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‘Local OEMs’ improving, need supervision, patronage’

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Abdullahi

Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi is the Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), a Federal Government body in charge of IT regulation in the country. Until his appointment last August as NITDA DG, he was the former Technical Assistant to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami.

In this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, Abdullahi, spoke on IT regulation, local content development and challenges, Startups development, and the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, among other germane industry issues.

The Nigeria IT Policy is due for review given the changes in the technology world. What measures are you taking on this?
It may interest you to know that our supervising Ministry, Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, handles policy-related issues. You may be aware that there were several attempts at reviewing the policy in 2012, 2013, and 2017. Currently, with Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), as the Honourable Minister, the efforts have resulted in the development of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari, during the 2019 e-Nigeria International Conference, Exhibition and Awards, held on the November 28th, 2019. The NDEPS effectively replaces the National IT Policy.

How is NITDA supporting the Federal Government’s digital economy vision?
You may wish to know that even prior to the re-designation of the Federal Ministry of Communications, to include Digital Economy, NITDA has achieved a lot in that regard, through the implementation of a roadmap for the development of the Nigerian IT sector. This consists of seven pillars that are in alignment with the eight pillars of the Digital Economy Policy & Strategy and the Nigeria IT Policy. For instance, in promoting a digital Nigeria, NITDA from August 2019 to date, has launched and is implementing the following regulatory instruments: Nigeria e-Government Interoperability Framework (Ne-GIF); Nigeria Cloud Computing Policy (NCCP); and Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV). Others are Framework and Guidelines for ICT adoption in Tertiary Institutions; Guidelines for Nigeria Content Development ICT as amended; and Data Protection Implementation Framework.

Furthermore, we have different IT project interventions that we have carried out across the country in the last one year – 80 Digital Capacity Training Centres (DCTCs) with E-Learning facilities, six IT Hubs, six IT Community Centres, four IT Innovation & Incubation Parks, and three IT Capacity Training Centres – all with the aim of bridging the digital divide and providing access to the unserved and underserved population.

By next month, August 20, it will be exactly one year you were appointed the NITDA DG. How has it been so far on the saddle of Nigeria’s IT development agency?
I must say it was an amazing journey. This isn’t something that I expected or even envisaged. It was indeed a pleasant surprise. It however shows the confidence my boss and mentor, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim, has in my ability to the extent of recommending me to President Muhammadu Buhari, to take a giant leap into his shoes. It is a great honour, and I am putting in my best not to disappoint the expectation of the Minister, Mr President, Nigerian youths and the country as a whole.

As you may be aware, I am not new in Nigeria’s IT industry. I am at home being at the helm of affairs in NITDA. As a person that is open to new approaches and strategies, with the experiences I have gained for the last 15 years in the IT sector spanning between the private and the public sector and through unceasing study, my team and I have worked diligently to ensure the continuous development of the IT sector in Nigeria over the past 10 months.

What has been your biggest challenge as DG of NITDA?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on countries globally. While looking at the management of the pandemic as challenging, it has been a turning point for revolutionizing digital technologies to deliver products and services across the world, which is what we refer to as the new normal. Therefore, we did not miss the opportunity to prepare for the impact of the pandemic and also provide adequate support to insulate the Technology and Innovation Ecosystem.

What is NITDA doing to ensure the economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic?
NITDA has launched several initiatives to ensure that technology continues to enable business continuity. You may have followed some of our initiatives like:
i. Tech4COVID19 Initiative – This initiative is set to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the tech ecosystem and proffer solutions especially for startups. The Committee we set-up has come up with a Strategic Plan to ensure we retain about 100,000 ICT jobs and create an additional 30,000 in the post-COVID-19 era.

ii. Virtual Startup Clinic – Startups were gathered, mostly young people to meet with mentors, successful entrepreneurs, investors, industry specialists, business consultants and hub operators with the goal of solving problems and challenges they were facing. We held two virtual startup clinics within a time frame of 1 month.

