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Sodiya: Nigeria Must Develop Capabilities in Emerging Technologies

Sodiya: Nigeria Must Develop Capabilities in Emerging Technologies

The President, Nigeria Computer Society, Professor Adesina Sodiya, speaks on the need for Nigeria to develop capabilities in emerging technologies that will drive national development, among other burning issues. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts: 

What is your view about the use of technology in driving national development in todays’ digital era?

Skills in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics are key in developing capabilities of a country, but very few Information Technology (IT) professionals in Nigeria are in the area of AI and Robotics. As a nation we need the full adoption of emerging technology skills and NCS is encouraging Nigerians to develop digital skills in emerging technologies. We need to adopt AI in Health, Agriculture, Communications, e-Commerce, Education, among others to drive national development.

How will you describe the digital economy policy of government, and how is the policy driving national development?

Towards the end of 2019, the federal government, through the Head of Service, issued a policy that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government should begin the process of digitising their operations and processes. NCS wrote to head of service, telling him that NCS will partner government in implementing the policy. It is of interest to NCS to see that all government processes are automated and the first process of automation is digitalisation. Physical file and processes cannot be automated without digitising the files and processes. 

To achieve this, government must create the department of Information Technology (IT) in all MDAs to drive digitisation of government services and processes. Today not all MDAs of government have IT department. Most federal ministries do not have separate department for IT and this is miss-normal, because government cannot talk of automating services of MDAs to drive digital transformation in government, when it has not created IT departments to drive the initiative. If we do not have a separate department of IT, it will be difficult for government to achieve its mandate on digital transformation in civil service. As an advocacy group, NCS will continue to seek partnership with government on digital skills and digitisation of government services and processes.

What has been the result of NCS’ advocacy and promotion of IT development in Nigeria?

When the current administration of NCS came on board in 2019, we discovered that many did not know about the contributions of NCS on IT development in Nigeria, even when NCS has existed for more than 40 years and we decided to create that awareness among Nigerians. We put up our own strategies to ensure that we take NCS and its contributions to the nooks and crannies of this country. In 2019, some of our activities were put on hold because of the COVID-19, but we have since resumed some of those activities and we will continue to engage online with individuals and organisations. We have had engagements with banks and corporate organisations in the past.

As part of our strategies, we ensured that all the Chapters of NCS were active and vibrant. In 2019, we had only nine Chapters of NCS, but as of today, we have 27 active chapters across different states of the country, and a total of 15,000 members across the country. NCS is a member international technology bodies and we are recognised internationally.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is focused on the policy of attaining full digital economy for Nigeria and NCS, as an advocacy group, has been in full support of the policy. The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami has been at the forefront in driving digital transformation policies in the country and NCS has been in support of most of the policies, especially the Data Protection Policy that is very dear to NCS. 

NCS is also in support of the federal government policy on NIN-SIM registration because it will help to address insecurity in the country and also in identifying Nigerians on any network they are registered with. It will help to identify bandits, terrorists and kidnappers who are involved in different criminal activities. This is because once a line is registered with any operator, the operator automatically have the details of the subscriber and the geolocation of such subscriber could be traced and tracked, if the person if found wanting. No nation can grow without having full knowledge of her people and that is what NIN-SIM registration and linkage is all about. However the federal government must ensure it uses the policy to effectively achieve what it is designed to achieve. 

What is your take on youth development and innovation in Nigeria?

NCS understands and appreciates what the youths in Nigeria are doing in terms of developing products and solutions that are viable and marketable. We have up-coming technology startup companies that are doing well both in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria. NCS has been at the forefront, supporting youths activities, especially in digital innovation. We have worked with several of them and we have been able to transform their ideas and products into viable and marketable products. Our target at NCS is to guide and support youths innovation that will result in solutions that could be deployed within and outside of the country in order to increase Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. To achieve this, NCS created tech programs like: Tech Innovation program and the NCS Hackathon, which seek to train Nigerian youths on digital skills acquisition. We have increased our project needs for our tech innovation program from N50 million to N250 million, because we want to expand our scope. We appreciate the Chairman of Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh for supporting the program. Call for entry for the 2022 edition just ended and we will soon call for pitching to select 10 beneficiaries in this edition. Our focus this year is hinged on three models: Transformation into a business model where NCS will provide the initial support that will help them setup a business; Helping entrepreneurs to develop and market products; Giving the product to an organisation to adopt it and market it. 

The Hackathon program is called the NCS-Pantami Hackathon for Digital Economy. NCS will provide the seed-fund for selected projects and monitor the growth of the projects. The Hackathon will be held in Abuja in September this year. The product innovation for the NCS-Pantami Hackathon for Digital Economy will be on Smart Agriculture, Internet of Things (IoT), Fourth Industrial Revolution; Payment Platform; Reporting System; Digitalisation Policy of government; Adoption of Emerging Technologies in government circles; Addressing National Security challenges; Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance. NCS wants to promote youth ideas in the county, through its various youth projects. 

So the target audience are the Nigerian youths and the student bodies that are affiliated to NCS. 

What is NCS’ position in the adoption of technology in electoral process?

