By Rotimi Agbana
CEO of Fort Soft Systems and Head, NIIT Lagos, Mr. Adedokun Oduyemi, spoke to Hi-Tech in an exclusive interview, about the Nigerian IT sector and what he feels the government needs to do to fully maximize the benefits of ICT.
WHY is NIIT committed to helping youths build and grow their career?
Simply put, the young ones of today are not just the leaders of tomorrow, they are the future itself. They are the determinants of what this nation’s tomorrow will look like, and are the ones that will bring that future to life. The repair of our nation and the drive towards Nigeria achieving its full potential and taking its true position among the league of nations starts with the youth.
Therefore, we need to focus on building a productive and vibrant future, by empowering the youths to take us there. We also need to ensure that they are equipped to hold their own wherever they go, especially as the world becomes a global village.
They are going to compete with youths from all over the world and we need to prepare them for that day. As they say, when opportunity meets with preparedness, success is guaranteed. These are some of the goals NIIT seeks to help Nigeria’s youth achieve.
Do you feel empowerment programmes for you are enough?
It’s difficult to simply generalize what all Nigerian companies have been doing. I know there are those dedicated to youth empowerment. There are some who place a premium on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and focus on education. I also know certain states have created a platform for companies to do this. An example is Lagos State and its Adopt a School programme.
On the flip side though, I think clearly defined lines need to be adopted in these programmes. We need to define what is needed, what standards we want to achieve through these programmes; before we invite companies to partner or contribute. It’s not necessarily their specialties, and these companies are focused on their many different stakeholders and seek a balance of many and sometimes conflicting interests. I believe that the government, through its education and youth ministries and parastatals, is uniquely positioned to define the parameters for development.
Considering the high percentage of youths involved in cyber crime, what is NIIT’s antidote?
Our focus in recent years has been on helping re-channel the capabilities of our youths. Cybercrime has become a major issue for a multitude of reasons, including inadequate opportunities for work and advancement. You find so many unemployed graduates, and under-employed ones. These are the prevailing conditions. Therefore our response and focus has been on showing the youths the opportunities open to them to succeed, by channelling their capabilities towards positive development online and offline. We now have Nigerian youths developing apps on android and apple platforms that earn them a lot more money than from cybercrime. We have also partnered with different organizations at different times to retrain our youths.
A recent exercise was done with Amuwo Local Government to train 200 youths and develop their ICT skills positively, and we believe these trained youth are in a position to retrain others, thus significantly amplifying the reach of this programme.
Our annual scholarship programme, which provides course to youths at massive discounts to enable those who would normally be unable to afford the cost of these programs, is another avenue we are using to retrain our youths and harness their capabilities for the good of all – themselves, families, communities, companies and ultimately the nation.
In your opinion, do you think the education sector is taking adequate advantage of the benefits in IT?
This is somewhat controversial. I believe we are a long way from taking adequate advantage of ICT, as a nation. I also believe that the root of this issue is our educational system. We have a curriculum for our schools that leaves huge room for improvements. We have not defined what to cover for some levels in our schools system, notably secondary school level. Most government schools are inadequately equipped to even try. Taking it further, some of the syllabuses still being covered in our universities leave a lot out for our students. And I don’t mean just the ICT related courses. We have a long way to go in general, and need to start brainstorming on concrete ways to fix it.
Do you think Nigeria’s IT sector is viable enough to tackle IT challenges?
The major ingredient needed for a viable ICT industry is capacity – the mental ability to adequately utilize technology, and even develop new ones. I believe we have capacity for growth in a general sense. We are a nation of some of the smartest people in the world, and are capable of creating and utilizing technology well. We are also adaptable, and embrace change. However we do need to invest heavily in capacity building for our youths, to enable them embrace ICT, and prevent brain drain. Importantly, this must start from the schools.
What do you think deters youths from ICT professions?
First is the impression of difficulty and expense. Developing apps can easily be achieved by owning a laptop, yet the impression is that achieving this is too expensive. Also the glamour of other industries like entertainment and sports do not exist in ICT.
However they need to look at recent list of the world’s richest men to understand the potential in ICT. Beyond wealth, youth need to realize that both advancements globally have been forged on the back of ICT. From health breakthroughs, to new technology in varied fields such as transportation, nutrition, genetics, even the creation of new life; ICT has been critical to achieving all these.
We also need to invest in Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) as a nation. We need to focus on developing STEM capacity as a nation starting in schools. If we look at the examples of new countries breaking into ICT prominence, you will find that they all made concerted efforts to develop their STEM capacities decades back, investing in STEM subjects and thus creating generations of capable youths who are taking their ICT industries to whole new levels. Look at South Africa, India and China for example.
15 or 20 years before they broke into the ICT world as a main power, they made deliberate investments in STEM at the primary and secondary schools level. They are reaping the rewards today.