How Nigeria Can Generate $30bn from Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence by 2030- Kashifu Inuwa Abdulahi DG NITDA
Born in Hadejia, Jigawa State on February 21, 1980, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi is a graduate of Computer Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. He also attended Leadership and Management courses at Harvard University, USA; the University of Cambridge, UK and IMD Business School in Switzerland.
A member of both British Computer Society (BCS) and Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and many memberships to his credit, he is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Sloan – trained strategist with over 15 years of experience in IT operations, business transformation and solution architecture, across both private and public sectors.
As the 1st Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Nigeria’s Public Sector, he is also a certified project manager and solution architect. He also has many professional certifications in networking, telecommunications, service management and Solution design such as Huawei telecommunications engineer, Cisco design professional, ITIL, Prince2, etc.
He had worked at Galaxy Backbone as Network Engineer, IP Network Field Engineer, Senior Network & Lead, IP Operations Team, and Senior Solution Architect & Lead, Technical Solution Design Team between 2004 to 2013.
In 2014, he joined 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 easy decisions on new IT investment. He was part of the team that executed software license rationalization which has increased cost savings for the bank in license annual subscriptions.
Mr Abdullahi was a key resource in the development of IT standards for the apex bank, which has reduced the mean time to deploy/integrate new systems by over 20%. One of his major achievements as a Technology architect was the production of 7 Solution Architectures for critical IT initiatives that helped in achieving a cashless society in Nigeria.
A multi-award-winning ICT expert, Kashifu joined NITDA in 2017 as Technical Assistant to the then Director-General/CEO, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, He was later appointed the Director-General of the agency when his boss became the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy in 2019.
In this interview with a team of editorial members from Economic Confidential Magazine led Yushau Shuaib (Editor-in-Chief), with Ewache Ajefu (Editor), Inyene Ibanga (Editor TechDigest) and Abbas Abdulsalam (Staff Writer), the DG went down memory lane to explain how and what has contributed immensely to the Country’s exponential growth in Nigeria’s digital economy and other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
EC: On Emergency Technology and Nigeria IT ecosystem
KASHIFU: There are two promising emerging technologies that are going to change a lot of things in the world: Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. Based on two reports by PWC, they projected that by year 2030, Blockchain technology will add up to $1.76 trillion to global GDP. They added that developing countries can add 4% of the GDP if they use that technology. For example, Nigeria’s GDP today is more than $400mn . The 4% of $400 million is more than $10 billion. That is the minimum GDP Blockchain technology can generate. They also projected that Artificial Intelligence can add more than $10 trillion to the global GDP by 2030. They said developing countries like Nigeria can add up to 5.6 % to the GDP. If Nigeria targets only $10bn which is far less than 5.6% of our GDP today, we can have $20bn comfortably.
EC: On Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence
KASHIFU: We are doing a lot of things to ignite innovative activities in every sectors including the Blockchain. We have developed National Adoption Strategy. Because they are foundational technologies, they cut across so many sectors. So, we have developed that foundational strategy and we are working with the startups ecosystem to develop prototypes and identify the most promising ones. In the area of Artificial Intelligence, we have done a lot. We even built the National Centre for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence which is helping to harness these potentials.
EC: On Startups in Nigeria
KASHIFU: Based on Startups Genome report of 2020, Lagos startups ecosystem is valued at more than $2 billion and also recently, two of our startups have reached unicorn level that means evaluation of more than $1billion each. That is Flutterwave and Interswitch. So, now we have $4 billion. Lagos ecosystem has $2 billion, Flutterwave $1 billion, Interswitch $1 billion, and then Jumia is already valued at $1.9 billion. Roughly you have $6 billion in Lagos alone talk less of the other parts of the country.
EC: On Media and Entertainment Industry?
KASHIFU: If you look at the media and entertainment industry, it is powered by digital technology, mostly startups. Based on PWC report also, the Nigeria media entertainment sector will be valued at $10 billion by 2023. So, you can see that we are almost at that targeted $30 billion. So, we hope we will exceed that target and we are on track based on our initiatives, based on government policies like the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), and other government interventions in form of policies and infrastructural interventions. All these can help us to reach that target of $30 billion by 2030.
EC: On Expanding Digital Literacy into Communities?