Over the years, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continued the use of technology to deliver on election mandates in Nigeria. INEC has moved from the use of card reader to Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BiVAS), to Electronic Transfer of election results. The improved system blocks the loophole where people could hitherto vote in any given election, without accreditation. INEC has continued to adopt technology in elections even though INEC has not gotten it right. NCS will continue to seek collaboration with INEC on improved technology for elections. INEC needs to review its technology adoption in electoral process. NCS had in the past, written to INEC to be part of election monitoring across the country but INEC has not responded to that effect.  The technology adoption for electronic transfer of election result, will help Nigeria in addressing election malpractices. INEC can try it because organisations like the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has tried it in transmitting candidates’ results from various Computer-based Centres, numbering over 800, to JAMB’s head office in real-time basis, and it worked. Banks are involved in electronic money transfer and internet banking and it is working. So INEC can adopt the technology on electronic transfer of election results to achieve better results that are hitch-free in elections. With improved bandwidth, we can use technology to transfer election results. If electronic voting is encouraged and made optional in Nigeria, many electorates will be ready to vote, including the elites who seldom vote in every election because of the mass rigging that has characterised Nigerian electoral processes.

What is NCS’ interest in Nigeria’s technology development and leadership?

NCS is interested in the leadership of Nigeria. We are not political group but an advocacy group that is driving technology innovation in the country. We are advocating for leaders who are technology savvy to rule our country in today’s digital era. NCS wants to promote leaders that are technology savvy and have the interest of developing Nigeria in line with emerging technologies. We need leaders that will continue to support the growth of IT development in the country, leaders that will support IT adoption and usage in Nigeria, and leaders that will support NCS’s IT programmes. The issue with leaders that are not technology savvy is that they do not understand the speed of technology growth and as such they will always be left behind in a technology world. So we want leaders that will be able to move with technology growth and the speed of technology growth. So going forward, NCS will be assessing the level of technology skills of political leaders and public office holders in Nigeria. We are going to assess the technology level of political aspirants and make it public so that Nigerians will know the right candidates to vote for.

How will NCS advise examination bodies to adopt technology in curbing exam malpractices?

NCS is not happy with the level of exam malpractices going on in various exam centres across the country. We are however happy with some of the measures taken by JAMB to address exam malpractices across various JAMB test centres in the country in other to enhance the integrity of all JAMB examinations.

In the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) examinations, there are still loopholes that the bodies need to address to curb exam malpractices. NCS is concerned because the exam malpractices, which is a miss-normal in our educational system, can actually be corrected through the application and use of technology. WAEC and NECO still conduct paper-based exams and they need to step up the game with technology. They need automation of their exam process and NCS is planning to write to these exam bodies to seek collaboration with them on how best to conduct exams, using technology. For example, technology has developed surveillance systems that could monitor exam malpractices and send the information through digital signals to a central location where exams are monitored. The surveillance systems could be installed at strategic positions in all exam centres to address the issue of exam malpractices. This and many others are some of the things we will be suggesting to JAMB, WAEC and NECO. These exam bodies need different levels of checks to fully address exam malpractices and these are some of the things we will be discussing with the exam bodies.

What is NCS’ view about smart city and technology development?

The idea of a smart city is driven by technology and for a city to be smart, it has to be fully connected with the internet. Lagos State for instance is developing a smart city in Lagos and the state governor recently said the state had reached advanced stage in deploying the first phase of its 3,000km fibre optic cable round Lagos, that will enable internet connectivity of people and devices. That is were the world is heading towards and NCS is bringing this awareness to everyone and to every government. 

What are the outcomes of the NCS’ recently organised AI Summit in Nasarawa State?

The Nigeria Computer Society recently held its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) Summit in Lafia, Nasarawa State, where AI technology was on display. The summit was highly successful and we had huge support from the Nasarawa state government. The choice of Nassarawa State was because the state governor, Abdullahi Sule, has been at the forefront in promoting digital technology in the state, and he won the Digital Governor Award of NCS in 2021. He has done so much in the use of IT in enhancing governance in Nasarawa State. The NCS AI Summit is going to be an annual summit. This year, we had different workshops where AI solutions were showcased. We had sessions for secondary school students to showcase AI solutions and devices that were developed by the students. Robots of different types were on display at our maiden edition of AI Summit in Nasarawa State, and NCS launched its own Unmanned Vehicle that is driven by AI and people were trained on how to develop Unmanned Vehicle. We had experts in AI from within and outside the country who delivered papers on AI and Robotics and how AI and Robotics could be used to enhance national development. We had demonstrations from research institutes from across the country and it was indeed a highly successful three-day summit. Based on the success of the NCS AI Summit in Nasarawa State, we have set up a working group in AI and Robotics, and the role of the working group is to further discussions on AI and Robotics, so that NCS will continue to share ideas and make useful recommendations to government on AI and Robotics development in Nigeria. 

NCS will be working with the federal government to drive AI and Robotics in the country. NCS is interested in promoting the use of AI and Robotics in our healthcare centres, security, restaurants, aviation and many other sectors of the Nigerian economy. With AI and Robotics, development will be much faster than ever and that is the direction the world is going and Nigeria must not be left behind. We world has reached a level of connectivity though Internet of Things (IoTs), which is another form of emerging technology. We are in the era were every device, including internet connected home appliances can be controlled centrally and from distant locations outside of the home. Connected appliances at home can be remotely controlled even from the office and from other locations that are distant away from the home and that is the power of internet connectivity. 

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