Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi leads the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as the fifth Director General/Chief Executive Officer (DG/CEO) of the IT development and regulatory agency.
NITDA came out of a drowsy backyard fit only to be a department in the Ministry of Communications (now renamed Communications and Digital Economy), according to the recommendation of the 2011 Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Steve Oronsaye.
Abdullahi’s immediate predecessor and the inspirer of his appointment, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, ended NITDA’s years of lethargy.
To tackle the rising cost of maintaining government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in the face of dwindling revenue, the Oronsaye Committee, set up by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, had recommended that NITDA be scrapped or at best made a department in its parent ministry.
Pantami reworked NITDA from an agency shunned by other MDAs to become the agency you ignore at your own peril. IT procurement clearance once discretionary and within the whims of the MDAs transformed to its full statutory obligations requiring NITDA’s stamp. You may say NITDA positively ‘metastasize’ to fulfil its mandate.
Pantami, now Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, did not need an additional law to strengthen the heavy-eyed agency. The statutes already provided for that. He only needed to dare to enforce the law and he did. His audacity would be the beginning of a tough battle to bring sanity to government from an IT point of view (PoV).
He reworked NITDA to utilise its fangs to inject probity and sets direction for government spending on IT projects across MDAs. The status of IT regulation has since changed to become more effective, assertive and impactful. The credit is Pantami’s.
When Kachifu Inuwa Abdullahi came to the scene three years ago, he had an agency to either sink into its years of lassitude or advance to reflect dynamic regulations. He had the duty to further push NITDA’s mandate without entangling disruptive trends for which the IT sector has become expressly known for.
Three years on, Abdullahi appears to have manifested his headship on themes of disruptions, transformational leadership and stakeholders engagement. There has been consolidation of the Pantami’s years and an exploration of new frontiers in terms of IT development and regulation.
“Three years on, Abdullahi appears to have manifested his headship on themes of disruptions, transformational leadership and stakeholders engagement. There has been consolidation of the Pantami’s years and an exploration of new frontiers in terms of IT development and regulation.”
In definite terms, Abdullahi emergence as DG/CEO three years ago was disruptive. He was less than 40 years and appointed to lead an agency of civil servants who grew by the ranks and are already well cultured in the conservative scents of a typical public sector organisation. How do you make appointment from a generation of ‘young Turks’ and apostles of Nigeria’s new found aggressiveness to have an economy that is driven by digits not analogue?
How will the mix work? How will the young lead the old in an agency the ebullient Pantami had remodeled from conservative inertness to become avantgarde? How do you make a man in his late 30s to lead an agency that traditionally has CEO occupancy for weathered academics?
These were some of the hanging questions when Kachifu Inuwa Abdullahi occupied the ‘CEOship’ of NITDA. They were questions designed to be the noose for hanging but have become an extended rope for transformational leadership. In quiet frank discussions with a lot of NITDA’s directors, it is clear that the young Turk has dispelled the fear of the old, and created plenty of accommodations for others’ PoVs.
He has expressed leadership as joint efforts. inspire a sense of commitment and shared responsibility to the agency’s goals in spite of administrative fault lines.
“How will the young lead the old in an agency the ebullient Pantami had remodeled from conservative inertness to become avantgarde? How do you make a man in his late 30s to lead an agency that traditionally has CEO occupancy for weathered academics?”
“Those who thought Kachifu will be difficult and egoistic have been disappointed. They will tell you lesson learnt is to have an open mind towards every leadership and situation,” to quote verbatim one senior functionary. It is a subtle summation of leading in a changed order for an agency that has been headed by seven CEOs with two in acting capacities.
Since the creation of NITDA about two decades ago, the global IT industry has evolved in value with varying portfolios of trends and dynamics in terms of disruptive services/products and new subsectors for which regulators have been challenged all over the world. Technology is in perpetual transition and so too must be regulation or else it becomes a dinosaur in the age of rocket science.
Methinks NITDA under Abdullahi has struggled with the challenge of bringing regulations to bear on and not burden developments with disruptions. It is not a unique Nigerian challenge. It is global. The difference is in the degree of responsiveness regulators are willing to demonstrate to advance and not encumber technology innovations.
The challenges of affirmative regulation are obvious in Kenya and Rwanda, not to cite examples outside of the continent. The challenges are here in Nigeria where Abdullahi holds forth. The graduate of Computer Science is quietly proven to be a trained strategist focusing on engaging Nigerian hordes of innovative disruptors, creating regulatory accommodations for new and future trends and pursuing new statutory provisions that should ensure NITDA does not become a museum.
“Those who thought Kachifu will be difficult and egoistic have been disappointed. They will tell you lesson learnt is to have an open mind towards every leadership and situation.”
Interestingly as is the case in Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda have young Turks to lead their IT regulatory charge; a remarkable phenomenon in Sub-Sahara Africa. It is a phenomenon with varying testimonies of the changing times and how these countries are responding to reflect the global IT industry driven by daring innovations and think-leaders focused on greater results.
Abdullahi’s NITDA has its own testimonies. They include an increasingly structured approach to supporting the startup ecosystem, building various digital capacities across sectors and MDAs, and adoption of technology innovations to elevate the value chains of certain sectors notably agriculture via the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA), for example – all of these are helping to deepen the quality of engagement of people and ideas by NITDA.
Also, there is a deliberate attempt to extend the frontiers of tech-thinking in order to bring policy and funding support to emerging technologies in the realm of blockchain, IoT, robotics, etc., for which NITDA is already running a template for collaborations and creation centres. It recently inked a deal with CcHub within this realm and already has a number of similar partnerships sealed.
Pantami stirred NITDA to roar. It has been Abdullahi’s lot to make the lion explore for ideas and growth. History should not merely remember Kachifu Inuwa Abdullahi as the youngest CEO that NITDA first had but the one who made youth to mean disruptive leadership able to engender inspirational management to drive sustainable ideas and goals.
“NITDA under Abdullahi has struggled with the challenge of bringing regulations to bear on and not burden developments with disruptions. It is not a unique Nigerian challenge. It is global.”
Isn’t that what great thinkers like Aristotle and the older Plato summed up from the PoV of politics and people-management? That the ‘purpose of leadership is the betterment of the state or if you like, state institutions (like NITDA). Even more poignant, isn’t that what Sophocles’ Antigone teaches? That fate is very important and that fulfilling fate depends on individuals’ actions. Kachifu Inuwa Abdullahi has undisputedly firmed up on the fate that entrusted him with the task of leading NITDA. His team will testify to this and the milestones in the last three years, too.