Friday, June 2, 2023

A case for NITDA Bill 2021, by Rahma Oladosu

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There is no denying the fact that Nigeria has a competitive advantage to become the global talent factory in the technology sector with the capacity to earn over $40 billion annually.

The Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, at an event recently, disclosed that there is currently a vacancy of about four million programmers globally and Nigeria, with its huge reservoir of human talents in the technology sector, has the capacity to produce two million which can be plugged into the global value chain.

He referenced a PwC report which noted that an average tech developer or programmer earns between $30,000 and $150,000 per annum. He said PwC confirmed that if Nigeria can have two million developers working remotely, with each earning about $20,000, the country can generate over $40 billion annually. This, he added, is a significant amount capable of addressing the country’s forex challenge.

“The digital economy is about innovation, about people, about talent. So, talent is the people component of technology which I think is where Nigeria will have the competitive advantage over any nation in the world,” Abdullahi said.

Meanwhile, it is necessary, due to recent controversies and debate on NITDA Bill 2021, to examine the law that empowers the agency which is NITDA ACT 2007, ACT NO. 28 published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 99, Vol 94 dated October 2007.

As part of the functions of the agency, the Act states that NITDA “shall (a) Create a frame work for the planning, research, development, standardisation, application, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and REGULATION of information technology practices, activities and systems in Nigeria … provide universal access to Information Technology and systems penetration including rural, urban and under-served areas; (b) Provide guidelines to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of appropriate for information technology and systems application and development in Nigeria for public and private sectors, urban-rural development, the economy and the government; (c) Develop guidelines for electronic governance and monitor the use of electronic data interchange and other forms of electronic communication transactions as an alternative to paper-based methods in government, commerce, education, the private and public sectors, labour, and other fields, where the use of electronic communication may improve the exchange of data and information; (d) Develop guidelines for the networking of public and private sector establishment and (e) Develop guidelines for the standardisation and certification of Information Technology Escrow Source Code and Object Code Domiciliation, Application and Delivery Systems in Nigeria.”

The law also stipulates that NITDA shall: “(f) Render advisory services in all information technology matters to the public and private sectors; (g) Create incentives to promote the use of information technology in all spheres of life in Nigeria including the setting up of information technology parks; (h) Create incentives to promote the use of information technology in all spheres of life in Nigeria (h) Create incentives to promote the use of information technology in all spheres of life in Nigeria including the development of guidelines for setting up of information technology systems and knowledge parks; (i) Introduce appropriate regulatory policies and incentives to encourage private sector investment in the information technology industry; (j) Collaborate with any local or state Government, company, firm, or person in any activity, which in the opinion of the agency is intended to facilitate the attainment of the objective of
this act; and (k) Determine critical areas in Information Technology requiring research intervention and Development in those areas.”

Similarly and in conclusion the Act empowers NITDA to “(l) Advice the Government on ways of promoting the development of information technology in Nigeria including introducing appropriate information technology legislation, to enhance NATIONAL SECURITY and vibrancy of the industry; (m) Accelerate INTERNET AND INTRANET penetration in Nigeria and promote sound Internet Governance by giving effect to the Second Schedule of this Act; and (n) Perform such other duties, which in the opinion of the Agency are necessary or expedient to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the Agency under this act.”

The above exposes the repeatedly told lie that NITDA is just a development agency and not a regulatory outfit. The fact is that NITDA is not just a development agency but also a strong regulator empowered by relevant laws in Nigeria. In recent times it has accomplished some milestones in its mandate under the supervision of the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, where Professor Isa Ali Pantami is the Minister.

As part of efforts to fulfill its mandate, NITDA has been working round the clock to ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians are up to date in global reality of digital economy. The agency recently commenced its one million developers initiative aimed at empowering one million Nigerians to plug into the global value chain. The programme was focused on building talents on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, and data analytics, which are as key to the digital economy.

The commitment of NITDA on training on disruptive technologies is surely going to change the way we live, work and do business. And they are foundational technologies, they cut across so many sectors.

It is necessary to point out that before the unnecessary distractions over the NITDA Bill 2021, the agency has performed exceedingly well on its developmental and regulatory mandate based on the 2007 Acts which require further amendments because of the changing global realities.

For instance, NITDA trains youth, women, journalists among others on digital marketing, digital journalism and other digital skills in order to enable them to play active roles in digital content, job opportunities and be financial independent in the long run.

Moreover, hundreds of hub managers have been mentored while students and teachers have also been trained on other modern technological skills that are vital to economic development. Beyond the training, NITDA also provides working tools including laptops and desktops to trainees and participants.

While these achievements do not take into accounts several other projects the agency has carried out, Nigeria is well in a better position to become a hub of digital excellence over the next few years, due to the commitment of the NITDA management.

