At 40, he’s fortified to take on the world. He sees posterity. He maximizes potentials. He explores possibilities. With his endearing leadership prowess, he worms his ways to every height attainable. Outstanding in thought and inventive in technique, the gregarious and serious-minded Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Information Technology Development Agency, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, possesses not just the aura of a technocrat but that of a leader.
Funke Olaode sheds more light on what makes him tick
He may not be as popular as your local council chairman or well-known as Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. He may not excite millions of people online. But this remarkable, level-headed and ingenious young man is an illustrious Nigerian.
As he sits across a table, neatly arranged but filled with items that range from files to gadgets, and you look at his countenance it’s tempting to conclude he doesn’t smile. When it’s suggested to him that he’s stone-faced. That cracks him up rather than making him take offence.
“Who said I don’t smile?” he asks rhetorically.
He adds, “Do you believe that?
He continues: “You might have noticed my smiles in the course of this interaction.
“Of course, I smile even though it’s a reflex gesture done when it’s warranted. I can assure you that when I spend quality time with family and friends you will find me smiling a lot.”
That’s true. Welcome to the world of the Harvard-trained Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi. The gregarious and serious-minded Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Information Technology Development Agency possesses not just the aura of a technocrat but that of a leader.
Born on February 21, 1980, the graduate of Computer Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University is a father of five children including twins. With a heavy national responsibility resting on his young shoulders, Abdullahi is more than ready to play his role in the best way possible.
That readiness is summed up in his willingness to take on even weightier responsibilities. Without exaggeration, Nigeria can do with a young man like him as a president. Not one to shy away from national duties, he does not hesitate to admit that he’s got what it takes to be the president of the most populous African country.
So, if politicians and millions of Nigerian youths are looking for a self-assured but unassuming young leader. Abdullahi is it.
Always confident with a sense of modesty, the NITDA director general notes, “In terms of having what it takes to be a president, I would say, with all sense of humility, yes I do.”
“However, it may be interesting to know: what does it take to be a potential leader?” Abdullahi poses a poser.
A great leader and teacher, he volunteers the answer, saying: “It is the ability to develop a sense of who you are and what you are about.”
Abdullahi is an engaging interlocutor with friendly pitch and tone. Though bespectacled, it’s easy to notice genuine humaneness and delight in his eyes as he talks.
Regarding his ability to be Nigeria’s president, he explains, “When you have this, there is that sense of self-confidence about your ability to lead people, whether in a business environment or on a larger scale.
“An effective leader, which a country desires, draws upon other qualities as well, including the ability to set and communicate a vision for the country, a capacity to market and sell that vision to everybody. Those types of leadership qualities are ‘something that is in the internal DNA’ of a person. A good leader inspires people, demonstrates success, shows the way, and advances the careers of those who work for him.”
That’s vintage Abdullahi. He sees posterity. He maximizes potentials. He explores possibilities.
On May 31, 2018, President Buhari signed into law the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ as Nigerian youths have established a formidable legacy that they can achieve they are determined to do.
Yet, the pragmatic NITDA boss points out, “Having said this and in answer to the second part of your question, it is no, it is not something (to be Nigeria’s president) that I dream about and it doesn’t suggest that I am interested in that position.”
Abdullahi is as realistic as he’s futuristic. At the moment, he’s focused on making the agency he presides over a better institution.
“My dream is to position NITDA where it ought to be – a foremost IT regulatory agency that competes with other international IT regulatory institutions,” says Abdullahi.
If you’re in doubt of what this 40-year-old is capable of doing, consider his expertise.
Abdullahi is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Sloan – trained strategist with 15 years’ experience in IT operations, business transformation, and solution architecture, across both private and public sectors. He attended Leadership and Management courses at Harvard University in the US, the University of Cambridge in the UK, and IMD Business School in Switzerland.
As the first Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s public sector, he is also a Certified Project Manager and Solution Architect with many professional certifications in networking, telecommunications, service management, and solution design.
Abdullahi was at Galaxy Backbone between 2004 and 2013, holding several positions such as network engineer, IP network field engineer, senior network & lead, senior solution architect and lead, technical solution design.
In 2014, he joined Central Bank of Nigeria as a technology architect, where he dedicated his time to developing a technology architecture repository that gives 360 view of the bank’s IT infrastructure and facilitated ease of decision-making on new IT investment. Abdullahi was part of the team that executed software licence rationalization that has increased cost-savings for CBN in license annual subscriptions.
Prior to his appointment as NITDA’s DG, he was a key resource in the development of IT standards for the apex bank, which has reduced mean time to deploy and integrate a new system by over 20 percent. One of his major achievements as a technology architect was the production of 7 Solution Architectures for critical IT initiatives that helped in achieving a cashless society in Nigeria.
He joined NITDA in 2017 as a technical assistant to the previous NITDA boss. Being the IT regulatory body in Nigeria mandated to implement National ICT policy, he managed the execution of strategy which has increased ICT contribution to Nigeria’s GDP by over 13 percent in the second quarter of 2018. He also coordinated the local content initiatives that have increased ICT local production by over 200 percent in 2017.
