By Anthony Nwosu
This is not the best of times for Nigeria’s IT clearinghouse, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), but it appears to be bracing up to its mandate under its acting director general (DG) as stakeholders ponder the future of IT under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
The agency has been in the news since January with the suspension of its director general, Mr. Peter Jack, and the attendant probes under which the suspension was carried out have elicited public attention particularly as the federal government tightens the noose round corrupt practices.
Jack faces possible prosecution over several cases of misappropriation of funds now under investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Several other infractions that allegedly negate the tenet of the civil service are also being investigated. An audit committee has also submitted that the suspended NITDA’s boss be specifically asked to explain “how he spent N630 million within two months without due process under questionable and suspicious circumstances.”
While the investigations are on, stakeholders say the acting DG, Dr Vincent Olatunji, must stir a fruitful course for the agency to instill confidence across board in the government agency mandated to set Nigeria’s pathway in IT. “Fortunately, you have a man that understands the nuances of the industry and come handy at this critical time when local and international stakeholders expect that Nigeria will redraw her destiny outside of crude oil export in IT,” said Dr Abimbola Alabi, a Lagos based trade and investment specialist. “NITDA needs to run with the Change mantra. It needs to set the tone for how government can increase the value of our GDP from IT by encouraging startups. I believe the acting DG should be able to overcome these current distractions to help government achieve these goals,” said CEO of Lagos based startup, Techtier Limited, Mr. Chigozie Torti.
The anti-graft agency, the EFCC, is spreading its investigations further afield, sources who should know said in Abuja yesterday. Following several petitions and forensic examination of NITDA’s book particularly as they concern financial irregularities, issuance of contracts and recruitment of new staff, investigators at the EFCC are said to be “preparing the legal bases for arrest and prosecution of all the parties found to be indicted,”. Even then, ‘the investigation is still ongoing and is to cover not so immediate time frame that now include the tenure of the past director generals at the NITDA,” added the source.
The Nigeria newspaper, Daily Trust, had reported recently while also the News Agency of Nigeria that the audit committee was set up to investigate Jack submitted that among other abuses, “including irregularities in staff recruitment, [there were also] “several approvals for payment totalling N301.6 million made through the agency’s staff private accounts under the guise of cash advance disbursements.” Mr. Jack allegedly also paid himself “over N52 million for spurious official trips to India, United States, Portugal and Canada within two months.”
In addition to the NITDA, the EFCC is also looking closely at the books inside the Nigerian Communications Satellite Company Limited (NigComSat), whose CEO, Ahmed Rufai was sacked over a year ago. Government is said to be irked that despite the billions sunk into the satellite communication company, “nothing much is on ground.” Rufai was recently at the House Committee on Communications looking into the failed CCTV project executed by ZTE Corporation of China. NigComSat represented the Nigerian government on the project designed to provide security camera cover in major Nigerian cities that include Lagos and Abuja.
Olatunji, now the new Director General of NITDA in acting capacity, holds a PhD in Geography and Planning from the University of Lagos and an Advance Diploma in Computer Science. A pioneer staff of the NITDA since May, 2002, he rose to become the director of Corporate Strategy and Research. Unassuming and a career civil servant with over 25 years in the public service, Olatunji has represented Nigeria in several IT fora. He has held several public sector portfolios to give him a deep insight into the workings of the public sector as well as engagement of the huge private sector presence in IT since the deregulation and liberalization of the ICT sector.
As the director of Corporate Strategy and Research, he has led the NITDA research activities, policy/strategic planning, and has helped to provide the policy thrust for the NITDA in providing sectoral guidelines for IT adoption and diffusion. Increasingly also, he has led the NITDA’s team to provide a public/private rallying ground for promotion of Nigerian technology startups as well as engagements of global stakeholders for supporting Nigeria’s IT agenda in such platforms as the GITEX technology show organized by the Dubai World Trade Centre under the aegis of the UAE government with whom Nigeria recently sealed a number of trade and security agreements.