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ICT university of Nigeria, yet another stillbirth?

By Adeyemi Adepetun
19 November 2017   |   4:25 am
On July 15, 2016, during a visit to Galaxy Backbone Plc in Abuja, Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, opened up on his ministry’s plan to float a specialised Information and Communications Technology (ICT) university in the country.

Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu

Some stakeholders and industry watchers were overjoyed when the idea of floating a multi-campus Information and Communications technology (ICT) university was mooted, in view of its importance to diversifying the country’s economy. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, in this report, examines the build up, “rejection” of the novel initiative by the Federal Executive council (FEC) and the new strategy by the Ministry of Communications to resuscitate the idea.

On July 15, 2016, during a visit to Galaxy Backbone Plc in Abuja, Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, opened up on his ministry’s plan to float a specialised Information and Communications Technology (ICT) university in the country.

According to Shittu, the decision to establish the institution came after a careful observation of the exponential growth in the Nigerian information technology and telecommunication sectors.On the strength of this observation, the government concluded that the country required a university to support the human capacity requirement needed to transform the economy digitally.

For this reason, Shittu said the ministry would transform the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), the training arm of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), into a full-fledged university.Shittu, who said the varsity would be the first in Africa, pointed out that there were dedicated universities for the training of manpower for ICT sector in very many advanced countries. So, “We want to replicate that in Nigeria. Once we get the nod of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), we will commence the establishment of an implementation committee to guide the process of transforming the DBI.

“I am happy to say that we already have what is called the DBI, which is for short-term training programme in six locations across the country, which includes Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Kano, Asaba and Yola. We hope to transform this institute into the ICT University of Nigeria,” he stated.

Expectations From The Varsity
In contemporary society, digital inclusivity is very important if the ultimate goal of an ICT society and knowledge economy is to be achieved. That perhaps explained why the ministry planned to raise professionals, which would provide specialised knowledge in various fields of ICT.

As part of efforts to ensure that the school produces top-notch professionals for the sector, only 30 per cent admission opportunities will be for undergraduates, while majority of the programmes would be at postgraduate for diplomas, masters’ and doctorate levels.A recent World Bank report revealed that ICT was transforming the world of work, creating new job opportunities and making labour markets more innovative, inclusive and global.

Shittu in adding to this said ICT was influencing employment both as an industry that has created jobs, and as a tool that empowers workers to access new forms of jobs in new and more flexible ways.He also explained that the ICT sector alone contributed N500b to the economy in 2014, and created about 2.5 million jobs in 10 years, just as statistics indicate that the sector attracted about $30b of foreign investment from 2003 to 2014. “So, it has become very paramount that we sustain the growth and one way to do that is to establish an ICT university to create capacities,” Shittu said.

Objectives Of ICT Varsity
A document obtained by The Guardian on the proposed university listed objectives of the institution to include, promoting the development of massive human resource capacity in the ICT sector of he economy; train personnel in ICT, innovation and related sectors; establish training and research facilities with modern infrastructure and technology; provide a fully interactive distance learning facility; collaborate with other institutions of higher learning, locally and internationally, for the exchange of ideas and curriculum; encourage, promote and conduct research in innovation, communications and ICT; render community service in general and particularly in the area of ICT and invocation and perform other functions that, in the opinion of the Federal Government of Nigeria, may be relevant to the aims and objectives of the university.

Setting Up Of 31-Member Implementation Committee
AS part of efforts towards realising the establishment of the varsity, which the government said would, apart from creating a conducive learning environment, would also create millions of jobs through skilled ICT workforce, the Communications Ministry set up an implementation committee, which was chaired by the immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, with Dr. Amina Sambo Magaji, serving as secretary. The committee was also mandated to determine the additional requirements that would enable the university to meet international best practices.

Okojie, who expressed optimism that the university would play a major role in bringing about innovation, as it would be a research institution, called for the engagement of lecturers that are well grounded in the sector.

While decrying the fact that many lecturers depart the country in search of greener pastures after being trained by government, Okojie also advocated the establishment of an ICT Museum, where students could learn about the history of ICT development in the country.

Planned Academic Programmes
At inception, the ICT university is expected to play host to the following colleges, and run the following programmes: College of Information Technology (Multimedia Studies; Cinematic Arts; Digital Humanities; Digital Media management; Data Analytics and Management; Information Systems; Software Development; Computer Electronics; Robotics, Mechatronics and Nanotechnology; Energy Technology; Internet of Things (IOT); Block Chain Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The College of Applied Technology and Society will have the following: Operations, Logistics, and Management; Science, Technology and Society; Telecommunications; Biomedical and Health Information Technology; Information Technology Entrepreneurship; Information Technology Infrastructure, and Strategic Studies; Technology, Policy and Regulations; e-Governance; Sustainable Technology.

