March 7, 2021
BRASS TACKS

NITDA, Digital Economy and Covid-19 Initiatives

BRASS TACKS
with Suleiman Uba Gaya (suleimanuba1@gmail.com)



One of the key federal agencies that have continued to prove that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel is the Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi-led National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).  From the time the Buhari Administration appointed Dr  Isa Ali Pantami to last year when he was promoted, in appreciation of his unprecedented achievements as Director General NITDA and the appointment of Mr  Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi as his successor, it has been one success story or the other for this agency which is key in ensuring Nigeria taps gainfully from the trillion-dollars global Digital Economy Market.  
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria five months ago, NITDA has been coming up with novel interventions to ensure the Nigeria economy continues to be as robust as possible.  
The Director General, who also doubles as the Chief Executive of the foremost agency, Mr Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, has given insights on the activities on his agency as COVID-19 global pandemic hits several economies including that of Nigeria.
In a recent interview, the Director General revealed that “NITDA has launched several initiatives in order to ensure that technology continues to enable business continuity.” This column is going to reproduce some of the salient points raised by the DG, so that more and more Nigerians can see where they could key-in in present and future initiatives, including but not limited to the following:
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 has come up with a Strategic Plan to ensure NITDA retains about 100,000 ICT jobs and create an additional 30,000 in the Post COVID-19 Era.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. Two virtual startup clinics were setup within a time frame of one month.3.   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 ₦1 000,000₦750,000 and ₦500,000 were won by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd winners respectively.
4. NITDA Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support Scheme – This is a scheme to support startups and hubs across the country. With over 120 hubs in Nigeria, NITDA is finalizing plans to ensure rapid intervention is provided for hubs and startups based on competence and carefully selected criteria. 
5. SMART Agric Project, where farmers are engaged to 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.
6. 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.
While looking at the management of the pandemic as challenging, it has been a turning point for revolutionizing of Digital Technologies to deliver products and services across the world, which is what we refer to as the new normal. Therefore, NITDA 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.
Speaking on his one year in office this August 2020, the NITDA DG averred that “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 Pantami has in my ability to the extent of recommending me to President Muhammadu Buhari, to take a giant leap step into his shoes. It is a great honour, and I am putting in my best not to disappoint the expectation of my boss and mentor, Mr President, Nigerian youths as well as the country as a whole.
On his assessment of activities, he noted that “As you may be aware, I am not new in the 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 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. Remember, I picked it up from a good place to consolidate upon, considering the foundation laid by my boss and mentor, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.
Giving details on the key mandates of the Federal Agency that he wishes to focus on,  Inuwa Abdullahi recalled that “NITDA is implementing a strategic roadmap for the development of Nigeria’s IT sector. It consists of seven pillars that are in alignment with the eight pillars of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy. The seven key pillars of our Roadmap are IT Regulation, Capacity Building, Digital Inclusion, Digital Job Creation, Government Digital Service Promotion, Local Content Development, and Cybersecurity. We have rolled out several policies, regulations, and programmes, focusing on those areas. NITDA has already commenced reviewing as well as developing the next plan, which will soon be launched. It is in alignment with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) and other important plans and policies of this administration.
On handling of industry disputes especially those relating to OEMS, Inuwa Abdullahi revealed that NITDA has demonstrated great support and has ensured improved patronage of indigenous OEMs in the last 3 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 shows that in 2018/2019 alone, OEMs sold three times the numbers sold prior to 2017 with about 778,886 of locally assembled devices sold in 2018 and 2019.
However, he admitted that “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, NITDA 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 3 out of 10 previously registered OEMs have been fully certified.On the planned review of Nigeria’s IT Policy, the NITDA DG said “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 my boss and mentor, 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, GCFR, during the 2019 e-Nigeria International Conference, Exhibition and Awards, held on November 28, 2019. The NDEPS effectively replaces the National IT Policy.
When asked on what footprints would he like to be remembered for in the Nigeria IT space, Inuwa Abdullahi recalled with passion that “Nigeria is where I call home and my vision for NITDA and the IT space is to leave behind a legacy; to leave an unprecedented record of achievements that will continue to support the growth and development of the ICT Sector, thereby contributing meaningfully to the lives of Nigerians”.
Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi has opened up on the activities of his agency, revealing that it had jump-started Nigeria’s digital economy initiatives even before the Federal Government adopted it.
Explaining more during a recent interview, he said “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 which consists of 7 pillars that are in alignment with the 8 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);Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV);Framework and Guidelines for ICT adoption in Tertiary Institutions;Guidelines for Nigeria Content Development ICT as amended; andData Protection Implementation Framework.Furthermore, we have different IT project interventions that we have carried out across the country in the last 1 year  – 80 Digital Capacity Training Centres (DCTCs) with E-Learning facilities, 6 IT Hubs, 6 IT Community Centres, 4 IT Innovation & Incubation Parks, and 3 IT Capacity Training Centres – all with the aim of bridging the digital divide and providing access to the unserved and underserved population.
On what NITDA putting in place to create a conducive environment and support for the Startup Ecosystem, considering the fact that Nigeria is among the top three countries in Africa attracting the largest investments from Venture Capitalists among its flourishing Technology Startups and Hubs, the DG averred that “Nigeria is indeed among the top three countries in Africa, attracting the largest investment from Venture Capitalists for its flourishing Technology Start-ups and Hubs. Interestingly, Nigeria occupied the first position with a total investment of US $747 Million, followed by Kenya with a total investment of US $564 Million and Egypt that attracted a total investment of US $211 Million.In an effort to consolidate these efforts, we have a series of initiatives aimed at providing a conducive environment and support for the Start-up Ecosystem. These include:
The NITDA Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support Scheme, targeting startups hub owners and youth with talent and building their skills in high-demand skills;Policies such as Tax Incentives for startups, incentives for investors and access to market for innovation adoption;Establishment of Innovation and Research Fund to further catalyze the growth of startups;Development of an Innovation Portal to monitor the activities of the ecosystem;FinTech software, which is already exported;The innovation fund established by Government will reduce risk and attract FDI; andEstablishment of the Tech4COVID19 Initiative to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the tech ecosystem and proffer solutions especially for startups. The committee 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. We have since initiated the implementation of these recommendations.On his expectations in terms of Nigeria exporting software and attracting foreign exchange on the long term, the NITDA boss made it clear that “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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Dave Umahi and wonders of responsible governance


