DR. IKECHUKWU ADINDE is the Administrator of Nigeria’s foremost digital capacity building institution- Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). In this interactive session with the media, he prescribes ways the nation can fast-track growth and development, using ICT skills of its zesty youth population..
How do you think Nigeria’s youthful population can be put to effective use through ICT?
If you look at the demographics of our young people, you’ll find out that they’re very savvy, entrepreneurial and talented, but I think there’re a number of environmental factors that also limit their opportunities, which is why some of them, in a bid to survive, deploy these talents negatively.
India was able to identify the need to mainstream the talents and skills of their young people positively by consciously building a structure and framework to enable them acquire these skills and it became an export product for India and other Asian countries and that is what Nigeria has not done.
If we’re able to harness the potentials of these young people, especially in the area of ICT, it will amaze you how much they will unleash. Nigeria can make big money from its huge youth population.
Many of the African economies are waiting for Nigeria; a lot of our young people can go into sub-Saharan countries in West, East and North Africa by exporting their skills to do things but that hasn’t happened because there has not been a conscious effort to actually develop these things and tap into them.
Then how can the government harness this potential?
I’ll tell the President to allocate more resources to ICT education targeted at young people. Here I’m talking of young people who are even yet to get into the higher institutions because the reality of ICT is that you don’t need a PhD to be ICT literate or savvy. We should consciously develop our young people and raise their interest in ICT at every level, especially at primary and secondary school level of education.
There has to be a conscious programme by the government to catalyse ICT education because that’s where the future is. In the budgetary allocation, there should be dedicated fund for ICT skills development for the economy.
Can we say we have enough funding for ICT in Nigeria?
There are two ways to funding ICT- infrastructure side and soft side (skills and knowledge). On the hard side, which is the infrastructure side, it is easy to perceive the investment that is being made and often times that’s what the government talks about (buying computers, equipment, installing gadgets), but the most important part is the skills and the knowledge that people need to harness the potentials in those hardware investments.
We had made a case sometime in 2016 at the capacity building symposium organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that the investments in USPF (universal service provision fund) across Africa instead of being channeled wholly and exclusively to ICT infrastructure should be dedicated to ICT skills development, in that if someone is investing $10 million in ICT infrastructure, 10 per cent of the money should go for ICT skills development especially targeted at the youths now commonly called the millennials.
They are the ones who will use the infrastructure to innovate, create and develop the things that will make the future happen, but as long as we don’t make that investment then it means that you’ll put a piece of ICT equipment in an office and nobody is using it because the skills are not there.
A typical phone for example, can do a lot for us but because the knowledge of the use of the phone is not available, meanwhile we’ve invested a lot of money buying this device, we limit ourselves to just making calls and sending text messages.
There’s a critical need and that need is urgent for a country like Nigeria to invest in building ICT capacity for the young people and that’s why DBI continues to innovate programmes that target the young people so that we fulfill our mandate in that area.
What is the mandate of the Digital Bridge Institute?
The mandate of the institute keeps evolving with time. The original mandate was essentially to build ICT capacity for the economy. DBI has continuously and deliberately invested in fulfilling that mandate by building that manpower and infrastructure requirement.
Over the last decade or more that the institute has been in place, it has been the major thrust to fulfill that mandate, particularly in the wake of the ICT revolution that is happening across the world where today all economies are going digital. DBI sees itself increasingly challenged to fulfill its original mandate and it’s doing so well in that regard.
We have been involved in a whole lot of activities in that direction. We have deployed a lot of capacity building programmes across professional areas in the ICT sector. We have been involved in doing a lot of capacity building programme for the telecoms sector. DBI launched an academic programme called the National Innovation Diploma (NID) programme which essentially builds middle level skills; practical usable skills for the sector, with the goal that the graduates of the programme will be absorbed in the ICT and allied sectors as people who have functional ICT skills.
These courses are in the areas where we believe the demand is today and will continue to be in the future and that is in hard and software engineering, multimedia, telecommunications and other related disciplines.
DBI has also developed strong affiliations with some universities like the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). We have academic programmes that have helped young people who are also seeking to acquire higher level professional education.
The affiliation works in such a way that the programmes are run jointly with the universities.
We have one with UNN where we offer Masters Degree in Information and Communications Technology, Telecommunications Economics and Policy; and Telecommunications Engineering.
These are run partly in DBI and UNN. In these three areas we have graduated students at Masters level over the last one decade and quite a number of them are doing well in the industry.
We also have an affiliation with the University of Ibadan which is essentially also to professionalise telecommunications and ICT education.