KASHIFU: Digital skills and literacy is a pillar in our Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan under the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy. The government is serious about it because you need to understand technology to embrace and use it. And we are working on two folds. Firstly, it is getting all Nigerians to understand how to use digital devices. Because you need to understand how to use the devices before you can be part of the digital economy. So, we embarked on so many initiatives, on training people with special needs, people living with disabilities, children, women, and artisans on how to use digital technology.
EC: On Training and Capacity Building
KASHIFU: We recently launched our digital state initiative which majorly targets three things:
Firstly, training people on how to use digital productivity tools like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and so on. The second one is digital content creation. That is how to create content in digital platforms and the third one is on digital marketing. How to market your products and services on digital platforms?
EC: On Digital Platforms
KASHIFU: These digital platforms include all social media platforms where people go and do things. We want Nigerians to start harnessing the value of the social media and create jobs for themselves, instead of going there to waste time. You can create content, you can build followers, do marketing and advertising and so on. We intend to provide digital literacy in major Nigeria languages. Apart from physical trainings, we have so many initiatives we do virtually. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we contextualized and created the digital academy where people can register and learn basic things in technology. Also, the ministry has the Digital Nigeria Platform where people go and learn different digital skills. If you combine the two, NITDA has trained more than 200, 000 Nigerians.
EC: On University Education and ICT Skills
KASHIFU: We are trying to integrate academia with the industry to create an ecosystem. We all know there are gaps. Students will graduate and cannot plug into the industry. They need to go through enhanced training or need some special training to get specialization. It’s not that you must go to university before you can have a digital skill. You can develop the skills outside the conventional learning method. That is why we created short courses on digital literacy, and training people on how to use technology.
EC: On Deep Research for Development?
KASHIFU: If you want to do deep research, you need the higher institutions for long term research. Our focus is how we can integrate the two. So far, we are working with them (universities). We have MoU with some of them doing groundbreaking research with them to come up with ideas on emerging technologies, develop products not papers, because the challenge with academia is that the research ends up on the shelves catching dust. We said no, we don’t want this kind of research. Keep the papers aside, bring the idea and develop a product or service, we would fund it. We want to see it. We will work with industry to do the proof of concept to test and make sure it works.
EC: On MIT-REAP Model
KASHIFU: So, there is a model we are working on: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT-REAP) to drive economic growth and innovation-driven entrepreneurship in Nigeria. It was inaugurated by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami last year. The MIT-REAP model came as a result of research they did. They found out in those places, there are very strong ecosystems revolving around key stakeholders: Universities are the ones producing human capital that will provide services to corporate organizations, government institutions and others; Corporate organizations are the ones that absorb this human capital; the entrepreneurs that could be students, school dropouts or anybody; a platform to develop brilliant ideas and then the venture capitals that provide funding for startups. It’s not just about funding, they need smart fund.
On Students of MIT and Stanford University
KASHIFU: If you look at MIT or Stanford University, most of the students start businesses before they graduate. That is why today, if you consider alumni of MIT as a nation, they would be among the ten richest countries in the world because they have a GDP of more than $2 trillion. The alumni are well trained, and they have the ecosystem. As a student, you will develop your idea, test it, get investors, invest in it and sell it. As you graduate, you start your own business. They work with the industries.
On MIT-REAP Abuja
KASHIFU: We have MIT-REAP Abuja which Dr Pantami is championing. We have other stakeholders: government agencies universities, corporate organizations, entrepreneurs, and venture capitals as part of it. The government is providing interventions in terms of policies, regulations and so on. That’s why we call our regulations, developmental regulation. because it is an intervention to help the ecosystem unlock opportunities. On this initiative, we have reached an advance stage. We’ve been on it for almost one and half years. By the end of this year, we will develop a strategy on how to strengthen the Abuja ecosystem and replicate it in other parts of the country. With that I’m sure the universities will be on board.
EC: On National Public Key Infrastructure (NPKI)
KASHIFU: One of the pillars of our Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan is cybersecurity. And cybersecurity is critical when you talk about the digital economy because you and I need to trust the system before we use it. This is because the trading business is about trust. A lot of people don’t like putting their bank card details online. People from outside, mostly, don’t trust Nigerian websites because we don’t have a digital certificate. A digital certificate is about identifying the person that claims to be who he is. Public Key Infrastructure basically provides two things: digital signature and digital certificates.
