March 7, 2021

Pantami, Kashifu and Nigeria’s Digital Economy

with Suleiman Uba Gaya
0803 567 6295 (Text Message Only)

As Nigeria clocks sixty years since its attainment of independence from the Great Britain yesterday, it is apt that we examine the journey so far in at least one key driver of indispensable importance for the acceleration of our national economic growth – the multi-trillion dollar global Digital Economy which Nigeria only started getting fully right from last year when President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami as Minister of Communications and Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi as the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

On October 17 last year, owing to the realization of the indispensable place of Digital Economy in fast tracking growth and development of our national economy, President Buhari approved a submission by Dr. Pantami to expand the Ministry’s mandate to cover Digital Economy. This was aimed at capturing the goals of digitalization of the National Economy, in line with the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan.

Towards facilitating a Digital Nigeria and seeing to it that the country continues to reap from the trillion dollar digital market, Pantami, as Minister, has seen to the implementation of Digital Economy Projects, which include resolving some lingering issues that were fast threatening the growth of the sector.

A key example of this is the nagging issue of Right of Way, which particularly hindered broadband penetration for thirteen years. Pantami wasted no time in engaging with key stakeholders, especially the Nigerian Governors Forum, since the constitution of Nigeria places governors to be in charge of land administration in their respective states. With the relentless engagements by Pantami, the right of way levy was reviewed downward to a maximum of N145/linear meter by some states, while others completely waved the right of way charges.

Ekiti State, for example, was charging N4,500, but reduced it significantly to N145/meter. Owing to this intervention, laying of fiber within a two hundred kilometer distance, translates to a massive savings of well over eight hundred million naira. For a particular state, an estimated cost of connecting two local governments areas was a staggering five hundred and sixty million naira before the implementation of the Right of Way resolution. It is now just one hundred and fifty thousand naira. Can you beat that?

Also, until Dr. Pantami was appointed as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, vandalisation of telecommunication equipment was the order of the day. But Pantami made a strong presentation to the Federal Executive Council for those equipments to henceforth be regarded as component parts of Critical National Infrastructure. With the approval the Minister obtained, telecom providers and other broadband companies now heave a sigh of relief as security agencies have since been mandated to keep a close watch at those assets.

In late November of 2019, President Buhari unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy for a digital Nigeria. This was aimed at providing the necessary infrastructure for broadband penetration, as well as providing digital skills for Nigerians, a mandate NITDA, under Kashifu Abdullahi, has been discharging beautifully well.

On November 13 last year, 2.2 million unregistered or semi-registered sim cards were deactivated from various networks, making it difficult for criminals to communicate as freely as they were used to, helping the security services to record much more strides in their drive for a safer Nigeria. More than any physical measure taken, this policy ensures more kidnappers are arrested, with thousands even abandoning crime altogether. Pantami has also been indirectly putting more money into the pockets of Nigerians, as cost of data has reduced, while its effectiveness has increased. Similarly, billions of naira that some unfortunate Nigerians reportedly paid in ransom after their loved ones were kidnapped, were now saved, as kidnapping is no longer the easy route to riches as it used to be before the appointment of Pantami as Minister.

Like the motto of Nigeria at Sixty, which seeks to emphasize the deep gains in togetherness, Dr. Isa Pantami has been emphasizing synergy among all the parastatals working under his ministry. And it is to the credit of the Minister, that all parastatals operating under the purview of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy have been performing very well, but the star of all of them is the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Nigeria was lucky in this wise because the person who succeeded Dr. Pantami as chief executive of NITDA was his key and capable, trusted aide, who was a key part of the NITDA success story when Pantami superintended the agency as Director General, a position he bequeathed upon his promotion as Minister to man the entire ICT and telecoms sector.

Working closely with his boss, Malam Kashifu, Director General of NITDA, has been implementing the eight pillars identified in accelerating the development of National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, which include developmental regulations, digital literacy and skills, provision of solid and service infrastructure, digital services development and promotion, digital society and emerging technologies, provision of soft infrastructure and indigenous content development and adoption.

Being the goal-getter that he has always been, Malam Kashifu has, with direction from his boss, been steadily implementing the existing roadmap for the overall development of the ICT sector and implementation of all other mandates of NITDA, according to the seven pillars of the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.

These seven pillars include IT projects clearance, under which Kashifu has successfully created 272 user accounts to enable all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) submit their IT projects via the IT projects clearance portal. Still under this, 154 unique IT projects of 73 MDAs have been cleared. With these interventions alone, Kashifu’s NITDA has saved the Nigerian Federation over five billion naira. And a lot more is on the pipeline.

Under the data protection regulation, 59 data protection compliance organizations have so far been licensed. There is also the inauguration of data breach investigation team, which NITDA is partnering the Nigerian Police Force in ensuring enforcement. Also, NITDA, under Kashifu’s expertise, has so far issued 230 compliance and enforcement notices, eight data breach cases are under investigation, and for the first time, fine was imposed on an organisation for data breach. Ordinary citizens of Nigeria are also constantly reminded as to the most effective way to manage personal data served by public institutions, such as free WiFi on offer in many places.

