To make Nigeria to be at par with the rest of the world in terms of manpower skills in ICT, young people need to be trained. Mr Mohammed Zurmi, chief executive officer, Dalsam Technology in this interview with Evelyn Okoruwa explains why more training center should be made available
Based on your assessment of the broadband penetration level in the country, what should the government and service providers do to ensure that broadband penetration is deepened and every Nigerian have access?
There have been efforts from various organisations to increase broadband penetration in various ways. Government of course will do its own part, not only in terms of giving infrastructure which I think government is not really into in this case, but also in terms of encouragement. Government is certainly doing its own part in terms of encouraging private institutions. NITDA and NCC are also giving a lot of encouragement to? private companies like the GLO, MTN and the others. There is also the NICOMSAT that is in the business of expanding this broadband penetration. As it is, I think we are not doing so badly in this country but we need to do more because in some areas? we have almost? zero penetration.
The Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, said recently at a forum in Lagos that the federal government is targeting 500 per cent increase in broadband penetration. Can it be met?
To be honest, the government can achieve anything it wants to because it has the resources, expertise and ways of?? going about? it. For the minister to say this, it means the situation has seriously been understudied. If she says it can be achieved, then I have no doubt.
Several years ago it was difficult for bank branches to talk to each other, but today with the Wide Area Network (WAN) and Local Area Network (LAN), not just banks but companies can reach each other through network systems. From your experience working in this field, is downtime still a major headache? If it is, how can it be mitigated?
Downtime is a major challenge, I must say. Part of the solution to the problem is the access to broadband like you mentioned. I think perhaps we were a little bit early in embracing the electronic? system and we have had a lot of failures. Downtime issue is quite significant but with time, there should be an improvement. Banks, however, are not resting on their oars in trying to solve the problem. It is not an ideal situation but I think we will get there. For? now, it is a source of concern.
I was at a seminar recently and one of the key issues on discourse was the near absence of? skilled manpower. What is your organisation doing to address this challenge?
Well as an organisation we can do very little compared to the size of the country and compared to the level of skilled manpower that is required. However, at Dalsam Technologies, we have a training institute in Sokoto where we offer a wide range of ICT courses from the CCNA and others. We are trying our best in our own little way and by the time a lot of people come in , a lot of things can be achieved in terms of the training of manpower. Some people are also putting a lot of interest in the ICT and I think they are taking it upon themselves to go to school and take such courses in computer science and so on. In our own little way we have a training institute and not less than 100 people register yearly.
Cumulatively how many people have you been able to train?
We started the school about three years ago and we’ve had about 400 so far.
Looking at the changing ICT ecosystem, do you think that putting computers in the hands of every student will help propel Nigeria to the stage India, China and other Asian tigers have reached?
One student, one computer will help, but what will help more than giving the hardware is the commitment of? the education, supervisory and regulatory authorities who will? show the way, because ICT is actually the future. So giving students computers will help. However, I don’t even know if putting one computer to a student would? mean? that all the schools do really have competent IT? trainers. I have seen an office where the computers are? very new but for more than 6 months, it was not used simply because the person didn’t know how to use it and he was not bothered to learn, neither has the government made it a point to train its personnel. If that happens, then putting the computers in someone’s hand is actually not going to do much. We may also have a reverse side as most people use internet for surfing. If you put these computers into the hands of idle young students and you are not very serious about what they do with it, then you will end up not really achieving what you want to achieve.
What challenges do companies like yours face?
As you will know, a lot of companies do have a lot of challenges. Assess to things that will make companies work. For instance, if you want to do certain things and you approach the banks, the banks are not ready to give the finance. Then of course, the challenge of lack of expertise that abound in our environment even though one may want to go into certain areas of the business. There is also the high turnover of staff. You know IT is a very lucrative industry and with small companies like us, it is very difficult to retain people when other people are there desperately looking for them and are able to give them higher incentives.
Apart from being into ICT for over ten years you are also the chairman Coop Mortgage Bank. What do you think about the mortgage system in Nigeria?
Frankly it is grossly underdeveloped. The processes that you go through to obtain loan is not easy . Government has tried to do its own part by setting Primary Mortgage Insitutions (PMI’s) so that people can come in and capitalise and try to offer these mortgage services but it is still a far cry from what is should be. With the kind of housing deficit that we have in the country I think we need to do a lot more.
Housing financing is a major challenge facing most Nigerians, why is it so?
?The mortgage institutions are sometimes undercapitalised and unable to do more than what their capital allows them. Initially the Federal Mortgage Bank had a lot of activities but somehow it has quiettened down for one reason or the other. In its own little way, it is doing something but there is a share number that has to be serviced in this mortgage financing which makes it more difficult. Also the procedures? for obtaining these facilities and of course the matter of repayment is not helping too.
What’s your take on the demolition exercise?
We should? stop being a bit sentimental. The truth is that there is a master plan for Abuja and we have to follow it. If? people flout the master plan,? they should? also be able to take responsibility for doing the wrong thing and not blame anyone.?
What do you think about Nigeria achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?
The MDGs itself has given the indication that we may not achieve the goals and beat the deadline .The project has been weighed down by a lot of factors. For example, part of? its? ?target is the achievement of improved maternal health. A lot of health centres have been built round the country, but if you go to these places,? even though they have beautiful buildings, they don't? have? enough staff to man them.So it is not only the buildings that will achieve the MDGs , but also the personnel that are supposed to service the people that will come.