The history of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the public service agency tasked with the sole responsibility of implementing the policies and guidelines that drive ICT in Nigeria, is a study of steady but productive digital innovation. Since its establishment in April 18, 2001, NITDA has undergone stages of transformation, in line with the government’s strategic policy changes. Since October 2019 when the Ministry of Communications was retrofitted as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the agency has commendably driven a lot of initiatives, which have fuelled the digital explosion. *The Dialogue on Data Development (DDD) Team of the Centre for the Study of Economies of Africa (CSEA) interviewed Mr. Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi, Director-General, NITDA, to learn about the digitally innovative services that the agency has been able to offer Africa and the world, as well as the challenges it has faced in recent years. In this conversation with the DDD team, herevealed some giant strides the agency has made, despite some challenges it has had to battle with. Herevealed, with incredible confidence, that the agency has a short-term goal of building the capacity of one million technology developers in the next eighteen months. Excerpts.
What are the novel innovations that have occurred in Nigeria in recent times?
The most critical innovation is the designation of the Ministry of Communications to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. In October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the designation to include ‘Digital Economy’. This is because while communication implies only technology, it is not used simply for its own sake, but also to improve the economy. As a result, the ministry was given the mandate to formulate a policy, ‘The national digital economy policy and strategy for a digital Nigeria’, which was unveiled and launched on the 28th of November 2019. The policy has 8 pillars, they include- Developmental Regulation, Solid Infrastructure, Soft infrastructure, Promotion of government digital services, Service infrastructure, Digital literacy and skills, Promotion of indigenous content and Digital society and emerging technology. These pillars are all interwoven and are wound around how to optimally use data for economic purposes to create wealth and prosperity.
As an agency, our purpose is to implement government policies in order to encourage the use of ICT by Nigerians, hence there was a recalibration to come up with a new Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP 2021-2024). While the agency was established to implement the Nigerian IT policy which centered primarily on encouraging Nigerians to use ICT, we have now gone beyond that. Less than 500,000 Nigerians were using ICT in 2001, when the agency was established, today there are more than 120,000,000 Nigerians using ICT.
This demonstrates that it has progressed beyond usage and is now focused on economic purposes and benefits. The SRAP has 7 pillars: Development regulation, Digital literacy and skills, Digital transformation, Cyber security, Emerging technologies, Promotion of indigenous content and Digital innovation and entrepreneurship.
Developmental regulation is crucial because ICT is dynamic. As a regulator, the agency exists to safeguard citizens and protect providers as well. However, an understanding of the technological pattern is needed to initiate regulation. Many activities have been carried out regarding developmental regulation such as the Nigerian data protection regulation (NDPR) which was issued in 2019 and aimed at providing an innovative way of regulating data to protect the citizens’ information online by sensitizing the public to be conscious of the information that they provide online and also to hold accountable organizations using such data or information by introducing annual reports and compliance certificate. Also, the data protection compliance organization was established to help organizations comply with the Nigeria Data Protection Regulations.
The president has also approved the establishment of an agency charged with the responsibility of protecting personal data. The agency is called the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau. Beyond the NDPR, we are looking at ensuring the safety of our digital space for usage and levelling the playfield for businesses to foster innovations, growth and competitiveness. To create a new market for them is crucial. To accomplish this, a code of practice (regulation) will be issued, which will accomplish the goals while holding large technological companies accountable for the information gathered from citizens. These policies and regulations have aided Nigeria in becoming Africa’s strongest ecosystem. For example, five of the seven Unicorn companies in Africa originated in Nigeria.
Are there specific cases whereby Nigeria, like Rwanda, has used the digital economy to offer innovative services?
Nigeria is a large and diverse country. When the new government took office, it began by leveraging ICT for good governance which is quite commendable. First, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has been implemented. Previously, most agencies had multiple accounts and the government had no knowledge of what went in and out of its treasury. Secondly, the IPPIS has assisted the government in saving billions of naira from ghost workers and other cases. Third, is the use of the BVN which has played a huge role in helping the financial system recover debts and lastly, is the National Identity Number (NIN).
The digital economy is driven by three things: broadband penetration, digital identity, and payment system and Nigeria is currently leading globally in payment system innovation and financial technology.
The agency also worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP) which is designed to help regions easily identify innovation and entrepreneurial gaps, and devise strategies to fill these gaps. Basically, it identifies five stakeholders in the whole eco-system. The first stakeholder is the Government whose role is to provide interventions in terms of policies, regulations and infrastructures in unserved and underserved communities. The second stakeholder is the universities or higher institutions which produce the human capital. The third stakeholder is the entrepreneurs who can start and grow businesses. The fourth stakeholder is the corporate organizations that absorb products and services and also the human capital produced by tertiary institutions. Then, the fifth stakeholder is the risk capital which understands innovation and invests in start-ups. In addition to the innovations, there is the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics which was established to assist the agency in creating and capturing value from emerging technology through various means such as innovation challenges.
In Nigeria, the agency uses social media platforms to achieve a variety of goals in government, politics and other areas. Almost all the relevant government agency has a social media handle. People can contact them and contribute to their efforts. The agency is working towards establishing a one-stop shop for all government services. One such domain is the .1gov.net. which is still being developed. Due to Nigeria’s large land mass, population and diversity, such projects will be difficult to implement in comparison to smaller countries like Rwanda. However, the agency is leveraging integrating small silos systems by working on the government enterprise architecture and e-government master plan. Also, included in the agency’s mandate is active project clearance, which involves ensuring that MDAs comply with the government enterprise architecture and the Nigerian e-government master plan. This is because the agency wants them to be design systems with the goal of eventually integrating with other MDAs to exchange information. This allows the silos to be integrated in order to achieve the .1gov.net.
What challenges has NITDA faced so far, especially in the process of bringing about all these innovations?
Essentially, the three key factors typically considered in relation to digital transformation are people, the process and the technology, which is usually considered last. The technology in question is used by people. People will not use this technology if they do not understand its purpose. . Theprocess involves reviewing how activities are carried out manually and considering automation. Without this, any technology brought in will be unable to fit into the process. I have always advocated for the use of tailor-made technology, which ensures the technology’s seamless effectiveness. The reason for this is that every organization, culture, and person is unique. However, resistance to change by people is an inevitable issue. This resistance could be due to a fear of job displacement and becoming irrelevant to society, oblivious to the fact that technology has the potential to make jobs easier. As a result, a lot of capacity building is required. As a result, one of the SRAP’s goals is to achieve 95% digital literacy by 2030, which will help create a community of citizens who understand and embrace technology. In addition, we have a short-term goal of building the capacity of one million technology developers over the next eighteen months.
· The Dialogue on Data and Development (DDD) Team of the Centre for the Study of Economies of Africa (CSEA) is led by Adedeji Adeniran (Ph.D.), and other members that include Sone Osakwe, Drusilla David, Kashema Bahago and Kunle Balogun.