Kashifu Abdullahi: Boosting the nation’s digital economy

It’s not often that President Muhammadu Buhari goes out of his way to defend his decisions on appointments or re-appointments. However, he made an exception to his rule recently when he said a few words about Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the Director General/CEO, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). In the process, he not only shared the objective criteria he considers in his decisions, but also helped the agency tell its success stories.

In October 2022, according to the president, he directed the evaluation of some parastatals under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. He said, “The performance evaluation report submitted to me shows outstanding performance of NITDA, in particular, on different areas of the mandate of the agency. Based on the impressive performance of NITDA, I approved the re-appointment of Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi as the director-general for a second term in office, from 2023 to 2027.”
The achievements of NITDA under his leadership have been breath-taking, and evidently influenced Mr. President’s favourable disposition to his reappointment as its CEO.

The agency deployed 601 digital infrastructure, including digital economy centres, e-learning facilities, desktop computers, laptops, iPads, IT community centres, IT hubs and innovation parks across Nigeria. Furthermore, the Computer Emergency Response and Readiness Centre (CERRC) was remodelled and upgraded to enhance cybersecurity and protect Federal Public Institutions (FPIs) against intruders. The CERRC has successfully handled over 50 hacking on government websites, 500+ phishing hacking and issued over 80 advisory notes to the public. Another significant infrastructural intervention was the National Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) deployment to enhance online safety on electronic platforms and secure electronic transactions. The Agency also launched the first digital Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab 1.0) in Nigeria to provide facilities for innovators to build digital products and enhance indigenous digital innovation.
Under Inuwa’s leadership, through the IT Projects Clearance process, the agency has cleared 823 IT projects of 336 federal MDAs. This has resulted in a cost savings of ₦306 billion for the Federal Government of Nigeria.
In 2021, the NITDA unveiled its Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP 2021 – 2024), which is anchored on seven strategic pillars to support the achievement of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) objectives. The ongoing implementation of the 64 strategic initiatives of SRAP has significantly contributed to the impact of ICT on the economy. In addition, the agency’s strategic engagement with critical stakeholders in the ecosystem and implementation of the SRAP initiatives have made Nigeria the leading destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to startups in Africa, attracting about US$3.8billion which constitutes about 35% of all FDI into African startups from 2019. The recent Digital Nigeria Conference, hosted by the Agency, validated the interest in the ecosystem, which attracted 18 international speakers and a cumulative attendance of over 7,000 participants.
Through the agency’s implementation of strategic initiatives and interventions, many jobs were created for Nigerians. For instance, the agency set up the Tech4COVID Committee, which developed strategies to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative led to the retention of over 100,000 ICT jobs and created additional 30,000 jobs in the post-COVID-19 era. Similarly, the NDPR compliance drive created 7,680 jobs and a market valued at ₦1.2 billion. Furthermore, the implementation of the agency’s National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative has thus far engaged nine hundred (900) farmers and created over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs. The initiative targets the engagement of 10 million farmers across the agricultural value chain by 2030. The agency developed the National Outsourcing Strategy to deliver one million jobs by 2025, contributing to the employment of 16,540 Nigerians. The Business Process Outsourcing market is estimated at US$286.8 million, as reported by Africa Global Business Services (GBS).
To promote emerging technologies in Nigeria, the Agency established the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). The NCAIR has trained 1,250 youths across Nigeria on high-end cutting-edge technologies. The Office for Nigerian Digital Innovation (ONDI) was created as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to help incubate ideas and develop an enabling environment for startups to thrive. Through the ONDI, the agency supported 143 startups through; Facilitation of ₦50 million grant each to 6 startups’; Facilitation of US$15,000 each to 3 startups; Seed funding support to 12 startups; Sponsorship of 51 startups to GITEX global event, LEAP Tech Conference, Intra-African Trade Fair, and 40 Nigerian startups to local events; Acceleration of 30 startups through the Bridge to MassChallenge (B2MC) Nigeria programme; Incubation of 16 startups through the iHatch Incubation programme; Training of 20 startups through the North-East Start-up Training (NEST) programme; Training of 74 innovators to build viable tech businesses through the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support (TIES) Scheme; Acceleration of 3 Nigerian startups through the NINJA Acceleration Programme in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); and training of 300 secondary school students on digital innovation and entrepreneurship.
In terms of digital talent development, NITDA has committed to the conduct of an IT Talent Gap Assessment among Nigeria’s youth population for tech talent acceleration and position Nigeria as a global IT Talent Factory. In line with the FG’s initiative on social investment, the Agency launched the one (1) million software developer initiative, and thus far, 215,524 Nigerians have completed or are undergoing related capacity-building programmes. In addition, various multi-sectorial capacity-building programmes were launched to promote digital literacy, and 823,814 Nigerians have been trained so far.
Inuwa was first appointed to the NITDA helm in 2019 to lead the Agency towards achieving the goal of using ICT to digitalize the nation’s economy.

