By Lukman Oladokun
It was during the 12th edition of the e-Nigeria Conference Exhibition and Award, the National Information Technology Development Agency’s flagship Program in November 2019, that the president who doubled as the special guest of honour of the event, Muhammadu Buhari posited that the “transition to the digital economy was no longer optional but an absolute necessity.” Many did not know the import of this presidential directive to NITDA and the kind of attention the management of the Agency would give to it. People in the know can authoritatively confirm that the Agency swung into action by initiating several organizational restructurings in furtherance of the already established roadmap that was handed down by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the Agency’s former Director-General. And since then, many laurels and accolades have come the way of the Agency, the recent, being the National Productivity Order of Merit, (NPOM) Award coincidentally conferred on the Agency by the same President Buhari himself on Thursday, May 12th, 2022. The NPOM Award is an award of honour and dignity instituted by the government to reward hard work and excellence.
In a letter conveying the conferment of the Award to the Agency, the organiser of the Award, the National Productivity Centre confirmed the approval of the president to confer on NITDA the award in recognition of its “high productivity, hard work and excellence hinged on the Agency’s recommendation on the report of the committee on National productivity Order of Merit Award after a “rigorous selection processes.” The letter, which identified NITDA as the only government Agency out of 50 awardees maintained that one of the numerous accomplishments of NITDA is its strict adherence to information security and safety” that has been proactively “creating a robust incident management procedure through which any irregular or adverse event that occur and affect the normal functioning of a system is adequately dealt with.”
Yes, the above reason proffered by the organiser to honour NITDA this so well is justifiable but the Agency has performed creditably well to the admiration of IT stakeholders and Nigerians in general. One could imagine that a once obscured IT Agency that the government has pencilled down for merging or proposed to be a unit in its supervisory ministry could metamorphosis to the level of winning a National Productivity Award under six years of intention to alter its existence. It began in 2016 when Prof Pantami assumed office. During his well-crafted inaugural speech, the then Director-General admonished his “esteemed colleagues” (as they were then) that he was at the Agency to change its narrative because “clearly, NITDA is crucial to the technological aspiration and development of our country in this ruthlessly competitive global world where we can’t afford the luxury to lag. This is particularly true in this challenging economic time when our country dearly needs ICT in its bids to diversify the economy. He added that the Agency is very strategic to the aspiration of the country and in that case, it requires a “harmonious blend of knowledge with creativity.” Staff were also enjoined to possess certain qualities such as integrity, professionalism and commitment to duty for the success of the Agency.
The above determination to change the narrative, and the admonitions to staff to also change their work ethics birthed the transformation of NITDA. NITDA under the administration of Prof. Pantami focused on seven strategic key pillars of IT Regulations, Cyber Security, Capacity Building, Local Content Development and Promotion, Digital inclusion and Government Digital Services. These pillars were religiously implemented between 2017 to 2020. The feats recorded by the Agency in these three years were unprecedented and they have become the geese that laid the golden eggs for the Agency.
Unarguably, Prof. Pantami laid the foundation for the Agency’s trajectory to development but not without the knowledge of his then Technical Adviser and now the NITDA’s Director-General, Kashifu Inuwa, CCIE. They both envisioned the roadmap and conceptualized all projects executed. Obsessed with these modest achievements his “mentor” and predecessor recorded, on the assumption of office as the 5th Director-General, Inuwa made continuity his watchword.
Surprisingly, by the end of the last decade even with the outbreak of COVID-19, the results of these efforts have begun to be manifesting; leading to an improved contribution of the IT sector to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, (GDP). For instance, in the last quarter of 2020, the ICT sector grew by 14.70 per cent which made it the only sector to have grown by double-digit. This was attributable to the robust implementation of the digital economy policy implementation which NITDA is one of the implementors.
After the launching and unveiling of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, NDEPS by President Buhari in November 2019 with the mandate to implement eight pillars of Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy and Skills; Solid Infrastructure, Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development and Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society and Emerging Technologies and Indigenous Content Development and Adoption to accelerate the development of Nigerian digital economy, NITDA launched its Strategic Roadmap and Action plan for 2021-2024 with planned implementation strategies to be in line with NDEPS.
It all began with the internal restructuring of the Agency to prepare its workforce for the challenges ahead. The Director-General conceptualized a system that ensures no staff is indolent by setting monthly, quarterly and annual performance targets for them, the aggregate of which form the performance scorecard on which staff are evaluated at the end of the year. Departments, Units and Subsidiaries also signed their scorecards which contain the various initiatives that will facilitate the implementation of SRAP with the Director-General. This is a complete deviation from the culture of annual assessment measures employed by the other Ministries Departments and Agencies of government. This approach has become a model most organisations are now emulating. For instance, a team from the Office of the Head of Service recently visited the Agency to understudy the model for nationwide implementation. Staff are also being socialized regularly with the cultural reorientation with a view of changing their mindset and conditioning their minds to the new core values of the Agency which are People-First, Innovative and Professionalism which if religiously adhere to will “proactively facilitate the development of Nigeria into a sustainable digital economy”
It is unquestionable, the series of awards various organisations have bestowed on NITDA in recent times. This is owing to the contributions of the Agency toward the diversification of the nation’s economy. Foremost among these contributions is the prudent management of the limited resource in the implementation of the Federal Government’s Information Technology projects across the country which is under the Developmental Regulation pillar of SRAP. To NITDA, regulation is not to stifle the sector but rather to enable a conducive environment for the sector to thrive competitively in order to unlock, support and enhance opportunities for market-creating innovations. Initiatives under this pillar include; IT projects clearance which has seen 258 projects cleared from MDAs with over N2.4billion saved for government; implementation of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulations that has created a market value of N1.2billion, 7,680 jobs and 33 licensed Data Protection Organisations. The testimonial of NDPR is another success story entirely. Nigeria became the first African nation to launch the NDPR after the European Union and many countries in Africa are now approaching NITDA through Nigeria’s government for guidance on their Data Regulation policies.
