Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of NITDA

Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi: 365 Days as NITDA’s DG, by Ajibola Olude

Ajibola Olude

Around 6:20p.m. August 20, 2019, breaking news was scrolling on the screens of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), that Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi has been appointed as the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

The buzz in IT circles was, ‘who is this young man to fit into the massive shoes of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, his predecessor who was also announced as Minister for Communications and Digital Economy the same day?

365 days after, the facts are now speaking for themselves. Nigerian and international observers have moved from the state of shock, doubt, skepticism to measured happiness and now ecstasy.

The MIT Sloan, Cambridge, Oxford and IMD Business School-trained strategist has proved that President Muhammadu Buhari’s signature of the Not-Too-Young to Run bill was not a photo opportunity.

The task of managing the Nigeria’s apex IT Agency is arguably more than just computer, data control and management.

It involves civil service bureaucracy, local and international Information Technology (IT) policies and regulations, cyber security, data protection and privacy issues, local content development and promotion on ICT, etc.

And for a country at the cradle of digitising its economy, the challenge of weaning it off the age-long inhibitions to innovation is daunting indeed.

None of these, however, seems unnerving to Kashifu because of his background and rich mix of both the public and private sector experiences.

If Kashifu should have sleepless nights, it is not for want of ideas but for his burning desire to reform and grow the ICT sector in line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy of President Muhammadu Buhari, ably being championed by Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Hence, from his first day in office, he knew his goals and how best to achieve them. Indeed, the country is now firmly set on a path to irreversible digital economy maturity.

But how has NITDA fared in a year of Kashifu’s leadership in the last one year? One of the major components of the fourth industrial revolution is big data.

Consequently, data has become a treasured asset, which needs to be protected. The Nigeria Data Protection sector is estimated to be over Two Billion Naira.

Therefore, the protection of data asset is at no other time better than now. In line with global practice of data protection, NITDA, in January 2019, issued and published the Nigeria government’s comprehensive guidelines on data protection, otherwise known as the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR).

The NDPR is a definitive government policy on data management and regulation for entities, which deal in data. The policy seeks to enhance data security and safety.

The data protection drive by NITDA did not end at just ensuring compliance. Besides issuing a total of two hundred and thirty-five (235) compliance and enforcement notices in the last one year, it has inaugurated Data Breach Investigation Team in collaboration with the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

So far, eight (8) data infraction cases were initiated and deposited with the Nigerian Police, aside from resolving seven hundred and ninety (790) data-regulation issues.

To cap NITDA’s effort at enforcing NDPR, the African Union Working Group on Data Protection, Harmonisation and Localisation, having recognised the leading role being played by Nigeria in Data Protection compliance, appointed the country, represented by NITDA, as its Vice-Chairman.

This regulation has in turn created Two Thousand Seven Hundred (2700) jobs. This is a big testament to what has been achieved in just 365 days.

The Nigerian Government Enterprise Architecture (NGEA) and Nigeria e-Governance Interoperability framework (Ne-GIF) are the Nigeria government structures to promote government digital services.

NITDA is not resting its oars in the implementation and success of both frameworks. Under Mr. Kashifu’s leadership, NITDA has established collaboration with Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to secure funding in special areas of NGEA/Ne-GIF implementation.

In an effort at assisting government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in the digitisation of their processes and functions, as a first step, NITDA inaugurated the National e-governance steering committee to interface with MDAs on the adoption and implementation of the government digital identity programme.

It has also mandated all government MDAs to set up IT departments and units. Meanwhile, two hundred and seventy users accounts have been created to enable MDAs submit their IT projects without hassle.

Through this approach, he has cleared one hundred and fifty-four (154) unique projects of seventy-three (73) MDAs estimated at 1.2 Trillion Naira. This process helped saved the federal government about five billion Naira.

The agency has carried out auditing of the IT systems, processes, digital services and capabilities of one hundred (100) MDAs and has trained fifty (50) staff of different MDAs on digital identity and e-governance awareness, regulation and enterprise architecture.

Through periodic stake-holder engagements, the Agency provided guidelines for MDAs in the drafting of Service Level Agreement (SLA) for engagement with IT service providers.

Accordingly, Kashifu has not failed to wield the big sticks where MDAs defaulted on government guidelines for indigenous ICT content development. In this regard, it has sanctioned one hundred and twenty-five (125) MDAs that failed to comply.

In accordance with the Nigerian Content Development in ICT, NITDA, under Mr. Kashifu, has partnered with relevant government agencies for fostering indigenous content development.

Part of its partnership is with the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) to implement the Nigerian software strategy and partnership with indigenous computer manufacturers to enhance indigenous hardware standard for better patronage.

Furthermore, NITDA has certified several indigenous IT service providers, which include companies, contractors and OEMs to raise the confidence of Nigerians in the patronage and consumption of indigenous IT products and services.

NITDA has launched the consumer protection forum in order to safeguard consumer’s right in the patronage of made in Nigeria IT products and services.

To enhance the solid infrastructure for a digital economy in a digital world, NITDA has deployed over eighty (80) digital capacity training centres across all geopolitical zones within just a year.

It has also deployed three (3) IT hubs, four (4) innovation and incubation parks, six (6) IT community Centers and three (3) IT capacity Building Centers in higher institutions of learning as well as in unserved and underserved communities. This is indeed a great leap.

