The Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, National Information Technology Development Agency, Mr Kashifu Abdullahi, speaks on the role of the agency in achieving a digital economy, in this interview with IFE OGUNFUWA.

NITDA is championing digital skills development in the country. Kindly share the digital skills that will be in high demand in the next five years. There are numerous digital skills that are in demand and others required in improving the digital skill base of Nigeria. Some are certainly more complex than others. Some simple digital skills such as web design, graphics, design, digital marketing and so on are very beneficial in improving employability of our teaming youths.

Other higher-level skills such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, user experience and user interface design, software development, blockchain development, data science and big data analytics, cloud computing, cybersecurity, advance robotics and 3D/4D printing are also very necessary in building a resilient and strong digital economy.

As you may be aware, digital learning technologies are fast becoming global phenomena, and as distribution and platforms grow internationally, the market is projected to rise at 17 per cent per annum, to $252bn by the end of 2020.

We are therefore making concerted efforts to ensure that Nigeria becomes the digital skills hub for Africa.

What risks are ICT firms exposed to during this coronavirus pandemic period?

Mr Kashifu Abdullahi

ICT firms have not been immune to COVID-19 shock. The pandemic has led to a strain on infrastructure networks, contractions in consumer spending, disruptions to supply chain and reduced availability of components needed to function normally.

We have also witnessed escalating cybersecurity attacks as there is an exponential increase in ICT firms who work remotely and the need to share even more information due to remote work.

This situation has led to lower revenues and budget reduction for new projects, while focusing on making existing features more reliable and dependable.

Consequently, the International Data Corporation estimates that global IT spend is expected to contract by three to four per cent by the end of 2020, considering the ‘pessimistic scenario’, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The major impact is expected to be on hardware business, including devices, the software, and services businesses. Particularly, business models that require mobility and logistics such as e-commerce companies and those that are into the supply value chain have been hit considerably hard.

Overall, this has led to funding and investment challenges for early-stage companies, loss of jobs and revenue for many and an overall reduction in hardware and software demand.

How can ICT firms mitigate these risks?

I am sure you are aware that ICT firms have been proactive and majority have deployed certain risk mitigation strategies. These include scaling up of digital solutions and simultaneously retaining the ability to provide personalised, face-to-face services to some customers.

Other traditional approaches such as cutting costs and investing in innovation to ensure the sustainability of business models have also been deployed. Other firms are also allocating more resources to data and cybersecurity.

Generally, firms are advised to utilise methods to increase flexibility without compromising security for access management, considering that remote working levels will become more likely in the future, including more secure video conferencing services.

Strategic approaches may also require rethinking revenue and business continuity planning, leveraging on collaboration services and exploring the new consumption patterns.

ICT firms will basically need to improve their data protection measures and increase their data storage capacities and prioritise important work needed for these times.  Chiefly, ICT firms must consider offering services digitally by leveraging  digital technology solutions to mitigate the risk of COVID 19.

On our part, you may be aware of the proactive measures taken at the on-set of the pandemic. On the directives of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, a 10-member advisory committee made up of industry stakeholders was set up to advise the government on measures that could be taken to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ICT sector.

I am pleased to inform you that the committee worked assiduously during the period and came up with far-reaching recommendations. Furthermore, a number of recommendations have been implemented while work on others has reached an advanced stage.

What role is NTDA playing in stimulating the economy during this coronavirus pandemic?

We have rolled out several initiatives to ensure that technology continues to enable business continuity. We have crafted, launched and are implementing the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy  with key transformation pillars.

We have focused on stimulating the economy through local content development and driving the adoption of indigenous tech solutions in government as a whole as well as deepening digital skills training.

We came up with various programmes during the pandemic including the Nigeria COVID-19 Innovation Challenge with the aim of meeting the challenges our society is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have supported other stakeholders’ programmes and events.

We have also launched the Virtual Learning Platform of 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.

We have also hosted series of strategic stakeholder meetups to monitor the situation and share knowledge on the way forward.

