NITDA status attracts over a hundred million dollar – Dr. Pantani

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The DG NITDA, Dr. Isah Ali Ibrahim Pantani talks to some news men on the mandate of the organization and other issues. Excerpts;

May we know you officially?

My name is Isah Ali Ibrahim Pantani, the Chief Information Technology Officer of Nigeria, Director General Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

What is the mandate of the organization?

The scope of the mandate is very wide indeed. However, the mandate can be summarized in two broadly classified areas.
Number one is information technology development and number two is information technology regulation. The agency is mandated to develop and regulate IT in the country. Under information technology development, the agency has been mandated to partake in certain things that can promote the sector; like to come up policies, standards and guidelines for information technology development in the country.
And secondly, there is regulation which include IT clearance, standard guidelines, and frameworks for IT adoption and usage all over the country. So these are two main responsibilities of the agency.

You came in as the Information Technology Chief executive, what is Nigerian experience when it comes to IT?

Nigerian experience is good with regards to IT. Most importantly is because our country is dominated by youths. Youths, wherever they are, are digital natives. They are so much attached, inclined to information technology. For example, our average age in Nigeria today is 18.2, 18.3 years.
Eighteen point two, eighteen point three, this is our average age in Nigeria. So we have no aging problem. This tells you that majority of our population are youth. And youths are naturally inclined to ICT facilities. So because of this, Nigeria is so much inclined to information technology.

How is this organization actually helping the youth to develop and contribute their quota when it comes to ICT?

We have been doing a lot of things in order to promote IT development in the country particularly towards youths. Most importantly the agency has subsidiary, which we call office for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship. That office is a subsidiary of NITDA and it has been created purposely in order to identify our young innovators, our young Nigerians that have some ideas of ICT, support them, mentor them, monitor their progress and see how they can make the country proud.
This agency through the subsidiary of our office for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship has been organizing what we call State of Friday. Moving from one state to another, from one geopolitical zone to another, organizing competition, where Nigerian youths are encouraged to come up with their innovation to participate in our competition.
When they are successful, or we discover that the idea they have is something that needs to be supported, we support them in many ways; in cash and in kind.
Sometimes we take it up upon ourselves to sponsor them to other international events where their own ideas can be developed further; like the agency has been sponsoring youths to go to information technology exhibition in Dubai which we call GITEX (Gulf Information Technology Exhibition).
Recently we sponsored some to Silicon Valley when we traveled along with the Vice President of Nigeria, and whoever is into IT knows what Silicon Valley is all about. So the agency has been sponsoring them through that way. And secondly, we have been trying to identify some experts in selected areas. Where we discover our youth come up with any idea we try to see how these experts can support them.
If you come up with anything in software, we feel that you need someone to mentor you; we will link you up with him. And if there is any financial implication the agency shoulders the burden of such financial implication. This is some of the things we have been doing.
Furthermore, we have been establishing IT hubs all over the country where we provide internet facilities for free and all other facilities for our younger ones to go there and develop their skills, particularly to make sure that at least whatever they come up with is successful. For example the agency established IT hub in Lagos, second one in Calabar, third one in Kaduna, the forth one in Ibadan and Fifth one now is in Gombe.
So these are some of them. Again in addition, in collaboration with social investment programme of the federal government, we are also establishing six additional IT hubs. IT hubs are the world class centres where youths are being trained on ICT, particularly with advanced knowledge. So, one will be in each of our political zone. Then number seven is in Abuja. Number one is in Lagos. These are deliberate efforts in order to make sure that we level the playing ground for our youths to develop their talent.
Furthermore the agency has been giving scholarships to young Nigerians who excel in IT. For example, last year alone we sponsored around 92 young Nigerians to further their studies in MSC, PHD and in ICT related courses. These are some of the trainings we have been sponsoring them.
And even this year, recently they concluded the examination and we are in the process of inviting them for an interview. Each and every year we sponsor them.
Furthermore, the agency has also been organizing special training. For example we have what we call graduate internship programme. If somebody studied law or sociology, or political science but he couldn’t find any job to do, we try to give him special training with a period of time that he can begin his entrepreneurship with that programme. What we call graduate internship programme. And this is not only selected to men, we have a special programme for female, what we call women in ICT, we provide ICT facilities for them.
We did the first one and we are in the process of beginning the second one. We also have training for people with disabilities which is very important. Through this training we took away many of them from roaming our streets. Today we have people with disabilities that established their IT business centres. They partake in typing in Microsoft, excel, printing and they are being paid for that. At least with this we are reducing the number of those that are roaming our streets – begging. So these are some of problems we have that we are supporting in our youths in Nigeria. And this is only in summary.

