Managing Director, InfoGraphics, Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, shared his thoughts with SEYE JOSEPH on information technology, government executive orders and other matters. Excerpt.
Are you satisfied with the level of work done concerning local content?
I cannot be satisfied. Local content is not an endpoint. It is a framework. The support required from the regulators and policy makers is to allow the local content to emerge. In terms of quantity, we really do not know, but we are in it. I cannot tell you the exact software companies we have in Nigeria. Because we have software companies in and outside Nigeria. Most of them are working here with local resources. There are service companies. There are whole range of things that fall under local content.
There is enough evidence to show that we are doing well in terms of the quality of products in the market. Most of the practitioners would know that they are driven largely around innovation where there are gaps between legacy and commercial software. Many companies are working aggressively in the area of business intelligence and data warehousing.
There are companies working on security areas, collaborations, accounting, oil and gas sectors. There are specific applications developed by Nigerians that are unknown to us. Systemspecs developed Remita to push Treasury Single Account [TSA]. Pagatech is in the fintech space. Paylater, Paystack, and others have been around for a while. We have a framework already. The question is how do we tweak this framework to generate as many startups as possible, and as many new ideas and products and services?
What is your perspective on government’s executive order on software procurement?
It is not a new development. We had it during President Obasanjo’s administration. We have had many advocacies on that to engage government on how to shape the idea of the framework needed to fine-tune the industry. The impression then was that there was no industry, but that was not true. What we have has not been given the kind the recognition it ought to get. To give you the perspective, President Obasanjo approved many things that were game changers.
We are seeing the orders but we do not understand the origin. For example, if you have an executive order that focuses on procurement of software but the civil service does not have the capacity to value what to procure. That is a waste of time. That was why we met with President Obasanjo and requested him to formalize the creation of the IT cadre in the civil service. Then, you couldn’t get a professional from the university to work in the civil service or computer science related field, who would rise to the top of his profession. Or get a professional in the civil service who would rise to the level of a director or permanent secretary, because the cadre did not exist.
Therefore, you have issues concerning technology placed under the department of planning, research and statistics. We made presentations to President Obasanjo and he approved the pilot for the eight ministries on the spot. What it means overtime is that you can professionalize IT in the civil service and you can build capacity to procure properly. Prior to that, it was almost impossible to have a voice, but technology function even within the government.
The executive order was built on the previous work that created National Information Technology Development Agency [NITDA]. Nigeria Computer Society [NCS] as an industry group was part of the development of the bill sent to the National Assembly for the creation of the Commission that transformed into NITDA. These things were efforts to put other blocks in place, seeing executive order from the perspective of procurement is only one part of a larger engine needed to drive things.
With the kind of openness that this present administration is showing, we will get acceleration. If a ministry wants to procure technology, it must pass through a process, which will be controlled by NITDA. It is a great thing. It is part of history. It is being driven in the last 15 years. We must make it work.
Why do we experience failure of technology projects in the public sector?
The first correction is that IT projects fail across the entire ecosystem whether in public or private sector. If IT project fails in the private sector, no one hears about it. But if it fails in the public sector, it is news. The SIM card registration exercise in the private sector failed. How come? I want to correct the notion that technology in the public sector does not work or that they do fail. The level of tolerance in the private sector should be much lower because the private sector has the resources. The private sector does not experience similar constraints the public sector face.
For instance, if I want to set up Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] for 300 or 5000 employees, the largest enterprise in Nigeria has over 15,000 employees. The complexity is lower. If the Federal Government wants to implement the same ERP, we are talking about over 680 ministries, agencies, and departments [MDAs]. The complexity in government is greater. The government has to be transparent. As such, there must be a control in place. You do not have this in the private sector. Let us assume that we want to implement technology project. Can we implement it in one local government? Right from the inception, you must know where it would be implemented.
Therefore, there will be complications. The complications are the resources. Do we have the resources in these locations to drive the project? Another example is that if the Federal Government wants to lay fibre as a technology project, you cannot lay it in a place where it is needed most. You have to lay the fibre around the country. Even when the operators of the Global Systems of Mobile communication [GSM] arrived in Nigeria, the GSM firms had the mandate to roll out services around the country. This was in the agreements the GSM operators signed.
But the GSM operators rolled out their services in locations where they would make more profits. Today, the network receptions are poor where the GSM operators make the least profit. Government cannot do that. Government must do what it has to do. Public sector projects are so much more complex than private sector project. Everything in government has certain risks. I have worked in government and handled IT projects with government for almost 30 years.
If I have to pick one element across the biggest point of contention for movement of technology project, it is visioning. Understanding the real role of technology in delivering a particular service requires knowledge of technology and strategic thinking. Consultants lead the government. What you see is what the consultants presented to the less knowledgeable decision makers. There is poor choice in terms of project management.
Is the public sector investing enough in technology?
We have this attitude towards technology that if it comes, we just give it a little support, while the best thing to say is that this is the key sector, we are going to give it everything we have. We are going to provide in these two areas because this is the future. We are going to get the return in 10 years because we are investing in technology. Technology is a cost cutting in any economy. It touches everything. It affects health, insurance, manufacturing, education, and, agriculture etc. In the same way if you invest in agriculture, everybody gets food regardless of what sector you are.
People will talk about power supply. It is important. If you say we don’t have power supply, we cannot place computers in schools. Why do we have laptops? How long is the school activity in a day? If you say laptops will be stolen, anti-theft technology can be implanted in the laptops. There is an incredible opportunity. These opportunities get government to focus on technology as the key driver of the economy.
This is what is pushing Rwanda on the global map. Rwanda is a very tiny country. Perhaps it is the same size as Cross River state. Rwanda has it right in terms of framework the government has put in place. What will change this country for better is technology.