IT CENTRAL

Nigeria 2015 | TELECOMS, IT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Peter Jack, Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), on ICT as a catalyst for the economy and the company's vision.

Peter Jack
BIOGRAPHY
Peter Jack is the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), an organ of the Federal Government mandated to regulate and develop information technology in Nigeria. He is a Development Consultant in the areas of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (MSPs), Entrepreneurship, Information Technology for National Transformation, Job Creation, and Poverty Alleviation. Until January 2007 he was a Technical Assistant to the Director General/CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigeria. He was also a member of the United Nations Development program (UNDP) consulting team that wrote the National Strategy Plan (2007-2011) for Nigeria, representing the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). He set up the National Cisco Networking Academy Program in Nigeria.

You have been entrusted with the task of planning, developing, and promoting the use of IT in Nigeria. How does National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) perform this task?

We have a mandate to cover many aspects of IT in Nigeria, as well as to develop IT further. The first aspect covers standards, policies, guidelines, and the framework for IT development. The second aspect concerns community access. In 2001 NITDA became an independent national agency and adopted a national policy. I realized that the implementation of the NITDA mandate had been grossly overlooked, and therefore I created a department of guidelines, standards, and regulations. We created five governance frameworks for the country, without which it would be extremely difficult to develop IT in Nigeria. On the development side we have to look at the communities as the real beneficiaries because we are talking about access at the community level. There will ultimately be three sets of community telecenters. I have looked at the issue of integrating to work closely together with a common platform for managing these centers. To that end I am looking to promote a national telecenter support network.

To what extent is the ICT sector a catalyst for the Nigerian economy?

NITDA carries the greatest mandate of any agency in the country. Several countries have leveraged IT to reinvigorate their economies. We see IT as an important sector that has the potential to eclipse oil and gas as the primary source of national income. From that perspective we are aware that well-deployed IT will be a catalyst for growth across the sectors. It will transform other sectors and make them more efficient and productive. They will experience significant levels of growth as a result. From the perspective of our initial plan to adopt a more streamlined strategy, we have realized that relying on public funding alone will not be enough. Our average annual projects are worth about NGN10 billion. That is less than $50 million. We are looking to adopt a financial strategy whereby we engage the international community, and especially the UN system and various other organizations. We are also aware that each of the G8 countries always makes a statement on governmental resources to catalyze growth in Africa from the department of ICT. We are aware, too, that if we plan well, we can actually deploy sufficient resources from various sources, including CSR with the initiatives of local companies, such as Dangote and MTN.

You mention that other countries have used IT as a developing tool. Are you trying to replicate any of their IT development programs?

After the crisis in 1997, South Korea adopted an ICT-focused and ICT-driven economic recovery strategy. Clearly South Korea is a good example of what ICT can do for a country, as it started to contribute over 25% of economic growth. We have made an effort to engage South Korea to help drive our e-government program, which aims to train about 23,000 public servants. We are not just dreaming of benefiting from their experience. We have actually started to build direct engagement in order to benefit from their success story, and for example, have the South Korea Hyundai agreement that is supporting and funding some of our e-government programs. They have recently helped us implement an e-government master plan. We are trying to develop an e-government institute, and some of the funding will come from South Korea as well.

What can you tell us about your vision of creating a Nigerian Silicon Valley?

During my visits to Silicon Valley, I realized that passion underlies its success story. That passion manifested itself when I realized that the Lekki Free Zone has a great deal of potential with the new seaport, the new airport, and the coastal road that starts in Lagos. I was motivated to come up with the concept of “the digital coast" and started sharing that concept with the Lekki Free Zone Development Company. NITDA is set to commit to a 48-hectare acre facility in the zone to build a smart city on. This would create significant opportunities for everyone, including international investors. There is a digital fever that everyone is catching in Nigeria, and NITDA is a mayor player. We are building a knowledge city, and a software incubation hub.

What is the importance of the triangle business model community telecenters?

You need to engage the community. When you get the right buy-in from the community, it means that by the time you deploy a center, everyone knows where it is and what it is. Today there are so many things you can do with a center like that. It can be a one-stop-shop for services. From immigration paperwork to registering voters, registering your national identity number, providing the right information about government services, the right kind of internet access, and basic skills development for researching IT technology, all the way to what I call entrepreneurship. People can also hire the space for one or two hours and use it as a contact point to develop websites for local farmers or fishermen, for example. We want a holistic approach and a meeting point where everyone is involved.

What goals have you set for the next five years and how do you see the ICT sector evolving towards 2020?

What we need to do is aggressively position IT as the primary source of national income for Nigeria, and in the shortest possible time begin to compete with oil and gas so that the focus will gradually move away from them. I dream of a Nigerian economy driven by IT. Young entrepreneurs are truly transforming the economy. Under the guidance of our Minister, substantial efforts are going into incubation hubs. I also perceive a lack of the right performance indicators. That failure to perform is because IT has not been adequately promoted across all sectors. We are currently engaging with the ministries to get their support for the use of IT to drive productivity. We see IT as central to Nigeria's future in terms of driving performance across all sectors by acting as Nigeria's primary economic engine. I want to see IT contribute to the growth of the economy, the actual inflow of national income, and educational performance. Even if it does not surpass oil and gas, it will be the fastest growing sector of the economy. I would add that social media and cyber security are also important issues. Social media is gaining momentum in Nigeria. Unfortunately, there are some challenges. For example, we plan to develop a campaign to provide the necessary capacity among parents to be able to monitor how their children are using social media. In terms of cyber-security there is a national effort lead by the Office of the National Security Adviser. As we speak, the draft of the national cyber security policy is being written, and NITDA has played a central role in that. We already have a cyber-security center in place. Furthermore, we are currently building capacity for the military in terms of cyber-security issues.