The Administrator, Digital Bridge Institute, the human capital development arm of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, in this interview speaks on the need for governments in Africa to formulate policies that will support capacity building in information communication technology. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
Where will you place Nigeria in ICT skills development, when compared with other African countries?
From the various sessions that we had during this event, it is clear that Nigeria is not doing badly in terms of such comparisons. I think Nigeria is doing quite well. Currently there are about 103 ICT hubs in Africa and out of this number, Nigeria hosts about 30 of them which is up to 30 per cent of that number. In terms of ICT skills, academic and professional certifications, Nigeria is doing quite well. As a matter of fact, from the analytics that we have, many young Nigerians are getting opportunities, not just in Nigeria but outside the country because they are getting jobs with Google, Facebook and quite a number of other companies and they are moving out of the shores of this country. This is an indication that the more of these talents we can develop here, the more we will be able to export them not just to Europe and America but also within the African continent and Nigeria can become a hub for ICT talents for the entire African continent. We have the population and the vibrancy of the youths who are looking for opportunities to build their skills and knowledge in the ICT sphere.
What are your views on the need for sub-regional integration for ICT skills development?
I think that was an important discussion to have. I think there is an important framework within which the African governments can pursue ICT skills development at a continental level. Take for instance, New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), that can become the platform and then make ICT a critical agenda in their programme of work.
Last year, for example, we participated in a bid for an ICT empowerment programme, which NEPAD is pushing through the German government that is funding the programme. African governments should be able to put in more effort at making sure that NEPAD can push through their agenda for ICT skills development and make this a Pan-African programme not just for a particular country but one that will affect the entire Africa.
The reality of the modern economy is that it is a digital economy driven by knowledge in the ICT sphere. Like the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC referred to the 4th Industrial Revolution, if Africa does not prepare for it, just like the 1st, 2nd and 3rd revolution eluded us, the fourth will also elude us. We have a great opportunity, building on the skills of our young people to mainstream into the fourth revolution which is essentially knowledge-based economy that is digitally oriented. The reason is that Africa has very young and dynamic individuals across all sectors such as agriculture, health, manufacturing, among others, and without ICT we will not be able to harness the opportunities that abound in Africa. African leaders must make it a policy to finance ICT skills development of the teeming youths. It must not be an option.
Many of our young graduates today are looking for opportunities and the opportunities lie in the ICT sector. With ICT you can solve a lot of problems in health, education, transportation, among others. The more skills these people have in ICT the more they are able to engage more creatively, and innovation will happen much faster.
What is your take on the Advanced Digital Awareness Programme for Tertiary Institutions (ADAPTI) ?
The ADAPTI happens to be a clear shining example of what government intervention can do in building ICT skills. I make bold to say anytime I have the opportunity that no capacity building institution in the world can survive with tuition fees alone because education is expensive but critical to national development; both at the formal and informal levels. The only way it can happen and happen sustainably is that there has to be some form of intervention from government and other stakeholders.
ADAPTI is a shining example of what that kind of intervention from government can do. The NCC has supported ADAPTI from its inception and so today the universities are enjoying our capacity building opportunities because there is funding coming from the NCC via the ADAPTI programme to the universities. As we speak ADAPTI has accounted for the training of over 50,000 Nigerian lecturers and non- lecturers across all tertiary institutions. It is an excellent example of what government intervention can do. This year we have extended the programme with the gracious approval of NCC to secondary schools, so we now have a second component of another version of ADAPTI which we call Digital Awareness Programme(DAP) which is an appreciation programme for secondary schools and this year we are targeting over 2000 primary and secondary school teachers.
This just goes to show that a lot can be achieved when there is intervention or funding for capacity building. Capacity building should not be an option; it is a choice that government and organisations just have to make because the more knowledgeable and more skilled your employees are, the better their performance and productivity at work, and the better they are able to contribute to organisational objectives and goals.
What is your advice for Muhammadu Buhari’s led government on ICT development in Nigeria?
A lot is being done already but I think a lot more can still be done. My candid advice is that ICT is the pathway to Nigeria’s future and to Nigeria’s greatness and it should not be compromised on the basis of anything. There should be more investments in the sector because we have young people who have demonstrated that with ICT Nigeria can go a long way and increasingly we are seeing businesses emerging from the ICT sector. Take SystemSpecs, one of Nigeria’s FinTech player for example, and look at the great impact it has created in the Nigerian economy with its local software called Remita. This is just a bird’s eye view of what ICT can do and today SystemSpecs has over 5,000 employees and then you can just imagine that we have a lot more of such companies springing up from all over the country. We talk of online businesses like Konga and Jumia, you need to know the number of employees working with these companies both from the backend, front-end, online and offline, they are doing quite a lot. My message to President Buhari is that he should make robust ICT financing for skills development a choice, not an option.
The Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) recently hosted this year’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) annual regional human capacity building workshop in Abuja. What were the key decisions taken at the workshop?
The workshop was a three-day workshop hosted by Digital Bridge Institute, which is the training arm of NCC, and the focus was on how to strengthen capacity on internet governance in Africa, and the need to support the growth of digital literacy across African countries in the 21st century. Key decisions were taken at the workshop, among which was the need for African governments to make information and communications technology (ICT) skills funding as a policy, and not as an option. It was resolved that policy makers and governments in Africa must launch aggressive intervention into the ICT industry by investing in skills development to stimulate economic growth and tame the rising tide of youth joblessness and associated insecurity in the region.
The delegates at the regional workshop argued that if Africa wants to transform and become a global player, it must transform its human capital.
How will you rate the regional ITU capacity building workshop?
I can tell you without sounding immodest that DBI’s performance in terms of hosting this workshop can be qualified as excellent, because for the first time we have been able to host an international event at top level and we hosted it successfully. The ITU delegates even acknowledged that this is one sterling performance from the institute, both in terms of organisation, administration and processes that we put in place for reception of delegates, workshop proceedings and the plenaries. As a matter of fact, everything about the workshop was acclaimed to be an excellent experience for the participants.
You said it was the first time for DBI to host regional ITU capacity building workshop. What could be the implication of hosting the workshop for Nigeria?
It has several implications for Nigeria. We have been able to signpost that Nigeria is a destination for international events. The NCC, which is our parent institution, has always hosted events but not DBI. But this time we are confirming that indeed Nigeria is a place where you can hold international events successfully because the delegates came from different countries in Africa and they had a very exciting four days experience in Abuja, as part of the three days workshop. The event was very successful, there were no incidents, and the hospitality experience was rated as excellent.
I think for Nigeria, when we are talking about rebranding the country and brandishing the image of the country as a place where people can come and do business, this is one avenue that DBI has been able to say that we are a good country and people can come here as an investor or visitor on holiday and spend time. The event had participants from over 37 countries in Africa and beyond and from ITU’s record that was the best they have had in recent time.