By Yushau A. Shuaib
I have always admired the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami for his solid intellection and painstaking understanding of his brief in public service, alongside his charismatic and pragmatic efforts in governance. As a pioneer in government, defining the frontiers of a new future for our country, he has a fascinating understanding of his remit, which is as evident in the manner he speaks without the prompting of prepared addresses, as equally in his eloquence with facts and figures.
Beyond an endearing gift of oratory, in less than three years of his tenure, his ministry has grown in leaps and bounds, while facilitating the establishment of newer agencies and departments. This includes the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) in 2020; Office for Nigerian Digital Innovation (ONDI) in 2021; the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (NDIEC) in 2021; and the Nigerian Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) this year, 2022.
While he spearheaded the unbundling of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), which now has subsidiaries for property development, transportation and logistics, courier service and a micro-finance bank, the aggressive NIN-SIM verification campaign following the transfer of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to his Ministry resulted in the significant capturing of over 85 million Nigerians in the National Identity (NIN) database. As his endeavours have made many aware, the need to document the identity of Nigerians in this age cannot be overemphasised, particularly towards the goals of national planning and accountability, including the greater demands for security.
It is therefore not surprising that during Pantami’s ongoing tenure, the ICT sector has the highest growth rate in Nigeria’s economy, contributing an unprecedented 14.70 per cent to GDP in 2020, and which increased to 16.20 per cent in the first quarter of 2022, as enumerated by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.
Despite his busy and crowded schedules, it was quite surprising to learn that the Minister still found time to nurture his first love as an academic, by authoring two books that were recently unveiled at the Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum on Emerging Technologies, coordinated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in Lagos.
The books, with the first being titled, ‘Cybersecurity Initiatives for Securing a Country’ and the second going by the title of ‘Datafication of Society to Foster an Internet Economy,’ both constitute a tour de force of high intellection, which elucidate upon key elements and initiatives on cybersecurity and datafication in the digital age, with Nigeria as the case study.
While the book on datafication brings together a series of lectures delivered by Pantami at various academic fora, including universities and analogous institutions, the book on cybersecurity provides insights on modern strategies in the protection of internet-connected systems – involving hardware, software and data – from cyber threats, particularly in Nigeria.
The 129-page ‘Datafication of Society’ unfolds in nine chapters, traversing a “General Overview on Datafication As a Concept”, “Economic and Security Issues in Using Public and Private Data”, “ICT As a Catalyst for Economic Development”, and the “Funding of Nigerian Tertiary Institutions for Entrepreneurship Education.”
Other chapters comprise erudite expositions on the “Role of the Digital Economy for National Development”, “Population Growth and Human Capital Development”, the “Role of Disruptive Technologies”, and “Data Privacy and Confidentiality.”
In his introduction, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim, who occupies a commanding height on issues pertaining to Nigeria’s digital reality, both as a scholarly mediator and policy-maker, points out that datafication is an emerging technological trend involving the harvesting and transformation of the different aspects of everyday life into digital data. To him, this approach converts a wide range of everyday information into machine-readable and mineable data that can be used to generate deep insights about such information through the patterns it encodes.
In his attempt to ensure a layman understands the concept of datafication, the author offers a simple illustration of how he uses his smartphones to count his daily steps and also the calories that he burns for healthy living, etc.
On its part, the book on cybersecurity, published by the University Press Plc, spans seven chapters that are spread over 95 pages. Some of these sections focus on the “Imperative of Cybersecurity”, the “Internet as an Enabler of Cybersecurity and Cybercrime”, “Leading National Cybersecurity Efforts”, “Policies and Initiatives on Cybersecurity”, “Citizens Data Harmonization for Enhanced National Security”, and “Strengthening the National Identification Number (NIN) and Securing a Country.”
In his foreword to the book, the President of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), Professor Mike Hinchey describes the ‘Cybersecurity Initiatives for Securing a Country,’ as a first-hand personal representation of Pantami’s efforts, challenges and successes in implementing the extremely crucial cybersecurity mandate in Nigeria.
Hinchey, who is a professor of Software Engineering at the University of Limerick, Ireland, noted that from the practical approaches to establishing a National Identification Number for accessing government services, to restricting the number of mobile telephony SIM cards assigned to an individual, for which Pantami received numerous death threats, to implementing the National Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria, the book details a magisterial chronicle that is fascinating and insightful to read.
Hinchey further describes Professor Pantami as a recognised expert in the field of cybersecurity. “In addition to professional practice as a professor, teacher, and public speaker, Pantami has kept his skills and knowledge up to date with courses at some of the best universities in the world,” he points out.
A medley of scholars, including intellectual peers, subject matter experts, Vice Chancellors of reputable universities, and leaders of relevant professional bodies have engaged with and offered their praises for Pantami’s critical book on cybersecurity.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Oluwatoyin Temitayo Ogundipe aptly noted that without making assumptions about the reader, the author presents a concise, definitive and clear introduction of cybersecurity and its enabling technology, the internet, making it an easily comprehensible and engaging reading experience for a wide range of audiences of diverse backgrounds.
Similarly, the Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Professor Kabiru Bala said the publication is highly crucial to Nigeria, especially in these difficult times of pervasive security challenges, as it concisely deals with the necessary building blocks for ensuring a digitally secure nation. This, to Bala, has been particularly through the indigenous efforts of public agencies such as the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and other levels of technical support.
In a related vein, Professor Adesina Sodiya, the President of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), observed that the book encompasses key strategies that can be adopted to curb cybercrimes, while the models, frameworks and case studies captured in the book are valid and tested, as reflected in the Nigerian situation.
With his knowledge and experience, the author has presented readers with some essentials of cybersecurity and datafication in lucid and comprehensive prose, devoid of technical jargon. The books are designed to assuage the curiosity of readers who are concerned about the threats and opportunities of emerging technology.
Professor Pantami draws from his experience as Nigeria’s Chief Information Technology Officer, as well as Minister of the Digital Economy, using the country, Nigeria as a case study in some instances, while providing sincere insights on how activities on the internet are changing the way humans feel, think, and behave.
In fact, the books document a number of the accomplishments and success stories attained by the administration of President Muhammadu with regard to the building of a sturdy digital economy in Nigeria.
These books are indeed gifts to scholars and professionals, not only in the ICT sector but for those interested in the changing reality brought about by the digital age, in which internet-enabled devices are continuously changing the ways we do things.
The author holds B.Tech and MSc degrees in Computer Science, an MBA in Technology Management, and Doctorate in Computer Information Systems. He is a professor of Cybersecurity.
Professor Pantami also holds various certifications in Digital Strategies and Leadership from reputable global institutions of learning including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Oxford University, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute of Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, among others.