The Acting Administrator of Digital Bridge Institute, the capacity-building arm of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Mrs. Viola Askia-Usoro, in this interview, speaks on the need for Nigeria to concentrate more on training of digital skills for Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government and the private sector. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts
There are lots of cybersecurity issues around digital skills acquisition and disruptive technologies. What is your take on them?
One of the messages that DBI is pushing in this dispensation is that of emerging technologies. Disruptive technologies are here, whether in the Internet of Things (IoTs), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), among others. All these disruptive technologies are being adopted in all sectors and they are here with us, therefore Nigeria has to critically upskill to take advantage of these disruptive technologies because if we are not ready for them, they will meet up with us.
In the next two years, people who have not prepared their workforce will be feeling the impact, and in the next five years, they will be pushed aside. The greatest challenge as we adopt ICT technologies in our processes is that of cyber risk, which is referred to as cyber-attacks. Therefore, cybersecurity is a very timely theme for the conference. As we upskill, we adopt ICT technologies on different platforms and so do the hackers who become very creative in their attacks on networks. It is very important that as we upskill we train cybersecurity experts to help protect our networks against threats. The cost to an organisation is usually damaging in a humungous dimension. My advice is that organisations should not stop spending to train their workforce and upgrade their networks against cyber-attacks. If they don’t, they may end up paying more to restore their networks after the attacks had happened. Worst of it all, they would have lost valuable data, in some cases big money to the cyber thieves. This is why we emphasise on training and re-training to guard against such avoidable losses.
What is the motivating factor for DBI and the gain for Nigeria in collaborating with Cisco Academy. What other collaborations do you have with other international bodies?
Institutions cannot make giant strides if they try to do it alone. Collaborations will bring a meeting of minds and success to push our journey. DBI encourages win-win partnerships with corporations and organisations of like minds. If our mandate dovetails, then we work to push that agenda as far as we can. We have collaborations with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Huawei, Cisco and we are also getting into a number of other partnerships with professional bodies so that we can reach as far as possible to different sectors of the economy, cutting across professionals, service sector, public sector, and manufacturers to push ICT penetration across these sectors.
Given the training that students receive in all DBI campuses, how will you rate DBI graduates in terms of digital skills acquisition?
On a scale of 1-10, bearing in mind the fact that we have not examined them and if it is not a certification programme, I can score DBI nine, because we have a wide range of value propositions that we deliver and we ensure that our students learn the course work properly.
We have adopted what we call the project-based learning for our diploma programmes, so we have leading questions at the beginning of every course and along that course they undertake projects so that they apply everything that they are learning and our focus on that programme is entrepreneurial, so we teach them how to use those skills to better their lives financially. The beauty of our trainings is that we prepare the students not just fit for employment but we prepare them to function as entrepreneurs, ready to create wealth by creating ICT-driven solutions to everyday challenges in all spheres of human endeavour.
Because we are the training institution of the NCC, we give our students a lot of exposure to the regulation environment. We have events where we expose them to ICT influencers that teach them how the skills they have acquired can be used to solve practical problems in our society, and then with that kind of exposure, you find that their confidence increases.
The quality of our graduates is actually very high as is evident in some of the feedbacks we get from employers of some of our diploma students who go for Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES). In Kano State where I was head of academic programmes, I was actually looking out for the impacts that these graduates would bring once they attend the programme and the responses were tremendous.
What are your plans to get more women into the digital ecosystem?
Women are coming up but it could be better. I know that there’s a groundswell of awareness and women coming into the ICT space. I will like to seize this opportunity to encourage parents to allow their female children travel that path of being ICT experts because it is a space that offers so much opportunity, depending on your personal goal, you can scale your training, do it at your pace and be creative about the things you do. Women are naturally good at multi-tasking and ICT offers you such environment to multi-task; this makes it’s a good place for women to blossom.
What are some of the challenges in imparting ICT skills in students, and what must government do to address the challenges?
The government has through the NCC put a lot of investments in DBI structures, and we expect more of that from government. The Lagos campus is the biggest of DBI campuses. These kinds of events (DBI-Cisco Academy conference) should be happening on this campus back to back so that there will be return on the investment. We are sending the message to all government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), all government institutions that this is tax payers’ money made through the NCC, therefore they should take advantage of it and partner with us to train their staff. Most people who came here today said they were not even aware that such a place existed, so we encourage our graduates by word of mouth to spread the word about what we are doing in DBI. We are open to collaborate with people to hold ICT events to push the digital agenda. Cisco actually approached us for this collaboration and we are so proud to host the event.
Visibility is one of the things we struggle with, but we are hoping that this will increase as we continue to collaborate with other institutions to hold programmes from time to time.
We need to diversify especially in the light of emerging technologies. It has been one of my objectives since I was appointed as acting administrator to develop our internal capacity along the lines of emerging technologies so that if any organisation is looking for an expert for any one of the emerging technologies that is impacting their sector, they know that DBI is the place.
What are the core achievements and strength of DBI, given that the world is going digital?
Before I was posted to Kano I was the head of the marketing department for 12 years. Part of my desires has been that I want DBI to be more involved in ICT policy development and implementation. As the foremost ICT institution in Nigeria and the biggest, we cannot only concentrate on capacity building, we must push for ICT penetration from the aspect of policy development and implementation. For instance, when you say computer literacy at the point of employment for every civil servant, it should be changed to digital literacy. If you ask one if he/she is computer literate the person will respond in the affirmative but when you ask the person to type a document you will probably notice the person’s challenge. But if it is digital literacy which is measurable, bench marking can be done in this regard because you will see evidence of the person’s skills.
If we change the entry point for every MDA from computer literacy to digital literacy, you definitely see that people will be forced to acquire that digital literacy skill and the quality of people going into the civil service will be better in terms of their ability to use digital skills in their offices.