The captivating ways of implementing the NDPR by NITDA had led the government to be proactive in establishing the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau, (NDPB), a full-fledged parastatal that will be responsible for regulating and protecting the use of personal data in the country. During the unveiling of the NDPB, minister Pantami revealed that it has become imperative to establish the NDPB “because many global IT giants would not do businesses in a country with no data protection law or institution.” He added; “A country like Nigeria with a huge and increasing population needs to have an institution of government-mandated with data privacy and confidentiality.”
The intention of the government to achieve 95 per cent digital literacy in the next 10 years which NITDA is championing through its Digital Literacy and Skill pillar of the SRAP is also attractive to many stakeholders to ‘adorn’ the Agency with awards. This pillar focuses on ensuring the acquisition of digital skills across works of life and creating a pool of globally competitive human capital that is capable of igniting digital transformation. The Agency, in promoting digital inclusion has facilitated the training and empowering of 750 People Living with Disabilities, (PLWD) thousands of artisans on phone repairs, 57, 774 active students have enrolled on NITDA Academy for Research and Training, (NART) and undergoing 67 active online courses and certifications. The Agency has given 74 Master scholarship slots to Nigerian youths on IT-related courses; 12 Master scholarships on ICT law and 12 PhDs have been awarded thus far. Similarly, 1,500 junior school teachers were trained on digital skills, 300 participants drawn from 30 MDAs trained on digital literacy, 100 journalists trained in digital journalism and over 300 women were also trained and empowered with digital tools on ‘Techprenuership.’
It is practically impossible in a country like Nigeria where economic power to acquire digital tools is not readily available to build the required human capital needed for a thriving digital economy sector. Without empowering the people with the necessary tools needed to function is like building a castle in the air, a path NITDA would not follow. The unwavering supports NITDA has been providing for Nigerians to increase the level of digitisation and digitalisation across the country are highly commendable. Under the Digital Transformation Pillar of SRAP, initiatives such as the implementation of the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture, the implementation of Nigeria Smart Initiatives, and the facilitation of a digital inclusion program for People Living with Disabilities and other digitally unserved people have seen the Agency donating digital tools to Nigerians. In the last one year, for example, NITDA has built and equipped 80 Digital Economy Centres with e-learning facilities across the country, four special IT capacity building centres, and 966 digital tools donated to beneficiaries of different digital capacity building training. Also, the Agency has provided 530 laptops and desktop computers for Nigerian students, 50 laptops were given to the participants in the workshop for digital journalism for women; 50 Nigerian Information Technology Reporters Association were also given 50 computers after they were trained on digital journalism; 418 tablets and repairs tools were given to artisans to supports their trade; beneficiaries of NAVSA have also been given 785 tablets to aid agricultural practice in the country.
NITDA has brought benefits of immense proportion to the country through the initiation of various initiatives as handed down to it by its supervisory Ministry under the guidance of the Minister, Prof Pantami. This award and many more it had received in recent times could be attributed to the collective efforts of all staff with the Director-General providing the leadership and direction needed to excel. Quoting from what he said in one of the interviews he granted after the honour, the Director-General noted that “looking at how far we have come, for me, what attracted this recognition is the transformation and innovation we introduced and how we try to be professional in whatever we do. We try to make sure that all the services to our customers supersede their expectations.”
The elated Kashifu added, “When we were nominated, we were not contacted about it, I think they did some survey and it was after they finished, they came to us to give them some information about the Agency. So, this shows that the transformation we have achieved, people outside there are seeing them. It is impacting the sector and society in general. Also, for me, this shows that the staff are up and running because, as a leader, my work is to set direction and govern the processes but the staff are the engine room. They are the ones doing the work, they are the ones delivering the services, and they are the ones surpassing customers’ expectations.”
And to those that might want to query the parameter used in selecting NITDA as the only government organisation so awarded, may I quickly remind you that, since 2016 (not undermining the performance of previous management of the Agency) the performance narrative of the Agency has changed. The once obscured NITDA has become more prominent; metamorphosizing into a more responsive Agency that is trying to set the nation’s foot on the threshold of digital transformation. The Agency might not have taken Nigeria and Nigerians to where they want to be but it has taken them away from where they used to be and with this award, and those that have come before it, the Agency knows that to whom much is given much more is expected as the management and staff are ready to roll up their sleeves for new challenges have beckoned.
Oladokun Lukman O., is a Corporate Affairs and External Relations Staff of NITDA writes from Abuja.