Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, Director-General/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NITDA

How NITDA implements strategic roadmap for development of Nigeria’s ICT sector, by DG

*Our planks for ICT development in line with 8 pillars of National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy ─ Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, Director-General/CEO

*How Nigeria leads the pack in attracting largest investments in Africa totalling $747million from venture capitalists

*Agency plans to retain 100,000 ICT jobs, create additional 30,000 in post COVID-19 era

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) continues to implement a strategic roadmap for the development of Nigeria’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, Director-General/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NITDA, who stated this in a recent interview, disclosed that in consonance with its key mandates, the agency is implementing a strategic roadmap for the development of the nation’s important ICT sector of the economy.

According to Malam Abdullahi, the roadmap of the mandate consists of seven pillars that are in alignment with the eight pillars of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.

“The seven key pillars of our roadmap are IT Regulation, Capacity Building, Digital Inclusion, Digital Job Creation, Government Digital Service Promotion, Local Content Development, and Cybersecurity,” the Director-General said, adding, “we have rolled out several policies, regulations, and programmes, focusing on those areas.”

He stated that as the roadmap is set to expire 2020 based on the Nigeria Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) on which is based, NITDA has already commenced reviewing it as well as developing the next plan, which will soon be launched.

Abdullahi explained that it is in alignment with, and takes cognisance of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP), and other important plans and policies of this administration.

As his leadership at NITDA clocks a year August 20, he revealed that his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari was not unexpected at the time it came in 2019.

Abdullahi said, “it is an amazing journey. This isn’t something that I expected, or even envisaged. It was, indeed, a pleasant surprise.

“It, however, shows the confidence my boss and mentor, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), FNCS, FBCS, FIIM, (currently Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy) has in my ability to the extent of recommending me to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, to take a giant leap step into his shoes.

“It is a great honour, and I am putting in my best not to disappoint the expectation of my boss and mentor, Mr. President, Nigerian Youths as well as the country as a whole.

“I am not new in the Nigeria’s IT industry. I am at home being at the helm of affairs in NITDA.

“As a person that is open to new approaches and strategies, with the experiences I have gained for the last 15 years in the IT sector spanning between the private and the public sector and through unceasing study, my team and I have worked diligently to ensure the continuous development of the IT sector in Nigeria over the past 10 months.”

On the review of the country’s ICT policy in line with the recent developments in the all-important sector of the economy, the Director-General of NITDA stressed that the agency’s supervising Ministry ─ Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy ─ handles policy-related issues.

“You may be aware that there were several attempts at reviewing the policy in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

“Currently, efforts of the Honourable Minister have resulted in the development of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, during the 2019 e-Nigeria International Conference, Exhibition and Awards. The NDEPS effectively replaces the National IT Policy.”

Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi

Abdullahi further elaborates on the specific areas of NITDA’s support to the implementation of the nation’s digital economy agenda as he said that even prior to the re-designation of the Federal Ministry of Communications, to include Digital Economy, the agency had achieved a lot in that regard.

He stated that the agency has activated this through the application of a roadmap for the development of the Nigerian IT sector, which consists of seven pillars that are in alignment with the 8 pillars of the Digital Economy Policy & Strategy and the Nigeria IT Policy.

In promoting a digital Nigeria, NITDA from August 2019 to date has launched and is implementing a number of important regulatory instruments, including the Nigeria e-Government Interoperability Framework (Ne-GIF); Nigeria Cloud Computing Policy (NCCP); Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV); Framework and Guidelines for ICT adoption in Tertiary Institutions; Guidelines for Nigeria Content Development ICT as amended; and Data Protection Implementation Framework, he said.

Across the Nigerian Federation, he explained, the agency has different IT project interventions carried out in the last one year.

According to him, these are the 80 Digital Capacity Training Centres (DCTCs) with E-Learning facilities, 6 IT Hubs, 6 IT Community Centres, 4 IT Innovation & Incubation Parks, and 3 IT Capacity Training Centres, all with the aim of bridging the digital divide and providing access to the unserved and underserved population.

In connection with the implementation of the local content policy of the Federal Government as it relates to the ICT sector, Abdullahi said that NITDA has demonstrated great support and has ensured improved patronage of indigenous Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in the last three years.

He emphasised that “it is a fact that the purchase of local devices by MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) is unprecedented within these years compared to previous years before 2018.

“For instance, in 2015-2016 less than 250,000 devices were sold by indigenous OEMs. However, due to the intervention of NITDA, records shows that in 2018/2019 alone OEMs sold three times the numbers sold prior to 2017 with about 778,886 of locally assembled devices sold in 2018 and 2019.”

He, nonetheless, acknowledged that there are some challenges with the implementation of the Presidential Executive Order 003 for promotion of local content in the procurement of MDAs.

NITDA yet issued Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT, which mandates MDAs also to purchase Nigerian hardware products.

He noted that NITDA is implementing the Executive Order and Guidelines vigorously through active surveillance and IT Projects assessment and clearance process of the Agency.

