Emma Okonji examines the role of the National Information Technology Development Agency in an era of economic recession
Several developing countries, including Nigeria have come to realise the importance of information technology (IT) in building economies, creating wealth and enhancing the potential of individuals.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, while on official visit to Omatek Ventures in Lagos last month, reiterated government’s plan to reposition Nigeria through economic diversification in the area of IT. Several government agencies, including NITDA that has the mandate to formulate and implement IT policies for the country, have also stressed the need for IT development across all sectors of the Nigerian economy, if Nigeria must overcome its present economic recession.
The acting Director General of NITDA, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, during his official visit to Sidmach Technologies in Lagos last week, spoke of the need for collaboration between government and the private sector. He said such collaboration would bring about synergy that will result in homegrown technology solutions that could address the needs of the country, corporate organisations, as well as individual needs.
A close examination of the mandate of NITDA, which empowers it to create a framework for the planning, research, development, standardisation, application, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of information technology practices, activities and systems in Nigeria, shows that NITDA has all it takes to reposition the country and raise the country above its current state of recession.
NITDA’s role therefore is to develop information technology in the country through regulatory standards, guidelines and policies. Challenged by its role, Olatunji said NITDA would fulfill its mandate through research and development, as well as human capital and infrastructure development, which he said had since commenced. If well-articulated and planned, NITDA might just be the body that will drive technology development in the country, and save Nigeria from further economic recession.
Addressing the need for collaboration between government and the private sector, Olatunji said the agency had in the past collaborated with the private sector to boost technology development in the country. Speaking during his recent visit to Sidmach Technologies, Olatunji commended the technology company for its homegrown solutions, which he said were already enhancing the processes of examinations conducted by Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), as well as enhancing e-Curriculum and the activities of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
“I am proud to be associated with Sidmach Technologies for supporting our drive for eGovernment initiative, which is about government rendering services to the people. We need technology skills development in the country and we are proud to have Sidmach Technologies as one of our strategic partners in the drive for national development, using IT,” Olatunji said.
He said the visit to Sidmach Technologies became important because NITDA is trying to fashion a new direction that will make government realise that the ICT sector, if well positioned, can leapfrog the county technologically.
During period of economic recession, what most countries do to get out of the situation is to invest in human capital. We have seen it in Singapore, Korea, China, and India and today, the entire world is looking up to these three countries to tap into their technology skills.
“Some fifteen years ago, the world looked down on the products that came from Taiwan and other Asian countries because the world saw their products as substandard. Today they have learnt their lessons. What they did was to go back to the drawing board and re-analysed their production process and at the end of the day, they came out with more realistic products that the world is now patronising. Thy have suddenly turned out to become the hub of information technology globally,” Olatunji said.
“So for Nigeria to become the hub of business for Africa, government must not leave it in the hands of private sector alone, but collaborate with them, in order to achieve results, he added. “Nigeria needs collaboration and partnerships to grow rapidly and to achieve this, we must stop trading blames at people for past mistakes,” he added.
ICT as main driver
It is the vision of NITDA to position information and communications technology (ICT) as the main driver of the Nigerian economy by investing in human capital development to produce people that will develop technology solutions who will address Nigerian peculiarity and further drive the Nigerian economy. In order to accomplish the vision, NITDA has begun tour of private organisations around the country with a view to having strong business collaboration with some of them on how to drive the Nigerian economy, using ICT.
Lack of trust for locally developed technology solutions, especially with local software development, has forced many organisations, including government agencies, to depend on foreign software solutions. But experts have insisted that software solution developed in foreign countries cannot be successful in Nigeria because of the peculiarity of the Nigerian business terrain, but that any locally developed software that works in Nigeria, will work perfectly well in order African counties.
Most youths in Nigeria have ideas but do not know how to turn the ideas into viable solutions. They need to be supported to grow their solution and contribute to national development, hence the need for collaboration as emphasised by NITDA.
According to Olatunji, NITDA had to establish the office of ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development in order to drive local content and encourage home-grown solutions. NITDA is willing to support Sidmach Technologies in various ways as well as other technology companies that are capable of solving the countries challenges “What we need do is to continue to support Sidmarch Technologies in various areas. Already Sidmach is working with NITDA on the eGovernment strategy. What we have to do is to incorporate the company into the National e-Government plan of the federal government,” Olatunji said.
One area through which Nigeria could develop fast and catch up with the rest of the world, is by engaging more in capacity and human capital development. NITDA, it was gathered, is already building human capital in preparation for implementation. Plans have been submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and it is only awaiting approval to begin the implementation. It is expected that once approvals are made, NITDA shall begin collaborating with more stakeholders to execute IT projects in the country.
The agency said it plans to work with innovation hubs around the country and embark on training and retraining of Nigerians in order to boost human capacity development skills.
Another way to enhance IT development in Nigeria, is by supporting technology startups who have great ideas, but lack the financial support to push their ideas beyond certain limits.
Angel investors within and outside Nigeria are looking at ways to groom young software app developers whose solutions are economically viable.
Last year, NITDA set aside N50 million to sponsor 10 startups in different hubs across the country to GITEX 2015 in Dubai, where they showcased homegrown technology solutions from Nigeria to the outside world.
“What we plan doing next is to set up a national innovation fund for startups, to enable them draw funds from it to start their businesses at small scale. Aside the fund, we will provide them with office space from where they could start their business,” Olatunji said.
“Few months ago we visited Silicon Valley in India and we saw what the startups were doing there and we want to replicate some of the things they do there in Nigeria. We discovered that most of the global brand today, started as startups from incubation centres and we are trying to replicate that in Nigeria,” Olatunji said.
He said NITDA had to develop a programme under the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) that is basically hands-on training to equip fresh graduates with technology skills for three months. After the training we deployed them to companies for nine months in order to build the capacities that they needed to work with companies and the first set of trainees graduated last month.
“Now we had 100 trained interns in the first batch and after the training, we advertised them to the labour market for job placement and over 700 companies applied for the 100 trained candidates. This showed that the labour market actually wants to employ Nigerian graduates but they are not employable because they lack the technology skills needed by labour market,” Olatunji said.
Managing Director, Sidmach Technologies, Chief Peter Arogundade, while receiving the NITDA team, called on government to formulate and implement IT policies that would enhance growth of small and big organisations.
“We strongly believe that the Nigerian IT market has great potentials and will become a point of reference across Africa and the world. We seek the continuous support of the agency to create policies and opportunities for the growth of indigenous companies. We assure you that Sidmach will deliver on commitments and projects given to the organisation to execute, and we restate our support towards the actualisation of various goals and projects of NITDA.
NITDA’s collaboration and support for startups and technology companies that were fully established, no doubt, would enable the agency meet its mandate to formulate and implement IT policies for national development.