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Ego-tripping as Tijani, Pantami claim ownership of FG’s AI implementation platform

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By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

The proposed implementation strategy and platform to grow Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a source of disagreement between immediate past Communications & Digital Economy Minister, Isa Pantami and his successor, Bosun Tijani.
 
When he spoke at the end of a 4-day National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NAIS) Workshop hosted recently,Tijani said the workshop besides being a wake up call, was designed to formulate a strategy focused on addressing the needs of Nigerian citizens and communities to look ahead to the beauty and importance of AI.

While stating the benefits of adopting cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) “in raising the productivity of users for our collective prosperity,” the Minister noted the increased attention on AI across the world and growth in investments in the technology in Nigeria saying: “Over 1 Petabyte of storage is already being allocated to AI projects in Nigeria by Galaxy Backbone Limited. And the Pilot Compute Programme that we are undertaking, which is seeing 21st Century Technologies invest over $2 million in Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), is also going to put us in a position to start building and narrating the story for why we need to invest in our computing power as a nation.”

To fast track the adoption and implementation of the AI ,the Minister announced the relaunch of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (NCAIR).

His words, “The relaunch of new and improved capacity at the National Centre for Al and Robotics (NCAIR) is to better fulfil its mandate” adding that “the Centre is a special purpose vehicle created to promote research and development on emerging technologies and their practical application in the areas of Nigerian national interest. As a digital innovation and research facility, NCAIR focuses on Artificial Intelligence (Al), Robotics and Drones, Internet of Things (loT), and other emerging technologies, aimed at transforming the Nigerian digital economy”.

But his immediate predecessor,Isa Pantami disagrees strongly saying in a tweet that it was unnecessary for Tijani to relaunch a project (NCAIR) that he had started followed by a proper launch done by President Mohammadu Buhari and wondered why a relaunch.

If one says he launched it and the other relaunched it, are both not working for Nigeria.?

It is not out of place to assume that one is weighed down by “ownership mentality “ and the other by “self-centredness” and both are Nigerian syndromes. Both men are self serving and that is the tragedy of lack of interest in service for humanity.

In what looked like jostling for ownership, Pantami said  that:”the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics has been built and commissioned in November 2020, almost four years ago.”

“The first of its kind in Africa. It has been very effective, and thousands of Nigerians have been trained and trained. Legacy is achieved, not claimed.”

Tijani thinks differently saying the relaunch has  multiple deliverables including but not limited to the AI Collective “which is a community of practice collaborating towards accelerating the nation’s collective prosperity through an inclusive Al Ecosystem. The Collective will harness the power of Al to drive economic prosperity, accelerate innovation and social development, and position Nigeria as a leading force in AI for good globally.”

He explained that what is needed “to make sure that as a nation, we are well structured to govern this (Artificial Intelligence) technology which is special.
AI by nature, is a tool to support productivity across different sectors, and Nigeria is a country that has always talked about diversification of our economy, so this is a unique opportunity for us to allow a technology that can help us to raise the level of productivity in agriculture, public health, education and many others, to the level that we truly want it to be, and that is what we are going to do”.

The AI Strategy, he explained further, is what the country needs now, adding “Nigeria needs the appropriate policies to government for the deployment and use of AI at the Federal level and at subnational levels.”He highlighted the need to build platforms that can aid and support those who want to innovate so that they can thrive.

The NAIS Workshop brought together over 120 Artificial Intelligence researchers and practitioners, technology companies, civil societies, and other groups from across the world to co-create a comprehensive national AI strategy. Outcomes from the workshop include a draft national AI strategy document defining the strategic imperatives, policies, investments, implementation roadmap, governance structures, and necessary steps to catalyse Nigeria into an AI-driven economy.
It is not clear what the quarrel is between the two officials.

At the launch of NCAIR on November 13, 2020,Pantami said “NCAIR will serve as a leading hub of innovation, research and development, knowledge transfer, and training in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and other emerging technologies.”

“Our adoption of regulatory sandbox frameworks for testing technology in a controlled environment will enable the Center accelerate the progress we are making in the development of our digital economy,” he added.

Pantami claimed then that the Centre was fully equipped with a Digital Innovation Lab, which will serve as a one-stop shop for digital innovation support; a Makerspace and Fabrication Lab (Fab Lab) Infrastructure that will support Innovation-Driven Enterprise (IDEs) for potential entrepreneurs to convert their ideas into products and services; Printed Circuit Board Facilities; 3D Printer; Co-working space for startups, and training facilities.
At NCAIR,s launch in November 2020,Pantami explained that “Artificial Intelligence is the refinery of the digital economy while Robotics is very useful in supporting companies in carrying out their repetitive tasks.”

“These are two very important emerging technologies that will shape the face of future technologies and we have decided to be proactive to enable us to play a key role in how these technologies evolve.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, fuelled by Big Data, propelled by robust computing capacity, advanced software and Artificial Intelligence is ushering new ways of living, well-being, learning, travelling and working.”

Pantami had also said that the centre would serve as a leading hub of innovation, research and development, knowledge transfer, and training in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and other emerging technologies.

“This centre will also serve the purpose of creating a vision for Artificial Intelligence in the country, identifying Artificial Intelligence-driven use-cases; support data stewardship and develop an Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, among others.
The relaunch of NCAIR is expected to support the Nigerian Multilingual Large Language Model which aims to build the most robust Nigerian large language model.

“To achieve this, the project will leverage the support of the three Million Technical Talent (3MTT) programme Fellows to collate high quality Nigerian language data and fuel the development of some of the most sophisticated AI models.”
NCAIR will also support Nigeria’s Computing Infrastructure Pilot to accelerate the development of Al projects of national interest for which Galaxy Backbone Limited will partner 21st Century Technologies to develop Nigeria’s national compute project which will be available to local researchers, startups, government entities working on critical Al projects that are of national interest. It will reside at the Galaxy Backbone Data Centre and accessible through NCAIR.

Aragba-Akpore, an analyst on Telecom matters, lives in Abuja. He sent this via WhatsApp 

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