Muhammad Abubakar: A round-peg in a round-hole keeping governance alive amid COVID-19

Professor Muhammad Abubakar assumed duty as managing director and chief executive officer of Galaxy Backbone (GBB), the federal government agency that provides critical ICT infrastructure and shared services to ministries, departments and agencies, as well as tertiary institutions at a time many would consider inopportune. He took up the job in January, 2020, about the time the Coronavirus pandemic was assuming a global dimension, and has ended up dislocating economies around the world and drastically changing the way things are done, practically in every aspect of life.

The faint-hearted would have been discouraged by the severe blow the COVID-19 pandemic dealt the national life, which could over stretch and task the knowledge of anyone assigned to perform his role at this time. But not Abubakar, a man who has proven his expertise in the manner he is going about the onerous task of providing the much-needed ICT infrastructure that is required to keep all facets of life going at a time even human existence is being threatened.

Since assuming office, Abubakar has been able to rise to the challenge of literally keeping public and private institutions alive, and in good health, as well. He has ensured continued availability of the internet infrastructure that is critical to the business of ministries, departments and agencies of government, as well as private institutions.

Shortly after the first lockdown ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in March for Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abubakar set up a team of senior managers, network engineers, system administrators and customer operations executives codenamed GBB COVID-19 Action Team, to activate and implement the organization’s Business Continuity Plan to ensure government operations were not disrupted as a fallout of the exercise.

The team worked round the clock to ensure provision of video conferencing and other necessary communication facilities for the Presidential Villa, Office of the Vice President, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, ministers, permanent secretaries, security agencies, the National Centre for Disease Control and other essential service providers in the public sector. It installed over 150 unified communication devices, including video conferencing and video phones, in the offices and residences of top government officials, to enable them to work from home, and in offices when necessary.

This initiative has recorded huge successes, judging by the manner government operations have continued to run full steam, despite COVID-19. It has significantly enhanced easy adherence to the safety protocol of physical distancing, as government functionaries are now able to perform their daily tasks from different locations, without any need for physical meetings.

“We have deployed video conferencing facilities and IP telephony to the State House, to enable effective communication and possible online meetings of Mr. President with members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, honourable ministers, top government officials and other FEC members”, Abubakar said.

He pledged continuous maintenance of 24-hour operations, to ensure the services of government ministries and agencies directly involved in the management of the pandemic are not disrupted. He also pledged strict adherence of all GBB staff on the frontlines to the COVID-19 safety protocols while discharging their responsibilities.

“GBB is primarily the digital infrastructure and shared services provider of network, communications and connectivity services to public organizations within the nation”, he said. “It also runs the only Tier III Data Centre in the nation’s public sector, with a backup data centre in Enugu. We encourage MDAs and the private sector to collect or host their applications at Galaxy Backbone’s secure data centre, which is operated and managed strictly under international service management standards”.

Abubakar’s ability to lead and coordinate provision of critical services like the ones GBB is providing across a wide spectrum of public and private institutions amid a global pandemic is not a thing of surprise to those who know him and his pedigree in information communication technology. They know that if anything, he is living up to the promise he made when he took office.

“Digital economy is the new revolution”, he had said on assumption of office. “I am committed to ensuring that as managing director of Galaxy Backbone, I help in achieving the Eight Pillars of creating a digital economy as developed by the honourable minister”.

He said as the largest public sector backbone provider, GBB was a giant in collaboration and aggregate partnerships for value addition and digital services that would support and help actualize the Eight Pillars Broadband Policy designed by Dr. Isa Pantami, minister of Communication and Digital Economy.

“Galaxy Backbone Limited has a robust infrastructure”, he said. “Today, we account for 13 per cent of all fiber optic cables laid in Nigeria, which is around 37, 000 kilometers. Therefore, Galaxy Backbone is positioned to support rapid deployment of ICT infrastructure for education, research and learning, hence the partnership with EkoKonnect”.

He spoke further: “GBB represents a ready-made backbone which the government and private organizations can leverage. We also represent the platform linking national, regional and global research network and knowledge clusters. So, we are happy to be part of the arrangement”.

Abubakar’s job at GBB is made quite easy by the fact that he is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, under the supervision of Dr. Isa Pantami, the minister who is one of Nigeria’s most accomplished information technology experts and a former director general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Implementing the Business Continuity Plan of GBB is therefore a task he is very much at home with, as it is in line with the minister’s vision.


Abubakar’s background in the sciences recommends him for the job he is currently holding, making him the proverbial round peg in a round hole. A holder of a Bachelor of Technology in Applied Geology from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, he has an M.Sc. and a Ph.D., both in Sedimentology/Petroleum Geology, from the German Academy Exchange Service (DAAD).

He has over two decades of working experience spanning the academia, oil and gas exploration, research and innovation. He is a strategic thinker, with strong leadership and management skills, and wide exposure to global practices in energy. Before his appointment as managing director and chief executive officer of Galaxy Backbone, he was the executive director and a principal start-up for the establishment and development of the National Centre for Petroleum Research and Development of the Energy Commission of Nigeria. On that position, he spearheaded the cross-cutting edge research that developed the conceptual exploration model that was deployed in the successful oil and gas exploration activities in the north eastern part of the country. He also served as research consultant to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

A professor of Petroleum Geosciences, Abubakar is widely travelled, and has attended several ICT training programmes that include Cisco Academy Networking certification; several local and international programmes in leadership and strategic management, as well as sustainable development trainings in energy.