As Nigeria struggles to find the right formula to transform its economy, CHIMA AKWAJA examines the role of information technology workforce in making Nigeria an exporter of goods and services and why government needs to strengthen this very vital but less supported sector through human capital and infrastructure investments.
At the last count Nigeria has witnessed monumental growth in the telecommunications sector with about 101 million active subscriber lines, over N387.5 billion ($25 billion) investments in building critical telecoms networks, creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly and a populace that seeks to be up to date with the rest of the global community.
However, the developments and progress recorded in the telecoms sphere has not been commensurate with that of the information technology (IT) sector, the other half of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry.
While the telecoms sector is growing in leaps and bounds, the IT sector growth has been stunted in policy and human skills required to drive the economy.
As Nigeria prepares to have a cashless economy which will midwife its ascendancy to a digital economy, the inadequacy of IT skills is evident in government’s inconsistent policy formulations, half-hearted implementations and poor public-private partnerships.
At the moment, Nigeria requires a massive pool of IT consultants, IT entrepreneurs, IT start–ups companies, IT practitioners, IT teachers and systems administrators to manage technologies, trends, and risks that are associated with transforming the various Nigerian industries using IT.
Nigeria’s technology policy inconsistencies has left it behind several countries including Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and several others with which it gained political freedom within the same decade but have gone ahead to become technological powerhouses.
Nigeria still relies outside its shores for manufactured goods for its populace and almost all the IT products are imported from abroad.
A few weeks ago, Prof. S. A. Sanni of the National Academy of Engineering in a keynote address entitled ‘Management of Science Technology and Innovation: Change and Effectiveness’ noted that “without science, technology and innovation, ground-breaking economic breakthrough is not achievable.”
He said investments in science and technology has been lukewarm, inefficient and badly managed in the country.
According to him, any nation that wants to be part of the 21st century must speak the language of technology and innovation.
Sanni said the country needs to pay homage to knowledge, not wealth. While calling for concerted efforts to promote technology growth, he described Nigeria as a country which should be leading others. He said it is imperative for Nigeria to explore the benefits of science and technology.
Also Dr. Edet Amana, immediate past president of the academy noted that Nigeria cannot progress without due focus and attention accorded technology.
Amana, also bemoaned the recommendation of Steve Oronsaye’s report (which called for the merger and scrapping of IT agencies like National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and Galaxy Backbone), especially on the ICT sector, saying the implementation of such would take Nigeria backwards.
Inadequacy of IT Skills and Funds
Nigeria lags behind in the IT workforce. While countries like India and United States graduate about 500,000 IT experts from their national IT Institutes annually, Nigerian universities have less than 20,000 IT graduates who struggle with the other 120,000 graduates from the National Youth Service (NYSC) to find jobs.
Last month in Abuja, the Computer Professionals Regulation Council of Nigeria (CPN), the regulator of IT and computation machinery use in the country inducted 376 IT professionals to work towards contributing to the economic transformation of the nation through their skills, wealth of experience and ethical conducts.
Mr. Ibrahim Tizhe, President of CPN said CPN is faced with a myriad of challenges in producing IT professionals. For instance, during the last diet of CPN examinations which took place in April this year, it had to depend on assistance from its members who made their facilities available for use as examination centres.
He said the “construction work on our Centre of Excellence has not made any appreciable progress in the past one year. This is due to dwindling financial resources from the Federation Account.
As a matter of fact, the present situation has made it imperative for us to look for alternative sources of revenue that will enable us complete the first phase that we have embarked upon”.
Touching on the recent recommendations made to the President Goodluck Jonathan by the Orosanye Committee to the effect that all professional regulatory bodies including CPN should not be funded by government any longer.
The CPN boss said “Should government accept this recommendation, it will no doubt pose a short term threat to the ability of the Council to sustain itself.”
Tizhe stated that CPN is working hard to strengthen research and make it a catalyst for development in the IT profession. “This has become imperative in light of the need for us to keep ourselves abreast of new developments.” He added that the collaboration with the NITDA on the review of IT education curricula at all levels is approaching its final stage.
Need To Invest in Human Capital
The Director-General of NITDA), Professor Cleopas Angaye who spoke at the 4th West African ICT Congress (WAFICT) recently in Lagos, urged that the use of ICTs in the educational sector should be promoted to create a globally competitive manpower, while every literate Nigerian should be accorded the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in order to understand, participate actively in, and benefit fully from the information society and the knowledge economy.
