By Bashir Ibrahim Hassan
He was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 to lead the agency towards achieving the goal of using ICT to digitalize the nation’s economy. In setting about his job, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the Director General/CEO, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), has what can be called a scientific approach to management, particularly of humans. In a recent interview with BusinessDay, Abdullahi reveals what the organisation has achieved in the last three years, particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic; and the challenges of regulating the digital space.
Abdullahi has developed a playbook to demonstrate the point that, as he puts it, “as the CEO, I’m not the one doing the work.” Then who is? It’s the team, he stresses. “But the team needs the right driver, a good pilot to navigate through the journey.” And what is the use of his playbook? “The playbook”, Abdullahi adds, “focused on five key principles; to create clarity, unleash energy, build trust, win today and shape tomorrow”. Elaborating further, he stated: “Firstly, before I give anybody any assignment, I make sure I create clarity, and the person understands what I want them to do by communicating it to them in the way they understand. To unleash energy, I do three things: First, I give staff work autonomy – to work in a self-directed way; Second, Mastery – opportunity to improve their skills; third Purpose – being part of something meaningful.”
On building trust, Abdullahi stresses, “My goal is for everyone to be successful and derive pleasure in what they do. I therefore have to build trust among my staff. I do this by genuinely soliciting feedback as well as creating a sense of ownership and responsibility. That way, we are able to get the best from everyone as there is mutual respect for each other and the willingness to do more.” “In short,” says Abdullahi, “the whole purpose is to unleash on my staff the energy to operate in teams that will facilitate the winning of today and shaping tomorrow. I am glad that this strategy is working and is helping us in achieving our transformational initiatives.”
Born on February 21, 1980, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi is a graduate of Computer Science from the prestigious Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. He is also a Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Sloan-trained strategist with 17 years’ experience in IT operations, business transformation and solution architecture, across both private and public sector organisations. He attended Leadership and Management courses at Harvard University in the USA, University of Cambridge in the UK and IMD Business School in Switzerland. He is credited with having led NITDA to make significant contributions to Nigeria’s drive towards digital economy. In particular, the Agency came up with masterstroke accomplishments to enable Nigeria surmount the potentially debilitating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
He looks back: “I think we were lucky to be prepared before the COVID-19 hit.” He recalls that, on the 23rd of October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the renaming and expansion of the mandate of our Ministry, from Ministry of Communications to Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. And on the 28th November 2019, the President launched and unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy formulated by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami). According to him, these two actions put Nigeria in a right place to harness and get value from COVID-19 because when the pandemic hit, everything was put on hold, but Nigeria was fortunate that the digital space and the policy frameworks were there to enable a robust national response.
“The strategy was there before COVID-19,” he notes. “What we did as one of the Agencies responsible for the implementation of that policy is to quickly explore the way we can use technology to keep the lights on. In any difficulty or uncertainty there is always a silver lining. So for us at NITDA, COVID-19 was a silver lining. It helped us to be more resilient and bounce back stronger.”
He prides NITDA on having done “a lot also in harnessing talents within the country, because talent is the people-side of technology. Innovation is about invention and commercialization; so if you invent a technology and you are not able to commercialise it, we won’t call it an innovation.”
During the COVID-19 lock-down, NITDA organised an Innovation challenge where it identified three promising ideas. It helped different organizations to develop ideas that were taken to the industrial market. The first is an app that allows you to contact or consult a Physician online and also get a prescription or get referred to a lab for a test. Another innovation is a Ventilator to make up for shortage of the equipment. Also developed was a Tunnel to decontaminate people from the virus. These were achieved in collaboration with partners, including the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and included administration of seed funds to thestart-ups.
As the first Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s Public Sector, Abdullahi is also a Certified Project Manager and Solution Architect. The Director General of NITDA also has many professional certifications in Networking, Telecommunications, Service Management and Solution Design. Abdullahi has worked for nine years (2004 – 2013) at Galaxy Backbone and held several positions such as Network Engineer, IP Network Field Engineer, Senior Network & Lead, IP Operations Team, and Senior Solution Architect & Lead, Technical Solution Design.
In 2014, Mr Abdullahi joined the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as a Technology Architect, where he dedicated his time to developing Technology Architecture Repository that gives 360 view of the Bank’s IT Infrastructure and facilitated ease of decision making on new IT investments. He was part of the team that executed software license rationalization that increased cost savings for the bank in license annual subscriptions. He was a key resource person in the development of IT standards for the apex bank, which has reduced mean time to deploy/integrate new systems by over 20 percent. One of his major achievements as a Technology Architect was the production of seven Solution Architectures for critical IT initiatives that helped in achieving cashless society in Nigeria.
He joined NITDA in 2017 as Technical Assistant to the then Director General/CEO. Being the IT regulatory body in Nigeria mandated to implement the National IT Policy, he managed the execution of a strategy that increased ICT contribution to Nigeria’s GDP by over 13 percent in Q2 2018. He also coordinated Local Content initiatives that have increased ICT local production by over 200 percent in 2017.
Mr Abdullahi is a member of both Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the British Computer Society (BCS).
What message does he have for the youth, in terms of their personal development and their contribution to the development of the society and the nation? “Firstly, before you can have love for the country or to do anything, you need to build your own self, you need to trust yourself,” he posits. “How can you trust yourself? I always advise youths to do four things. Firstly, wherever you go, try to be different; don’t follow the crowd because where the crowd is going is mostly saturated so it’s better to be different. Secondly, try and stand out. If you have an expertise, let people see what you can do. Thirdly, try to create value anywhere you go and in whatever you do. The fourth one is that you should get noticed; don’t do anything without being noticed, because if nobody sees you, nobody will know you have done that.” “Also,” Abdullahi adds, “consider the following seven habits of a highly effective person: 1. Be Proactive; 2. Begin with the End in Mind; 3. Prioritize Important over Urgent; 4. Think Win Win; 5. Create Synergy; 6 Seek to Understand before Being Understood; and 7. Sharpen Yourself by being Physically, Mentally, Spiritually and Socially Fit.”