I was almost six years on planet earth when my late grandfather gave me a lecture on the virtues of personal conviction, the words of which, more than four decades later, have continued to echo on my subconsciousness. He said, among other things, that when I grow up, I should accord high premium on people who have the courage of their conviction; people who will never  just follow the crowd, and people who believe leadership is a serious business that comes with heavy responsibilities.  I grew up opposing  leaders who play to the gallery, and hardly care when issues I believe in are opposed by a crowd.  I fell in love with Governor Dave  Umahi because he possesses these sterling qualities and even lots more. 
Three years ago I defied the heavy odds stacked against me to contest for the high post of Deputy President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.  The powers arrayed against me were enormous, and many key leaders of my campaign team grew so apprehensive that they thought we should negotiate for a soft landing to avert an obvious humiliating defeat.  But I convinced them otherwise. The election was held, and I won by a historic one vote. 
In the case of Dave Umahi, the Governor of Ebonyi State, he did not, as far back as 2015, hide his feelings that for the Igbos not to completely lose out in the Nigerian political configuration, they need to spread their tentacles and extend a hand of fellowship to all other components parts of Nigeria, especially those governing us at the centre.  Obviously he also personally believes in President Muhammadu Buhari, and from time to time, the Governor’s decisive intervention has played such a crucial role in stabilizing a nation given to restiveness. 
Umahi was at it last week when he chose to differ from the crowd.  He wondered why every military officer must be a service chief  and called on the President not to make the mistake of changing the present crop of senior officers manning the different services of the Nigerian military, in view of the key roles they played in ensuring the nation is still being governed not by Boko Haram, a terrorist group that was at the verge of taking over many states in the a north, but through a universal suffrage. Umahi chose to be different, not just for the heck of it, but because he believes that’s what the nation truly wants. He knows that most of the calls are being sponsored by the media arm of Boko Haram and its sponsors, as well as disgruntled personnel whose agenda is at variance with the nation’s.  
Being a member of the opposition also, Umahi knows the particulars of the few opposition elements sponsoring all sorts of activities to distract and discredit the government at the centre. The Ebonyi Governor knows that what Nigeria needs, especially with Covid-19 still ravaging the economies of all countries across the globe, is a unified front to help the presidency get it right. The losers, the Governor reportedly once said, are Nigerians, the whole lot of us, if those governing us are made to lose focus and in the process throw us all into a ditch.  
It is pretty  difficult to find a politician who would brave the odds, like Umahi does, swimming against the tide even when he knew he had a major reelection battle ahead of him.  Apart from a firm belief that his people will never ditch him, having known those rare qualities that he ably possesses in large store, the Governor of Ebonyi State is clearly not a desperado for power.  In this country we have seen all manner of politicians, from those who engage in unsavoury activities or play to the gallery just to ensure they get re-elected, and those whose true character only manifests after securing a second term of office.  You then see them as the true monsters that they are. 
Courtesy of Governor Dave Umahi, the South-East has benefitted severally from federal projects, and the relationship between that part of the country and the other parts has been deepened. It is courtesy of this friendship that many in the North now believe there is every reason to support our brothers and sisters in the East and ensure they take over the presidency from Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
At a time, many thought the Governor was preparing grounds to ditch the PDP and switch over to the ruling APC.   But he has proven all those who thought so completely wrongly.  He stayed put in PDP and also contested for a second term of office under the platform of the Umbrella, which he resoundingly won.
Those praising Governor Umahi and extolling his virtues to high heavens include key members of the opposition political party in the state, APC leaders such as the respected Chief Chuka Nweze, a former Executive Chairman of Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and pioneer Secretary of APC in the state. In an interview conducted by Uchenna Inya, Chief Chuka was emphatic that Governor Umahi has performed far beyond his expectations.  
 When asked how he views Ebonyi State under Governor Dave Umahi, Chief Chuka responded as follows: “I will simply describe what is happening in Ebonyi now as magical. I boldly say that though I am not a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which Umahi belongs to but he has transformed the state even beyond the expectations of people like us in the opposition. So, I urge Nigerians to appreciate resourceful leaders who provide democratic dividends to the people despite party affiliations as Umahi has done.
