the end of the financial year, they will come up with report based on the feedback from the beneficiaries and also some of this challenges in the supply chain and procurement issues, they come up with a report yearly, and weimplement.

Before we started this year’s project execution, we had a report of the previous year, 2019, and part of the recommendation was how can we sustain those projects and our model mostly, wedevelop the sectors and we target the underserved and unserved communities, we try reduce overhead on us.

That’s why we work with the communities and we donate the project to them. Before will do that, we need to have understanding with the beneficiaries on the sustainability model on how they are going to sustain the project so that subsequently we will move to the other place. For instance, in a situation whereby a beneficiary will call that they are having a challenge, so we send someone for example from Abuja to Enugu and wespend like one hundred thousand naira, only for the person totravel and find out that what he needs to buy is just N5000 so that’s why we insist on that sustainability model, we also train them on how to maintain that investment in general.

The global digital and IT space has evolved at a very incrediblfast pace. What is NITDA doing to promote a digital Nigeria and to place Nigeria in a competitive level globally?

At NITDA we are leveling environment in terms of regulatoryinstrument ,like I said earlier our regulations is developmental,we look at opportunities and we issue regulations that will unlock opportunities.  For example, we did with the National Data Protection Regulations and we are working on Business process outsourcing and data analytic in general, because data is a huge industry. Since 2017, there was this story published by the London Economist, that oil is no longer the most valuable resources in the world, but data. Since then people are looking at how we can make sense from this data, and how can we benefit from it. We are amassing a lot of data around and that is why it is called big data, so but the challenge is how we can make senseof it and commercialize and utilize your data.

So we are coming up with a frame work and regulatoryinstrument around, so that we can create more opportunities in terms of job and we can use the data drive the digital economy,because data are virtually powered of digital economy. Like now most of our cars use petrol, but autonomous vehicle make use of data, IOT is about data, everything is powered by data. So we need to harness it well and make use of our competitiveadvantage in terms of youthful population, and also the population in general. 

So we have a competitive advantage to compete globally when it come to a digital Economy. NITDA is always looking at regulatory instruments that can unlock these opportunities.

Over the past one year you’ve achieved remarkable feats,what are your future plans for NITDA in the short term ,medium term and long term in NITDA?

The short term is to consolidate on the achievements; we already have a road map we are working on like I said the roadmap was from 2017 to 2020. That means it going to expire by the end of this year. 

So currently we are working on new a strategic roadmap for the agency. To prepare the ground that is why will started rebranding the agency to make it ready for the new strategic roadmap what we are going to develop. But strategic road map is going to be in line with national digital economic policy,because the government is hierarchical, the President has hisown mission and vision, his campaign promises, based on that, Ministries comes up with plans, policies and supplies for agencies to implement, so it’s going to cascade down so we are going to come up with a new strategic roadmap that will helpmake Nigeria a leading Digital Economy in the World.

What will you like to be remembered for, or what will you like your legacy to be?

My legacy for NITDA would be to make NITDA the agency that out-performs all other organizations, not only  government agencies in Nigeria,when it come digital transformation and also to set the benchmark for others to compute in-service delivery excellence, that’s for NITDA.

For Nigeria in general, the legacy I want to leave is to make Nigeria a strong digital economy nation and a startup Nation. What I mean by startup nation is by creating an enabling environment for our youths to come up with innovative ideas, to come up with companies that will grow to become a unicorn. Ifyou look at generally in the world, the Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) dominate the Economy, but people are now looking at IT. 

I want leave to leave a legacy whereby Nigeria will focus more on IT innovation driven enterprises, that mean you can start small and within a short time, you can grow and become a unicorn. A unicorn means a company with valuation of more than US $1bn which it’s privately owned, so I want to see more unicorns in Nigeria, therefore we are creating an enablingenvironment.

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