By Ibrahim Hassan
Nigeria is among the youngest countries in the world in terms of the ratio of its youth to old citizens. But one challenge that comes with such demographic reality is how to gainfully engage these youths. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), is purposefully and effectively ensuring Nigeria’s future success by turning its youth population into assets rather than liability.
The youthful Director General at the helm of the NITDA, Malam Kashifu Inuwa, is rapidly recording string of successes in that direction in tandem with the vision of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.
A case in point is the recent groundbreaking of the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre in Abuja. The centre aims to fill the skills gap hindering Nigerian graduates from participating in the Digital Economy due to the current emphasis on certificates rather than skills.
It will also create an enabling environment that will empower Nigerian youths to be innovative in developing indigenous technologies that will reduce our continuous dependence on foreign products and services with its attendant negative consequences on the national economy.
The centre will also bridge the gap between government, industry, and the academia by providing a platform for collaborative research, creative idea integration, as well as the creation of ICT policies, processes, and strategies.
When operational, the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre will specifically serve as a catalyst for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship among the public and private sector organisations, as well as the academia. It will foster developments in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), Quantum Computing, and Smart Energy Solutions, to drive ICT.
Other key functions of the centre includes; the provision of an enabling environment for technology start-ups to accelerate and experience innovations at scale, fostering the development of indigenous businesses to become world class service providers, providing an enabling environment for the promotion of advanced and applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and facilitating the recognition and encouragement of indigenous innovation in emerging technologies.
In order to achieve these lofty ideals the Centre will comprise of co-working space, business research and innovation space, information technology museum, demo laboratories, media studio, Research and Development hi-tech showrooms, Smart Data Centre, Network Operation Centre (NOC), Computer Emergency Readiness and Response Centre (CERRT), conference rooms, storage area/archives, 250-seater auditorium, sick bay, sporting facilities, penthouse, as well as smart automation.
The co-working space will serve as a peer learning and knowledge sharing centre for innovative Nigerians to collaborate with university staff and students, technology companies and entrepreneurs.
The business research and innovation space will combine industry knowledge and advanced research technologies to explore important business trends and insights in the Nigerian economy. It will also provide technological training and consultancy for businesses and institutions while serving as a meeting place between entrepreneurs and potential investors.
As history empowers society to trace the origins of its challenges and developments, the Information Technology Museum will display the evolution of ICT in Nigeria to enable young innovators to learn about indigenous achievements in the technological sector.
In order to create excitement among Nigerians about the technological achievements of the country, the Demo Laboratories will host interactive IT exhibitions and demonstrations of emerging technologies. This is intended to spark interest in technology among Nigerian youths.
In recognition of the critical role of the mass media in creating awareness about the transformation of the Nigerian economy from traditional to digital, the Centre’s media studio will be used for press conferences and interviews that will showcase technological innovations to the world.
The centre is also incorporating a Research & Development Hi-tech showroom that will display indigenous technology products from NITDA, start-ups, and other indigenous Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), as well as provide an avenue for international OEMs to lease spaces for showcasing their latest technologies to the Nigerian populace.
The Smart Data Centre will house the critical infrastructure of the Centre such as servers, switches, gateway routers and other telecommunication equipments. The Data Centre will also serve to reduce the rate at which hardware devices are refreshed and also reduce the exposure to the depreciation of assets.
The Network Operation Centre (NOC) will monitor the Centre’s network and security feeds, and directly monitor NITDA’s hubs through an integration mechanism. Furthermore, a state of the art Computer Emergency Readiness and Response Centre (CERRT) will be housed within the Centre. This will allow the team to provide the necessary support needed in responding to cyber security incidents and also enhance national security and law enforcement.
The National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Centre will have conference rooms in each floor to ensure simultaneous activities such as interactive seminars, meetings, trainings, presentations, etc. It will also have a dedicated storage that will maintain the Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of official documents in line with the ISO27001 standard. Also, the Centre will boast of a 250-Seater auditorium for public presentations of innovations and hosting of technological programs such as TEDx talk shows.
To ensure the comfort of its users the Centre has a basic medical facility (Sick Bay) that will be fully equipped and manned to run for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
As it has been established that most creativity, innovation and inventions occur during recreational activities, the centre has facilities for recreational activities such as snooker, Gym, Table Tennis, etc. It also comes with a penthouse to ensure the relaxation of innovators and entrepreneurs that will be working for a prolonged period of time.
More importantly, the facilities in the Centre will be fully automated to simplify activities. They will be centrally controlled, integrated and interoperable in a manner that the operations of the Centre will be driven in a smart and intelligent manner. The aim is to make the Centre more efficient, enhance stakeholder experience, boost employee morale, increase productivity and facilitate savings in operation and maintenance costs.
To cap it all, the Centre will serve as a platform for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) initiative. REAP is a global capstone initiative that provides opportunity for communities to engage with MIT in an evidence-based and practical approach to strengthen innovation ecosystem.
According to MIT, there are two types of entrepreneurship; Small and Medium Enterprise (SME), and Innovation Driven Enterprise (IDE). SME is short term, liner growth and target local market while IDE is long term, exponential growth and target global market. The National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Centre’s partnership with the MIT will therefore focus on developing Nigerian SMEs into IDEs because an IDE is the game changer when it comes to value and prosperity creation. It is through IDEs you can have unicorn companies, a privately owned company with more than $1B valuation.
According to the NITDA DG, Malam Kashifu Inuwa, the Agency chose to work with the MIT because its economic impact via innovation and entrepreneurship to the global economy is unprecedented. According to the last report, MIT alumni have created over 30,000 active companies employing more than 4.6 million people and producing annual revenues of almost $2 trillion which is equivalent to the world’s 10th largest economy.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Centre is coming a few months after NITDA has scored another goal with the establishment of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics which is part of strategies to create 60 million jobs within the IT ecosystem. It will also serve as a leading innovation, research and development, knowledge transfer hub in AI, Robotics and other emerging technologies.
The first of its kind public sector driven center in Africa has training facilities, 3D printers, co-working space for start-ups, a digital innovation laboratory, maker-space and fabrication laboratory, printed circuit board facilities, and houses the offices of the MIT-REAP and NITDA’s own OIIE.
No wonder the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, commended the NITDA DG, Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, for his great effort in implementing the National Digital Economy Policy.
According to the Minister, NITDA’s new centre will lead to the actualization of six out of the eight pillars of the NDEPS. These include digital skills, service infrastructure, digital services development and promotion, soft infrastructure, digital society and emerging technologies, as well as indigenous content development and adoption.
Indeed Nigerian youths have a worthy ambassador in the person of the humble and efficient DG of NITDA backed by the highly innovative and effective Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
With this duo piloting the affairs of the Digital Economy, Nigerian youths are set to become its most valuable asset rather than a problem in need of a solution.