Friday, September 24, 2021

NITDA: Kashifu’s ‘disruptive drive’ towards Digital Nigeria

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Ibrahim Ramalan
Ibrahim Ramalan is a graduate of Mass Communications from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. With nearly a decade-long, active journalism practice, Mr Ramalan has been able to rise from a cub reporter to the exalted position of an editor; first as Arts Editor with the Blueprint Newspapers before resigning in 2019; second and presently as an Associate Editor of the Daily Nigerian online newspaper. He can be reached via [email protected], or www.facebook.com/ibrahim.ramalana, or @McRamalan on Twitter.
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The National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, is a flagship agency of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, saddled with the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating and regulating Information Technology practices in Nigeria.

Before now, the agency had been grappling for relevance in the country’s scheme of things, probably due to availability of oil revenue accruing to the Federal Government.

However, a few years ago, following the realisation that Nigeria needs to digitise its economy in tune with the present global realities, NITDA became a “star agency” of the government where every other agency looks towards for support in automating their programmes.

With the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and the subsequent appointment of Dr Isa Ali-Pantami as the NITDA Director-General, the agency began to take a shape and bearing towards contributing its quota to the development of the country’s economy.

In his stewardship at the NITDA, Mr Pantami had not only laid a foundation for the development of information technology, but also regularised its practices across the country.

Upon his elevation to the position of a Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Pantami left behind a protégé in person of Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi who was appointed as NITDA Director-General in August 2019.

Who is Kashifu?

A 2004 graduate of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State, Mr Abdullahi was born on February 21, 1980 in Jigawa State.

He had also worked with Galaxy Backbone Limited, where he put in nine years, from 2004 – 2013, holding several positions such as Network Engineer, IP Network Field Engineer, Senior Network & Lead, IP Operations Team, and Senior Solution Architect & Lead, Technical Solution Design.

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Mr Abdullahi is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Sloan – trained strategist with 15 years’ experience in IT operations, business transformation and solution architecture, across both private and public sectors.

A first Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, CCIE, in Nigeria’s public sector, Mr Abdullahi attended Leadership and Management courses at Harvard University in the USA, the University of Cambridge in the UK and IMD Business School in Switzerland.

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He is also a Certified Project Manager and Solution Architect with many professional certifications in Networking, Telecommunications, Service Management and Solution Design.

A glimpse at Abdullahi’s one year in office

One year down the line, Mr Abdullahi has worked towards actualising a Digital Nigeria, in line with the communication ministry’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020 -2030) as well as President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty through job creation.

So far, the director-general has initiated strategic IT programs and regulations that are, among many others, geared towards disruptively launching Nigeria onto a digital pedestal, in spite of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic which wreaks havoc on the global economy.

COVID-19 Pandemic: At the heat of COVID-19 pandemic, NITDA had launched a free Virtual Learning Academy to bridge the learning gap created by the outbreak. The platform was hosted in partnership with Microsoft, Oracle, CISCO, Huawei, and Harvard University.

With about 47 courses offered, the virtual academy has trained over 21,740 Nigerians, including civil servants, students and entrepreneurs.

Education: NITDA has provided support in the form of Information Technology tools and e-learning platforms to many tertiary institutions, Secondary schools and other innovative centres in the country. Today, there are dozens of Digital Capacity Training Centres, DCTC, across the country.

Data Protection: In one year, the Agency has resolved no fewer than 790 data protection breaches since the commencement of the implementation of the Nigeria Data Protection regulation in 2019.

The director-general, during a professional development workshop, had said the feat was achieved in collaboration with the Data Protection Compliance Organizations, DPCOs.

Local Content Development: NITDA, through its IT project clearance mandate, had assessed and cleared 62 IT-related projects worth N1,168,145,213,150 from January to May in the country, putting into cognizance the need to patronise indigenous services. The agency had also launched Nigeria’s first ICT consumer protection forum to help Nigerians express their grievances as it relates to indigenous IT products and services and settle such in a non-litigious manner.

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Mr Abdullahi, during a Webinar with theme: “Virtual Digital Services Consumer Protection Forum”, where a Draft Framework on Alternative Dispute Resolution for the ICT Sector was presented for review, said the strategy was aimed at building qualitative indigenous content for consumption in the ICT sector.

E-Governance Promotion: NITDA had trained 500 public servants with a view to championing digital transformation agenda in Federal Public Institutions, FPIs.  Speaking during the inauguration of Digital Transformation Technical Working Group, DT-TWGs, for phase one of FPIs with 100 Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, in Abuja, Mr Abdullahi said the training was needed to build the capacity of the public servants toward developing a formidable process that engendered digital economy.

Agriculture: The NITDA had also initiated National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture, NAVSA with the aim of digitizing agriculture to drive Digital Economy in the country, as part of President Buhari’s agenda of leveraging technology and innovation to revolutionize agricultural value chain. The project was piloted in Jigawa State in July, 2020 with 130 farmers. There is the plan to capture all the states in the country, just as there is also another plant to create a digital database for farmers where they can buy and sell their farm produce.

Tribute

Shortly after Mr Abdullahi’s appointment, the Country Director of Global IT, Rasheed Bakare, had described him as a “digital guru and industry key player”, with the potential to surpass his predecessors’ achievements.

“Abdullahi, for a couple of years, has shown and proven to be a world-class professional who will use his wide network to take NITDA to the next level, in line with the president’s vision.

“He will also ensure that the agency is more efficient and effective in its role as the clearinghouse for all IT projects and infrastructural development in the country,” Mr Bakare had said.

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True to that, Mr Abdullahi has rolled out several policies, regulations and programmes towards digitalising education and agricultural sectors, promoting local ICT contents and creating thousands of jobs for Nigerian youths.

Also speaking, the regional representative for AfICTA in Internet Governance, Inye Kemabonta, stressed that, “one of the best things that can happen to NITDA is for Kashifu to be at the head of affairs, a young man who has had deep industry experience and yet youthful.”

A former director at the NITDA, Mr Kemabonta said the agency has never been more visible than now, “and that is one measurement of the success for Kashifu.

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“The Agency is now relevant and getting all kinds of requests from all sectors. From lawyers, public sector, education, health… all of them want support to be able to transform their operations digitally.”

He said: “There’s also the re-engineering of NITDA which is also very important to keep the agency in tune with time. Recently, NITDA was rebranded – its logo and mode of operations.

“In response to COVID-19, NITDA has established a digital studio where ministers can come and have live interviews with international media organisations like CNN, or even talk with any radio station in Nigeria live without having to travel to these stations. That is transformational.

“Kashifu is pushing for Nigeria to build its own teleconference application and not rely entirely on foreign ones like Zoom. That will make Nigerians millionaires, instead of Nigeria enriching other countries.”

Mr Kemabonta, therefore, urged Mr Abdullahi to rededicate his efforts towards developmental regulation.

He said: “My own view is that NITDA’s mandate is all-around setting standards and developing regulatory instruments that can transform Nigeria. Kashifu should, therefore, do more in that area.”

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