He said efforts should also be geared toward developing examinable ICTs curricula for primary and secondary schools and regular review of the universities, polytechnics and other training outfits (both in the private and public sector) as demanded by the rapid changes in the ICT industry, noting that graduates should adequately prepare for the emerging ICT industry which has very crucial demand of skilled manpower.
Cyber security and Cashless Implementation
The top concerns of all stakeholder groups are the need for more awareness and education on how to perform cashless transactions; overcoming infrastructural challenges to make the facility widely available and reliable; greater security of the platforms and fear of fraud; making the benefits clear to merchants and incentivising usage; minimising tariffs and charges; putting in place a legal framework for industry standards and to combat cyber crime.
Already, the cashless programme driven by the Banker’s Committee has seen banks order over 100,000 PoS machines with 60-70,000 received to date with 41,000 of the machines hooked up to NIBSS (Central Switch).
CBN has encouraged banks and other investors to invest in the infrastructure, and this includes granting loans to the industry from the CBN and Bank of Industry (BOI).
Mr. Tim Akano, vice chairman of Wini Group, an IT security company said the level of work and readiness going on in the financial institutions on ground today requires much to be done. “The best of financial institution today is still not safe in Nigeria.
For a fact, we know that because we have been in this security business for quite some time and we know what cyber criminals can do and we know what they are already doing”.
Mr. Sebatien Pavie, Regional Sales Director, Middle East and Africa for SafeNet Inc., world leader in authentication technology said in Lagos that the operators and the regulator needs to address security breaches especially in the financial and electronic payments platforms used for cashless implementation.
Pavie said “The thing you need to avoid to slow down the progress of cashless policy is any data breach that may happen as services are deployed. Allowing this to happen may take the country two steps backwards in the whole process.
That is why, as organisations keep deploying infrastructure, they still need to bring their security measures to international level as countries around the world all operate in the same cyber space and the level of security measures put in place will determine how secure is a country’s payment system in the cyber space”.
Tizhe agrees that the country needs its best brains to move it to an enviable position in the digital world. He said the computer regulator would assist CBN through its professional members towards the implementation of the cashless policy which begins across the country from January 2013 in order to ensure that all technological risks are resolved.
Mr. Sikiru Shehu, registrar of CPN urged CBN to ensure proper integration of rural people into the Nigerian banking system and the cashless policy, step up customer education on the cashless policy of the apex bank as well as address issues of data protection, privacy, confidentiality, digital signature and identity theft should be properly addressed in the cashless transactions.
Building an IT Workforce
A month ago, the 2012 annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast (2011-2015) for Middle East and Africa (MEA) was released in Lagos.
It said internet protocol (IP) traffic will grow eight fold from 2010 to 2015, a compound annual growth rate of 52 per cent. The report forecasts that IP traffic by 2015 will be equivalent to six billion DVDs per year, 505 million DVDs per month, or 691,466 DVDs per hour.
Mr. Rechchad, General Manager, Cisco Nigeria said “Times are certainly changing with VNI data projecting that there will be 72 million Internet households generating more than 200 gigabytes per month in 2016, and 19 billion networked devices.
The network is more important today than any time in history, as more and more people rely on it everyday to live their lives and run their businesses”.
In Middle East and Africa, average Internet traffic will reach 5 Tbps in 2015, the equivalent of 4,500,000 people streaming Internet HD video simultaneously while busy hour Internet traffic will reach 17 Tbps in 2015, the equivalent of 13,890,000 people streaming Internet HD video simultaneously.
The significant level of traffic growth and service penetration is driven by the proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, and other smart devices as well as machine-to-machine (M2M) connections which are driving up the demand for connectivity; more Internet users, faster broadband speeds, more video and wireless fidelity growth.
Nigeria needs to build an IT literate workforce especially with the landing of international fibre optic cables which is helping telecoms operators provide myriad of services at the press of a button on laptops, desktops and mobile phones.
With over 45 million Nigerians with access to the internet, the government needs to be fully prepared for any cybersecurity attacks and safeguard its critical national IT infrastructures.
While the government is promising to make Nigeria among the top 20 economies by 2020, the development of the country’s technological competence is very vital.
Institutions like NITDA and CPN, universities and private IT training institutions should be given the necessary support and level playing field to produce the IT workforces needed to transform the economy.