President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) Prof. David Adewumi, spoke to Emma Okonji on how government could successfully tackle insecurity in the country through the application of digital technology tools. Excerpts:
You just returned from Enugu for the 25th annual conference of NCS. What is your impression about this year's conference?
Yes we just concluded the NCS annual conference, which held in Enugu from July 23 to 25, and I am highly impressed about the heavy attendance at this year's conference and that brought a lot of satisfaction to national executive council members of NCS and myself, concerning the far reaching resolution taken at the end of the three days conference. The planning went very well and all guest speakers were fully in attendance.
The theme for this year's conference is 'Building a Knowledge-based Economy in Nigeria: the Role of Information Technology'. What motivated the choice of the theme and how was NCS able to achieve its goal?
The purpose for choosing the theme was to make researchers, government and the people of Nigeria know that there is need for everyone to shift focus to capacity building. It is easy to buy computer hardware devices and it is even easy to buy the software that drives the devices, but it is not easy to drive capacity building because this involves people in terms of getting it done. To get it properly done, we need to improve on our knowledge-based economy, which is all about developing data for local content development and sustaining it.
During the conference, so much was said about the insecurity situation in the country, and NCS felt it could address the situation using technology, if given the chance to do so. Can you expatiate on this?
Yes insecurity is a major challenge in this country Nigeria and this has to be addressed. Thousands of people have lost their lives, and property worth billions of naira have been lost to insecurity since the insurgency of Boko Haram started in 2009. Today the Chibok school girls are still missing, causing severe pains on parents, relations of the girls, and the entire people of Nigeria, since they were abducted in April this year in Bornu State.
We used the conference to let government know that we are ready to help government address the situation and that it is not above what professionals at NCS could handle. We need digital approach to the insecurity situation in the country. Insecurity in the country cannot be celebrated and cannot be addressed on the pages of newspapers, like what is currently going on. There are ways to tackle the challenges through the application of digital technology and that is what we are saying. We at NCS are professionals in the field of technology and it is only the application of technology solutions that will address the security challenges in the country. We need to meet with the National Security Adviser to the President and proffer solutions to the lingering security challenges in the country.
But the National Assembly recently accused ICT practitioners who are mainly members of NCS of not coming up with solutions that would help to address insecurity in the country. What is your take on this?
Such accusations are not factual and cannot be true. This is because we have developed several solutions that could address insecurity in the country. The truth is that even the government does not still believe in the capability of IT professionals in the country, and still prefers to work with foreign solutions developed by foreigners. There are several bills sitting on the floor of the National Assembly, begging for passage, yet they have not been looked into and these are some of the bills that could drive IT-based economy. If they do what they are supposed to do by believing in locally developed solutions with international standards, then the ICT professionals in the country will come up with better solutions that will address security challenges. Afterwards it is not rocket science. IT professionals have been trying to engage government in different areas that will advance IT development, but the government is not forth coming. IT companies have been doing a lot on their own to promote ICT development in the country, but government has not been supportive enough.
As an advocacy group, what is NCS doing to raise government's confidence in locally developed technology solutions?
Yes we remain advocacy group and our role is to continue to make advocacy on some issues that we think will benefit Nigerians and the Nigerian government. I can say without mincing words that we have been very vocal in our advocacy campaigns, even though government is yet to shift focus from its shallow belief for locally developed ICT tools and services. At NCS we are doing a lot in terms of increased sensitisation about usefulness of ICT in virtually all areas of the economy, but like I said, government is yet to see the need to give ICT practitioners the support they deserve, but government has no choice than to support the local ICT industry because we contribute immensely to the country's GDP.
During the three days conference in Enugu, several issues were deliberated upon and resolutions were reached. How will NCS ensure better implementation of most of the resolutions reached?
In the first place, there is a communique from the conference that will be presented to government for implementation. As an advocacy group, we will ensure that we follow up on it to see that all the recommendations made are implemented to the letter, especially those that need government attention. For other recommendations that fall within the purview of the association, NCS will ensue full implementation and compliance as well.
What were some of the issues discussed that could drive development in Nigeria and also change the orientation of Nigerians?
Key issues that will drive development through the use of technology, were discussed and it started with the theme of the conference on building knowledge-based economy. Some of the sub-themes included Broadband Access for All: Strategies and tactics; Business Process Outsourcing; E-governance Solutions; Security Issues in a Knowledge-based Economy, and Training and Education for youth and the IT industry. Others were Mobile Application Technology; IT Application in Different Sector of the Economy; Application of Knowledge Technologies and Engineering in National Development among others. All these topics were fully discussed and recommendations made on how to implement some of them. If proper implementation is carried out by government based on our recommendation, Nigeria will in few years time, achieve so much in technology advancement.
