Kashifu Inuwa: Putting NITDA On The Cusp Of A Revolution
By Iklima Musa
TECHDIGEST – Nothing offers a more reliable picture of a country’s economic performance better than a periodic assessment of sectoral contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It’s no less so in Nigeria where a report by the National Bureau of Statistics indicates that Nigeria’s Information and Communications sector contributed 18.44 percent to the GDP in the second quarter of 2022. The figure was an improvement from the 15 percent performance recorded in the last quarter of 2021.
Kashifu Inuwa, NITDA Director-General: “Globally, there is a shortage of talents, so, we are creating a mandate to develop a talent strategy because we have a competitive advantage as a country with our vast human and natural resources. Nigeria can seize the opportunity to fill that gap”
A little context will help put the significance of this growth in real perspective. The NBS data shows that the country’s Information and Communications sector’s contribution trumped the figures recorded by sectoral powerhouses such as Oil and Gas, Manufacturing, Real Estate, and Financial and Insurance. The plaudits – or a huge part thereof – for that sterling performance should go to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, its helmsman Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and its steerer, Mr. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.
NITDA, as the Federal Government Agency responsible for the development of the Information Technology sector in Nigeria, it is one of the seven agencies under the Ministry of Communications Technology and Digital Economy.
NITDA’s impressive scorecard could be glimpsed also in how quickly it has been able to develop strategies, to help grow the Nigeria information technology ecosystem in a COVID and emerging post-COVID era. Under its dynamic and innovation-driven Director-General, Kashifu Inuwa, so much has been achieved by the Agency in a short span of three years.
The NITDA Director-General, who recently marked three years in office, has gradually realigned and re-positioned the Agency, aiming to grow its capacity to respond adequately to the changing conditions and complexities of a digital economy in a fast-evolving global and local digital market.
Milestones achieved under the leadership of Inuwa have been multi-faceted and stand out as bold testaments of his commitment to innovation. Inuwa’s vision for NITDA in the medium term is encapsulated in a robust and bold policy framework – the Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP, 2021 – 2024), which was launched last year.
SRAP is designed to support the even broader, National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) enunciated by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
The many achievements recorded so far belie the fact that NITDA has implemented SRAP for just one year, a development that Inuwa recalls with an understandable pride: “The first year of implementing the NITDA Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (2021 – 2024) has been one of deep learning, overcoming challenges and celebrating amazing breakthroughs. Along the way we got conferred with the prestigious National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) award, in recognition of our productivity, hard work and excellence in service delivery.”
In June 2021, the Agency started operating the National Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) with the Key Generation and Handover Ceremony for Root Certification Authority (RCA) for Country Signing Certification Authority (CSCA) and Country Verification Certification Authority (CVCA) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The NITDA Director-General remains upbeat about its prospects: “This unprecedented cybersecurity landmark (NDEPS Pillar 6) will not only close loopholes in online activity but significantly reduce system vulnerabilities that are exploitable by threat actors.” That was undoubtedly a milestone achievement for Nigeria’s digital space.
To further close out loopholes in online activity and generate proper accreditation of professionals, the Agency intends to implement seven cybersecurity interventions that are focused on the PKI.
A key component of this creative platform is that, it will coordinate the management of the Country Object Identifier (OID), and upgrade the PKI authentication infrastructure, create a PKI Audit requirement for Microsoft onboarding on operating systems, and integrate PKI with major hardware/software vendors. “We will then construct, furnish, and equip two National Cybersecurity Research Centers,” Inuwa says.
With regard to the expected outcome, Inuwa, reputedly Nigeria’s first Cisco-Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) public servant, says: “Digitalisation of Government processes facilitates transparency, efficiency, productivity, participation, inclusiveness, cost savings, and competitive advantage, which ultimately translates to social and economic development for a country like Nigeria.”
He also estimates that the “implementation of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) can save Nigeria N4.5bn annually”. For a government determined to curb corruption and cut costs, this is quite significant. Some of NITDA’s action plans in the area of regulation and framework development, which are already in the works, include fostering Gender Digital Inclusion, enthroning a seamless e-Commerce environment and enhancing government digital services.
“In 2022, we are developing the Framework on Gender Digital Inclusion (GDI), with the aim of codifying learning standards for different categories of IT learners, while addressing the wide gender disparities in digital literacy and skill acquisition,” he said.
He is optimistic that the Guidelines for e-Commerce in Nigeria will provide an enabling framework for e-commerce to thrive and increase online trade’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP. Just as crucial, he noted, is the planned development of the “Framework and Regulations for Implementing Government Digital Services (GDS) as a Guideline for Federal Public Institutions (FPIs) to deliver digital services and the Framework for Implementation and Compliance with relevant regulations to ensure compliance with all developmental regulatory instruments such as the NDPR, Cloud Computing, outsourcing, among others”.