For the College of Security Technology, the following programmes are expected to be on offer-Intelligence System and Security; Information and Cyber Security; Information Technology Forensics and Network Security, and Entrepreneurship and General Studies.Central to the university’s academic and training model is the Entrepreneurship and General Studies Unit, which will serve all the colleges, as the university strives to train its students to be entrepreneurs with skills and practical knowledge in all aspects of their fields of study. The unit will also coordinate all NUC mandated courses at the undergraduate level, as well as implement the school’s unique practical studies model at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Global Tech Giants To Provide Support
ONE things that Shittu made clear right from the outset, is the fact that school, would be driven by a Public Private Partnership arrangement, since it would be supported by some global leaders in the ICT sub-sector including, Cisco, Facebook, Huawei, MTN, D-Links, Globacom, Lenovo, Samsung, Apple, Siemens-Nortel, Intel, Motorola, Ericsson, Dell, He, ZTE and IBM.

According to the minister, the ministry wants these giants to adopt the university campuses as their own, in addition to channeling in resources, providing faculties and lot of logistics to assist in the training of Nigerians, a development that will aid the country’s ability to export trained skilled facilitators to African countries.
“These industry giants have expressed their unequivocal support for this project, with pledges in the provision of faculty, library content, syllabus, logistics, including funds towards the realisation of ICT University of Nigeria,” the minister said.

Mixed Feelings Greets Proposed Varsity
EVEN though the project, to a large extent, is seen as a developmental one, some stakeholders in the ICT industry have expressed worries about its sustenance post-Buhari administration. Their fears stem from recent revelations that IDEA Hub, an incubation centre in Yaba, Lagos State, set up by the pioneer Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, during the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration was allowed to collapse and shop closed.

IDEA Hub was established to train software developers among the youths, who would in turn attract seed investors that may be willing to invest in some of their apps considered commercially viable.Painfully, some months after Johnson’s exit as minister, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Communications withdrew its financial support to the outfit, leaving the place to cater for itself, which led to its eventual collapse.

According to a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, the minister clearly has big plans for the industry with the ICT university, “but many government projects have failed to meet their potential because of poor execution and continuity of purpose. Right now, I am not convinced that the proposed ICT University of Nigeria will be any different. It is even worrisome that since December 2016 that the minister announced that the project would kick-off within three to six months, nothing serious happened within that period. The fact that they have not met the timeline for the establishment of the university is evidence of poor planning.”

Why ICT University And Not An Innovation And Development Centre?
FORMER President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Titi Omo-Ettu, is of the view that instead of an ICT varsity, an invocation and development centre would have been it.

Omo-Ettu, an engineer, said an ICT innovation and development centre, not an ICT university would have recruited brilliant, smart graduates of any discipline, train them for a period of about 30 to 40 months, using a rigorous curricular on innovative application of the science of ICT in businesses, different professions, and in governance.

According to him, the course structure may include Science of ICT, Digital Communication, Information Security, Innovation, Software Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Business, Fabrication, Robotics, Knowledge Management and Law.“The faculty should comprise of experts invited from industry and academia from anywhere in the globe to the extent of what the centre can afford. It is the quality of equipment for training that makes this centre different from a typical university, and a deliberate desire to take it away from structures such as the NUC, where its mandate may be lost to politics of the land and the ‘job for he boys’ syndrome that we are known for.

“Recruitment into the centre would be strictly on merit and taken away from government’s apron. It should be a self-sustaining business and not receive government handouts in any form,” he stated.Omo-Ettu added: “When I said DBI could transform into it, I meant that the centre could purchase the DBI infrastructure if the idea that DBI transforms into it is accepted, or if DBI is available for sale. If it is not, then the centre should be built from scratch while DBI keeps soldiering on.

“In our clime, government ownership, and therefore, a collateral subjugation of any vision to the pressures of politics, has made enough mess of our ability to nurture the kind of minds that can rapidly put us and our businesses on the world map,” he submitted.

Wither Federal Universities of Technology?
IN an opinion article titled: ICT University? Not Again!, a telecoms expert and publisher of Political Economics, Ken Ugbechie, queried whether anybody has bothered to find out what has happened to federal universities of technology set up by the Federal Government in the past.

According to him, all of them, without exception have gone the way of other universities, offering courses and programmes that have little or no bearing with technology.Ugbechie explained that a designated university of technology ought to be a special technology ecosystem where their products are men and women already prepared for the challenges of modern technology.

