One of the things you can never rob a man of is a name that has been carefully cultivated into a trademark, a global brand now associated with in-depth industry know-how. That brand is Pantami! It’s been close to two decades since Pantami, the young ideologue and fiery Islamic cleric, announced himself to the Nigerian public. After a deliberate period of self development via the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has made a daring comeback into the Nigerian stage, but this time not as the young scholar, but a man whose training and diaspora employment has primed him for a very specific job.
It was 2015 when the newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari had a plan. This plan involves digitisation, whereupon he can anchor Nigeria’s soft economy. And, the plug for that specific job was none other than Pantami. First deployed to Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as director in 2015, the appointment of the Gombe born scholar typified the popular cliche ‘putting square pegs in square holes’. This is because, the appointment matched his training and aspirations perfectly. As a result, NITDA under his watch was remarkably transformed into a salubrious agency that appears to have finally understood the depth of significance it commands towards national reengineering.
When Pantami resumed his post as NITDA boss in 2015, his first focus was to clearly work out the regulatory framework(s). The plan was to have a legal document that will cover every aspect of the agency’s reach. To this end, “the Agency refocused its effort on providing better regulation by activating its IT Clearance House status. The regular surveillance activity captured over 300 projects and a total of 800 MDAs and other government establishments, along with 105 Higher Educational Institution to ensure compliance. Over 16 Billion Naira was saved in compliance with the process.
In line with the local content promotion initiative of the Buhari administration, Pantami having laid down the regulatory framework followed through with a deliberate policy thrust to record an “unprecedented increase in the patronage of locally assembled devices. Records have shown that in 2015, Indigenous Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) sold close to 1 million devices between and 2017”
Still on FG’s Local Content Policy Enforcement, NITDA ensured that the devices deployed for use by beneficiaries of N-Power Social Investment Scheme came exclusively from indigenous OEMs, up to the tune of 10.5 billion Naira in 3 months. Increased ICT contribution to GDP rose from 12.43% to 13.63% in the second Quarter of 2018 (in real terms). This was achieved through the deliberate and sustained Strengthening of IT penetration in the country. Leveraging on the agency’s clearly defined regulatory framework, ICT policies were developed for several states including: Abia, Bayelsa, Benue, Ebonyi, Enugu, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, Oyo, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto and Yobe etc. .
Perhaps one of Pantami’s most significant contribution to the country while at NITDA was to preside over the execution of over 300 projects around the country to deepen the acquisition of new soft skills and capacity building, as well as digital inclusion. Some of the projects include several Digital Job Creation hubs, Digital Capacity Building Centres, eLearning facilities, Campus Wide Area Network for tertiary institutions and Virtual Libraries to ensure..
To further stimulate research and innovation in the IT subsector, NITDA enhanced the provision of the NITDEF Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme by introducing ICT Law. This expansion also captured university lecturers as beneficiaries of the PhD Scholarship Programme. Through this initiative, the Pantami led NITDA also fostered strategic alliance with select public and private universities for in-country training programmes. This move was aimed at saving huge sums that would hitherto have go into foreign training. Already, hundreds of youths have been trained in various ICT areas and entrepreneurship for self-employment. This programme coupled with the Agency’s programmes such as StartUp Nigeria, StartUp Friday and StartUp clinic have created several jobs in the country. ..
One of the perks of having an industry specialist as head of an agency such as NITDA is that he will always plan ahead for every eventuality. Pantami knew that with increased access to the internet through data inclusion as well as several other initiatives, the problem of data security is bound to come up. It was against this background therefore that he commissioned some proactive measures, which saw NITDA increasing her cyber security campaign and awareness so as to mitigate and/or avoid the risk of huge damage and loss of data in the wake of the rampant WannaCry attacks. Other initiatives that helped in this and other regards include the increased hosting of significant Government data in country by several Government Agencies in Galaxy e.g. Budget Information Management System (BIMS), NPOWER portal, FIRS Integrated Tax Administration Systems (ITAS) to local content policy enforcement. .
Fast forward to 2019 when Pantami was appointed minister of Communication and Digital Economy and be marveled at just how fast he was able to make the tortuous climb to the summit of FG’s performance charts. From overseeing the codification of the National Digital Economy Regulatory Framework which was graciously accented to by the president, to the enactment of several other policy documents that have properly positioned the IT sector as one of Nigeria’s top contributor to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), or even the insistence on NIN/SIM linking and it’s potential of becoming a game changer in Nigeria’s struggles with insecurity, Pantami has maintained a consistency level that is simply awe inspiring..
There’s no doubt that Pantami’s timely and viable initiatives both at NITDA and now at the ministry are products of selective, yet deep rooted research. No wonder, the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) recently found him worthy of occupying a full professorial chair and appointed him professor of Cyber security. As professor emeritus Tukur Sa’ad submitted in the wake of the black lash from a small section of the Nigerian populace “A University can decide to appoint an individual to a position either through promotion or straight appointment based on the criteria they set up independent of NUC”. Drawing inferences from his vast experience, the former vice chancellor made it clear that evidence abound to support the appointment of “an individual who has made tremendous contribution to the discipline by his practical work …without ever teaching in a university”. Indeed, there can be no practical work that is better than what Pantami has put in, especially in this practical field since 2015..
Undoubtedly, Pantami is Nigeria’s shining light in an administration that many believe has faltered more than it has succeeded, and I reckon that he deserves all the accolades accruing to him from within or climes yonder..
Oliver writes from Lagos