On Thursday, October 12, 2023, news broke that Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi had been reappointed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Inuwa, first appointed in August 2019, retains his position in what can be regarded as an affirmation of the exceptional achievements of the iconic IT innovation expert.
It is worth recalling that the catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak struck just a few months after Inuwa assumed office. He saw the pandemic as a crisis that required an innovative and strategic approach. Working in collaboration with the supervising Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, now known as the Ministry of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy (FMCIDE), NITDA under Inuwa rose to the challenge.
NITDA and the Ministry deployed technologies to ensure that the Federal Government continued the business of governance and administration. Following the launch of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) in 2019, Inuwa and his team developed the Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP 2021–2024), which would assist the NDEPS in achieving its goals of accelerating the growth of Nigeria’s digital economy.
Programmes and initiatives that support digital inclusion, talent development, entrepreneurial growth, job creation, and enhanced access to vital IT infrastructure nationwide were implemented under the guidance of the SRAP. So far, the SRAP has successfully recorded several milestones and achievements in all its focus areas amounting to the implementation of 64 per cent of its set targets.
NITDA has been crucial in increasing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – 18.44 per cent in the second quarter of 2022. The sector’s contribution rose to 19.54 per cent in the second quarter of 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The NBS also recorded an unprecedented 8.6 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2023.
Under Inuwa’s stewardship, international investors have increased their interest in startups. The country attracted over 4 billion USD in investment in ICT between 2019–2022. In the past four years, the IT Project Clearance Initiative has saved over ₦311 billion for the government by ensuring that IT projects are appropriately priced, while Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are monitored; 988 projects from over 393 MDAs have been vetted and cleared.
Inuwa has his eyes set on enabling the private sector to create a vibrant and innovative digital ecosystem. The re-appointed Director General upped the ante by issuing a considerable number of frameworks and guidelines aimed at promoting Nigeria’s IT industry and its enterprises. In 2021, NITDA launched the National Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) operations to strengthen national cybersecurity.
NITDA’s huge support for startups is visible in the Office for Nigerian Digital Innovation (ONDI) and the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). Through these Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), the agency has facilitated the provision of seed funding for startups through support initiatives such as GITEX Global, LEAP, and Intra-African Trade Fair to the tune of US$373,000 and ₦382 million.
Furthermore, the agency enabled the attendance of 40 startups at digital and ICT events and supported 49 startups for innovation acceleration through the Bridge to MassChallenge (B2MC) Nigeria programme, ideaHatch (iHatch) incubation programme, and Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) programme, etc. The support for young innovators through grants and scholarships has boosted the IT ecosystem.
The extensive efforts and expenditure on ICT and Digital training included training of 20 startups through the North-East Startup Training (NEST) Programme and 74 startups through the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support (TIES) Scheme. Inuwa has shown commitment to training youths on IT. This is evident in the multi-sectoral capacity-building programmes that promote digital literacy; three million Nigerians have been trained.
Under Inuwa’s leadership, NITDA has partnered with the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), state and local governments, and the Federal Capital Territory, to train young Nigerians in ICT and digital skills. In 2022, 300 secondary school students in the FCT were trained by NITDA in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with the Abuja Enterprise Agency (AEA).
NITDA collaborated with the World Bank (women-focused tech skills training); Nigerian Export Promotion Council (non-oil focused Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises training); Japan International Cooperation Agency (startup incubation); Domineum Blockchain Solutions (blockchain technology training for youths); the United States Consulate General (collaboration on technical advancement and innovation in Africa); and the Clayton Christensen Institute (framework development on sustainable initiatives).
In 2021, the DG coordinated the reforms to reposition NITDA to “meet the challenges of the industry going into the future.” Within the same period, a new brand identity was introduced, along with the launch of the iServe charter, which mandates the staff to deliver better customer service. Recently, Inuwa started the process of earning another ISO27001:13 Certification of NITDA’s processes; the agency was the first Federal Public Institution to earn such recognition (2019).
Reacting to Inuwa’s re-appointment, Sola Bickersteth, an IT expert and Executive Director, Financial Inclusion Centre, Abuja, said, “NITDA has successfully standardized the procurement of ICT solutions by government and the creation of the Nigeria Data Protection Commission is one of the key achievements of Kashifu Abdullahi.” Bickersteth also commended Abdullahi’s tremendous assistance for young techies.
With a relentless innovator such as Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi reappointed by the Tinubu administration as NITDA’s helmsman, Nigeria should look forward to a vibrant Information and Communication Technology industry, already among the fastest growing in the world.
Labaran Saleh, an IT enthusiast, writes from Kofar Famfo in Kano