Kashifu: Driving Digital Innovation for Economic Prosperity
By Inyene Ibanga
TECH DIGEST – The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is the apex regulator of Information Technology (IT) in Nigeria, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
Created in April 2001 to implement the Nigerian Information Technology Policy and co-ordinate general IT development in the country, the agency derives its mandate from the NITDA Development Act (2007).
This Act of Parliament empowers the agency to develop, regulate and advise on Information Technology in the country through regulatory standards, guidelines and policies.
In line with the Act of Parliament, NITDA is assiduously pursuing implementation of its wide-ranging mandate through strategic and inclusive stakeholder management, local and international partnership, and efficient utilisation of resources in the interest of Nigeria.
On August 20, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi as the Director-General of NITDA after his boss, Dr Isa Pantami was nominated as a member of the Federal Executive Council and assigned the portfolio of Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
As the fifth DG of NITDA, Kashifu has been steadily building upon the foundation laid by the previous occupants of that office, driving the agency to fulfil its core mandates in consonance with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) of the federal government.
In this position, Kashifu is responsible for leading NITDA’s implementation of policy guidelines for driving ICT and developing programmes that advance IT related operations within the public and private sectors.
August remains a special month for NITDA’s current management team because it marks Kashifu’s second year of piloting the affairs of Nigeria’s IT sector regulatory agency. It is expected that the agency will take advantage of this auspicious period to showcase its achievements and, where necessary the challenges, so far.
A renowned technology expert, Kashifu assumed office as DG after officially joining the agency in 2017, climbing into the position with over 15 years of experience in IT operations, and business transformation, with professional certifications in networking, telecommunications, service management and solutions design.
Kashifu is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) trained strategist and the first Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s public sector. He also undertook leadership and management courses at Harvard University in the USA, University of Cambridge in the U.K. and IMD Business School in Switzerland.
Prior to joining NITDA, he assumed various positions in technology engineering at the Galaxy Backbone and later went on to work as Technology Architect at the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2014. While working in the CBN, Kashifu also doubled as Technical Assistant to the then DG at NITDA, Dr Isa Pantami.
Since assuming office two years ago, Kashifu has seen to the development and expansion of the tech ecosystem into communities, schools, and innovation driven enterprises (IDEs), thereby providing opportunity for various sectors of the economy to leverage technology to transform business models, enhance productivity and efficiency, while also creating jobs and wealth for operators.
The recent introduction of the Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP) 2021 – 2024 stands out as one of the landmark achievement of NITDA under the leadership of the current D.G.
Another programme initiated towards actualisation of the federal government Digital Nigeria project is the recent commencement of the National Public Key Infrastructure (NPKI) for Root Certification Authority (RCA) for Country Signing Certification Authority (CSCA) and Country Verification Certification Authority (CVCA) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In a nutshell, the national PKI will guarantee secure communication for all online services, provide security against unauthorised access and disclosure of stored information by addressing the fundamentals of cyber security – confidentiality, integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation.
Furthermore, the PKI will enhance e-government and digital economy transformations through secure data exchanges and authentication for electronic transactions protection by the banking sector and its regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
In the last two years, NITDA has launched several programmes, such as the Nigeria Digital Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Startup Policy (NDIESP), NITDA Digital Innovation Entrepreneurship Centre, and the state-of-the-art Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR).
The National Digital Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Startup Policy (NDISEP) is made up of five priority areas, namely, Advancing Human Capital, Unlocking Access to Capital, Enabling Infrastructure, Boosting Demand, and Promoting Innovative Entrepreneurship. The policy is formulated to achieve a digital innovation and entrepreneurship driven nation that would become a norm for improvement in the areas of digital technologies.
This will be realised through automation, smart processes and ICT solutions, while applying to appropriate stakeholders in government, innovation-driven enterprises, consumers of innovation, technology start-ups, innovation hubs and labs, investors, academia, funding agencies, civil society organisations, service providers, and others into the policy.
Meanwhile, NITDA is coordinating the establishment of National Digital Innovation Entrepreneurship Centre to entrench an innovation-driven culture among citizens by serving as platform for creating value and prosperity among the teeming populace. Similar centres are to be replicated across the six geo-political zones in the country.
In what could best be described as its most ambitious programme yet, NITDA has set up the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) as a special facility for the promotion of research and development on emerging technologies and their practical application by providing solutions to Nigeria’s domestic problems.
The state-of-the-art facility, along with its modern digital fabrication laboratory, is a digital innovation and research facility focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Drones, Internet of Things (IoT), and other emerging technologies, targeted at transforming the Nigerian digital economy, in line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS).
Most importantly, NCAIR is also focused on creating a thriving ecosystem for innovation-driven entrepreneurship (IDE), job creation and national development through collaborations with academic institutions and other agencies, research and development consultancy and high-tech products, and services development.
Kashifu’s first year in office witnessed a multitude of accomplishments, which included issuance of supplementary regulation to strengthen of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), and enhance data security and safety for all Nigerians and inauguration of the Data Breach Investigation Team, in collaboration with the office of the Inspector General of Police.
During the period, NITDA was able to address over 790 data regulation issues by tracking and reporting data infraction cases to the Police. Also NITDA’s robust implementation of the NDPR under Kashifu yielded more than 2700 jobs and opened up the data security industry worth more than N2.5 billion, within a year.
Still within that, NITDA set up three IT hubs, four innovation and incubation parks, six IT community centres and three IT capacity-building centres in higher institutions of learning, as well as in unserved and underserved communities across the country.
Under Kashifu, NITDA also held capacity building programmes for over 650 artisans across four geo-political zones, and 200 IT centres managers across the country, organised periodic innovation contests such as Future-Hack, where participants receive funding and mentorship to develop marketable products and services.
Similarly, it conducted various entrepreneurship training programmes on ICT for 200 women, where they were provided with laptops pre-installed with the requisite e-resources as support for their start-ups, which generated more than 500 jobs.
The agency, through its strategic relations with tech entrepreneurs, supported 246 start-ups and 125 IT hubs and ecosystems builders were supported through Nigeria ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Vision (NIIEV). In the process, NITDA’s programmes within the period have resulted in the employment of about 30,000 youths.
NITDA, he said, had also set up a Virtual Startup Clinic, mostly for young people to meet with mentors, successful entrepreneurs, investors, industry specialists, business consultants and hub operators to solve problems and challenges they were facing during the pandemic.
Under the leadership and direction of Kashifu, NITDA floated the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative designed by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to take small scale farmers to commercial level using a performance-based approach. This has resulted in the empowerment of 145 farmers to utilise digital, smart and precision technology to improve farm yields.
To further expand the knowledge and skills capacity of the citizens, the agency embarked on Massive Online Open Courses initiative for Nigeria’s tertiary institutions to prioritise e-learning in the country.
Despite the pandemic, the agency delivered digital skills and literacy to over 25,000 Nigerians in 2020, distributed over 2000 laptops in driving this computer literacy, and tracked 6386 new jobs and roles created through its interventions.
From the foregoing, within two years of Kashifu’s foresight and guidance, with the support and endorsement of Dr Isa Pantami, NITDA is not leaving anything to chance in its determination to drive Nigeria towards a digital world as it relentless explores the use and adoption of Blockchain Technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, data management and strategy for adoption into the digital economy.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest.ng and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.