Why Delta spearheads youth development with innovation hub

Chris Uwaje

Chris Uwaje

Chris Uwaje, a former president, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), is the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSIHUB). Uwaje, in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, discussed reasons behind Delta State’s investment in innovation hub, challenges in the software sub-sector and what Nigeria should do to have a knowledge based economy. Excerpts.

Why is Delta State investing in an innovation hub?
Innovation is indeed the centre of gravity of the new Delta State Government Agenda, under the Executive Governorship of Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa. The state has embarked on a new revolution designed to ensure that the state is second to none in the realm of significant and inclusive governance with assurances of attaining the core objectives of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The entire components and programs of the state are constructed on the Framework of innovative knowledge guaranteed by the enviable integrity and tract records of the Governor. The DS-Innovation Hub is a Private-Public Partnership (PPP) Platform between Mobile Software Solutions Limited and Delta State Government established for the promotion of technology innovation, creativity and sustainable development. Our mission is to develop the innovation hub as a world-class knowledge factory. DSIHUB will power other sectors such as health, education, agriculture, manufacturing, finance, oil and gas, state security, science, technology, research and development. The project team under the leadership of Joyce Overah, the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Delta State. He is passionate and empowered by the Governor to deliver the project as the engine room for the actualisation of the State’s S.M.A.R.T Agenda. Prof. Charles Uwadia is Chair of DSIHUB.

Looking at the challenge of entrepreneurship, how will the innovation hub impact the youth?
Our Philosophy is ‘Inno-passion’; we are deeply passionate about the Youth and innovation. With about 70 per cent youth population, our focus amongst others is to build Youth-centered High-Technology Innovation capacities, encourage disruptive technology processes and retool the workforce. We also want to develop a creative capacity of new-thinkers and skillful doers for achieve the following: Empower leadership with critical knowledge for impactful e-government; providing Go-to-business innovation mentoring to support start-ups and entrepreneurial aspiration in the commercialisation of new ideas and products; create standards to improve confidence and trust in stakeholders, ensure effectiveness and job security; improve efficiency, service quality and customer satisfaction. It will also empower public service players and action-owners with functional strategies; apply effective, innovative techniques to engage challenges and deliver goals on time; scale up proven, successful innovations across our faculties. We will apply inclusive strategies to accelerate effective policy responses by policymakers; motivate and empower stakeholders to improve productivity and enhance growth; establish guidelines for effective monitoring mechanism to enhance quality assurance and promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What will the DSIHUB be involved in?
Simple: Innovation Discovery. Our Innovation Hub Model www.dsihub.org.ng is very distinguished. Other ventures build cement factories, manufacture Ice cream, etc., but the DSIHUB concept has established a creative knowledge factory for Innovation. The DS-Innovation Hub is therefore, the ultimate experience and world class destination for new knowledge-centered innovation and adventure in creativity. It is desirous to be positioned and acclaimed as professionally designed knowledge architecture and technology focused platform.

The DSIHUB is a Private-Public Partnership (PPP) platform for the promotion of Science, Technology innovation and creativity. The DSIHUB is accredited through peer review, as the first Knowledge-Innovation and Science and Technology Park in the South-South of Nigeria, with capacity to also serve the South-East.

It is located in Asaba – the capital city of Delta State. This Innovation Hub is classified as the metropolis of smarter ideas, creativity and a distinct catalyst for new thinking, values, renewable entrepreneurial leadership and constructive governance. The DS-Innovation Hub is a disruptive technology platform for re-engineering the blueprint for smarter processes, more effective leadership and governance for inclusive public service. The

DSIHUB will provide expertise on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy roadmap and implementation strategy advice on new processes and emerging approaches; from conceptualisation, application and usage of Information and Communications Technology to respond to challenges and drive innovative solutions at all levels of engagement.

We would make every effort to ensure that knowledge, idea and creativity consistency becomes and remains our strategic compass for the sustainability of institutional culture for science, technology and innovation at all levels of our development – incorporating the engagements of the following challenges:
The rapidly waxing population poses immense challenges to Governance, Leadership, Institutional Peace, Security and Climate Change. At Industry level, we will engage: Big Data, Cloud, IPv6, IoT, etc.

Explore complex social and economic problems which challenge policymakers to provide new and more effective responses to the policy-needs and demands of their citizenry engaging Social Media.

Focus on National, State and Peoples security – especially at the digital platform – which demands urgent social inclusion strategies and solutions for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.

Intervention strategies for acknowledging that effective, successful and sustainable 21st century development resides in well structured innovations and creative IP development.Building responsive capacities and capabilities for disaster recovery and sustainability.

Venture capital and market acceptance of local innovation and software development, how can this be resolved?
There are many factors responsible for the lack of mandatory patronage for local software and innovation content, capital flight is perhaps the greatest factor. The issue of standards and quality is amongst the least. Indeed, there is no software application, database, utility, firmware, among others that is error-free. That is why we have Software versioning processes. The resolution lies in constructive regulation of the Ecosystem without creating a negative impact on Innovation. Innovation must be safeguarded at all costs. However, Investors are yet to find the hidden diamond mine inside the knowledge industry propelled by Information Technology and Innovation. Those who have ventured are now smiling to the banks.