“Graduates of such universities should be primed and ready, needing no supervision in their chosen specialised fields. But this is not the case. They are no different from engineering graduates or graduates in other disciplines from regular universities.“And you cannot blame the students or their teachers. They only made the most of what was available. These so-called universities of technology are underfunded and under-equipped. Their lecturers, who ought to be the cream of nerds and techies in the academia are not exposed to further trainings is their respective fields, the type that ought to distinguish them from their counterparts in regular universities,” Ugbechie stated.

The publisher noted that the effect of such is that you cannot tell the difference between a graduate of university of technology, and his counterparts from a regular university. “So, why does Barrister Adebayo Shittu want to turn DBI into an ICT university? To leave behind a legacy? Not quite. If he wants to make a mark, he should liaise with his colleagues in the Ministry of Education and lobby the National Assembly members on how more funding could be provided for the relevant ICT departments and courses of study in these universities of technology,” he sated.

For record purposes, Nigeria has over 10 universities of technology spread across the six geo-political zones of the country.Telecoms expert, Aluko, who also shares Ugbechie’s views on technology varsities equally queried the specific need of the ICT varsity saying, “there should be a rethink. There are also many things calling for the attention of Barrister Shittu, which I think he should focus on.”

Government Wary Of Additional Burden
IN July, ahead of the botched take-off of the Enugu Campus of the university, members of its implementation committee expressed satisfaction with the state of facilities at the campus.Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, who was part of the assessment team said, “The President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government had mandated the minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, to forthwith set up an ICT university in recognition of the continuous frenetic growth pace of Information Communications Technology (ICT), and the huge impact on the economy,” in the light of the technical talents and specialists it can engender.

Okechukwu, who reaffirmed that the university would be run on a PPP basis, stressed that multinational ICT companies like CISCO and Motorola would be involved.In July, the implementation committee submitted its report to Shittu, who informed that the document would go to FEC for approval thereafter. It did, and the approval granted at the session chaired by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who was then Acting President.

Osinbajo, while speaking at the opening of a two-day summit on Smart Cities in Abuja, in August confirmed that when he said: “The Federal Executive Council has just given approval for the establishment of the ICT University of Nigeria cross the geo-political zones in the country. Our expectation is that given its mandate, the university would bridge the knowledge and skill-set gap towards our march to a knowledge-based economy.

“The Federal Government has big plans for the Nigerian ICT ecosystem. There is unrealised ability in other assets the nation possesses besides oil, which is capable of growth and development that can generate a surplus, one of such is ICT.”Sadly, in September when the Enugu Campus was billed to commence operations, the same FEC unanimously turned down the minister’s memo on the establishment of the school, thereby putting a stop to the take-off of the varsity. The FEC members reportedly said the Digital Bridge Institute; the training arm of the NCC is sufficiently providing tertiary training in ICT.

A member of the committee for the establishment of the university and a close associate of the Minister, Alhaji Tajudeen Kareem, told The Guardian that the Federal Government is jittery about funding another varsity, and so was extremely cautious about taking up more responsibilities, especially now that the economy is experiencing a lull. Kareem, who hinted that the Federal Government already has a N250b shortfall in funding of universities in the country, disclosed that the minister’s plan ab initio was to explore PPP, and not solely to depend on the Federal Government for funding.

According to him, so many people, including investors from the United Kingdom, and the United States, among others, have already expressed interest in the project, and are bringing their expertise to bear.Kareem, who admitted that some due diligence was not carefully executed in the proposal, said the Federal Government was only exposed to providing infrastructure. “I can tell you that the six DBI campuses are worth N7billion.”

In a recent chat with the newsmen, Shittu said even though Buhari was full of commendations for the initiative, government’s position was hinged on the enormous fiscal demands the ICT university would place on it at a time when existing higher institutions were in dire need of funds.He added that FEC believes the proposed partnership funding by the private sector and other international donors should be more evident before government can make any major commitment.

“For me, maybe the Federal Government did not see what I saw, but since we are in a democracy, I cannot force my ideas on the majority because it is a game of minority have their say, but majority have their way.”The minister, who said he was not relenting on the initiative, as there were plans to continue to explore the goodwill within the ICT sector in order to rally more private sector to buy into the vision.

Shittu stressed that since there is no need to build fresh structures, but run on existing ones currently used by the Digital Bridge Institute, I believe we can revisit the initiative.”

Back To The Drawing Board
KAREEM said the ministry will not relent on its effort to get the idea running. “We are engaging some key players from the private sector. One of the mistakes made earlier was that we didn’t present the cash flow analyses of what the varsity is capable of generating for the government. We are already working on that and we believe that when we re-present, there shouldn’t be any opposition.”

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