Monday, July 4, 2022

NITDA, To Whom Much Is Given…

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It was during the 12th edition of the e-Nigeria Conference Exhibition and Award, the National Information Technology Development Agency’s flagship programme in November 2019, that the president, Muhammadu Buhari, GCON, who doubled as the special guest of honour, 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 organisational 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. Since then, many laurels and accolades have come the way of the agency, the most recent being the National Productivity Order of Merit, (NPOM) award coincidentally conferred on the agency by the president on Thursday, May 12, 2022. The NPOM is an award of honour and dignity instituted by the government to reward hard work and excellence. 

The agency was just one out of 50 agencies of government nominated for the awards, thanks to its numerous accomplishments and strict adherence to information security and safety, which have been proactively creating a robust incident management procedure through which any irregular or adverse event that occurs and affect the normal functioning of a system is adequately dealt with. 

Who could have imagined that a once-obscure IT agency already pencilled down for merging or proposed to be a unit in its supervisory ministry could metamorphosis to win a national award within six years of intentional existential alteration?

It began in 2016 when 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 bid to diversify the economy”. He added that the agency is very strategic to the aspiration of the country and, in that case, 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. This determination led to the rebirth of NITDA, as Pantami focused on seven strategic key pillars of IT regulation, cyber security, capacity building, local content development and promotion, digital inclusion and government digital services. These pillars were religiously implemented between 2017 and 2020.

Surprisingly, by the end of the last decade – despite the break-out of COVID-19 – the results of these efforts have begun to manifest, 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, making it the only sector to have grown by double-digit. This was attributable to the robust implementation of the digital economy policy implementation (with NITDA being one of them).      

After the launch and unveiling of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), NITDA launched its Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP) 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 conceptualised a system that ensures no staff is indolent by setting monthly, quarterly and annual performance targets for them. The aggregate forms the performance scorecard on which staff are evaluated annually. 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 MDAs. This approach has become a model most organisations are now emulating. For instance, a team from the Office of the Head of Service (OHS) recently visited the agency to understudy the model for nationwide implementation. Also, staff receive cultural orientation regularly, with a view to change and condition their minds to the new core values of the agency – people, innovation and professionalism – which, if religiously adhered to, will proactively facilitate Nigeria’s development into a sustainable digital economy. 

No one can doubt the authenticity of the various awards bestowed on NITDA by various organisations in recent times, owing to the contributions of the agency to 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 to enable a conducive environment for the sector to thrive competitively 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 the government; Implementation of the Nigeria data protection regulation 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 a DPR after the European Union. Many countries on the continent now approach the agency through the government for guidance on setting up their data regulation policies.

The intention of the government to achieve 95 per cent digital literacy in the next 10 years – currently being championed by NITDA 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 disability (PLWD), thousands of artisans on phone repairs, 57, 774 active students have enrolled in the NITDA Academy for Research and Training (NART) and undergoing 67 active online courses and certifications. The agency has given 74 scholarship slots to Nigerian youths for master’s degrees in IT-related courses (12 Master’s scholarships in ICT law and 12 PhDs have been awarded thus far). Similarly, 1,500 junior school teachers were trained in digital skills, with 300 participants drawn from 30 MDAs trained in digital literacy, 100 journalists trained in digital journalism and over 300 women trained in 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. Failing to empower the people with the necessary tools to function is like building a castle in the air, a path NITDA would not follow. The unwavering support NITDA has been providing for Nigerians to increase the level of digitisation and digitalisation across the country is highly commendable.

Under the digital transformation pillar of SRAP, initiatives such as the implementation of the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA), the implementation of Nigeria Smart Initiatives (NSIs) and the facilitation of a digital inclusion programme for people living with disabilities and other digitally unserved people have seen the agency donating digital tools to Nigerians. In the last 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 availed for participants in the workshop for digital journalism for women, 50 Nigerian information technology reporters were also given 50 computers after they were trained in digital journalism, 418 tablets and repair tools were given to artisans to supports their trade and 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 by its supervisory ministry under the guidance of Pantami. This award and many more it received in recent times could be attributed to the collective efforts of all staff, with the director-general, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi, providing the leadership and direction needed to excel. In an interview granted after receiving one of the awards to the agency, he said: “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.  

“When we were nominated, we were not contacted. I think they did some survey and it was after they finished [that] they came to us to give them some information about the agency. 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, delivering the services and surpassing customers’ expectations.”

The once-obscure NITDA has become more prominent, metamorphosing into a more responsive agency trying to set the nation 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 these awards, the agency knows that to whom much is given much more is expected and the management and staff are ready to roll up their sleeves for new challenges beckoning.

Lukman, a corporate affairs and external relations staff of NITDA, wrote in from Abuja. He can be reached on loladokun@nitda.gov.ng.

Lukman Oladokun
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