The missing link is perhaps the assurances of Government fiscal policies and enabling environment for IT in the Financial Ecosystem. Indications are that with the economic meltdown, the new direction dictated by the scarcity of foreign exchange consumption is that local investors will sooner or later make the technology and knowledge sectors their hunting ground with the assurances of government incentives policy and strategies. Indeed, as a PPP venture, we established the Innovation Hub to make DS Innovation Hub a smarter platform for secured investment returns, international destination and national centre for ICT innovation and knowledge creation. Our mission is to develop the Innovation Hub as a world-class knowledge factory.

Applying a PPP development model, we aimed to strategically harness all knowledge attributes, potential and ICT processes in and beyond the Delta State Region as the core accelerateor for leadeship, public policy, inclusive governance, state security, entrepreneurship, youth and women empowerment, creativity, innovation and wealth creation. The Hub aimed to be a well groomed platform for timely harnessing critical knowledge and accelerating the translation of ideas into functional products and services. Institutional Knowledge sustainability is at the core of the above mission and values.

Nigeria appears to be foot-dragging as per driving a knowledge economy. What is your take on this?
Nigeria must innovate now! – because there is just no other alternative for the survivability of her future! I therefore call on government to declare a state of emergency on national innovation and creativity qualified for special budgetary consideration. Her future survivability resides in her domesticated intellectual capital (IP). There is currently a gross misconception of ‘what Technology is and what it is not’! Majority of Nigerians still view technology from the physical state of the product of technology. Whereas technology is the ‘concept and processes’ that create the product.

The foot-dragging or better ‘mind-dragging ‘attitude at the desk of policy makers is probably not background on lack of good intension, but indeed on Techno-phobia and perhaps deep ignorance within the decision making value chain. Above all, the other critical factor that has slowed down the innovation accelerator component of the process is the seeming silent disconnect between academia, industry and government at critical points of the ICT development Ecosystem. This is a serious concern which calls for urgent consideration for the enthronement of a National IT Framework Bill (NITFB); and the enactment of an Act to establish the Office of the IT General of the Federation (OITGF).

A nation that has exponential Growth, driven by excessive import-based conspicuous consumption without reciprocal and meaningful innovation-centric development strategy and handsome revenue from that source, has no future – especially when her population growth index is over 4.2 per cent yearly compared to the 2.5 per cent growth of the economy! With a vibrant population surging at the edge of 200 million people with a very rich history, the Nigerian nation seems to have been submerged in the ocean of globalization and currently experiencing the impact of the cumulative challenges of converged centrifugal forces at the corridors of innovation, technology, creativity, internationalisation of trade interests, power, leadership and directionship.

Our current problem is ‘Information Crisis’ – pure and simple. It can be seen on the pages of newspapers, on TV screens, the Internet, the National Assembly, in our education and health institutions, among others. Ironically they provide windows of opportunities for prosperity. As we stampede and suffocate ours children in our ocean of abundant wealth, where dreams are turned into nightmare, we must now turn to innovation to conquer the challenges and bailout the embedded opportunities and benefits to reorder our lives. The planet earth is awash with information – challenge is how to constructively harness and control it and put it into productive development use. The greatest challenge we continue to face now and in the future is to continue to assume that we can effectively manage what we cannot measure! That assumption is totally flawed. Research, science and innovation is critical for the survivability of our nation and only a automated government structure and digitised skilled leadership can ensure our competitiveness.

In what ways have this recession impacted on the ICT sector?
Nigerians are no longer able to pay the price for over-priced foreign software and related services! The current recession has necessitated a new wake-up call for Nigeria to re-think her ICT policy and engagement strategies. With the escalating cost in the acquisition of foreign Software in particular, the interesting impact has drawn a clear line in the perception of top CEOs in government, corporate domain and user stakeholders – that is: Nigerian software engineering architects and developers have matured to the height of producing highly reliable, efficient and secured Application Software for Domestic use and indeed for export.

The proof of concept can be found in TSA developed by REMITA/Systemspec, stock applications by Inforsoft, MDG and e-Government solutions and National Security Incident Reporting &Monitoring System by Mobile Software Solutions, Controller Systems, ERP by BSSL and many others. It would also be recalled that the first e-Signature solution interfaced into the Oracle Database was developed by Tara Systems, a Nigerian Software company. This capability and benefit of Local content and Indigenous Software is what IT Professionals under the guidance of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) have advocated for the past 20 years. Indeed, advances in Science, Technology & Innovation (STI) and particularly Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become the predominant influence on the way we live, govern, work, do business, pursue innovation, and deliver quality lifestyle, social responsibility and sustainable corporate leadership.

Above all, 21st Century Innovation processes have extensively disrupted the existing norms of development – compelling us all to search for new strategies for engaging and delivering practical solutions to emerging real-life challenges. Also, that Nigerian IT Professionals, Engineers and Technicians continue to provide support for in-Country Multinational IT companies clearly demonstrates the ability and power of the skill-sets of Nigerians to deliver IT Services and Technical Support locally, as well as ensure disaster recovery for business continuity.