To strengthen software development and IT entrepreneurship, NITDA, under the leadership of Kashifu, is working with various technology and innovation ecosystems, while also supporting startups and IT hub managers.

So far, two hundred and forty-six (246) startups and one hundred and twenty-five (125) IT hubs and ecosystems builders have received the support of NITDA through its implementation of the Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV). Through NITDA’s periodic innovation contest such as Future-Hack, participants receive funding and mentorship to develop marketable products and services.

In the last one year, prize money of Three Million Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N3,250,000) has been distributed to winners at different startup technology and innovation clinics in Abuja, FCT, and Kebbi State of Nigeria.

Furthermore, Entrepreneurship training for the utilisation of ICT have also been conducted for two hundred (200) women where they were provided with laptops pre-installed with the requisite e-resources as support for their startups. A total of forty six thousand and fourty-four (46,044) competencies have been developed.

On Emerging Technologies, NITDA’s boss is exploring different smart initiatives to accelerate the transition of Nigeria to a digital economy. The Agency is also exploring the use and adoption of Blockchain Technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data exploration framework and strategy for adoption into the digital economy vision of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.

Already, successes have been recorded with the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative, as one hundred and forty-five (145) farmers have been trained and empowered on how to utilise digital, smart and precision technology to improve farm yield.

In furtherance of this, four hundred (400) additional farmers will be adopted this year for similar initiative.

Helping to build future entrepreneurs and innovators, NITDA organizes and provides support for events such as, HUAWEI and NMC ICT competitions, technovation and summer coding events where budding talents are revealed and afforded the foundational support for personal development.

In the last one year, nineteen (19) laptops, thirteen (13) tablets and several other IT tool kits have been given to students of secondary school across FCT who participated at such events and have demonstrated innovative skills and talents.

NITDA has also begun massive online open courses (MOOC) initiative for our tertiary institutions while also six PhD and thirty-seven MSc scholarships have been awarded by Kashifu in addition to six recipients of MSc scholarship on IT law.

The agency is well aware that to adapt to the emerging virtual world and to promote the digital economy concept of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, a measure of digital literacy and skills is required.

Also, with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic which has raised the prospect of major human economic, social and professional activities to go virtual, and as this is expected to be the new normal, NITDA has not failed to show capacity and vision for its niche in the emerging digital world.

Therefore, it quickly raised its extant capacity building programmes on ICT, training Nigerians through different online and physical platforms on digital skills and literacy in order to prepare the populace for the digital world ahead.

Kashifu’s achievement on youth empowerment is thus unprecedented. He has initiated and successfully carried out capacity building programmes for over four hundred (400) artisans across four geo-political zones, two hundred (200) IT Centres managers have been trained in line with the digital economy policy and strategy of the current administration.

Capacity building outreach have also been extended to other individuals and members of both private public institutions which include lecturers, librarians, researchers, students of tertiary institutions, officers of the Nigeria Police Force, journalists, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members and undergraduate on Student’s Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES).

In numbers, NITDA has delivered digital skill and literacy to over twenty-five thousand Nigerians in the year 2020.

A total of over 2000 laptops have been offered to various government institutions while six thousand three hundred and eighty six (6386) new jobs and roles were created.

In response to the novel corona virus that struck hard in early 2020, Kashifu, due to the closure of schools, established and launched the NITDA Academy for research and training April 29, 2020, to initiate the learning never stops programme for massive training of the Nigerian citizens who are currently adjusting to the new normal.

NITDA has also instituted the Tech4Covid-19 Committee to proffer possible solutions on how to cushion the effect of the pandemic.

Conscious of the reality of increased cybercrime in a world of virtual activities, NITDA has not faltered in taking proactive measures to secure the Nigerian cyberspace.

These include increased awareness campaign and sensitisation workshops on cybercrimes for members of the public and the deployment of preventive tools and recovery mechanism to make our cyberspace more secure.

The list continues and NITDA under Kashifu is not done yet, as he has immensely contributed to the recent ICT contribution of 14.07% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has targeted five percent quarterly increase on every achievement in the years ahead.

The years ahead look brighter for ICT development and adoption, for a digital Nigeria.

You will agree with me that Kashifu did not only achieve quite a lot at NITDA but has also restructured and extended the infrastructure by building a digital center and has rebranded the agency towards achieving a digital nation.

In-house, Kashifu is not found lacking. Cognizant of the fact that human resource is vital to reform and progress, staff of the agency are not left behind in skills development drive of the DG.

Staff members are periodically sent on skills development seminars, conferences and training workshops.

In the last one year, staff have been sent on capacity building workshops, training and seminars which are aimed at up-skilling staff in line with global best practice for ICT deployments.

Similarly, experienced managers and seasoned administrators with international exposure have been made to take core roles at NITDA to foster efficiency and competence.

With what the NITDA’s boss has achieved in just a year, he is a born leader who turns ideas to reality, liabilities to opportunities, sees posterity, leads by example. A young man full of youthful exuberance.

Kashifu’s reform mindset has earned him the nickname, “the poster boy of Nigerian youths” from Funke Olaode, ThisDay Newspaper’s Assistant Editor.

It is a worthy label indeed. For NITDA’s boss, it is result or nothing.

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