The Nigerian information technology industry is no doubt experiencing a renaissance. A long overdue refocusing, readjustment and rebirth. This new lease of life is neither an accident nor a passing phase but a conscious effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to ensure square pegs are fixed in square holes and a determination on the part of the present management team of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), led by the director general, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, to pursue its mandate like never before, with professionalism and integrity as its watchwords.
Dr. Pantami, FBCS, took on the daunting task headlong and has never wavered or lost focus inspite of the odds involved in the sector. At forty four, the director general of NITDA has displayed an outstanding example of leadership, professionalism, integrity, discipline, maturity and commitment to service that is unprecedented in the history of the Agency. As a matter of fact, very few public office holders can uphold the standards he has set and maintained.
Dr. Pantami has all his vast competencies in various fields to brought to bear on his present office. His expertise in conflict resolution has been felt, not just within the Agency, but in the industry as a whole, when he took on the task of mending fences between warring parties who had, hitherto, been sworn enemies. This has paved the way for genuine reconciliation and real progress in the industry for, according to him, “there is no way the industry can thrive and lead the country to economic prosperity while rancor exists within”.
An astute and distinguished scholar, his entire life is consumed by the passion for information technology development, with a lifetime dedicated to its study. A man of many firsts, the Associate Professor of Computer Science and Information Systems chose the opportunity to serve and answered the call of his fatherland, over staying back abroad where he earned a paycheck far more attractive than what lay ahead. But he took up the gauntlet and set to task immediately. Within the period he has served, from September 2016 till date, anyone watching the information technology industry in Nigeria can easily sense that tech history is being made.
NITDA has experienced a restructuring, restrategising and repositioning like never before, centred around a meticulously thought through idea, which has quickly gained popularity and has come to be known as “The Strategic Roadmap To Transform the Nigerian IT Sector”. The document is a detailed strategy of initiatives designed to transform and reposition NITDA and the Nigerian IT sector. It will also enable NITDA to effectively deliver its statutory mandate, which are:
IT Regulation: Dr. Pantami has successfully steered the Agency back on course to its primary objectives of regulation and policy making, as explicitly mandated in the NITDA ACT of 2007, to “Develop and implement the National IT Policy”. Within a few short months, NITDA has regained its focus as a highly professional, regulatory body as against a contract-awarding arm of government. Guidelines regarding the importation of IT infrastructure is in full effect, to the extent that in the last few months, compliance among MDAs have reached an unprecedented all time high. There is a mutual understanding between NITDA and stakeholders that a violation attracts a penalty.
MDAs, contractors and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) now seek due clearance from the Agency before hardware even crosses borders. This fulfils its second mandate of being a clearing house for all IT infrastructure in the country.
Cybersecurity: This stratagem seeks to provide trusted IT platforms, infrastructure and capacities to safeguard the cyber activities of Nigerians by developing and implementing guidelines for a healthy, coherent and highly effective IT ecosystem.
The recent effective and efficient intervention in the unfortunate hacking of JAMB’s website changed the entire dynamics of the cybersecurity debate in Nigeria. Within 48 hours of the attack, NITDA had mobilised, arrested and restored the examination body’s cyber systems through the capacities of recently trained staff. It was a resounding success. The Registrar of JAMB led a high powered delegation of the Board on a courtesy call of appreciation to the Agency, in relation to this feat.
Capacity Building: Since assuming office, Dr. Pantami has motivated a new generation of highly skilled personnel through various capacity building programmes and proper staff placements that conform with individual competencies that has resulted in improved efficiency, innovation and productivity. Across board, sponsorships, skill acquisition programmes, trainings and support for youth, organisations, NGOs etc., aimed at developing Information Technology, are provided regularly to inspire innovation. Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is a leader who believes that the way to ensure we fulfill our mandate of putting Nigeria on a globally competitive pedestal is by continually inspiring innovation, exposure, partnerships and collaborations, and most importantly, providing and enforcing policy direction.
“NITDA is the regulatory Agency” he often emphasises “not a contract factory, we must empower the populace to take on their expected roles and function optimally”.
Government Digital Services Promotion: The need for a clear digital e-Government strategy to enable government prioritise IT investments to eliminate waste and engender empowerment through information access, thereby increasing transparency, accountability and providing support in the fight against corruption.
The current TSA accounting systems, which have thrived on the platform provided by the tools of information technology, is a perfect yardstick for measuring the dividends of a digitally enabled economy. More than ever before, the Federal Government has maintained a bird’s eye view on public resources and corrupt officials have had a hard time since.
Local Content Development and Promotion: For the first time in a long while, information technology multinational companies are demonstrating a genuine willingness to collaborate with the Agency at various levels. There is a paradigm shift and an unmistakable awareness, however subtle, that business is not as usual with NITDA anymore.
The Agency is providing support at all levels to encourage innovation, fire the imagination and kickstart productivity. There are dedicated programmes for youth and genius minds to flourish. Some of these include; the start up initiative, the young innovators hub, train the trainers seminars, Cisco certified skills acquisition workshops, to mention a few. These initiatives are deployed around the six geo-political zones and the Federal Capital Territory. Guidelines and frameworks that would drive local content development are being developed and systematically rolled out and implemented. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are in consultations with the Agency to continually improve on assembled components and, infact, begin local production. At the moment, machinery has been put in place to thoroughly inspect and ensure that only hardware that meet set standards are certified to cross our borders.
At the time moment, NITDA is exploring new ways of wealth creation, by enacting appropriate and enabling policies, supporting innovative ideas through funding, and training and providing opportunities for brilliant minds to become digital employers. It is also in negotiations with institutions and entrepreneurs in all spheres of the economy, and in collaboration on programmes that will drive job and wealth creation.
Digital Inclusion: As a matter of priority, the role of information technology in national and, indeed, global advancement cannot be debated. It is the future, and the future is now. The continually dwindling oil resources is a forceful awakening to the fact that diversification is unavoidable. And the only option is, of course, information technology. This the only factor that influences all aspects of our lives, from agriculture, health, education to government processes, social living, business, aviation, entertainment, innovation, communication, entrepreneurship, technoprenuership, etc.
An outstanding visionary, a man ahead of his time, he has successfully established a solid structure where power is delegated based purely on competencies and merit. A completely detribalised Nigerian, he has evolved to become a rallying figure for due process and transparency, as exemplified in his daily interactions with staff, stakeholders and captains of industry. His vast knowledge, immense and undeniable contributions to the global information technology industry recently earned him the highest of fellowships – a Fellow of the British Computer Society, a feat not many Africans are known to have achieved.
He has sanitised NITDA, laid a solid foundation for due process and policy implementation in the industry and is building lasting legacies for a truly digital Nigeria. His religious inclinations have over time proven to be an inspiration to be just and fair to all, his youthfulness a driving force determined to impact change, his experiences gathered from some of the best institutions and tutors in the world, serving as a blueprint for possibilities. He is a man of untainted intergrity, excellent pedigree, whi is disciplined, motivated by love for country and an ardent believer in the “can do” ideology.
Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is a thoroughbred IT professional. It is the responsibility of everyone who believes in the cause of information technology to join hands with NITDA in creating a better tomorrow.
Uwa Suleiman is a Principal Corporate Affairs Officer at NITDA