Abdullahi, a member of the Nigeria Computer Society and the British Computer Society, assumed duty as the boss of NITDA in August 2019 and ever since then things haven’t remained the same in the agency –for good reasons. For a young man who loves challenges, he couldn’t have for something more.
“It feels great and I am indeed honoured to step into the shoes of my boss and mentor, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), FNCS, FBCS, FIIM, the immediate past DG and current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy,” he reveals.
“What came to my mind was not to disappoint the expectation of a whole lot of people, who have reposed confidence in me over the years. Under Pantami, I played a crucial role in the development of the agency’s strategic roadmap to turn around the Nigerian IT sector and also identify ICT as a key enabler for economic diversification. It is a project he started and I am privileged to have this opportunity to continue with the vision and see it to fruition.”
In a few months, Abdullahi has walked the talk.
“In the last one year, NITDA has brought benefits of immense proportion to the country and we have implemented over 300 infrastructures in the ICT sector, placing the parastatal as the most prominent under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy,” he says.
With a strategic roadmap for the digital transformation of the country, consisting of seven pillars aimed at repositioning the sector, Abdullahi states that NITDA has become more competitive. Seven pillars, according to him, have been instrumental in the achievements of the agency.
“The seven pillars are regulation to level the playing field and remove obstacles to business; capacity building to function in a knowledge-based economy; and government digital services promotion to foster an interactive government encouraging contributions by citizens and delivery of service.
“Others are local content development and promotion to encourage delivery of tailor-made tech solutions for local needs; digital inclusion to promote infrastructure for citizens to access e-services; digital job creation and cybersecurity to protect Nigeria’s technology assets.”
Global-minded, Abdullahi is pushing the envelope and energizing the agency to up its ante and operate at the highest level possible.
“We have to compete globally,” he acknowledges. “We have to be with the world, and it was in realisation of this that the scholarship scheme was initiated by NITDA. The agency has so far trained over 2,000 Nigerians for both Masters and PhD programmes across the world, and most of them have come back to add value to the country.”
The scholarship, mentioned by the NITDA boss, is open to all Nigerians. But it requires applicants to have a first class or second class upper in IT-related fields and must meet all other basic criteria, including NYSC for master’s programme, while applicants for PhD must be lecturers in a tertiary institution with only one person considered in each geo-political zone for PhD programme, and one person in each state of the federation for the master’s programme.
“I assure you of my total commitment and readiness to revive this great institution,” he promises, “through capacity building, introduce special courses and also provide necessary tools to those who excelled among their peers, so that we can create potential employers, not employees of labour.”
Nigeria has highly talented youths, who are ready to work in the technology sector and Abdullahi assures that institutions like NITDA have an enormous role to play particularly in providing them with prerequisite entrepreneurship skills so that they can set up their own businesses and employ others.
“I try to mentor others, by the way, I am providing leadership at NITDA. However, it is not all about northern youths but the whole country. You can see that in our approach to youth empowerment programmes being executed across the country. I am a developmentalist who sees the whole as essential,” says Abdullahi.
He explains further, “My advice to the youths is to take advantage of many initiatives available to them such as those of NITDA in order to challenge the ‘future of work’ that is different from what they have learnt in school.
“I make them understand that youth development is a catalyst for growth with potentials to transform the nation. To me, mentorship is about providing opportunities for the youths to excel.”
The NITDA boss discloses that over 940 digital capacity centres, IT hubs, innovation, and incubation parks, and IT community training centres have been built across the country.
Furthermore, programme like Start-Up Friday, Start-up Clinic, FutureHack, NITDA’s Graduate Internship Programme, training for artisans, etc., have been providing opportunities for Nigerian youths to be mentored and build their careers.
“My goal is to achieve success in whatever I lay my hands on,” Abdullahi explains, “I have a name to protect and a resume to build and so I am motivated to get the result. I want people to ask, who is this gentleman? You may have noticed that when President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed my appointment and the announcement was made. The question on people’s lips was ‘Who is Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi?’”
The astounding technocrat wants to be at the zenith of his career. At the moment though, he says he wants to see the agency he superintends as a smart, respected, focused and success-motivated institution.
What’s his vision for NITDA?
“My vision for NITDA is to leave behind a legacy. My boss and mentor have set the pace and I intend to build on this. You will agree with me that already we are on the move to achieve that,” the brilliant Abdullahi reveals with a reassuring smile on his face.
Abdullahi’s mind is built around creating legacies, enduring legacies and impacting lives. He doesn’t settle for less.
“Sometimes, I tell people who are close to me to ponder upon what daily life would be like without IT. You might be able to survive without certain things like providing basic social welfare to loved ones who are dependent on you.
“But can life be imagined without television, cell phones, e-mail, the end of mass air travel as we know it today, or even the collapse of the banking system? Most of our lives would be affected dramatically,” he argues.
Abdullahi may be 40 years old but he’s fortified to take on the present, reshape the past and explore the future.