EC: On Digital Signature Work
KASHIFU: Digital signature serves three purposes: The first one is authentication. If you send a message the PKI or the digital signature will give the receiver the confidence to believe that the message comes from the person who claims to have created it and sent it. Then the second one is non- repudiation. The person that sends it cannot deny sending that message because we can track it back to him because this is digital signature. The third one is integrity. The receiver will have the confidence that the message cannot be changed on transit because it is encrypted from the sender and it is the receiver that decrypts it. So, nobody can change the message in transit. That is digital signature because if I take over the control of your mobile phone or system, I can impersonate you and the person receiving the message has no reason to disbelieve that I am you because I’m using your signature.
EC: On Digital Certificate?
KASHIFU: The digital certificate is to use a third party to identify me before I send that message. So, if I claim to be you, that third party will not allow me to send the message because he cannot identify me as being you. It’s a whole process that you can use in so many things like bank transactions, email, any online transaction, and digital identity like NIMC. You use it to verify the identity of the sender. For example even vaccination; you can use it to verify the certificate of someone if he actually took that vaccine. You can use it to authenticate the result and so many other things. So, it will help us to build trust and confidence in our digital economy.
EC: On Major Challenges of Internet Protocol in Nigeria
KASHIFU: To some extent. As it is today, a lot of foreign organizations don’t pay or receive payment from IP (Internet Protocol) from Nigeria because they cannot authenticate and identify the sender. Somebody can take your system or hack the message on transit and change the content because we don’t have that national digital signature. The PKI will help us address all these issues, like even our international passport, (e-passport) as you travel. When you swipe it (e-passport), it uses the digital signature to verify. As at today, we are getting the services from another country but with the PKI we should be able to provide all these services locally and our foreign partners can trust anything from Nigeria, and we will then achieve e-trust.
EC: On Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR)?
KASHIFU: In terms of compliance, it’s very encouraging because this year we have more than 50% increase from what happened last year. Last year we had about 630 organizations that filed audit compliance and this year so far we have more than 980 organizations, which we are hoping is going to double what we had last year. In term of revenue generation, it’s two ways: We created an industry with the regulation.
EC: On Licensed Data Protection Compliance Organizations (DPCOs)
KASHIFU: We have licensed 103 DPCOs that are helping Nigerians to comply with the regulation. We review their performance within two years. We set up KPI (key performance indicator) to assess their performance. In Africa we are the first country to start and complete investigation of data breach, and even fine an organization. Our target is to facilitate and protect an industry worth N3.4 billion today and that has generated almost 3000 jobs.
EC: On Revenue from NDPR
KASHIFU: The regulation is not about NITDA generating revenue. It’s about building trust within the Nigerian digital economy. It is about people protecting their private data, privacy and other confidential information. So, we have fines that we can generate revenue but since we are just starting the NDPR, we are not focusing on revenue. Our focus is about compliance – how people comply with the system. However, last year we generated about N16 million from the filing. When you file the audit report, there are fees we charge but this year, so far, we have generated over N26 million, and we are hoping it will double that of last year.
On Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP)?
KASHIFU: We crafted the strategy based on so many documents such as the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, the NITDA Act, the cybersecurity policy, the broadband plan and others. Therefore, the strategic roadmap anchors around seven key pillars: Developmental Regulations; Digital Literacy and Skills; Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Promotion of Indigenous Content; Digital Transformation; Cybersecurity; Emerging Technologies.
On SMEs benefit from the Digital Economy
KASHIFU: Globally, SMEs provide more jobs than any other industry. In Nigeria, more than 98% of jobs are from the SMEs. It is contributing almost more than 50% of our GDP. These startups are part of the SMEs. But what we want to achieve with this is how we can use innovation and IT to enable all SMEs. For example, there was a time we trained women on how to use ICT.
EC: On WhatsApp Kuli-Kuli Seller
KASHIFU: There was a woman who was selling kuli kuli (groundnut cake). Based on that training she learned that she can use WhatsApp and Facebook to sell her kuli kuli. She doesn’t need to travel all the way from Suleja to Abuja every day to sell this kuli kuli. You can order through WhatsApp, she will give you her account number to pay the money and she can send it to you. She was telling me that she doubled her sales using this technology. And the woman is close to 50 years of age at the time she participated in the training. All these can help them boost their income.