His diligence and hard work in leading the Agency which have yielded tremendous accomplishments earned numerous recognition and awards. These include Outstanding Corporate Governance CEO Award by Forbes Foreign Investment Network, African Achievers Award from the board of trustees of the African Achievers Award London UK; National Productivity Order Of Merit Award conferred by President Buhari; 2020 Special Award for Driving ICT Development in Nigeria of Abuja Enterprise Agency (AEA); African Leadership Commendation Award of African Leadership Magazine; 2020 Most Impactful Director General by National Information Reporters Association (NITRA); 2019 Achievement Award For Regulating Data Protection In Nigeria by Data & Knowledge Information Privacy Protection Initiative; 2019 Icon of Societal Transformation Award by Northern Women Assembly (NOWA) ; 2019 Award Of Excellence by Nile University; Isaca Global Inspirational Leadership Award by Isasa International Professional Association; Pillar of Digital Entrepreneurship Award by Eminent Emerging Entrepreneurs Foundation; 100 Leading Telecom and ICT Personalities In Nigeria by Association of Telecommunications Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON).
Just what makes him tick? He is described in his profile as “a transformational leader with key competencies that cut across growth management, policy formulation, solutions architecture, resource mobilization and strategy implementation. He is a versatile technocrat and professional strategist with a proven track record of excellence in leadership and administration.”

He himself, in a newspaper interview, says he adopts “a scientific approach to management, particularly of humans.” A remarkable feature of this approach is the penchant to keep track of, and document, the achievements of the organization under his watch, which makes him an interviewer’s delight. He has taken the pains to prepare a compendium of NITDA’s has achievements over the four years of his first tenure, which includes the innovative response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the challenges of regulating the digital space.

And there is his management style, about which Inuwa has developed a playbook to demonstrate the point that, as he puts it, “as the CEO, I’m not the one doing the work.” Then who is? It’s the team, he stresses. “But the team needs the right driver, a good pilot to navigate through the journey.” And what is the use of his playbook? He elaborates: “Firstly, before I give anybody any assignment, I make sure I create clarity, and the person understands what I want them to do by communicating it to them in plain language. Then I need to unleash energy in you to get the best out of you because I’m not the one to do the work.”

He has had the best of education available locally and abroad. A graduate of Computer Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi was born on February 21, 1980. He is also 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 USA, University of Cambridge in the UK and IMD Business School in Switzerland.

During the COVID-19 lock-down, NITDA organised an innovation challenge to help different organizations develop ideas that can be taken to the industrial market. As a result, three promising ideas were identified. The first is an app that allows you to contact or consult a physician online and get prescription or get referred to a lab for a test. Another innovation is a ventilator to make for shortage of the equipment. The third idea was a tunnel developed to decontaminate people from the virus. These were achieved in collaboration with partners, including the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and included administration of seed funds to startups.

As the 1st Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s Public Sector, he is also a Certified Project Manager and Solution Architect. He also has many professional certifications in Networking, Telecommunications, Service Management and Solution Design. Mr Abdullahi has worked for nine years (2004 – 2013) at Galaxy Backbone and held several positions such as Network Engineer, IP Network Field Engineer, Senior Network & Lead, IP Operations Team, and Senior Solution Architect & Lead, Technical Solution Design.

In 2014, Mr Abdullahi joined Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as a Technology Architect, where he dedicated his time to developing Technology Architecture Repository that gives 360 view of the Bank’s IT Infrastructure and facilitated ease of decision making on new IT investment. He was part of the team that executed software license rationalization that has increased cost savings for the Bank in license annual subscriptions. He was a key resource in the development of IT standards for the apex bank, which has reduced mean time to deploy/integrate new system by over 20%. One of his major achievements as a Technology architect was the production of 7 Solution Architectures for critical IT initiatives that helped in achieving cashless society in Nigeria.

He joined NITDA in 2017 as Technical Assistant to the Director General/CEO. Being the IT regulatory body in Nigeria mandated to implement National ICT policy, he managed execution of strategy which has increased ICT contribution to Nigerian GDP by over 13% in Q2 2018. He also coordinated Local Content initiatives that have increased ICT local production by over 200% in 2017. Mr Abdullahi is a member of both Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the British Computer Society (BCS).

Hassan is a business and economy analyst based in Abuja.

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