Isa Ali “Pantami” and giant strides in the Nigerian IT sector
At the time I wrote my essay entitled “Isa Ali “Pantami”: A Role Model of Leadership in Nigeria” published in Premium Times (August 2, 2018) and Business Day (August 3, 2018), I had not intended to write this follow-up essay on Dr. Pantami’s giant strides in the Nigerian IT sector. However, although the previous essay was well received, with much of readers admitting its content as true, nonetheless, there were minority opinions that argued on the contrary as to the optimum performance of NITDA — National Information Technology Development Agency — under Dr. Pantami. Ordinarily, such minority positions — if weighed on a balance with opinions of the majority — can be safely seen as statistically insignificant. But, nevertheless, it is not out of place to do this essay that focuses on the giant strides in NITDA under the leadership of Dr. Pantami, as a way of setting the records straight. For the most part, it is important to state that my previous essay was focused mostly on Pantami the man — that is, my good knowledge of him, the moral and ethical standards he stands for, and of course, his continuous resolve to stay true to these principles. Thus, the essay, I agree, was not mainly concentrated on Dr. Pantami’s achievements in NITDA ever since he assumed leadership of the agency sometime in September 2016.
From a basic perspective, development of the Nigerian IT sector — like other industries such as the finance and manufacturing sectors — was long overdue as it is significant in changing the image and potential of Nigeria both nationally and globally. The computers and internet, which represents the core of IT, have brought about the third industrial revolution in history — preceded by Britain’s economic development from textiles, coal, and iron; and the expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel; which marked the first and second industrial revolutions, respectively. It is therefore not in doubt that the IT industry anywhere in the world is a great promoter of sustainable development by profoundly changing our way of life and productivity. These suggests that the potential breakthroughs in IT is central in achieving an increased agglomeration and integration of all industry types. With a robust IT industry, the economic growth is amplified, the development modes are transformed, and the industrial upgrading is propelled. It is easy to see, therefore, that for Nigeria to march into modernity like other nations around the world are currently doing, we cannot be left out in the procedural processes of carving out IT policies that emphasizes independent innovations, open and compatible technologies, market-driven economic approaches, and integrated and comprehensive applications across different levels of the socio-economy. Through IT, Nigeria stands to advance its industrialization by an effort that creates an industry that is characteristically Nigerian.
Considering the issues aforementioned, and perhaps even more than that, there was a need to establish NITDA to execute vast and diverse mandates, including but not limited to: (i) the implementation of the national IT policy and to give effect to the provisions of the NITDA Act of 2007; (ii) ensuring that Nigerians are empowered with IT by making sure that a critical mass of the citizenry are IT proficient and can compete globally; (iii) to strategically partner with the private sector and international organizations to actualize the nation’s IT vision; (iv) to act as a regulator for the IT sector in Nigeria; (v) to ensure SMART — simple, moral, accountable, responsive, and transparent — governance is implemented using IT instruments; (vi) to encourage local production and manufacturing of IT components within Nigeria, in a competitive manner which creates jobs and generates earnings for the country; (vii) to advise the public sector on IT related programs and projects; (viii) to develop IT infrastructure and maximize its use nationwide; (ix) to ensure internet governance and supervision of the management of the country code top-level domain on behalf of all Nigerians; etc.
Because of the variety and multiplicity of the NITDA mandates, administrations before Dr. Pantami may not have been able to develop a strategy for a well-rounded comprehension of the issues around these mandates in the generality of it all. But Dr. Pantami had a different approach by which NITDA’s mandates could be achieved through a series of prioritized set-goals. Without set-goals, the focus might be lost; as goal setting does not only create an opportunity for a clear direction, it also provides a benchmark to determine if a person is really succeeding. I believe that it is in this context that a logical saying goes: “Having a million dollars in the bank is only proof of success if one of your goals is to amass riches. If your goal is to practice acts of charity, then keeping the money for yourself is suddenly contrary to how you would define success.” Having understood this logic, Dr. Pantami carefully considered all the mandates of his agency through a series of well-defined steps that transcended the specifics of each mandate. The outcome of these considerations led Dr. Pantami to formulate goals that revolve around some key priorities for him to focus on, which are: (i) capacity building; (ii) regulation; (iii) digital job creation; (iv) government digital service promotion; (v) local content development and promotion; (vi) cybersecurity; and (vii) digital inclusion. It is important to state that while Dr. Pantami’s key areas of priority are well-defined, remarkably, it provides a holistic inclusion of all the key mandates of NITDA while not forgetting the encapsulation of specificity, measurability, attainability, relevance and time-bound details.
The achievements of Dr. Pantami’s barely two years of leadership in NITDA are therefore enormous and have been documented in a book form entitled “A Roadmap for Developing the Nigerian ICT Sector (2017–2020)”, which has been reviewed and adopted by ICT stakeholders and the NITDA management team. Some of these achievements include the resuscitation of NITDA as the clearing house for all IT projects and infrastructural development in the country following NITDA’s partnership with the Bureau of Public Procurement, an alliance that was made possible because of the efforts of Dr. Pantami. Also, to make Nigerian IT products viable and competitive, NITDA, under Dr. Pantami, has invested in building IT hubs, incubation and acceleration centres around the country, in partnership with private IT hubs to identify innovative IT solutions; to craft policies and guidelines to make the Nigerian environment favourable for IT businesses; and to build hardware and software testing labs for the certification of IT products before they end in the markets. In terms of capacity building, Dr. Pantami’s efforts in NITDA led to the motivation of a new generation of highly skilled personnel through various capacity building programs, as well as proper staff placements that conform to individual competencies that has led to an improvement in efficiency, innovation and productivity. While it is true that NITDA has been transformed for the better under the leadership of Dr. Pantami, at the core of the transformer’s conviction is even a stronger focus toward achieving greater international competitiveness for the next generation network and information services. These efforts will no doubt make Nigeria a country with a strong IT industry by 2020 — and this is what Dr. Pantami has resolved to realize.