“Nevertheless, procurement law requires OEMs to either bid directly or work with other contractors to bid to ensure transparency and value for money. If MDAs violate the process NITDA can then be notified for action.

“There is also a challenge with the quality of some of the indigenous brands. In an effort to address this challenge, in 2018, we mandated these OEMs to go through a rigorous certification process requiring them to have ISO 9001:2015 for quality management systems.

“This, we believe, will ensure they are able to provide products that meet quality and regulatory requirements always.

“Currently, only 3 out of 10 previously registered OEMs have been fully certified.

Regarding the how the country clinched the vantage position as one of the three top economies attracting the biggest ICT investments in Africa lately, he disclosed that Nigeria is indeed among the top three countries in Africa, attracting the largest investment from venture capitalists for its flourishing technology start-ups and hubs.

He stated: “Interestingly, Nigeria occupied the first position with a total investment of US$747million, followed by Kenya with a total investment of US$564million and Egypt that attracted a total investment of US$211million.

In an effort to consolidate these efforts, we have a series of initiatives aimed at providing a conducive environment and support for the start-up ecosystem, said the NITDA boss.

According to him, such initiatives include NITDA Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support Scheme, which targets startups hub owners and youth with talent and building their skills in high-demand skills; policies such as tax incentives for startups, incentives for investors and access to market for innovation adoption; establishment of Innovation and Research Fund to further catalyse the growth of startups; and the development of an Innovation Portal to monitor the activities of the ecosystem.

Other programmes are FinTech software, which is already exported; the innovation fund established by Government will reduce risk and attract Foreign Direct Invesment (FDI); and establishment of the Tech4COVID19 Initiative to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the tech ecosystem and proffer solutions especially for startups.

Besides, the agency has introduced Tech4Covid19 Initiative, which is set to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the tech ecosystem and proffer solutions especially for startups. There is also Virtual Startup Clinic, where startups are gathered, mostly young people to meet with mentors, successful entrepreneurs, investors, industry specialists, business consultants and hub operators with the goal of solving problems and challenges they were facing.

Other initiatives, according to him, are Nigeria Covid-19 Innovation Challenge, which is an online innovation challenge held to meet the challenges our society is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five startups with highly innovative ideas were selected for the final challenge and 3 of them were selected for further incubation with support of ₦1 000,000, ₦750,000 and ₦500,000 won by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd winners respectively, as well as the NITDA Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship Support Scheme is also designed to support startups and hubs across the country.

With over 120 hubs in Nigeria, we are finalising plans to ensure rapid intervention is provided for hubs and startups based on competence and carefully selected criteria.

“We are continuing with our smart agric project, where we engage farmers and focus on using precision/smart farming to ensure significant improvement in crop yield, quality of farm produce, efficiency and productivity; increased profit margin, harvest forecast, sales of farm produce and eco-friendly agriculture practice, of which during this pandemic, we have engaged 130 farmers on this project,” he said.

The Director-General of NITDA also stressed that the committee has come up with a strategic plan “to ensure we retain about 100,000 ICT Jobs and create an additional 30,000 in the Post COVID-19 Era.

“We have since initiated the implementation of these recommendations.”

Malam Abdullahi also remarked on the expectation that Nigeria exports software and attracts foreign exchange in the long run, as he said Nigeria has come a long way from being a net importer of software into a significant hub for the development of talent for software development in Africa.

He stated “this is evident from the value of investments that come into Nigeria’s startup ecosystem due to the successes of mostly software-powered applications developed by incredibly smart Nigerians.

“This can be seen in the growth and capacities harnessed in the country’s technology hubs, mostly around Lagos and Abuja.”

He said that there are numerous software houses churning out software to support banking, commerce and government processes in Nigeria.

“This is a testament to the ingenuity of Nigerians developing software to almost sufficiently meet local needs,” he said.

However, he advised that “we must strive to become net exporters of software by developing our model to produce more software engineers and find suitable markets for these talents.

“One way is to prepare to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which provides the opportunities for Africa to improve inter-Africa trade generally and trade in services particularly.

“Nigerian Software will benefit immensely from an improved atmosphere in trade-in services. This is important, considering that we already have all the ingredients needed to succeed.”

In order to maximise these resources, he advocated the need to continue to incentivise software developers through lower taxes, subsidised development of talent and to create a pipeline of jobs that can be offered locally.

“This will lead to the development of proprietary solutions that can be standardized and sold as services to other countries in Africa or the rest of the world for significant foreign exchange,” he remarked.

On the challenges posed to the Nigerian economy by the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) the NITDA Director-General  said though the pandemic has had devastating effects on countries globally, it has been a turning point for revolutionising of digital technologies to deliver products and services across the world, which is what we refer to as the “new normal”.

Abdullahi said: “Therefore, we did not miss the opportunity to prepare for the impact of the pandemic, and also provide adequate support to insulate the technology and innovation ecosystem.”

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