The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is under a ‘siege’ as the new Director General, Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), picks up the gauntlet to clean the Augean Stables. In this report Olubayo Abiodun captures the inner mind of Pantami’s new direction for NITDA
LIKE the sea billows roll, there is a roaring storm that is tearing down at all and sundry in NITDA. A new ‘Sheriff’ at the IT Infrastructure agency, Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), is bearing his fangs at those who have turned the agency to a contract awarding institution.
The date was Wednesday, 30 November, as he held the microphone at the 8th edition of West Africa Convergence Conference (WACC 2016), organised by Knowhow Media and Market Intelligence International Limited, at the Ikeja Sheraton Hotel, his mien and simplistic dress belied the explosive expletives thrown at certain patrons and actors in NITDA who had otherwise derailed the IT infrastructure agency from its core focus of regulating IT infrastructure deployment in Nigeria.
Pantami had a justification for the hot leads fired at the NITDA contractors and actors. No sooner had he resumed at NITDA, he was besieged with countless numbers of proposals beautifully crafted to ensure various cuts from the budget of the IT Infrastructure development agency. But for the new ‘Sheriff’ at NITDA, it is no longer business as usual. NITDA is not a contract awarding agency. This Ph.D. holder and until lately a Professor of Computer Information System at the Islamic University of Madinah was miffed that an otherwise IT infrastructure agency had become the ‘honey pot’ of sort for some contractors. To him every contract must support the core mandate of NITDA.
He did not hide the fact that the job at hand is enormous and daunting. To successfully prosecute this mandate, Pantami said that he would seek the support of all stakeholders to be able to achieve positive return of NITDA to its core mandate of regulating IT infrastructure deployment in Nigeria. He has offered an Olive branch to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). In his mind, NITDA ought to have a desk at BPP which will serve as the clearing house for IT infrastructure procurements. Before now, he said that the relevant sections of NITDA Act had been violently violated by those who smartly bypass NITDA because there was no proper checks and balances in policing the procurement procedures.
At the top of his head, Pantami had studied the relevant legislations that established the agency and the various bylaws existing to give NITDA its operating muscle. Beyond looking at the legislations, Pantami also has something cooking in his mind. He wants to draw up a strategic framework that would enhance the return of NITDA to its core mandate. And in doing this, he has engaged his predecessors among other stakeholders in dialogues in order to appreciate the landmines strewn around his pathways in the organisation. According to him, the focus of his regime is to take NITDA out of the cesspits of corruption which had bedevilled the agency. Though, he did not dwell on the content of the Audit Report which uncovered sleaze in NITDA, it is also not clear if heads will roll on account of the report. It is also not clear if former officials and current staff in the agency will be guest of the anti-graft Commission at any time. Already, the new helmsman has his hands full with petitions. Rather than dwell on that, Pantami seems to prefer to direct his energy at revamping NITDA to focus more on its core mandate and allowing the anti-graft Commission and other agencies of government to deal with the other issues.
“If I am to talk on IT Regulation, particularly since I am here to represent NITDA, I will give more emphasis to the responsibility of NITDA when it comes to IT Regulation. What I have been saying actually, even during discussions with my Management staff, NITDA has responsibility over IT Regulation in Nigeria. So in this situation, we can have regulatory body over Communications Technology because you have Information Technology and you have Communications Technology Our colleague in the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are the regulatory body over Communications Technology but NITDA is the regulatory body over Information Technology.
“So our sole responsibility as encapsulated in our mandate is to regulate IT in Nigeria. And this is something that has been neglected. Why? Because the scope of our mandate; the mandate is very wide. It is difficult for you to pursue all at once. There must be strategic plan, you must get your priority and preference right so that you determine what you need to place emphasis on. Because of this what I want you to understand first and foremost is that NITDA is the regulatory body for IT in Nigeria and this is clearly stated in NITDA Act 2007.