With a total population of over 200 million people, training Nigerians on proper utilisation of digital content would present massive opportunities for Nigerian youths who are in a desperate search for jobs to become useful to themselves and the society.

It is necessary to highlight some of the workings of NITDA which to a large extent require the amendment of its law to make it more effective and efficient in service delivery. As a regulator, apart from inaugurating the Data Breach Investigation Team in partnership with the Nigerian Police Force, it merged Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Office of National Contented Development to Office of Nigerian Digital innovation.

The agency registered over 75 Domain names for MDAs, States, and Local Government; Certified Indigenous IT Companies; licensed over 103 Data Protection and Compliance Organisations (DPCOs); licensed 12 indigenous OEMs and issued 172 Certificates for Indigenous IT Contactors, Service Providers towards promoting local contents.

On its statutory mandate on IT, it established a renowned Computer Emergency Readiness and Response Team and also Digital Transformation Working Group across 100 MDAs to support the Nigeria ICT Innovation Entrepreneurship vision.

Similarly, NITDA as a foresighted IT agency, it launched Nigeria Digital Agriculture Strategy (NDAS 2020-2030) and also established the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR)

Through NITDA Academy, it facilitated research and training with 67 plus active courses, 57,774 plus active students and 54,829 plus active
training sessions. In addition, it established training partnership with multinational corporations and National Adopted School for Smart Education (NASSE) to promote digital literacy and skills among students.

NITDA has gone far in providing key frameworks, guidelines and strategy. Apart from developing Public Private Partnership regulatory framework for ICT and
eGovernment projects, it also developed the Public Service Network (PSnet); Document Management System Guidelines for Federal Public Institutions (FPIs); Government Digital Service Framework (GDSFrame); draft National Outsourcing Strategy 2020-2025; National Block Chain Adoption Strategy Document.

Meanwhile, it launched Nigeria Digital Agriculture Strategy (NDAS-2020-2030); Nigeria Digital Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Startup Policy (NDIESP); the Nigeria Cloud Computing Policy (NCCP) and Government Digital Transformation Performance (Readiness) Assessment Toolkit (GDT/PAT).

Even with some of its enabling laws being obsolete and unable to support the dream to move to the next level, NITDA has done a lot as shown above. The agency will therefore do a lot more if it can get the National Assembly to give the right attention to the NITDA Bill of 2021.

Why NITDA Bill 2021?

The digital economy is an increasingly important sector of the Nigerian economy, and it is likely to continue to grow and evolve rapidly in the coming years. Ensuring that this sector is regulated in a responsible and effective manner will be critical to its long-term success and to the overall development of the Nigerian economy.

The digital economy presents a number of unique challenges and opportunities that may not be adequately addressed by existing regulatory frameworks. For example, the rapid pace of technological change in the digital economy may require NITDA to be more flexible and responsive in its regulatory approach.

Amending the law establishing NITDA to enable the agency to more effectively regulate the digital economy would help to ensure that the agency has the necessary powers and resources to carry out this important function. This could include, for example, the authority to set standards and guidelines specifically tailored to the needs of the digital economy, or the ability to investigate and enforce penalties for noncompliance.

Ensuring that the digital economy is regulated in a responsible and effective manner will be important for protecting the interests of Nigerian citizens and businesses. For example, it may be necessary to ensure that digital platforms and services are used in a fair and transparent manner, or to safeguard personal data and privacy.

No Overlap with NCC

It is important to reiterate at this juncture that there is no overlap between the laws establishing NITDA and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). While both agencies play a role in regulating the use of information and communication technology in Nigeria, they do so in different ways. NITDA is responsible for developing and enforcing policies and guidelines related to the use of information technology in the public and private sectors, while the NCC is responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry. By amending the law establishing NITDA, the agency will be better equipped to carry out its important role in regulating the use of information technology in Nigeria, without conflicting with the mandates of other regulatory agencies.

Finally, it is worth noting that NITDA is a regulatory agency in the same way that the NCC is. Both agencies are responsible for developing and enforcing policies and guidelines related to the use of their respective technologies, and both have the authority to investigate and penalise organisations that violate these standards or otherwise fail to comply with their regulations. By amending the law establishing NITDA, the agency will be better equipped to carry out its important regulatory function, and to ensure that the digital economy is used in a responsible and ethical manner in Nigeria.

Without amending the relevant laws governing the operation of the digital economy as recommended by the NITDA Bill of 2021, it will be difficult if not impossible for Nigeria to fulfill her potential and meet up with her counterparts across the world in digital fulfilment.

Ms Oladosu is a staff writer with Economic Confidential, Abuja.

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