DG of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi with Tech Stakeholders
DG of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi with Tech Stakeholders

Kashifu Inuwa: The Game Changer Of Nigeria’s ICT

TECHDIGEST – He is a technocrat per excellence, a game changer, an “oracle” of Nigeria’s ICT whose tentacle has continued to resonate across the country. A man of many parts: tech savvy, patriot, and a leader who switches easily between his career and devotion to the nation. Having covered many grounds in his field, if the name Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi still sounds strange to you, it is because you are not familiar with revolution going on in the ICT sector or National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) where he is a presiding officer. Funke  Olaode writes about exceptional leadership of Abdullahi, the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the NITDA as he clocks three years in office

Few intellectuals rock like him in the field of Information Communication Technology where he has called the shot over the last 18 years. He enraptures you in the knowledge of information technology. In Nigeria today, he is unarguably one of the go to “oracles” of Information Technology. With his innovative, creativity and remarkable leadership, the Young Turk has revolutionised and modernised the Nigeria ICT sector. Thanks to his intellectual acumen, which has helped to push him beyond boundaries. That is Abdullahi, the boss at NITDA.

On August 20, 2019, President Buhari appointed Abdullahi as the fifth Director-General/CEO of NITDA. He was only 39. Many were baffled. Majority were a bit confused trying to figure out who is this new man in the saddle. For those who have followed his career trajectory, Abdullahi possesses both leadership quality in terms of administration and as an intellectual who is conversant in his field.

Fresh from the tutelage of his mentor, and current Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami where he has learnt the ropes of administration, Abdullahi, within a short period, has become “father of innovation” because of his vision and mission to transform the Agency which he has pursued vigorously.

He came to NITDA prepared and hit the ground running as soon as leadership mantle fell on him with a decision to make a mark and to impact the nation. In his 36 months in the saddle he has ticked all the positive boxes and still counting.

Looking at the glorious heights of his career, it is hard to reconcile that with the less-than-inspiring conditions of his childhood years in Hadeja, a small rustic village in Jigawa State. Like it is in many rural communities far removed from the bustle and glitzy sheen of capital cities, life in Hadeja reflected a social reality that seemingly imposed some glass ceilings on children’s future.

His formal education, albeit rendered in Hausa and Arabic, began in Hadeja, amidst the familiar monotony of daily household chores. Little Kashifu always dreamt of life beyond the confines of Hadeja. The economic circumstances of his childhood, however, meant it will take some very good fortune for such dream to be realized from relative obscurity. But the saying that fortune favours the adventurous has been particularly useful, not least so by his father’s rather prescient choice of name for him, Kashifu – literally meaning an adventurer or explorer.

And like an explorer, he is conquering his terrain in very splendid ways, simplifying the somewhat rarified world of ICT and stoking the interest of the youth as a result.

The academic fire in him was lit at the Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, where he studied Computer Science. In doing so, he embodied the saying: “what you desire you will acquire”. In his insatiable quest for knowledge, he has traversed Ivy League universities collecting certifications in leadership, telecommunications and more. The universities include Harvard University, University of Cambridge, and IMD Business School, Switzerland.  He is also an MIT-Sloan Strategist trained at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With a robust experience in IT operations, business transformation and solutions architecture across both private and public sectors, it is thus not surprising that he is the first Cisco-Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s public sector. In addition to being a member of the Nigeria Computer Society and the British Computer Society, Kashifu is also a Certified Project Manager and Solution Architect with many professional certifications in networking, telecommunications, service management and solutions design

Self-effacing and unassuming, Kashifu, at just 42, boasts a resume that most of his contemporaries can only dream about. Between 2004 and 2013, he was at Galaxy Backbone where he held positions such as network engineer, IP network field engineer, and senior network and lead senior solution architect and lead technical solution design.

