By Adekunle Adekoya
THE National Information technology Development Agency (NITDA) is a government institution whose mandate, as the name suggests, is to grow capacity for the nation in terms of information technology. This it has been doing, mostly quietly in the last few years.
In this interview, Director-General of NITDA since 2005, Professor Cleopas Angaye speaks of accomplishments by NITDA under his watch. He disclosed that his organization, among other things is certifying local original equipment manufacturers, OEMS, so that they can get government patronage. Excerpts:
IT has been seven years or thereabout since you came to NITDA as D-G. What has your experience been like in the last seven years, and what do you think NITDA under you has achieved?
When I came to NITDA in 2005, I was faced with a number of challenges — infrastructural, constitutional management of the agency and other areas in the ICT sector and capacity building. These are the three major areas. Let me start with the infrastructural capacity building and the regulatory framework for the agency.
The stakeholders, along with the former director-general were trying to get an enabling law for the agency, so they had a bill, which was deadlocked. There were three bills combined into one — Cyber Crime bill, NITDA Bill and IT Bill. When they combined the bills, the clauses and areas of demarcation became complicated. So, there was no movement.
Solving the IT law issue
When I came, I said when you have a complex problem, you try to simplify it by taking one module at a time. So, I said, let us take the NITDA Bill and do that first;.the House (of Representatives) and Senate agreed with me. After two years, specifically, April 24, 2007, the NITDA Bill was passed and up till today as I am talking to you, that is the only Information Technology law in the country, which provides the mandate and the direction to implement the IT policy for global competitiveness for the country.
In fact, NITDA was established to actually implement the IT policy, and that was the major achievement up till today. I was also looking at how NITDA would be funded; we put in a technology fund which is tax deductible and what happens now is that all companies that use information technology contribute some funds to the technology fund. This we have used to do a lot of things.
Let us look at some of our OEMs like Zinox, Omatek and others. Does NITDA play any role to empower them?
When NITDA came up, there was the need to work with the private sector, especially, the hardware assembly and software development companies such as Zinox, Omatek and the other OEMs. We now partner with them to ensure that they provide certain services even as we lay down some certain rules and regulations that if they do it, government will make it possible for them to supply their systems to MDAs, so we certified them to supply these things.
In certifying them they have to also meet up with some standards and even though we have visited their sites once, we have notified them that we are coming for another check to see what they have been doing. So, what the government has done is to make sure that these companies are brought up. Government is the highest entity that can provide support; government has to stimulate the private sector very well. So, by doing that, most of the companies have come up and we still expect that other companies will also spring up.
When I came in as DG, we have certified only two: Brian Computers and the most recent was Veda. We inspected them once and we were not satisfied with certain things. Especially, the area, where we are getting much attention is after sales support. This, in all of them, is not very good. But it is not their fault because it is the manpower shortage. Nigeria is a big country and the demand is very high, whereas the training is very small. We need more technical hands in our polytechnics. Go to India, everywhere there is certified technical engineering training taking place.
How have you used money from the technology fund?
We have done a lot of things with that fund. For instance in 2007, we came out with a programme on how we can provide internet penetration in the rural areas known as the Rural Information Technology Centres (RITCs). Those centres provide the framework for providing internet access to the rural and underserved areas.
Currently, we have more than 240 of those centres nationwide and most of them have internet training going on. In fact there are a lot of resources that can be tapped from there — population control statistics, death statistics, rural agricultural production statistics are all available at those centres.
In 2010, we came out with another innovation through that experience. We now provide internet access to higher institutions. Each state benefited from an IT centre where we have computers, V-SAT and other computing equipment with which students can interact. That was not enough; we are looking at more dynamic areas where students can have wireless communications over a 24-hour period.
We are also providing scholarship to IT students, people who are willing to study for masters degrees and Ph.D in IT-related courses. In 2011, we provided 37 masters (one per state and the federal capital territory) and six Ph.D scholarships, one from each geo-political zone in the country. In the last year budget, we have two per state. That is one of the things we have done with the technology fund.
Also at our RITCs, we have e-learning system where you can actually have training for Cisco, Microsoft Certificated areas, D-Link and other self tutoring areas people can provide. Students can also go there and check their JAMB results. There are other facilities including internet marketing, internet business are provided there. Wherever you have our RITCs, you can get internet access 24 hours a day.
Let us look at your capacity building programme. How far have you gone in that area?
In 2009 alone we trained 6,100 unemployed graduates (1,000 per geo-political zone and 100 for Abuja). In 2006/2007, we trained 600 in skills acquisition for graduates. This is a practical training on website development, programming and other areas in IT. We also supported journalists in the area of IT training.
Last year, the one we did was through ITAN and we are still hoping to support more of such trainings. Last year, we trained 750 lecturers and each state benefited — one tertiary institution per state. We selected about 23 lecturers from each and the training was at the various universities. Our consultants went there and trained them for two weeks. We also did the same last year and in this year’s budget, we hope to also do that and I think we will still collaborate with journalists, who need more knowledge on IT because it is a dynamic area. New tools continue to come out, new software come out and so on. In last year’s budget and this year, we are supporting incubation centres along with the Ministry.
Developing the economy
What we do is that we want to give some grounds to young entrepreneurs who want to go into IT. We will give them a computer, printer, and other tools like bandwidth for one or two years and after that they can now do the business on their own. Not everybody can be employed by government and we have to assist government in developing the economy.
Also last year, we had an MOU with Cross River State; we are trying to establish IT Parks and software development centres. Cross River has a very good infrastructure to go with; the Tinapa Resort is very ideal for that initiative. We also have a close area of collaboration with Kano State which is developing an ICT Park. Apart from these, we want to provide Software Development Centres, which consist of software testing department where we can physically test made in Nigeria software and ensure they meet international standards.
The third one is research and development, where you can do research, modelling, do innovative things in mobile technology and the like. You know mobile technology is taking over in many areas now. So we need to do something to secure the technology. What we should do is security in mobile technology.