How far have you been able to reduce the importation of ICT input in Nigeria?

You know, initially it was policy of Federal Government of Nigeria on local content. The first policy was approved on 17th of April, 2006 that all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) should give more priority to our indigenous technology, but since then there was no enforcement.
On 18th of July, 2012 another directive was given by federal government and there was no enforcement. Because of that the patronage of our indigenous technology was very poor. When I came on board, federal government released another executive order directing MDAs to patronize local content.
When it comes to information technology it is our mandate to enforce that directive. It is our mandate to enforce that directive. So what actually happened at that time, the very acting president, the current Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, (SAN) signed an executive order on the first of May 2017, directing the MDAs to patronize local content.
From that time we started that enforcement. In addition, on the 12th of February, 2018, the president also signed another presidential order. President Mohammadu Buhari, GCFR, signed another presidential order directing them to patronize our indigenous technology. So NITDA enforces these two directives and that is why the patronage of our indigenous technology sky rocketed. For example, in 2013 the total patronage of our ICT, computer, our hardware, our laptops and tablets and even desktop, in the entire 2013 was 82,000. Only 82,000 computers were purchased from our indigenous manufactures or assemblies; what we call local OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), in 2014, 12,000 (complete one year), in 2015 92,000. In 2016 when I came I started enforcing precious directives of 17th April 2006 and 18th July 2012.
That increased to 150,000. In 2017 when these executive orders were signed, like on the ease of doing business, like on the patronage of local content, with the enforcement, the total number of our local computers purchased within one year is over 355,000. I know of one federal government institution, they failed to patronize. When we engaged them through legal way they came here and they tendered their apology and they started patronizing local content. Based on the record, in only three months, at the tail end of 2017, they purchased local content computers for over ten point five billion naira within only three months.
So this tells you that, at least, the patronage we are witnessing today is unprecedented. It has never been achieved before, because it is one of the basic ways to support your economy. You produce what you eat and you eat what you produce. So we are to consume what we produce in Nigeria.
As long as we patronize what we produce, that will definitely go a long way in supporting our economy. But a situation where we spend all our resources in importation, definitely this will put more pressure on our local currency. And it will not support the economy in any way.
I was in Lagos last month, to visit one of the OEMs, our local companies. They were telling me, because of the patronage, now they increased the number of their employees by hundred percent. And they almost doubled their salaries. Why, because the patronage is unprecedented. So, only one them, was saying he had around one hundred and fifty staff but now, over three hundred. And he pays their salary by 20th of each and every month. And this is only one out of around seven. This is only in hardware; the same in software.

NITDA, NCC, I think there is overlapping of mandate, I want you to tell us at what point is there divergence? And secondly again sir you made boast human of capacity that NITDA has trained, to what extent is Nigerian ICT getting that value back?