The time spent at Galaxy Backbone enhanced his IT proficiency. So, when an opportunity to join the Central Bank of Nigeria as a technology architect in 2014, he was sufficiently prepared for the challenge. At the CBN, he was one of the brains that developed a technology architecture repository that gave a holistic glimpse of the CBN’s IT infrastructure, which helped ensure that decisions on new IT investment are made swiftly. Indeed, his contribution as a member of the team that implemented software license rationalization was just as crucial. That team’s work is credited with helping the CBN substantially cut costs in annual license subscriptions.

Although, providence plays some significant role in the affairs of humans, yet, as the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca rightly observed, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Kashifu’s meteoric rise might seem providential; but it derives, primarily, from hard work. His strength lies in his tenacity, diligence, simplicity, and a mind that pays sufficient attention to details. But, above all, he possesses an array of academic qualifications that would be considered impressive by global standards. 

Joining the NITDA in 2017 as Technical Assistant to the Agency’s then director-general Pantami, Kashifu still displayed the work ethic that has been a defining feature of his stellar career. At NITDA, the IT regulatory body in Nigeria responsible for implementing National ICT policy, he was the coordinator of local content initiatives that boosted local production of ICT by over 200 percent in 2017. He also excelled in the execution of a strategic plan that resulted in a significant rise in ICT’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP by over 13 per cent in the second quarter of 2018. Another highlight of his career as a technology architect was the production of seven Solution Architectures for critical IT initiatives that helped in achieving a cashless society in Nigeria.

It was thus quite fitting that he was appointed the DG of NITDA in August 2019, stepping into the shoes of his mentor and former boss, Pantami.

For him, there was no time to bask in the honour. He was preoccupied with thoughts of not disappointing the many people who have, over the years, shown a huge confidence in his capacity. Working with Pantami helped Kashifu  to further hone his ICT skill and offered him the privilege to be part of a team that developed a turnaround vision for Nigeria’s IT sector, and identified ICT as a key enabler in the quest for economic diversification. Being NITDA’s helmsman was an opportunity to continue with that project and broader vision of his mentor and bring both to fruition.

Given that he prefers to work in the background than hug the limelight, a common question when President Buhari confirmed his appointment was, “who is Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi?” He did not have to explain. His work as a technocrat did the talking.

Not long after assuming office, the benefits of his passion and fidelity to the dream of an ICT-enriched economy had become evident. With over 300 infrastructural projects implemented in the ICT sector in just the first year, NITDA was understandably adjudged the most prominent parastatal in the ministry of communications and digital economy. His dream is to position NITDA as a foremost IT regulatory agency that has the capacity to compete with other international IT regulatory institution. He also would like to transform the agency into a smart, respected, focused and success-motivated institution. Today, NITDA’s competitive edge is clearly not in doubt. 

NITDA’s launch of a scholarship scheme was indeed consistent with Kashifu’s conviction that to be globally-competitive, it is important to operate in an environment where the youth possess a level of expertise at par with their counterparts anywhere else in the world. In pursuit of this, the agency has trained over 2,000 Nigerians for both Masters and Ph.D programmes across the world. It is gratifying that most of the beneficiaries often return to the country after their sponsored studies. 

There is no doubt that the scholarship programme was shaped by his passion for youth development, which he believes is a catalyst for growth and development of the country.

Aside from the scholarship programme, over 940 digital capacity centres, IT hubs, innovation and incubation parks and IT community training centres have been built across the country. There are also programmes like Start-Up Friday, Start-up Clinic, FutureHack, NITDA’s Graduate Internship Programme and training for artisans. Under his leadership, NITDA has executed several projects that have saved the nation billions of Naira. Kashifu as a revolutionist hasn’t gone unnoticed when in May 12th, 2022, at the National Productivity Order of Merit Award, NITDA became the only government agency that won the coveted award.  Born on February 21, 1980, soft-spoken and somewhat reticent, Kashifu’s desire to leave enduring legacies and impact lives is unmistakable. 

 

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