Under the Nigerian government enterprise architecture, Kashifu’s NITDA has established collaboration with Korea International Cooperation Agency to secure funding in special areas of Nigerian e-government interoperability, while stakeholder engagement aimed at driving the implementation of Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision has been in operation, under the Nigeria ICT entrepreneurship and ICT vision. Still under this, NITDA has launched a portal to support the vision for the ecosystem, consisting of database for hubs, start-ups and other stakeholders.

Firing from all cylinders, NITDA, has in keeping with its avowed determination to play its key part in ensuring Nigeria benefits maximally from the global Digital Economy, been engaging the MDAs, setting up a forum for consumer protection and establishing a framework for information technology service level agreement for all MDAs. Also annually, and in its bid to protect the ICT consumer, NITDA has set up a forum where issues to do with protection and maximization of gains for the consumer are discussed and thoroughly analysed. So far, 302 indigenous IT companies have been certified.

NITDA has also been engaged in capacity building for its staff and ICT users. In 2019 and 2020 for example, the agency has trained one thousand artisans covering different geopolitical zones of the country. The organization has also been offering scholarships to deserving individuals, and merit is the only criteria guiding the selection process. IT tools are being provided Nigerian students, and during the lockdown occasioned by the advent of Covid-19, NITDA donated laptops to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and also set up the Nigeria Covid-19 Innovation Challenge. Startup clinics were also set up in different sorts of the country, and under the Smart Agriculture initiative, over three thousand job roles were created for artisans. About five hundred women also benefitted from ICT training, and thousands of jobs were created for Data Protection Officers, IT consultants, lawyers, business people, etc.

Other excellent initiatives, such as cyber security, digital inclusion and local content promotion and development are being vigorously pursued and encouraged.

There is no way a limited space like a newspaper column can chronicle all that Dr. Isa Ali Pantami has achieved in the last one year. He remains one of a handful of ministers fully giving life to President Buhari’s desire to bequeath to Nigeria, a country we can all be proud of.

For now, this column encourages all Nigerians to brace up for a total revolution of the ICT and telecoms sectors under this gentleman Minister who not only personifies integrity and decency at their highest, but also been serving as a beacon of hope to all Nigerians. With Pantami at the helm of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, millions of Nigerians who had lost hope that Nigeria could achieve meaningful strides in the Digital Economy sector are now having a rethink.

This column salutes Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, as well as his capable protege, Kashifu Inuwa, who has also continued to serve as an excellent ambassador of the Nigerian youths, as far as personal integrity and credible governance are concerned.

On President Buhari’s call for togetherness

In his broadcast to the nation yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari has enjoined all compatriots to work together and see the positives as outweighing the negatives that have dogged our national trajectory since independence. The President was particular about ethnic and religious divisions which, since independence sixty years ago, have inhibited our growth as a nation. He asked Nigerians to eschew their differences and reap maximally from our God-given differences.

A cursory look at all nations that have developed will show that none has achieved what they have with their citizens divided. America became the behemoth it has since become owing to its respect for the human race, placing human beings on equal footing on the basis of liberty and access to national patrimony. While admittedly in recent years, especially since the advent of the Donald Trump administration, some elements of divisions are emerging, the fact remains it is not a systemic thing, and a large spectrum of Americans are against all manner of racial divisions, which they rightfully believe will only devalue them as human beings and degrade the place of the United States in the comity of world nations.

President Buhari is completely right when he talked about preconceived notions that have continued to fester hatred and other negative narratives dogging our people. A driver will accidentally hit someone from a tribe other than his. Or a religion different from his. And oftentimes in Nigeria, all hell will let loose, with people blindly killing innocent compatriots who happen to be driving on the road. Oftentimes also, Nigerians base their support for our leaders, especially at the national level, on the religion or tribe they subscribe or belong to.

The crisis in southern Kaduna, for example, keeps festering because of preconceived notions about the place of indigenes and settlers. So also the countless incidences of riots in various parts of Plateau State, which has seen thousands of innocent Nigerians losing their lives oftentimes for things they knew nothing about.

Muslims observing Friday prayers attacked a young woman who insisted in passing through the congregation while prayer was being observed years ago in Jos. And only last year, some Christian youths on the outskirts of Jos also killed a major-general of the Nigerian Army. His offense? He was a Muslim. Yet, the reality is that we hardly have a hand in the religion we subscribe to. A report has shown that over ninety percent of human beings take to the religion of their parents. Only few change them when they grow up.

The National Orientation Agency, an agency that has been doing very little in discharging its important mandate, should be made to reorient Nigerians to see more positives in our togetherness, than the many negatives being paid more attention to, on daily basis in the social media. State governments as well as local government (do they in reality exist in Nigeria?) should work vigorously in infusing this positive vibe in especially young Nigerians, with 72 percent of our national population being 32 years and under.

Political and religious leaders working to divide us should also be severely dealt with by the law, and those of us that they are working hard to divide and confuse should keep a serious distance from them. Leaders should lead by example, while we, the citizens, should support and guide them.

There is deep sense in the time-tested saying that together we stand, divided we fall. May we, as a nation, grow to attain greatness, and may all the afflictions facing us disappear overnight. This is quite achievable and doable, once we decide to co-exist in peace and harmony, devoid of primordial sentiments.

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