The Shittu years and why it is important President Buhari gets it right in 2019

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Matters eRising            By Olusegun Oruame

 For obvious reasons, the communication sector is one of the critical sectors in any nation; and there is a widespread acknowledgement that in the last 15 years or so, it has become one of the most important pillars of Nigeria’s economic development.

When socio-economists and policy makers talk about leapfrogging any economy, the sector that comes mostly to mind to achieve this goal is the communication sector and that is why, it has always been a serious assignment for any country’s leader to appoint the finest of mind to lead this very important sector irrespective of the nomenclature used to denote it – whether ICT and innovation, communications technology, electronic communication and new media. The responsibilities are always almost the same.

While we await President Muhammadu Buhari to announce his new ministers, it is only natural that stakeholders in the ICT sector worry over who would lead the sector in the next four years. It would appear we missed a vital opportunity to have a great thinker to lead that all important sector in the last 40 months or so when Chief Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu held sway as the Honourable Minister of Communications, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Buhari did not make a mistake in appointing Shittu as a minister of communications.  Shittu failed because he simply lacked the character and vision to lead the ministry. The controversies that trailed his tenure and the debate over corruption instigated by his own aides did not help matter. They effectively painted the picture of a man who should never have become a minister let alone head the communications ministry”

Critics and ICT stakeholders, who should know, often consider the years in which Shittu led the communications ministry as years of waste when compared with the years in which Mrs. Omobola Johnson (Shittu’s immediate predecessor as minister of communication technology) led the same ministry. It is a damning verdict that has impacted not so well on Buhari’s first four years. There’s hope that the president will this time get it right. As one critic puts it in a national publication last year, “[Shittu] had not much to show in ministerial performance.”

While Shittu dithered over his role as a minister and got enmeshed in very embarrassing controversies that bordered on corruption following accusations by his own aides, the ministry convulsed. It was impossible to believe the same ministry once had the likes of Johnson to set policy directions and frameworks for a deluge of dynamic sectors and sub-sectors that have changed the paradigm for our socio-political and economic engagements.

The president truly got it wrong in 2015. He must get it right in 2019.

It is not so important that a trained ICT expert must lead the sector as a Minister of Communications, what matters is that the minister must come to office with the basic ingredients of leadership: an encouraging understanding of the issues – in this case, the dynamics and economics of technology and innovation; a sense of vision and foresight; and the pedigree of a technocrat even if he is a politician.

Ministers elsewhere

A quick look at other nations and those who head that portfolio says a lot about why Shittu failed and why it is important to entrust important roles to important people.

In Kenya, Joseph Mucheru leads the Ministry of ICT. He was formerly the Google “Sub-Saharan Africa ambassador” as well as Google Country Manager in Kenya. In Ghana, Ms Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, a lawyer like Shittu, is the Minister of Communications. A women’s rights activist and a Ghanaian parliamentarian, Owusu-Ekuful has brought focused leadership to her office.

Amr Talaat, a computer scientist and former business executive is the Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, lawyer and politician is Minister holding the Law and Justice and Electronics and Information Technology portfolios in the Government of India. With his extensive ICT exposures, Prasad was featured in The Economic Times of 2018 among the top twenty influential world leaders in digital technology and e-government. He has led India to significantly improved digital inclusion coverage in rural areas. He has also ensured that cybersecurity with data privacy, and several new e-governance activities have all become the cornerstone of a Digital India.

South Africa’s Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services is Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. She has Advanced Certificates in Project Management; Telecommunications and Management Systems as well as in Telecommunications, Policy and Regulation Management. She was previously the Deputy Minister of the Department of Communications (DoC) and has extensive policy exposures in ICT.

Gobind Singh Deo s/o Karpal is Malaysian Minister of Communications and Multimedia.  He too is a lawyer and a politician.

All the countries have recorded significant leaps under their minister of communication. They proved the point that Buhari did not make a mistake in appointing Shittu as a minister of communications.  Shittu failed because he simply lacked the character and vision to lead the ministry. The controversies that trailed his tenure and the debate over corruption instigated by his own aides did not help matter. They effectively painted the picture of a man who should never have become a minister let alone head the communications ministry. Unfortunately, his failings became, expectedly, the reference point to access Buhari’s first four years.

“The president truly got it wrong in 2015. He must get it right in 2019.  It is not so important that a trained ICT expert must lead the sector as a Minister of Communications, what matters is that the minister must come to office with the basic ingredients of leadership: an encouraging understanding of the issues – in this case, the dynamics and economics of technology and innovation; a sense of vision and foresight; and the pedigree of a technocrat even if he is a politician.”

While in office, Shittu had expressed plans to further strengthen the ministry’s ability to make the communication sector a major job creator and its sub-sectors top foreign exchange earners. Those promises never left the ground.  His plans for NIPOST to drive an enhanced service delivery went flat just like his commitment to promote transparency.

When in 2017, the ministry announced a three year ICT Roadmap for Nigeria, critics did not hide their cynicisms. By January 2019, the four pillars of Governance; Policy, Legal & Regulatory framework; Industry & Infrastructure; and Capacity Building upon which the ICT Roadmap was fostered were still limping – they were clearly short on the promise for which they were promoted as the commitment of the Buhari’s government to continue the development of the ICT sector in line with its Change mantra.

As the government compiles its list of new ministers, may it not make the same mistake as it made in 2015. It is Nigerians not the ministry that will bear the consequence of ministerial ineptitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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