Managing Director, Galaxy Backbone, Yusuf Kazaure, spoke with journalists on how the company is driving technology within MDAs of the federal government and the need for Nigeria to key into global technology trends. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
You were in Busan, South Korea, for this year’s ITU Telecom World where latest technologies from developed countries of the world were displayed. What is your view on how technology is rapidly transforming the globe?
Technology is fast driving global economies and it is a challenge for Nigerians to key into these technologies to also develop our country. The mobile revolution in Nigeria for instance, helped the county in no small measure to leapfrog development in the telecoms sector and to join in the global conversation of telecoms growth and development. Today the mobile phone is in the hands of majority of Nigerians. Since we have done well in mobile phone revolution, we will not rest on our oars, but continue to improve on the existing development in the telecoms sector. Now that almost every Nigerian has mobile phone device, we should be thinking of the next development. The world is already moving away from putting mobile phones in the hands of the citizens, to a level of solution application that will drive connectivity, using the mobile device, and that brings us to the era of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The world is gradually moving from person to person communication, using the mobile phone, to machine to machine communication to connect the next billion devices. So AI is enabling machines to communicate with other machines effortlessly, while doing the majority of the jobs that humans were meant to do. So we will be seeing situations where computer and other machine devices will be programmed to make decisions for humans, driven by censors and chips. So it is going to be a new world of sensors and chips, and what matters now is how to manage the issue of regulation and legislation of these new technologies.
The new technologies you talked about are creating some forms of disruptions that are making some employers of labour to jitter. Is Galaxy Backbone also worried about the disruptions being created by the new technologies?
Galaxy Backbone is a government agency that is at the centre of digitisation. This is so because we provide the platform for data hosting and data connectivity for most government institutions. So we have since realised that the business model of government needs to change in line with the modern realities. The digital natives were born with technology and they seem to understand so much about new trends in technology development than the digital migrants that are learning to be part of the technology trend. So the younger generation who are the millennials and the digital natives, have so much expectations from government in relation to technology development. So we are now in an era where instant answers are needed and where information is stored and sourced for with speed. Today, the younger generation wants information fast and they go online to get them as fast as possible and that is the kind of society we are in today, driven by technology that has changed the old narratives. So the same thing is applicable to government services that are now online, making more people to have access to information online. With the latest development, it is clear to Galaxy Backbone that all, government institutions must be connected. So Galaxy Backbone is not disturbed about technology disruptions because we support government agencies to attain digital transformation.
There are fears that IoT and AI technologies are likely going to take away jobs from people, since machines will be used to drive human processes. Do you see the new technologies creating jobs or taking away jobs?
This has been a very controversial question in the era of technology development, but in my view, I think technology is creating more jobs, rather than taking away jobs, but probably not creating more jobs in the short term, which I think is the fear of people. But in the long term, it is going to create jobs. I will like to buttress my points through an analogy. A hundred years ago, very few people own cars, and carriages driven by horses were the major means of transportation. At that time, there were several jobs for those who can drive carriages and can produce horse whips. But with the invention of cars, more jobs were created for drivers and for those in the manufacturing and assembling plants. So I strongly feel that AI will help create more jobs in the long term. What AI is doing is to enable the creation of new devices that are driven by technology solutions to do different kind of things. So training and retraining of people in line with technology trend, will help address the issue of fear of job loss. AI will open lots of opportunities for people to begin to develop apps and solutions that will drive the machines and devices. In developed countries of the world, children and teenagers are trained on how to do coding and develop apps and all these put together, will definitely create jobs in the long run. Nigeria has the opportunity to leapfrog technology if we are able to train and retrain out youths who are technology savvy people, in line with the current technology trend.
From our discussions so far, is it right to say that Galaxy Backbone is also creating disruptions among civil servants in government, and how are they adapting to the technology change that Galaxy Backbone is introducing in the civil service?