The federal government is keen about local content development across all sectors of the economy. What is NCS doing to encourage local content in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector?
NCS is working hard in driving local content development in the country, and the association is also collaborating with government agencies like the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in archiving the goal. Local content development in the Oil and Gas sector of the economy has transformed that sector of the economy and that is what we want to replicate in the ICT sector, and even surpass it when we bring its full bearing in the the ICT sector. The truth is that no country survives with the importation of technology. What developed countries do is to grow their own technology and use it to develop their economy, instead of spending so much on importation of technology. Nigeria should begin to develop tailor-made technology that will address challenges that are peculiar to us, and this is what NCS has been preaching as an advocacy group.
Recent statistics have shown that 53 per cent of the Nigerian population is youth. What is NCS doing to introduce this large number of youths to technology?
NCS had since been grooming Nigerian youths in the area of ICT. For instance we have the National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS), as our members, which is the youth wing of NCS. NACOSS is in all tertiary institutions in the country and every year we sponsor them to our national conference to learn new things that will help them in their careers. We have also identified with some schools in training and developing youths outside NACOSS, and they have opportunities to join NCS chapters at the zonal level.
As student members, they stand a lot to gain from mixing up with professionals in various computing fields that are members of NCS. By so doing, they will be exposed to the up to date happenings within the IT community, as well as in capacity development. We have different interest groups in NCS like Information Technology (Industry) Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), and quite a number of them. As members of NCS, they enjoy the privilege of getting the right technology exposure.
In your view, how has Nigeria faired in technology development?
Nigeria as a country is doing well technologically, but we need government support and better patronage from the same government as well as corporate organisations, including individuals. My advice for government is to ensure that infrastructure is improved upon, especially if we must compete globally. For instance, ICT cannot thrive without power. Power is everything, and must be adequately addressed. Today, Information Technology is taking a very major space in the world economy and has gone into every sphere of human endeavours. Nigeria cannot afford to be left out. The pace at which ICT is driving global development has been great. Imagine technology contributions in health, education, agriculture, human capacity development among others. It has helped to create jobs directly and indirectly. For Nigeria, we still have lots to do with technology. We have not tapped into its full potentials, but we have not done badly either as well, but we can still do better. The major challenge is that government is yet to buy into ICT and that has slowed local content development. I heard recently that the Senate has approved the e-voting system for general elections. This is exactly what NCS had long been advocating for, because it will also address insecurity and promote transparency in voting and in counting of votes at every election. With the approval, we expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to collaborate with NCS in implementing e-voting nationwide.
How will you rate the performance of the Ministry of Communications Technology, under the leadership of Dr. Omobola Johnson, since the ministry was created in 2011?
Since the ministry was created, Dr. Omobola Johnson has been doing well and has driven the ministry to greater heights with several initiatives that she has introduced. Time was, when there was clamour for the creation of the ICT ministry in Nigeria, and NCS was part of that campaign. Today we have it, and it has done tremendously well in just three years.
As President, what is your vision for NCS and what level of development do you intend to achieve for the computer society in another one year?
My vision is to take NCS, as an advocacy group to the next level. So much could be achieved in this country, if NCS is allowed to play its role as technology driver for the economy. I was elected into the office of President of NCS in July 2013, and I am barely one year old, but within this space of one year, we have recorded some successes in the area transportation. We have been able to get two vehicles donated by members to the association. One was a brand new bus, donated by Zinox Technologies, while the other was a brand new Hyundai car donated by Computer Warehouse Group. We have been able to improve our membership strength across the country, and the computer society is doing very well. In the next one year, I hope to further increase membership strength across chapters. More chapters are been created in states and we have just created the Association of Civil Servants in IT, which is another way of growing membership strength.
Professor David O. Adewumi is the President, Nigeria Computer Society. He is a seasoned academic administrator and leader. He is the Dean of the College of Information and Communications Technology at Bells University, Ota, Ogun State. He also provides academic leadership and supervised the computerisation of critical administrative and organisational processes at the university. Adewumi has his Ph.D. in Computer Science, from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in1985. He also has an M.Sc. Computer Science from the same university in 1982 and B.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of Ibadan in 1974.
He is a fellow of NCS and the Vice President of the association, before he was elected the 12th National President on July 26, 2013.