EC: On the Promotion of Local Contents
KASHIFU: We promote innovation. We encourage them. They develop a product, and then we have a mechanism whereby we make sure that government MDAs patronize them. Like through our project clearance, the government MDAs brings their IT projects to us for us to look at it before they implement. We look at the value for money. We look at how to avoid duplication and the use of services across MDAs. We look at how they can easily integrate with other MDAs. Also, we look at the availability of indigenous products or services. If there are, we enforce Executive Order 003 and 005. And through these instruments, we help the government a lot, in terms of saving money. (From) the last record we had, we saved more than N24 billion for the government from projects. Sometimes, you will see over price or things that are not needed put in the project, and also we encourage them to use indigenous content.
EC: On National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR))
KASHIFU: The reason we built the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) is to promote emerging technologies which will displace a lot of jobs. Based on McKinsey report, they predicted that by 2030, over 800 million jobs will be displaced by automation, robotics and artificial intelligence globally. Recently, as a result of Covid-19, Microsoft predicted that there are going to be over 140 million new jobs that were not in existence before Covid-19. Covid-19 accelerated digitalization. Based on the report by McKinsey, they are saying (that) it accelerated the journey. Even in Nigeria, if not because of covid-19, I can say it will be difficult for government to be having virtual engagements, federal executive council meeting, and a lot of things are happening virtually as a result of Covid-19. So, according to McKinsey that was accelerated by three years.
EC: On Emerging Technologies and Job Loss
KASHIFU: Yes of course. These emerging technologies have their own promises and perils. So, our centre is to help us achieve those promises and avoid the perils. The perils are going to displace work. They are going to change the way we do things because they are saying, today these technologies are leveraging on human weakest point to cause confusion in the world, like social media. That is why you see fake news spread six times faster than the truth. You can see a lot of things happening in the world accelerated by these technologies. There are algorithms. They are using artificial intelligence to do a lot of things which are even out of the control of human beings. They capitalize on our weakest points. That’s our emotional capabilities.
EC: On Technology and Emotional capabilities
KASHIFU: For instance, if you visit Facebook and open your own page and I open my page, what I will see is different from what you will see because they know my interests and they know your interests. They will show me what I want to see and show you what you want to see. If you Google something the result you will get will be different from what I will get because they know what I want and they know what you want. They give you information based on your emotion to the extent even when you upload a picture, they can read your facial muscle to know the impression about you – what makes you happy or what makes you to feel unhappy – and capitalize on that to change the way you think. It affects our economy, our democracy, and so many other things.
EC: On current Projects at NITDA
KASHIFU: We are working on e-Vitals on how we can use the wearable artificial intelligence to get vital information for health purposes. As you are aware, digital watch can measure our blood pressure, heartbeats and so on. We can use that information to improve our health system. We are developing both hardware and software. We are working on drones to improve agriculture and improve security. We are also working on chatbot. Bots are mostly used in social media. They can interact with someone. You can go to a website, you will see a chatbot that can interact with you, answer your questions and so on. Even some call centres now use that kind of bot. We are developing that also at the centre as part of our projects.
On the Major Challenge
Though funding is one of our challenges, there is improvement so far. We are working to improve that through the one percent levy we collect from certain category of the companies. We are working on re-enacting the 2007 Act that established the agency because some of the vocabularies in the Act have changed because of advancement in technology. We are coming up with a licensing regime like our PKI that will increase our revenue.
EC: On Remuneration Packages at NITDA
KASHIFU: When I reported two years ago, I promised the staff two things: To improve their remunerations and also to make NITDA a smart Organisation. With the support from the Minister, the government has approved our new scheme of service with a holistic approach to staff welfare and the development of the agency. The scheme puts NITDA in the category of some high-end Organisations like the CBN and NCC. We pay well. Today, productivity has increased as we have introduced responsibility award, transfer benefits and staff homeownership loans, among others. The agency is more functional as it develops into one of the most strategic government’s institutions.
EC: On Achievements
KASHIFU: In terms of our interventions and initiatives, especially on capacity building, the digital literacy and skills, our smart agriculture initiatives and others, the NITDA has so far touched the lives of more than two million Nigerians. The successes were attained through the tremendous supports from the Honourable Minister, Dr Ali Pantami, the hardworking staff of the agency and the ecosystem. In October, we want to showcase some of the achievements at the Digital Day. You know October 24 had been declared as the Digital Nigeria Day. We are going to celebrate the week as a digital week to replace the e-Nigeria we normally do because we are moving from e- to digital.