Mr. Sikiru Shehu is Registrar/Chief Executive of Computer Professionals’ Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), the federal government agency that regulates the practice of information technology (IT). In this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, Shehu, a former management consultant at Coopers & Lybrand as well as Director of Training & Manpower at Financial Institutions Training Centre (FITC) spoke on the role of IT in national transformation among other issues.
What are you doing to ensure IT standards are implemented from primary to the university?
We were at the forefront of the struggle to see computer education taught from the cradle and the idea was bought by all stakeholders. Now we are at the point of examining computer education whether it is primary or secondary education and we didn’t just stop at advocating for that, we also advocated for developing standard curriculum for all those levels. I believe in the next two to three years the landscape will be very different.
It will be different because of the implementation we are talking about. The awareness has now come. In the past when a child was born and is growing, you talk about learning how to read and write and probably do some arithmetic but things have changed now, they not only learn how to read and write but also learn how to compute.
It is an evolving thing and over time you’ll see a new generation of IT literate young people and also you’ll begin to see IT literate workforce. In fact, that is the time we are waiting for.
This is one of the things CPN is working towards. The Federal Ministry of Education, National Information Technology Development Agency (Nitda) and CPN are collaborating in the past few months to develop national IT standards from cradle to the university.
It has gotten to an advanced stage where draft documents are submitted to stakeholders to critique with the hope of having a final document on standards on IT educational at all levels of education from early child care to tertiary school levels and also professional level.
We hope that when this document is finally approved by government, any other relevant agency will begin to now develop their curriculum and match the minimum standards for IT education in that particular level.
We are working hard to ensure these particular documents are out on time, when they are out; it means that any of our graduates at any of higher education can comfortably compete with any of their counterparts from any part of the world.
What collaborations do you have with examination bodies like WAEC and NECO?
Immediately after this interview I will be on my way to Ibadan where West African Examination Council (Waec) is having a national working meeting for the development of trade subject syllabus for data processing, it shows how we have been collaborating with a body like that.
Right now, computer study is part of what examination bodies will begin to examine students. It is not until you get to the university before you begin to understand what IT is.
Right now many schools around who are either private or government schools they are either teaching IT or computer studies as part of their curriculum. We are hoping that we will in the next few years see the effects.
What role can IT play in national transformation?
If you look at the theme of our last IT Assembly, it was on IT and national transformation and we had a session on IT literate workforce and that is the only way to go, we have no other choice as a nation.
Government is trying everything it can to situate IT in its programme and also see how it can leverage IT to run its business. Few years ago, I x-rayed the 7-Point Agenda and said the eight agenda was missing.
I believe part of what I said at that time got to some right quarters and today, we have the Ministry of Communications Technology. When it comes to transformation agenda, the equation has changed even though they didn’t call it 8-point agenda.
We are seeing government agencies like Nigerian Immigration Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Federal Road Safety Commission and others make IT an integral part of their operations.
I believe IT should be properly situated in the operations of all levels of governments and their agencies. Whether you call it Vision 2020 or Transformation Agenda, IT has a very big role to play.
You can see the role of IT in the platform on cashless policy; you can see the role of IT in job creation and developing skilled workforce. You can also see the role of IT in security of lives and property in the nation, industrialization, education and IT enabled governance.
I’ve had conversation with both the young and the old, many people in this country, if there is 24 hours power supply guaranteed they won’t go and look for job from anybody. They will prefer to be on their own especially those in the ICT sector. I’ve interacted with many professionals, many students who are very sound.
There is future in this country and that is why we’ve always proposed e-governance. Once e-governance is fully entrenched it will drastically reduce corruption because everything becomes very open, you cannot maneuver. That is why we embraced cashless policy because it will reduce corruption.
Are we on the right course on the cashless initiative?
To begin to wait for when everything is in place, looking at the Nigerian factor, it is like we’ll never start. We have the pilot scheme in Lagos now, even though it looks very tough but it is working. It’s just that there are certain basic structures that if they are available 24/7 may be it would have been a better success story.
