The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has commenced the registration and licensing of all government IT projects in Nigeria.
With this exercise, all private and public sector IT contractors for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) will have to get clearance from the regulatory body before executing projects that will be paid for from the 2017 Appropriation Bill.
The approval requires basic information about the project owner, description and objective of the project, classification and components of the project, scope of the contractor, duration and cost of the project, to mention a few.
Already, the agency is looking to quickly make good on this initiative, as Director General of NITDA, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has advised all IT contractors and service providers to initiate the registration process as soon as possible.
For what it’s worth, there is some good to this initiative. For the first time, all government IT jobs could actually be consolidated on a single platform -- more like a unified database for all things related to IT projects in Nigeria.
In the past, several hundreds of government ICT projects have failed and sometimes, there is no proper documentation to prove their existence, even after gulping millions of naira or dollars.
According to NITDA, the proposed total spend by MDAs from the 2017 Appropriation Bill is approximately ₦42,560,945,19 (2.1% of the total capital budget of ₦2,048,989,578,222). In order to then steer the ICT sector off issues, with corruption and abandonment of projects, that have plagued the broader Nigerian economy, there is a strong need to encourage accountability and transparency in deployment of the funds.
So one of the possible advantages of this exercise will be proper project monitoring, which then translates to more realistic costs of executing projects while effectively ensuring the right capacity development in the IT sector.
While it has been established that this development is a good one, there is an equally worrying undertone.
NITDA has made it clear that it is within its regulatory and developmental authority to carry out this exercise. However, the abuse of power is a general theme in Nigeria today. As such, the agency stands the risk of being perceived as an all-too-powerful entity that cannot checked. The greater challenge would lie in not using this power to perpetuate prejudice or unnecessary bureaucracy .
Another fear is how to ensure that security of this seemingly unified database will not be breached and information tampered with.
In its own investigations, NITDA discovered that over 90% of IT projects in MDAs and other government establishments fail, leaving more than 95% of their security compromised. This attests to the need to build a system with multiple layers of protection. Given that NITDA has concentrated on the regulatory aspect so far, there will certainly be attention around how it intends to combine a more demanding database security with its perfunctory job.
But to think that is unachievable would be making a mockery of an agency that has achieved quite a lot since 2001, when it was created.
In the event that it triumphs over these seeming weaknesses, a new era of indigenous, accountable service providers and contractors with robust IT intelligence will surely emerge. For now, we will be watching how things unfold.