Firstly one may argue, because of the convergence of information technology on one hand and telecommunication technology on the other hand that there could be overlapping. But in real sense there is very insignificant overlap between the mandate of NITDA and that of NCC. NITDA is to regulate the information technology sector, will the NCC is regulating the telecommunication. If you mention NCC, you talk about MTN, you are talking about Airtel, you are talking about GLO.
These are the companies that NCC is regulating. They are dealing with only telecoms. Their mandate is in communications technology. But when it comes to information technology, this is clear mandate of NITDA.
So, all what we are discussing about hardware is information technology. Software is information technology, networking is information technology. It is even our mandate actually to regulate, even internet itself. It is the mandate of NITDA. If you go through act section six, look at from article A up to article M, you will see clearly that it is our responsibility to regulate it, but some time however not between NITDA or NCC, there are many agencies that I know, they fail to understand the scope of their mandate.
When I came to NITDA, many of my staff did not know the mandate of NITDA. I had to make it even a policy here, there must be a time that you will sit down and read the mandate of the agency and if you read, you have to write something on it.
And not only in IT, go to many MDAs, you will get a director who doesn’t even understand the mandate and the scope of the mandate of the agency or the commission he is serving. So it is very common. It is all about trying to encourage people to know where they start and where they end. In NITDA, we know where we begin and we know where we end.
We know our mandate that is why many people come here with so many proposals, world class proposals, we have interest, but when we review, we discover we will only apologies. We don’t go into any agency’s mandate. So that is why NCC is regulating the telecommunications sector while NITDA is regulating the information technology sector. So if you understand, sometimes there is convergence between information technology on one hand and telecommunications.
And that is what brought about some times the converged regulation in some country where they allow all the regulators to come in one place because of the convergence of their sectors to work together.
So some time we promote that. As I am talking to you today we have an independent and standing committee, let me call it a standing committee between NITDA and NCC where we work together. Anything we feel that we have common interest, we come together, we serve our country. And that is what is important, instead of even arguing about the overlap.

The second question, to what extent has Nigerian ICT gotten value of those personnel that have been trained abroad?

To be fair with you, training doesn’t go without any value. Some people you support them through direct training, some through policies. Let me give you an example, within only 2018 our staff, our status attracted over a hundred million dollar; only our status not to talk of the companies. Only our status attracted over a hundred million dollar in Nigeria.
Don’t forget that a young Nigerian in 2016 developed an app in the US, by name Oxpot. It was purchased by Apple Company at the price of one billion US dollar, one billion USD, go and read it online.
The app is called Oxpot, it was purchased by one billion USD. Furthermore the remaining of those who graduated from our scholarship return to Nigeria, teaching in various Universities. And they are imparting knowledge, many of them I know, they are back. They send a letter officially that they resumed, that they are engaged with this university or that university. So by implication they are supporting the sector.
Some of them wrote a letter requesting for a waiver for one or two years to get that international training in developed nation. Hands on after graduation, so that you can come back and serve your country, but for you to remain there forever, that will not be acceptable, but for you to get special skills and hands on training that the country can benefit from it, we welcome all of them.
So that is why we allow them to stay for a year or two with the condition that they will get special training and we review and feel that this training is required in this country so you can be given that waiver for you to stay for a year or two for that training or for that job so that whatever you get; experience and knowledge, you will return to Nigeria and serve your country.

The agencies that you partner with, let us know them?

We partner with many agencies, for example we partner with NCC. I give you an example, our collaboration. We partner with NOTAP, National Office of Technology Acquisition and Promotion. We partner with them, for example. We also partner with many institutions like universities, like University of Lagos. We signed and MOU with them. Like University of Kano- Bayero University Kano, we signed an MOU with them. We partner with EFCC. When it comes to investigation of any fraud in ICT project EFCC will invite NITDA and ask for our legal advice.
Sometimes we send our staff to review the technical aspect and advise them about it. When there is any project ongoing that we feel that due process has not been followed in IT or the project has started without NITDAs clearance as the law requires. We write to EFCC and notify them and there and then they investigate the project. We have our collaboration with the office of the Auditor General of the Federation.
When they go to audit any project in IT they will ask for NITDAs clearance. When there is no clearance, that project will be subjected to auditor’s query. So there are many indeed.

Challenges?

Challenges are inevitable, but with the support of Almighty we are ready for them. Whenever they come we sit properly, we take all the necessary actions and we scale through.

Thank you sir!
It is my pleasure.

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