Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi: One Year at NITDA, By Hameed Taiwo

This month last year, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of a little known man called Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi as the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). For the generality of the public the name didn’t sound a bell but for industry stakeholders, staff of NITDA and those who are conversant of the Information Technology ecosystem in Nigeria within the previous three years, Kashifu Abdullahi is the reserved but dutiful IT-savvy technical assistant to the then NITDA director general, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami. Thus they hailed the substitution as putting up a skilled player in a familiar turf. Yet, to others that have schooled with Kashifu Abdullahi or worked with him at Galaxy Backbone or the Central Bank of Nigeria, it was squaring up a the right peg in the right hole. The appointment itself came after Kashifu Abdullahi’s own boss, Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami was fittingly elevated to the position of a cabinet minister, following his glowing performance as the minister.

As the DG of NITDA, Dr Pantami had acquitted himself so-creditably well and gave beautiful meaning to the saying; office is what you make of it. Within the three years he held forte as the head of the IT sector regulator, he engraved the name and responsibilities of the agency in the public consciousness. He gave teeth for NITDA to live up to its regulatory powers by coming up with frameworks and regulations that saved Nigeria tens of billions in IT procurement savings, and set benchmark for different sections of the industry. Another first recorded under Dr Pantami was making the overseas scholarship offered by the agency to be a free and fair process for all. Having risen the bar at home and abroad, Pantami’s elevation was only a reward for a work well done. It however posed a challenge to the agency which he has elevated from obscurity. How is that momentum going to be sustained? Who can successfully take up the gauntlet? This apprehension is not misplaced. Oftentimes persons get appointed to an office and begin to roll back achievements recorded out of ignorance. Some come in with a sole aim of ‘rubbishing’ their predecessors by discontinuing whatever initiative they met on ground, not for undesirability but out of envy and evil desire to deny that person his or her due credit.  

The appointment of Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi in August 2019 put rest to the agitations and calmed the minds that were worried about the possibility of the agency reversing on the gains made. This was a classic case of continuity and change. It was change because it is a different person on the saddle altogether. It was continuity because the new man on the helm was integral part of the Pantami years and therefore very familiar with the philosophy, the programmes and the processes the NITDA leadership under Dr Pantamu followed in attaining the heights the Agency attained within a short period of time under Dr Pantami’s dynamic leadership. 

Besides the experience gained working in the Pantami team, Kashifu Abdullahi came in as no novice on the issues at stake. He is an accomplished IT expert despite his relative young age. He was educated and groomed in information technology in universities in Nigeria and abroad, finishing in all instances in flying colours. Beyond the academic garb and successes, he is a practical man who, alone or in teams, worked on a number of successful IT projects including the groundbreaking payment settlement system for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). 

With such professional and academic accolade, Kashifu Abdullahi came to the top at NITDA not as some accidental CEO, but one that was sufficiently experienced and well mentored for the task. It was therefore not difficult for him to take up the mantle and rave up the engine for a smooth journey into the future. As the Technical Assistant to Dr Pantami (who was then the DG of NITDA), Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi was key to the conceptualisation of 4-year strategy plan (2017 – 2020) for the Agency. It was now his lot to supervise further execution of the lofty initiatives contained in the ambitious document which seeks to make Nigeria a key player in digital economy. In accordance with the mandate of NITDA, and in line with the vision of the leadership of Dr Pantami, Kashifu Abdullahi and his management team have broadened the frontiers in all aspects of those pillars; from strengthening regulatory obligations to deepening IT skills and job creation.

NITDA under Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, in the last one year, gave teeth to the federal government’s digital economy mantra. Over 300,000 jobs were created by supporting IT start-ups across the wide spectrum of the sector, establishing Digital Capacity Centres, ICT Hubs and supporting schools and learning institutions. For a broader integration of the economy into ICT-compliant market of today, NITDA panders away from making ICT an affair of the geeky engineers and developers, by introducing practical sides to it. This is exemplified in the training and engagement of artisans in every day skills such as mobile phone repairs, and introduction of smart agriculture through training of farmers under the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) programme. 
For its IT coordination and regulatory duties, NITDA in the past year consolidated on its duty of vetting IT procurements of Ministries and Agencies, saying the country billions of naira through that process. NITDA’s vision is to increasingly improve on interportability among government agencies. Added to this, NITDA under Kashifu Abdullahi is ramping up compliance to the many regulations and frameworks issued by NITDA in the fast few years. This has led to Nigeria topping the rank in data protection reporting in Africa, due to creation of 27 data protection firms and turning in of over 500 compliance reports. 

Impressively, while many public and private institutions saw the Coronavirus outbreak as a hindrance, even a doomsday, NITDA under Kashifu Abdullahi saw it as an opportunity. The Agency has used the pandemic to further rave up Nigeria’s journey to digital economy, through various initiatives. A high-powered committee was set up by the Agency to fashion out ways to spur innovation and support creative start-ups. 

The impactful activities of NITDA has made the Agency a go-to place with government agencies and corporate bodies lining up to seek for collaboration and support. This range from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), to National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Nigerian Immigration Service, National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), state governments, and local and international IT firms. This rally around NITDA wouldn’t have been possible if not for the flag being held high by the current management under the leadership of Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.  
Taiwo writes from Abuja.