Well, technology is a process and it enhances work. So the civil service is gradually adapting to the use of technology and they are willing to embrace technology. You can no longer find typewriters in government offices as it used to be in the past. They have all been replaced with computers and the civil servants are the ones operating the computers because they have been trained to use computers. The key challenge is how to get more digitised contents that will drive technology development in civil service.
There is an executive order that demands certain level of technology from Ministries, Departments andAgencies (MDAs) of government. So we need homegrown technology that will drive processes in MDAs. That will create room for our civil servants to learn better and have better understanding. The solution should be able to address local needs and the civil servants understand their needs better, which underscores the need to develop indigenous technology solution than importing importation of foreign solutions.
There was a government’s directive for all MDAs to be digitally connected. To what extent has this been achieved?
Galaxy Backbone developed a single platform for government agencies, called the Onegov.ng platform, and the platform has since received first place prize and award at the United Nation Service Award in 2013, even when it was not fully deployed then. The design and approach to which the platform addresses government issues, made it to win the award. The platform became a single platform that connects all government MDAs. It consists of two main elements, the first being that it ensures that every MDA is connected to the platform and secondly, it links to government data centre. Each MDA controls their own database, but all the databases are hosted on a single platform, called the Onegov.ng. It helps to build a common layer of security and allows data exchange and sharing among MDAs. So the fact that all MDAs are on a single platform, makes it easier for agencies to share data. The platform will enhance transparency in governance. The platform is also certified along several security lines like the ISO certifications. We are currently in the process of deploying government cloud for all MDAs, that will enable them store their data securely in the cloud, without hosting their data abroad. It is going to be a private cloud that will interface with other public cloud.
How far has Galaxy Backbone gone with the provision of emails and domain names for MDAs?
Under the direction of the Ministry of Communication, that all MDAs must have their unique email addresses, we have been able to create over 40,000 email addresses for MDAs. The uptake has been that more MDAs are now using their unique email addresses to communicate online. So all MDAs now have .gov.ng email address. The email addresses are for some level of civil servants. So the next step is to make it available to all level of civil servants.
Technology is evolving and the world is moving towards 5G technology, whereas Nigeria is still battling with 3G and 3.5G technologies. Is Nigeria actually catching up with global technology evolution?
The thing about technology is that it is evolving by the day and newer technologies are coming up by the day. It is either countries embrace the new trend of technology or lose out. If Nigeria do not make conscious efforts to align itself with the direction that technology is going, the county will be left behind. The truth is that most technology solutions have lifespan and after their lifespan the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), will stop supporting the solution because it will become obsolete at that time.
Being the government agency that provides connectivity for all government agencies, does Galaxy Backbone work with non-governmental organisations?
The Nigerian ecosystem is a complex one such that anyone that tries to provide end-to-end connectivity services will not survive competition for too long. So what we do at Galaxy Backbone is partnership with other service providers that have presence in some parts of the country where we do not have presence. So, whenever we want to provide interconnectivity services to a federal government institution in a particular location where we do not have presence, we do so by partnering a private sector institution that delivers the same kind of service and has presence in the location where we want to deliver service to the government institution. That is exactly how we work with the private sector to archive our goals.
So we need a non-governmental organisation in the private sector that has internet connectivity with backbone capacity to deliver the connectivity service to government institutions in locations where we do not have presence. It is true that Galaxy Backbone infrastructure in Abuja is next to none, but we still partner the private sector to deliver connectivity services to government institutions in locations where we do not have presence. In Abuja alone, we have connected more than 95 per cent of MDAs and we need partnership to extend our services to places outside Abuja.
Currently a lot of telecommunication service providers do direct their traffic to and through Abuja because of the fibre infrastructure that Galaxy Backbone has built in the Abuja metropolis. We do help the telecoms service providers to link some of their locations in Abuja because of our presence in Abuja. We also swap services with them in areas where they have presence and where Galaxy Backbone do not have presence.
In that situation, we partner then to connect and provide connectivity services to government institutions in such areas were Galaxy Backbone does not have presence.
In all of these, what could you say is the percentage of utilisation of the kind of connectivity services that Galaxy Backbone provides for MDAs?