Amazed, the interviewer wondered why he, a member of an opposition party was saying that, Chief Chuka said he was “particularly awed by the level of infrastructural development in the state under. I battled with my conscience to express these feelings being a member of the opposition APC and a fiery Umahi critic but I am a man who goes with the dictates of my conscience. I was marveled at the level of infrastructural development witnessed in the state when I visited recently after a ‘long absence’ as my eyes saw what I never imagined to see.
“I never imagined to see more than four standard and world class flyovers completed on the main expressway in the state, the trans-Saharan Abakaliki-Enugu high way and others about to be completed on the same road. These are the type of flyovers with full lighting systems that cannot be seen anywhere in the country. The most baffling thing is that it is clear to all that Ebonyi is among states that collect the least allocation from the Federal Government and one therefore wonders where the governor gets the money from. This shows astute and prudent management of scarce resources.”
The Chief responded, when asked whether he regards Ebonyi as a model among states in the country, that “that is the obvious truth that one can say. I did not use the headlamps of my vehicle when I toured Abakaliki at night because      virtually every area had functional streetlights. I do not know anywhere in Nigeria where almost all the roads in the capital city have been reconstructed– majority on concrete. The most astonishing aspect is the successful relocation of traders at the Abakpa Main Market, Abakaliki to the ‘newlook’ International Market. I passed the old site of the market and there was no single pin on the road as all the human, vehicular and otherwise obstructions have been cleared.
 “This seemed impossible in the past but this governor has made it possible. I have been involved in Ebonyi politics since its creation in 1996 and I know that preceding administrations tried to effect such relocation but were unsuccessful. I also visited the new government house building and simply described it as monumental. I feel these projects are borne out of the desire to leave a legacy for the people because the governor might not even enjoy them much before he leaves office.”
Are these projects restricted to Abakaliki alone? The Chief answered that he has “visited other towns and local government areas in the state and also saw wonders. Afikpo, the secondranked most developed town in the state for example has been turned into a mini capital with concrete roads everywhere.
 “The dualisation of the Abakaliki-Afikpo federal highway from that end has commenced and one wondered how the construction meandered the complex terrain of the hills and valleys of the area to achieve the extent of work presently recorded. I am not wondering much because the governor is a trained engineer. Onueke, which ranks next in development, has also been given a major face-lift with concrete roads, well-laid drainages and streetlights.
“Numerous kilometres of roads have been constructed on concrete in all the 13 councils of the state and the people are benefitting immensely from this development. I do not know what to say of Ohaozara, where the governor and I hail from my, which has been turned a ‘small London.’
 “The state’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and College of Medicine being constructed in the area have helped in turning the area into what, we, the natives never imagined it will be.”
Like Governor Umahi, Chief Chuka does not believe that party affiliation should stop him from saying the truth.  That indeed is the way to go, for us to get it right as a nation. 
“I battled with my conscience to say these things but as one who believes in the truth, I have no choice than to say them,” added the Chief, further explaining that “whatever I have said is the truth, just go to Ebonyi and you will see them. It does not matter whether you are from the PDP, APC or APGA and others before you like or appreciate them. They are there and no sentiment can erode them. They are not projects constructed on the pages of newspapers or the television, radio and the social media. So, the best option is to appreciate them. God even enjoined us to always appreciate and supports good things.
 “My assessment might ‘hurt’ the APC in the state but it is time Nigeria is salvaged with leaders and the led, saying the truth despite party affiliations. One of the country’s major problems is ‘political bias,’ a situation where political parties and their members do not see anything good in a government which they do not control. So, it is time Nigerians realize that despite the party in power, it is the people that matter and one day, leaders would return to them and give accounts of their stewardship.
 “Ebonyi people are benefitting immensely from these projects and despite being in the opposition, I stand for progress no matter the party such performing government belongs to.”
This column felicitates with the good people of Ebonyi State for the support they have continued to accord this rare gem, a true leader in every sense of the word.  Umahi is definitely a worthy national leader to watch out for.

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