“If you look at Section 6 subsection 1, 2, 3 and 4 Roman Numerals 1, 2, 3 and 4,Section 6, Number 1 clearly stated that NITDA has the responsibility of developing framework, guidelines and standards for IT deployment and maintenance in Nigeria. Section 6, subsection 2 clearly stated that NITDA has a responsibility of advising government for example advising the private and public sectors on IT deployment and maintenance. So NITDA is the regulatory body of IT and it is also the sole adviser of public and private sectors when it comes to IT. You can say that NITDA is the advisory body of IT deployment, IT maintenance and IT innovation in Nigeria. So based on the mandate, whoever wants to deploy any IT facilities in the private or public sectors should approach NITDA seeking for advice on how to deploy.
“But when it comes to public sector or MDAs, NITDA is also the clearing house for IT deployment for all MDAs. This is according to the circular of the Federal Government which was released on April 18, 2006 from the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government. That circular emphasizes strongly that any MDA that intends to deploy IT gadgets in Nigeria must approach NITDA seeking for clearance Certificate of Compliance. That is what the circular says. Meaning that NITDA is the clearing house for IT deployment in MDAs in Nigeria. So this is another indication that NITDA is the regulatory body of IT, where? In Nigeria.
“Still on IT Regulation, if you look at Section 17, Roman Numeral 1 also states that any Ministry , Department or Agency that deploys IT without seeking for clearance from NITDA commits an offense. Section 17, subsection 2, clearly stated that that person for example the executive officer, or any other officer as the case may be, should be fined or be imprisoned for 1 year and if repeats the same mistake, he should be imprisoned for three years. And these are some of our mandate that have been neglected and many people are not aware of this. And which is very important. “IT Regulation is very important. You cannot develop your capacity without Regulation. You cannot promote, develop and integrate your local content without regulation.
“If you look at the amount of money we spend annually on the importation of goods and services of ICT you will be amazed. It is approximately around US$2.6billion annually and this amount is projected to reach around US$147 billion in 2020. It is almost 6 times our current budget. And that is why we are putting more pressure on our local currency (The Naira). There is no strategy on developing our local content. We are focused on sourcing forex and importing something into our nation without cross-checking whether we have it in our nation locally or not. Because we are more addicted and inclined to anything foreign. That is the mentality that we have. And some of the goods that are being imported into our nation are not up to the standard of what is being produced at home, but we only admire other nations whatever they produce we patronise, but whatever is made in Nigeria, we neglect it. Without regulation, you cannot in any way promote our local content; you cannot in any way encourage and motivate people to patronize it. Look at our local industries all over, they are complaining about patronage. Why?
Lesson from India
“We all admire the effort of India when it comes to software, but they started planning on how to strengthen their local content since around 1967. But today, because of their patronage in local content, and their expertise, India is generating around US$147million annually from software alone. And this local content creates 2.7million direct jobs annually in India. And the percentage of software export only in India is around 77 per cent of all the export they have in the ICT sector. So this is something that we should start preparing and strategizing ourselves towards, otherwise as long as we are not ready to develop our local content, then, for sure it will be difficult for us to strengthen our local currency. You can hardly see a nation where people look for foreign exchange (forex) day in day out like in Nigeria. This is why we are not producing anything and even if we produce, we are not patronizing, we only admire what is imported from outside without even looking at the quality.
Boosting Naira Value
“If we want to reduce this pressure on our local currency, to strengthen it, we have to give priority to what we have at home. We cannot look for anything abroad, except we don’t have any alternative available in our nation. But as long as we have an alternative here it is better for us to prefer what we need here, what we manufacture here and what we produce at home. That should be our priority. And we know that we have a local content policy and this local content policy that is the Office of Local Content deployment here in Nigeria, the office was established under NITDA Act of 2007. If you look at Section 7, Roman Numeral 3 clearly stated that NITDA is what you can call a semi legislator that government allows it to legislate, to advise, formulate laws on IT regulation and deployment in Nigeria.