iii. Nigeria COVID-19 Innovation Challenge – An online innovation challenge was held to meet the challenges our society is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Five startups with highly innovative ideas were selected for the final challenge and three of them were selected for further incubation. A support of ₦1million ₦750,000 and ₦500,000 were won by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd winners, respectively.

iv. NITDA Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship Support Scheme – This is a scheme to support startups and hubs across the country. With over 120 hubs in Nigeria, we are finalizing plans to ensure rapid intervention is provided for hubs and startups based on competence and carefully selected criteria.

v. We are continuing with our SMART Agric Project, where we engage farmers and focus on using precision/smart farming to ensure significant improvement in crop yield, quality of farm produce, efficiency and productivity; increased profit margin, harvest forecast, sales of farm produce and eco-friendly agriculture practice. During this pandemic, we have engaged 130 farmers on this Project.

vi. Furthermore, we set up and launched the NITDA Academy – a platform for virtual learning where thousands of young Nigerians can have access to a wide range of educational courses and tools online.

Recently, indigenous original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), decried poor implementation of the local content policy on PC procurement by MDAs. Being the agency that regulates them, has NITDA waded in to help them get better patronage from the MDAs?
Certainly! NITDA has demonstrated great support and has ensured improved patronage of indigenous OEMs in the last three years. It is a fact that the purchase of local devices by MDAs is unprecedented within these years compared to previous years before 2018. For instance, in 2015-2016, less than 250,000 devices were sold by indigenous OEMs. However, due to the intervention of NITDA, records show that in 2018/2019 alone, OEMs sold three times the numbers sold prior to 2017, with about 778,886 locally assembled devices sold in 2018 and 2019.

However, there are some challenges with the implementation of the Presidential Executive Order 003, for promotion of local content in the procurement of MDAs, and the NITDA issued Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT, which mandates MDAs also to purchase Nigerian hardware products. NITDA is implementing the Executive Order and Guidelines vigorously through active surveillance and IT Projects assessment and clearance process of the Agency. Nevertheless, procurement law requires OEMs to either bid directly or work with other contractors to bid to ensure transparency and value for money. If MDAs violate the process NITDA can then be notified for action.

There is also a challenge with the quality of some of the indigenous brands. In an effort to address this challenge, in 2018, we mandated these OEMs to go through a rigorous certification process requiring them to have ISO 9001:2015 for quality management systems. This, we believe, will ensure they are able to provide products that meet quality and regulatory requirements always. Currently, only three out of 10 previously registered OEMs have been fully certified.

What are your expectations in terms of Nigeria exporting software and attracting foreign exchange on the long term?
Nigeria has come a long way from being a net importer of software into a significant hub for the development of talent for software development in Africa. This is evident from the value of investments that come into Nigeria’s startup ecosystem due to the successes of mostly software-powered applications developed by incredibly smart Nigerians.

This can be seen in the growth and capacities harnessed in the country’s technology hubs, mostly around Lagos and Abuja. Also, there are numerous software houses churning out software to support banking, commerce and government processes in Nigeria. This is a testament to the ingenuity of Nigerians developing software to almost sufficiently meet local needs.

However, we must strive to become net exporters of software by developing our model to produce more software engineers and find suitable markets for these talents.

One way is to prepare to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which provides the opportunities for Africa to improve inter-Africa trade generally and trade in services particularly. Nigerian Software will benefit immensely from an improved atmosphere in trade-in services. This is important, considering that we already have all the ingredients needed to succeed. There is also the need to continue to incentivize software developers through lower taxes, subsidized development of talent and to create a pipeline of jobs that can be offered locally.

This will lead to the development of proprietary solutions that can be standardized and sold as services to other countries in Africa or the rest of the world for significant foreign exchange. Our initiative – the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support Scheme is one of the initiatives we have towards talent development. Furthermore, we are in discussion with Microsoft Corporation on the Global Skilling Initiative (GSI). It is an initiative aimed at helping 25 million people worldwide who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 Pandemic to re-skill in in-demand technical and tech-enabled jobs in the digital economy.


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