Pantami as a Metaphor
The appointment of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), September 2016, to the position of the Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) by president Muhammadu Buhari could have provoked the usual and expected bashings of the north by the Southern press as a product of quota and federal character system. For the fact that Dr. Pantami had a steady academic career that spanned for almost two decades, rising to the position of an associate professor, put an end to the question of competence and merit; his expertise and training in the IT-industry made the appointment more relevant and timely.
There is this weird stereotype, even if absurd and baseless, that outlived its usefulness despite its refusal to die peacefully and efforts by its advocates to deliberately— even if illogically— make a statement of fact that a Northerner, no matter how trained and well-grounded, could not attain the pinnacle of his career purely on merit without a policy of federal character system or patronage by the power that be. Farfetched as it is, this belief is held by a large chunk of those not from the North. [His Royal Highness] Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was a victim of that narrative; he had his credentials challenged, his competence ridiculed and his merit questioned. Never mind the irony in the misdirected protests given that, then, before his appointment, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was heading the largest bank in West Africa. Kemi Adeosun and Babatunde Fowler were given a vote of confidence even without been subjected to any competency test while Hadiza Bala Usman could not be given. Why? well, she is from the other side of the Niger. Nothing could be more ridiculous!
It is no longer news that Dr. Pantami is steadily and meticulously positioning NITDA to its deserving status as the country’s regulatory body of the IT industry. This essay will attempt to chronicle the journey so far of the chief technology officer of the country, particularly with respect to competence, fairness and cosmopolitanism. His preferred prefix, Sheikh, for some inexplicable reason evokes mixed metaphors. However, Dr. Pantami is daily proving the nay-sayers by being like what the Hausas call 'Murucin kan Dutse'— he came well-prepared!
Following the signing of Executive Order 003 by the present administration, reference to a circular from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation on the implementation of executive order 003 on support for local content in public procurements, and building on the success story of the implementation of local content policy in the Oil and Gas industry; NITDA through its local content policy thrust that promotes patronage of “Made-in-Nigeria” goods and services with the goal of strengthening the Naira, creating jobs, grow entrepreneurial capability to engender competition among local manufacturers that will drive down cost and improve quality; Independent Software Vendors, Original Design Manufacturers, Original Equipment Manufacturers and host of other IT related services are smiling to their banks as a result of unprecedented patronage they currently enjoy from MDAs.
Today, for example, NITDA under the supervision of Dr. Pantami, through its subsidiary office – Office for Nigerian Content Development in ICT (ONC) – had transformed the local “Original Equipment Manufacturers” into a vibrant sector of the IT-industry from an abysmal performance in the purchase of 92,000 units of IT-equipment only by MDAs in 2015 to 350,000 units of IT facilities purchased by the MDAs in 2017. This unprecedented achievement is largely due to the charismatic leadership of the NITDA that dutifully follow, supervise and uphold the rule of law. To demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law, there was a report on how a single MDA made a purchase of 10.5B worth of ICT facilities locally— this was after its short stay at EFCC custody of which NITDA orchestrated.
Again, our young innovators have never been happier. Through the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE), a subsidiary of NITDA, today, startups and innovators are given an unprecedented support, motivation and encouragement to showcase their creativity, originality and ingenuity. Platforms, locally and at global stage, were and are still being offered to our innovators to compete and demonstrate their competence in solving problems and proffering solutions using information and communication technology. Ten and six innovators were rigorously and fairly selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants, and sponsored to participate in the 2017 and 2018 The Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) – an annual consumer computer and electronics trade show, exhibition and conference, Dubai – respectively.
Also, StartUp Friday, another event specifically created to identify, evaluate, encourage and support promising innovators, which were hitherto restricted to Lagos and Abuja has now enjoyed geographical spread for inclusion and equal participation. Under the supervision of Dr. Pantami, StartUp Friday has taken place in Gombe, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, and Kaduna. Given the publicity NITDA offered to startups, today our startups had in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter of 2018 alone contributed 9M, 57M and 35M USD respectively to our GDP. Through the strategic leadership of Dr. Pantami, ICT had contributed 13.36% of Nigeria’s GDP by the 2nd quarter of 2018. This is a record achievement by the competent leadership manning the affairs of NITDA. Like Dr. Pantami is fond of saying: the statistics are there.
In a widely publicized press release of the beneficiaries of NITDA Scholarship, Dr. Pantami has yet again demonstrated a sense of fairness, equity, inclusiveness and cosmopolitanism that is rarely found in our current democratic setting. Unlike what characterized BEA or PRESSID Scholarship, NITDA scholarship is equitably distributed among successful candidates without a minutest exhibition of preference to a particular region or tribe.
In an essay, “Isa Ali Pantami: A Role Model of Leadership in Nigeria”, my good friend, Dr. MD Aminu, succinctly and compellingly argued that (and I paraphrase): what Nigeria needs at this trying moments are people like Dr. Pantami to influence the affairs of government. The dirt in Nigeria’s leadership can only be cleansed by encouraging good people to participate in the leadership process to flush it out of its current situation, its wanton depravity.
The opportunity to serve Nigeria in public office for Dr. Pantami came as a delight and a renewal of hope in the Nigerian project. People who had followed Dr. Pantami through his scholastic pedigree and personal antecedents for several years had hoped for his recognition in government where his impact will be most felt. I am confident that Dr. Pantami’s best is yet to come if he continues to exude managerial excellence in many aspects within Nigeria’s IT industry and maintain the positive traits everyone would expect from him. If he continues in the path of upholding probity and accountability in executing the core mandates of the organization that he leads, if he continues towards a visionary leadership formed from a well thought-out perception, then he will carve out a place for himself as a leader whose styles are not usually common, and from whom others could learn.