We are also building on our successes with the SMART Agric Project – the National Adopted Village for Smart Agric – 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 the NAVSA project. We are also at the forefront in identifying and promoting indigenous technology that can cushion the impact of the pandemic and support business continuity in government services.

We also realised the need for the start-up ecosystem to adopt a collaborative approach by engaging key players in the ecosystem to conceptualise and implement schemes targeted at supporting the technology start-up ecosystem and converting their programmes to online, engaging the public on how they can benefit from such services, engaging the sector on measures to cushion the effects of the pandemic.

What has been your greatest achievement since assuming office one year ago?

In relative terms, it is still early days as I have simply consolidated the work of my boss and mentor, the former Director General and the current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami. Certainly, I am delighted with the role the agency played in the development of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy. Key to the successes we have recorded is the NDEPS that we are implementing and we hope every Nigerian will be positively impacted by the transformational changes it promises.

I am also delighted with our achievement in the area of IT projects clearance where 154 projects from 73 Federal Public Institutions with a total value of about N1.2tn were cleared. This resulted in a savings of about N5.1bn to the Federal Government.

Others include the launching of the Virtual Learning Platform of the NITDA Academy that has enrolled over 24,000 students learning digital skills, the innovation portal, where we currently have over 1,000 users actively interacting with the website, among which include start-ups, hubs, investors and mentors.

Our activities in ensuring data protection in Nigeria is also noteworthy as we have witnessed substantial increase in the level of compliance on data protection regulation, making Nigeria the leading nation in Africa in terms of data protection with a verifiable database of statutory audit reports filed by over 600 entities.

How is NITDA driving the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government?

We have rolled out several policies, regulations, and programmes, focusing on the digital economy agenda. NITDA is currently developing a new strategic roadmap which is in line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan and other important plans and policies of this administration.

You may recall that the NDEPS was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2019 edition of the e-Nigeria International Conference, Exhibition and Awards and we have recorded unprecedented achievements through the implementation of a roadmap for the development of the Nigerian IT sector.

The roadmap which consists of seven pillars strategically aligned with the eight pillars of NDEPS. The seven key pillars are IT regulation, capacity building, digital inclusion, digital job creation, government digital service promotion, local content development and cybersecurity.

The development of a digital economy will create new technological platforms and industries on one hand, while enhancing the efficiency and productivity of existing industries on the other.

We have been driving the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government by listening to stakeholders and as a result, there is a need to reposition as agile facilitators to create an enabling environment for technology entrepreneurship to thrive.

In this regard, we plan to influence government policies by sharing findings from stakeholder engagements and research findings from similar markets to Nigeria.

As an example, one of our regulatory instruments, the Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision contains policy recommendations and incentives designed to strengthen the Nigerian technology entrepreneurship ecosystem.

How is NITDA facilitating local content in the execution of projects for MDAs?

You may be aware that we have streamlined and fully automated our processes aimed at fast-tracking the IT Projects Clearing House mandate. This facilitates the tracking of IT projects execution of Federal Public Institutions, in line with government policies.

We have also ensured that data hosted by FPIs outside Nigeria are repatriated to Nigerian Data Centres in line with the provisions of the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT. NITDA is also utilising various instruments within its operations to ensure implementation of its guidelines.

The agency has forged functional partnerships with the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, the Bureau for Public Procurement, the Corporate Affairs Commission, Computer Professionals (Registration Council) of Nigeria and other regulatory institutions to ensure implementation of the local content policy of the Federal Government and its Guidelines on Nigerian Content. The agency has directed strict compliance with the guidelines through the IT Project Clearance process.

How many indigenous IT firms benefited from the local content policy and the Executive Order 003 of the FG in 2019?

You may be aware that we have licensed and supported over six indigenous Original Equipment Manufacturers and all the indigenous OEMs have benefitted from significant increase in sales and patronage from government programmes. Several projects worth billions of Nigeria have been given to various Nigerian software companies in strategic Federal Public Institutions which include the Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Mortgage Bank, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Nigeria Health Insurance Scheme etc. to mention a very few in compliance with the requirements for Nigerian content.

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