To some, these goals may seem rather grandiose. But Inuwa possesses a tapestry of experience as an IT professional, having worked, and indeed excelled, in highly challenging environments, among which are the Central Bank of Nigeria and Galaxy Backbone Limited. This imbues him with a capacity to sufficiently address current developments and discern the dynamic trends and markets in the IT sector. His deep knowledge of IT trends reflects in the remarkable way he has steered the Agency to address the likely challenges of tomorrow’s digital environment.
Under Inuwa, NITDA has issued 966 digital tools and supported the development of digital transformation plans in accordance with NDEPS Pillar 5 in 3 states. “These digital tools and expert guide, which are part of our initiative to develop a framework and implementation toolkits for measuring the impact of digital technology deployment in FPIs are already enabling institutions to embark on digital transformation self-assessments,” he said, regarding the feat.
When Inuwa assumed office as NITDA’s Director General in mid-2019, the global Covid-19 pandemic which led to the lockdown of several cities worldwide, including Nigeria, was only a few months away. When it hit the country in February 2020, prompting a government-ordered lockdown in April 2020 which lasted for several months, the Agency initiated and adopted several remote and contactless digital technologies that ensured government machinery kept working throughout the critical period. Inuwa set up a team called Tech4Covid to cushion the effects of Covid-19. This led to the identification of three innovations that helped curb Covid-19 and the establishment of a virtual academy for research and training with over 70 active courses and over 485,000 active students.
In the circumstances, Inuwa’s leadership and managerial skills which had been honed by several high-level trainings in leadership and management at reputable world-class institutions such as Harvard, Sloan Business School, London Business School, IMD Business School, Oxford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University, all came into play, ensuring that critical digital services are being delivered to government and that government can continue to perform its various functions effectively. The same expertise has come into play in his relentless efforts, to transform the Agency into a world class IT Agency.
One instance of this transformation is the service delivery. The Director General comments: “In terms of the service contract, we reviewed the existing SERVICOM unit, expanded stakeholder identification, introduced new roles, realigned responsibilities to absorb the changes, created a new identity tagged iServe, and completed a sensitization process with key action points. Today, iServe represents our people first commitment to customer satisfaction through innovation and professionalism as we pursue the digital economy goals.”
Another key part of NITDA’s statutory mandate is massive upskilling and reskilling of Nigerians across all walks of life. NITDA under Inuwa, has trained well over half a million Nigerians in various basic digital skills and literacy, with such diverse backgrounds as junior schoolteachers, traditional rulers, journalists, youth and talent development programme participants, among others.
The Agency has embarked on a journey to train 1 Million Software Developers in the next 18 months, in collaboration with global giants such as Microsoft, Google, and other key ecosystem players. “Globally, there is a shortage of talents, so, we are creating a mandate to develop a talent strategy because we have a competitive advantage as a country with our vast human and natural resources. Nigeria can seize the opportunity to fill that gap”, the NITDA, DG says, with high optimism.
At a higher level, NITDA has awarded over 450 scholarships in IT to deserving Nigerians at the master’s degree level, with 42 Phds, in the past few years.
Inuwa is delighted with the phenomenal growth of the Nigerian Digital Innovation Ecosystem. Recent large acquisitions such as Stripe’s $200 million takeover of Paystack in 2020, the $320 million Main One Ltd take over by US-based Equinix, and Flutterwave’s $3.5 billion valuation have proudly spotlighted the country as a notable digital innovation centre in Africa.
In the first half of this year alone, Nigeria’s Digital technology and innovation startups have raised over one billion dollars in venture capital funding from major Western capital market funds. Notable among them are Sudo Africa, $3.7 million, Casava, $4 million, DrugStoc, $4.4 million, Bamboo, $15 million, Credpal, $15 million, and Reliance Health, $40 million.
NITDA itself, has recently facilitated the support of six digital information technology start start-ups to access grants of $120 thousand each, amounting to $715 thousand. The Agency is actively backing several digital innovation hubs and has set up such hubs around the country, including over 150 start ups which it has supported to attend the GITEX global exhibition, World Creativity Challenge, among others.
Just the beginning of this year, NITDA facilitated the approval of three Federal Executive Council memos through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, in favour of digital startups. These approvals will incentivise and further harness the country’s digital innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem to create job opportunities for its teeming youth population.
Within three years, Inuwa has equipped 160 digital economy centres around the country to further catalyze skills development and digital innovations.
According to Statista, 35 million Nigerian internet users will be added by 2026, which is another clear indication of increasingly phenomenal growth in internet adoption and usage in Nigeria.
Addressing the recent Ogun State Digital Summit in Abeokuta, on Digital Technologies: Key to Sustainable Development, Inuwa affirms that “Digital Technology innovation is not only booming, but it is also quickly moving towards sustainable solutions, with many of the most promising ideas from businesses worldwide having a clear focus on the environment.”
An innovation powerhouse, Inuwa would yet, undoubtedly, be pushing forward the boundaries of innovative digital technologies in Nigeria and beyond, in the coming years.