Percentage of utilisation of our services by MDAs is ramping, even though it was slow initially, because we do not have as much capacity as required at that time. Today the demand for connectivity is higher and I expect the uptake on applications to also be higher, going forward. Today we no longer import digital content as it used to be because we are seeing the growth of local contents, thereby increasing the demand for Internet application. We expect to see more local traffic in Nigeria, as against the formal norm where data traffic are routed to counties like America before coming back to Nigeria. Today we desire to host our data locally and drive local traffic within Nigeria.
Nigerians are of the view that the country is not using technology enough to drive ease of doing business, hence it was ranked very low in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) for 2017-2018. What is your take on this?
Yes, Nigeria was placed 125th out of the 137 countries ranked in the recent World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) for 2017-2018, and people are blaming the low ranking on the country’s inability to use technology to drive ease of doing business. But in my view, I think that such ranking goes beyond technology adoption and application. Technology adoption and usage could enhance a country’s rating, but the attitude of people to work will play a major role in enhancing the performance rating of a country’s global competitive index and ease of doing business.
Nigeria’s chances of making significant improvement on its ranking, dwells more on attitudinal thing than the use of technology. Although adoption and usage of technology could facilitate the ease of doing business in a country and improve its rating on the Global Competitiveness Index, but the attitude to work and business would create more impact.
The ease of doing business is about mindset, which technology alone cannot solve, if we must be realistic about it. No amount of infrastructure will attract people to a country to do business, if the people’s attitude towards others is wrong.
The attitude of everyone beginning from the cleaner in the office, to the middle class officers, management staff and company directors, including the taxi drivers and the market men and women, Immigration Officers, the Police, and the Military, matters a lot in enhancing ease of doing business.
The technology is just there to facilitate things, but the attitude if people goes a long way to determine the level of compliance in the ease of doing business. We must therefore be customer centric as a people and remove all barriers that will hinder the easy flow of business between persons to persons and organisations to organisations. Technology has the power and ability to be invisible, yet effective. Technology is only a facilitator, but the human attitude matters a lot.
Having attended the ITU Telecom World 2017 conference, what are the new global technologies that Galaxy Backbone will likely implement in Nigeria?
The main thing that organisations look out for at every ITU Telecom World event, is the latest technologies that address individual, collective and organisational concerns. Every year, diffident countries come with diffident technologies and people learn from them. So we are impressed with the technologies we saw at ITU and we will continue to build on them, and implement the ones that are relevant to Nigerians and to local concerns.
Nigeria went to ITU World 2017 with some technology startups, to further expose them to the world. What is your impression about the Nigerian technology startups?
For me, I think Nigeria, through the NCC, did well by sponsoring SME startups to ITU Telecom World, because it offers them window of opportunity to improve on their solutions. I am an advocate of local content development and the exposure of the startups will spur them and others to begin to think of creating applications that will address the local needs of Nigerians. As a country, we need to develop ourselves and stop consuming from others, and be able to produce what could sustain the county and even put our products to commercial use. We are more of a consuming nation than a producing nation and all that must stop with the advent of newer forms of technologies and applications.
I must say that I am impressed with performance of the SME startups during the global pitch at ITU. Five out of six technology startups, who were groomed and selected from Nigeria by the NCC for global pitching at the ITU Telecom World conference in Busan, South Korea, were eventually selected for the global pitching by the organisers.
Among the five Nigerian SMEs startups that qualified for the ITU Telecom World 2017 pitch for the Global SMEs Awards, three of the SMEs, Miss Temitope Awosika (Medsaf), Mr. Valentine Ubalua (Ubenwa) and Mr. Chizaram Ucheaga (Mavis Computel), won at the final pitch and made the ITU Global SME honours lists.
How are the services of Galaxy Backbone impacting on Nigerians and the Nigerian economy?
We are doing a lot for the country. We have concluded the project on internet connectivity among MDAs and we are currently providing the government cloud that will help MDAs store their data securely in the cloud.