In recent times attention has been put on the ICT sector as a key foreign exchange earner for Nigeria and major contributor to the nation’s GDP. In fact ICT is now looked upon as a possible replacement for oil. In other words, the attention on ICT is now similar to that placed on oil and power in terms of their importance to national economy and as critical sectors.
As oil inexorably plummets, ICT is inevitably on the ascendency. ICT, under the leadership of NITDA and its parent Ministry, is leading the drive for the diversification of the nation’s economy. But as always, human capital will be the single most important factor to the rise of the ICT sector. Time-honored institutions such as the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) contributed to the rise of the oil and gas industry. So did mainstream government corporations like NNPC, DPR, NAPIMS, etc. Professional associations like the National Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE) and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the Nigeria Gas Association (NGA) also helped to mitigate the “human infrastructure” deficit in the sector over the years.
For ICT, the institutional framework for the rise of the sector was forged in 2011. Before then the industry was gravely fragmented. Interestingly, NITDA, by an Act of Parliament, is at the heart of the ICT evolution. The Agency is well placed to inspire and catalyse the growth of strong trade and professional associations akin to those found in the oil and gas industry. Such associations include NAITEOC (the National Association of IT-Enabled Outsourcing Companies) for the outsourcing sub-sector, and emerging ones like the National Digital Literacy Council (NDLC) and the Intellectual Property Rights Group (IPRG). The founding of NiRA and GBB (and the new Office for Nigerian Content) as spin-offs from the NITDA mandate have also brought a measure of development to the ICT industry. NITDA, by its 2007 law, has been the fulcrum and the heart of it all.
There are several provisions of the 2007 Act which justify this center-piece status of NITDA. But one that is hardly ever referenced and appears obscured by usually verbose and effusive legalese is section 8 (4). The clause says:
The terms and conditions of service including remuneration, allowances, benefits and pensions of the staff and employees of the Agency shall be determined by the Board in such a manner as to attract and retain quality and high caliber manpower (emphasis mine)
As simple and ordinary as the clause appears, it is actually the foundation for human capacity development in Nigeria’s IT Agency. It also has a much wider implication. To begin with, it means that a successful implementation of the provision will create opportunities for Nigerian ICT professionals in the Diaspora to come home under a planned, deliberate and sustained program of human capacity development in NITDA, in the first instance, and then with a consequential ripple effect on the whole indigenous ICT industry inspired by NITDA. The key words in the clause are: attract and retain quality and high caliber manpower. Such quality and high caliber manpower abound in the Diaspora.
It is a well-known fact that there are thousands of Nigerian experts abroad who would love to come home and contribute to nation building if the conditions were right. Section 8 (4) of the NITDA Act 2007 is a distinct mandate given to NITDA to make the ‘conditions’ right. That power can certainly be exercised for the good of the industry. And I hasten to add that it goes beyond ‘good’ salary. The clause in section 8 (4) gives no limits to the Agency. The intendment of the clause is construed very widely to include any imaginable condition which the Agency can propose and fund to attract and retain quality and high caliber manpower. This year’s Diaspora conference on ICT should be an opportunity to negotiate the various possible NITDA platforms and conditions upon which the Diaspora Nigerians can begin to contribute to the growth of ICT in the country.
The clause also implies that the conditions of service in the IT Agency need not in any way be like those in mainstream civil or public service. In fact, by that simple clause, the law gives NITDA the power to have independent, agile and forward-looking conditions of service better than what is available in oil and gas, finance and banking and, if you will, politics!. This is so because the Act of Parliament in question seeks not only to place a premium on Information Technology but also to establish exceptions to insulate it from the stifling constrictions of the civil service. The draftsmen of the law clearly foresaw that ICT would be the driver for national economy and a key contributor to GDP, and so sought to make legislative provisions to catalyze it sooner than later.
Another effect of the law if implemented creatively will be the earnest desire of Nigerians to acquire degrees and certifications in Information Technology. This would make the ICT profession a coveted one. The brightest and the best will naturally gravitate to the industry because it would rank as one of the best paying and lucrative. In time, the critical mass of professionals would be developed and Nigeria would be a main exporter of skills in ICT. Outsourcing would boom, the service industry would experience a spike and the nation’s workforce in technology would easily enable her to dominate the rest of Africa. The indubitable effect of all of these is enormous wealth and job creation in the country. The starting point is in that prima facie simple clause in section 8 (4) of the NITDA Act of 2007.