Govt is looking at economic diversification, how can the ICT sector be leveraged to achieve this?
ICT remains the surest oxygen available to enable Nigeria and indeed Africa to be not only on the driving seat, but in the commanding platform of the Information Society (IS) and Knowledge Economy. Building a knowledge Army for the nation has become a strategic imperative for Nigeria. With over 18millions active Nigerians on the Internet and more than 80million connected Mobile Devices, Nigeria has become an active consumer-player on the Internet. To date, the world has deployed about 5 billion “smart” connected things. (IoT) Predictions say there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 and in our lifetime we will experience life with a trillion-node network. Those are really big numbers. How things are fundamentally deployed today is a barrier to realising those numbers. The industry will only achieve the reality of 50 billion connected devices by simplifying how things connect and communicate today.

‎Nigeria has become a high consumer of ICT products. A good percentage of these are imported and are a drain on lean foreign reserves. How much of ICT consumed could be said to be locally sourced?
In 2010, I published my book titled ‘e-knowledge – Time is running Out’ as a wake-up call on the unconscious and layback attitude (of our leadership and policy makers) to critical issues on the role of Information Technology to national development and nation building. In particular, the book warned and share my mission-critical concern on the state of IT-Nigeria and shape of things to come, within the context and possibility of 21st Century Digital colonisation of nation – through the interfacing global impact of Information Technology.

Time may therefore be running out on future generations of Nigerians, who may have been sentenced to live in a ‘Digital Colony’ – unless we take the bull by the horn now and prepare a strong IT foundation for their survivability and global competitiveness. “e-Knowledge – Time is running out!” is grounded on the philosophy and concept of ensuring the consistency of preserving “Inter-Generational Knowledge” (IGK) model, as a model for sustainable nation building and global competitiveness. Nigerians have become permanent residents on .Facebook , Instagram and other Social Media Platform – consuming astonishing bandwidth and content produced by others. This Download Techhabit without the upload headbook contribution…What about Headbook for Nigerian/Africa Youth?

How much local content compliance has been achieved since 2002, when former President Obasanjo gave a directive on local patronage?
Lessons learnt from the 2002 Experience on Past-President Obasanjo’s policy directives is that there is indeed a distinct difference between policy directives and legislation on critical issues of national interest on critical information infrastructure and development. Attention given to ICT at the apex level showed that the nation was yet to appreciate the monumental impact of ICT to national development! The next battle field for globalisation will be of constructive national policies and strategies on Internet of Things (IoTs), digital security and Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoTs). Other sensitive areas include but not limited to: empowering the youth and the new creative class; understanding and classifying Software as food and drugs; devote great interest to promoting digital games with African Culture Content; engaging and facilitating access to mobile broadband technology/IPv6 and reduce the emerging e-Culture Shock of 21st Century.

Can the country compete globally in the ICT space without having a homegrown solution and research centres?
According to NCC, Nigeria has an ICT infrastructure currently hosting 150,262,066 subscribers with fixed/wireless lines. This in itself is a huge market – the largest in Africa. There is however an urgent needs to refocus. Software should now be classified as ‘Food And Drugs’. “The Internet of Things and Everything (IoTs/IoE) represents perhaps the last hope for Africa’s 21st Century knowledge, creativity and innovation renaissance” – C. Uwaje. Humanity today, lives in a ‘Software-first’ World, where Innovation and disruptive creativity has become the centre of gravity of life and significance of human existence. And by extension – in my professional evaluation – the most constructive, disruptive, and strategic pathway to Africa’s future and survivability, resides in the mastery, application and sustainable control of her Intellectual Capital. Africa must Innovate or be digitally enslaved. We must move from abject consumer to respectable creator and producer – with special reference on how to aggregate her Software potentials, skills and capacities for global competitiveness. Yes, the aggregate of Nigeria’s human resources show that we are able and can compete in the emerging knowledge Olympiad. We must retool our Engineers and NYSC now through IT skill conversion. This is imperative.

As Nigeria moves into the 21st century its wealth creation dynamics and international competitiveness will be significantly influenced by her ability to develop measure and exploit her intellectual capital (IP) in information technology (IT), innovation and creativity.

Indeed, many of the new business opportunities for Nigerian and African firms will depend on their capacity to develop Innovative skills, IT-smart applications, solutions, products and services which respond to the expanding role of Science and Technology across the economic development Ecosystem.

Moving forward, in both government and the business worlds, our understanding is that the organizations which will benefit most from the transformative role of IT are those which treat IT as a key strategic resource for achieving organisational goals rather than as a purely technical input. DS Innovation Hub recognises The Guardian as a significant player in the critical value chain or our national development Ecosystem and also, a leading and disruptive component, future hope and Innovation accelerator. Our infinite passion and commitment to deploying science, inventions and technology for national development and wealth creation should be the highest priority without boundaries.



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