At GITEX 2017, Intelligent CIO Africa caught up with NITDA’s Director General/CEO, Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, to discuss the importance of Nigeria’s participation at the event and the current forecast for Nigeria’s tech development.
Q: Tell us a bit about NITDA.
A: NITDA is an acronym of National Information Technology Development Agency. It is the regulatory replicate of information technology in Nigeria. It was established in 2001 to implement national IT policy for the country. The two main responsibilities of the agency are to develop IT and to regulate it. If you look at it, these two words are interwoven; IT cannot be developed without regulation. We regulate in order to promote development, not to jeopardise or frustrate you but to guide, support, and mentor you to develop IT in the country.
The agency has the statutory mandate of developing standards, guidelines, and frameworks for IT adoption, IT usage and IT deployment in the country. Furthermore, the agency also serves as the clearinghouse for all the ministries, departments, and agencies in the country, meaning all federal government agencies should come to the agency and seek for clearance before they partake in any important project in the country.
It is the agency that coordinates Nigeria’s participation in GITEX each and every year. Many agencies attend, but they come under the leadership of NITDA.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for Nigerian companies and NITDA to be represented at GITEX?
A: The reason is very clear. In our country, IT is not native. It’s not a citizen of the country, it has been imported. This means you need to go somewhere and see how you can learn, then come back and develop it.
Secondly, information technology cannot be developed in silos. No nation can implement IT in silos. You need to have collaboration with others and see how your systems can be effective. We need to come out, engage others, discuss with them, share ideas to see what we can get as our takeaway.
This is very necessary. We are out here to learn from others, showcase our ideas and others can learn from us too. We come out and look for strategic partnership; we look for professional collaboration, and at the same time, we come here to see what other nations have been doing to serve as a challenge to us.
Q: Are you intending to form new partnerships at GITEX?
A: With each and every hour we come here, we ensure that we have our takeaway. We are still to finalise anything but we are having meetings and we have identified critical areas and where we are going to benefit from others.
Q: What sort of technology developments do you predict Nigeria is going to see in the next year?
A: We are trying to see how we can develop our local content. Local content includes hardware, software, and many more. This is our number one focus. Number two focus is on the issue of smart cities. We want to at least take a pilot programme in the country, particularly after handling our peculiar challenges. We want to adopt a system by having a pilot programme in a school, or in hospital, or in an agency where we try to transform into a smart agency, or smart hospital, or smart school.
If that is implementable, then we can think how to extend that to other places, but we begin always by addressing our peculiar challenges. We had a discussion today in the morning where many CIOs were invited. In the discussion, even the guy representing the United Arab Emirates said that in implementing smart cities, no one model will be implementable globally.
Each country should look into one model, see how they can domesticate it, because each and every country has its own peculiar challenges that must be addressed. There are new and old nations and cities. New cities are more linear settlements, but old cities are not like that. If you are to implement anything, you should differentiate between linear settlement and otherwise. These are some of the challenges that we should address first.
Q: How do you perceive Africa’s current smart city development?
A: There are many countries that are doing well. For example, Rwanda, particularly Kigali, and South Africa. Even Kenya is doing well. Nigeria is coming up for sure, because our population is not the same as those countries, we are talking about a population of 190 million; it’s not the same with a country like Gambia of three million, or Rwanda with over 89 million.
Because of this, managing our population is something that is very important, If we look at Abuja, Lagos, even Kaduna now, there are many examples where you will see a massive effort in an attempt to see that some of our activities are being digitalised. There are many places like these. I believe that from this year to the next year, we’ll be able to achieve a lot.
Q: What challenges do you identify in Nigeria as the main obstacles to digital transformation?
A: If we are talking about the implementation of smart cities in the entire country, then I can say the first challenge could be digital literacy. Not all Nigerians are educated digitally. Some could not effectively manage ICT devices, so there must be a basic knowledge of how one can manipulate ICT devices. In Abuja, in Lagos, in Kaduna, in Port Harcourt and a few other cities, that challenge could not be there significantly.
If you’re talking about remote villages, some do not even understand what a computer is all about. Because of this, our implementation should begin by ensuring that our population is educated digitally.
Secondly, another issue which is very important, power. You need to have uninterrupted power supply before you implement or talk about digital transformation for the entire country. We have this challenge. With the new administration of the country, I think the willpower is there now. The government of the country is willing to ensure that we have uninterrupted power supply.
Q: With regards to skill gaps, is there a focus in Nigeria on education and ensuring the people coming into the industry have the right skills for this new era of IT development?
A: Yes, I think there is an effort in that regard. In almost all of our universities, irrespective of the course you study, you must go through computer courses to know how to use computer, and sometimes even learn some programming languages. Even if you are studying our local language, you must go through some ICT courses. This will prepare you for the challenges ahead.
If you look at most of our universities today, they are trying to digitalise some of their activities. Without having the basic knowledge of how to manipulate ICT, you cannot even enrol in a university. If you want to complete a secondary school examination, you have to go online to see your results. Most of the examinations now are online. If you want to apply for university, you have to do that online. If you are given that admission, you have to go online and get registered. These are some of the challenges that prepare our students, our potential graduates well before they graduate.
After graduation, we have many courses going on, such as Cisco CCNA, that most of our graduates are brought in to ensure at least they have certification. We also have a graduate internship programme; irrespective of the course you study, you go and get knowledge in software development and website development, for example. These are some of the things we have in place currently.