We run a Masters in Business Administration in Telecommunications Management; that is essentially for people who are looking at becoming administrators or managers in the telecoms sector without getting involved in the technicalities.
It helps them to understand the environment and the business of telecommunications as business people and they can make contributions and we also have MBA and PGD programmes in telecommunications management in the University of Ibadan.
How would you rate the quality of graduates on a global scale?
Based on our curriculum, we would say that our graduates can compete favourably anywhere they find themselves in the world, because the way we’ve designed the curriculum in the last three years is to focus more on building practical capacity.
Our course curriculum is designed in such a way that it has 70 per cent practical and 30 per cent theory. We have deployed labs and workshops where the students can get hands on experience; that way, when they graduate, they’re able to get employed.
We’re looking at the next couple of years that DBI graduates will actually be in hot demand in the market, given the way that we have redesigned and refocused the contents of our programmes both at the professional and academic levels.
What type of students are admitted into DBI?
We have a mix of people who want to take on our programmes. We have young people who have just finished from secondary school and are looking to pursue a career in ICT.
They join our National Innovation Diploma programme, which is a two-year programme (Telecommunications Technology, Multimedia Technology, Networking and Systems Security and Computer Hardware and Software Engineering), after which they can move on or if they want to continue at a higher level they can pursue a degree in higher institutions.
Within the NID programme we have people with degrees who come into the programme because the course is practical based, where the students are mostly in the lab.
We have computer science graduates who are currently taking this programme (in Lagos and in Kano). The reason they’re in the programme is because they want to get hands on experience from our labs and workshops.
We also have professors, PhD holders and those in the public sectors with us; our programmes attract participants from across a wide range of the market.
How will you rate Nigeria in the area of digital economy?
If you look at the global ICT ranking, Nigeria will not come among the top 10 in the world.
The reason is not that we’re not doing a lot, but in terms of the pace at which other countries are moving; especially countries in Asia, Europe and America.
There’re a lot that are required to be done and today we find that a lot of the software we use are not developed by Nigerians and we still source software outside the country and we hire expertise from outside the country.
There’s a lot more that needs to be done and our young people are eager, they’re ICT savvy but the investment that is required to consciously prepare them through a structured programme supported by government and other organisations to ensure that we mainstream very quickly into the global ICT arena is not coming the way it should.
One would be looking at a day when a young Nigerian will come up with a disruptive technology; like we’ve found in Facebook and Google.
That is yet to happen but Nigeria has the demographics of young people who have ICT background and there’re a lot of them out there doing a lot of things. All they need now is local patronage.
We have recognised that ICT capacity development is an important agenda for the government, private sector and the individuals in the society.
They know that the digital economy is a reality and that in a couple of years many of the things that we’re doing today, if you’re not digitally aware, knowledgeable or skilled then you’ll be out of business.
Take for example, we’re talking of digital currency today; so these are the kind of things that technology does. It throws up new challenges and creates new opportunities and only the digitally aware can make the most of these opportunities.
A whole lot of areas are emerging (artificial intelligence, IoT, machine learning, big data etc.). These are things that will continue to be of relevance.
Blockchain technology is what is driving crypto-currency and Nigeria has to understand what it takes.
This said, for Nigeria to be competitive globally Nigeria as the largest populated black nation on earth can only but take a lead in ICT.
What is this National Occupational Standard about?
The National Occupational Standard (NOS) seeks to harness talents of our young people. Many of the people you see doing very impressive things in ICT have not even gone to formal schools but they’ve got talent and skills.
The NOS seeks to identify these skills, rate and grade them, such that these people will be recognised as acquiring and possessing certain skills at certain levels that are equivalent to someone who has gone through a higher institution and earned a BSc, OND or PhD and then become employable within certain sectors of the economy, within the public and private sector.
It is to give relevance to this pool of people who have skills and competencies that are outside the main academic programmes that universities run, but whose contributions are making impact and contributing significantly to our GDP.
Where do you see DBI in another five years?
Last year, we developed a five-year strategic plan and we engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to retool DBI’s entire mandate from a strategic point of view given the context of today’s market and where we want to be.
In the next five years, DBI would have a radical transformation given the strategy that we’re deploying.
We’re working to become a functional and reliable ICT capacity developing institute.
In the next five years DBI would have produced graduates who the industry will recognise as people who have functional ICT skills.
We would have positioned as a centre of excellence not just in Africa but globally in terms of ICT capacity. We want to be the reference point in terms of ICT education and skills development for the economy, at both public and private sector level.