Like I said, we don’t need to wait forever, let’s start with this scheme and let’s see how we can begin to navigate as much as possible until we get to the Promised Land.
As par workforce, this country is not lacking. As par the platforms we are not doing badly as well. We created a platform at our recent IT Assembly for the Central Bank, other regulators, operators, service providers and the consuming public to meet, that we did very well and I believe right from that spot people are negotiating how they can make the cashless initiative work better.
What is militating against having a literate IT workforce?
Nigeria as a country, we seem to enjoy a free format system where anything goes. We appreciate the values inherent in regulation but we don’t want to be regulated.
It is probably when we are hit by an incidence then we begin to say if there is a norm in place and we followed the norm this would not have happened. Except that, we just want do things the way we like and it is not good for any economy.
Any profession at all must be regulated because that is the only way you can know who is doing what, whether the standard of delivery is being followed.
Our work is to maintain the register of professionals in IT practice and also to ensure standards are followed, these are very two key issues but the question is how is it welcome by those you want to even assist. When we talk about houses that are collapsing in this country, we all know the reason, because quacks are handling such projects.
When we talk about project failures even in IT itself, it is because quacks are handling them. But I tell you one thing, the moment the practitioner knows that his meal ticket is a function of his being registered and that an agency is monitoring his activities, he will be more careful.
If somebody from nowhere comes and says he is an IT practitioner he can do anything and get away with it. In the industry as it is now, we’ll do much better if we all embrace the concept of regulating the practice of the profession.
IT has pervaded every piece of our lives. There is no area of life that IT has not gone into, so it is the more reason why we should know who is doing what and if that person is not living according to the ethics of the profession he/she should be cautioned before havoc is committed.
Nigerians need to embrace the concept of professional practice regulation and I believe that is why government in its own wisdom established acts that regulate professional practice.
How has been the enforcement of regulation presently?
I must say things have changed now; we have done much work to take it to the level that it is now. I must say four, five years ago within the limit of our resources; we had to carry out enforcement. Now people working who want to start computer business, they come to CPN on their own for guidance. Many new comers are seeing the need to come here first before they start their business.
We also observe that those who pursue government contract and seeing all the requirements to be met, they come here for advice; they come here saying they want to register, what are the requirements and all that.
Things have actually changed compared to four, five years ago both for corporate members and individual members who want to practice the profession including those who trained as IT practitioners outside the shores of this country when they come back, they come here, they follow through and they get registered.
Things are actually changing, we are now about to embark on data gathering of IT training institutions, IT companies in the country where we can know more and more of the people in the profession who are practicing.
People should not look at what we are doing as may be ask them to pay, that is not it, the aim is to have a register if those who are qualified to practice the profession so as not to put as risk the consumers of IT services. If you rank today the services that are consumed in the world today, IT is the number one.
It is not debatable; it is more consumed than food we eat. It shows how critical IT is in the scheme of things. It is the more reason we should know what is happening and who is doing what. The way IT is going you can see that it is very important anybody who wants to practice IT, you should know who the person because he can do anything and get away with it.
Look at our banks for instance, how can a bank employ an IT practitioner that has no nexus with the agency that regulates the profession.
Any bank that tries that is taking a big risk. For the fact that an employee knows that if he is de-licenced it is going to affect his future badly, he will behave according to the ethics of the profession.
But the moment he knows that he is free to do what is not good enough; he can get away with it. It is time we recognise this fact that even employers of labour should book it as condition whether you are private or public, to request for evidence of anybody who wants to work with them, of their registration with a recognised professional body.
Is it possible for an IT company to pursue a government contract without recourse to CPN?
Let me say that the kind of traffic we see these days, it shows that government is following due process in awarding contracts.
The way people come here to make enquiries it shows that state and federal governments have put requirements for those who want to do government contracts but whether it is across all sizes of contracts, I won’t be able to say.