Information Technology in Nigeria: The journey of a thousand future II – Chris Uwaje

Information Technology in Nigeria: The journey of a thousand future II – Chris Uwaje

In Part I of the narrative on Information Technology in Nigeria: the journey of a thousand future; there were many historical lessons learned. 

 

Some of the most important include, but not limited to the following. 

 

  1. Critical concerns on the exclusion of patriotic calculation in our state of technology consciousness and understanding; 

 

  1. A national mindset anchored on the wish for technology acquisition and consumption against the audacity to earn, create, master and own technology intellectual property; 

 

  1. The regrettable failed approach to encourage and develop collaborative teamwork for advancing constructive and innovative youth development;

 

  1. Our inadequate insight on the importance and significance of collaborative scientific research as the oxygen for technology attainment; advancing creativity, innovation and for strategic sustainable development;

 

  1. The urgent need to reimagine and re-connect with our collective attitude – way of life. Digitizing culture, education, environment, health, government and build massive technology skills and support systems as the panacea for escaping the trauma of the current addiction to consumerism development philosophy; and finally;

 

  1. Ensuring that 18 per cent of our national budget is allocated for Science, Technology and Innovation. 

 

 

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Information Technology in Nigeria: The journey of a thousand future II - Chris Uwaje

 

 

Observations will reveal that most of the above Tech-mis-match lessons still haunt us today! Equivalent to our national statistics on longevity, why does the nation’s policy for development architecture suffer from short longevity? Why does our national aspiration die young?

 

 

Going forward, part II of the ICT journey of a thousand future and the role of Information Technology intends to explore; unveil, and interrogate the missing links in the emergence of Information Technology clusters and missed opportunities for national advancement. Indeed, the conversation would be imperfect without reflecting on the following facts.

 

 

Forty-four years ago (in 1977, according to the United Nations University survey); there were over 200 registered companies in Nigeria offering a broad range of computer-related services. Most of them were set up between 1977 and 1982 to take advantage of the Indigenization Decree; as well as the then prevailing economic boom. A partial survey conducted in 1986, involving 47 computer companies, showed that 88 per cent of these were vendors; 79 per cent were consultants; 70 per cent offered training services; 68 per cent had maintenance facilities while 45 per cent offered bureau services. 

 

 

There is a lot of overlapping as many firms offered three or more services. Below is a list of some major computer firms in Nigeria:

 

 

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Name of firm Year Head office Remarks
Advance Micro Technology   Lagos Hardware sales & service
Arit of Africa   Ibadan Hardware sales, CAD
Avant Garde Holdings Ltd. 1977 Lagos Power supplies & equipment
Baico Computer Ltd. 1987 Lagos Data processing & training
Computer Link   Lagos CAI software & training
Data Processing & Maintenance Service Ltd.   Lagos Represents IBM interests
Data Sciences (Nigeria) Ltd. 1974 Lagos Hardware sales & service
Data Systems (Nigeria) Ltd.   Lagos Systems analysis, software design, sales & service
Debis (Nigeria) Ltd.   Lagos Systems analysis, software design, sales & service
GICEN Technical Services 1978 Lagos IBM PCs sales & service
Haven Nigeria Computer Ltd. 1976 Lagos Hardware sales & service
Inlaks Ltd.   Lagos Sales, service & training
International Computer Ltd.   Lagos Manufacturer’s reps, sales & service
IPBC Nigeria Ltd.   Lagos Peripheral equipment & supplies
Joint Komputer Kompany   Lagos Hardware sales & service
Kittel International Systems Ltd.   Lagos Hardware, sales & service
Leventis Technical Ltd. 1972 Lagos Hardware sales & service
Louisson Data Systems Ltd.   Lagos Hardware sales & service
Management Information 1981 Lagos Hardware sales & service
McPAT Ltd. 1980 Lagos Hardware sales & service
Micro Products International Ltd.   Lagos Micro sales & service
Modellor Design Aids Ltd. 1978 Lagos Micro assembly & service
National Cash Register Ltd.   Lagos Manufacturer’s reps, sales & service
Ogis & Ododo Assoc. Ltd. 1980 Lagos Sales, training & service
Peat, Marwick & Ogunde   Lagos Software consultants
Resmund Nigeria Ltd.   Lagos Hardware/software sales, training & recruitment
Rimax Computer Services 1976 Lagos Education & training
Rinsa   Lagos Maintenance specialists
Technology & Systems 1983 Lagos Hardware/software sales, consulting, data processing
Universal Computer Ltd. 1978 Lagos Hardware sales & service

 

 

In the late 1970s, records show that the Federal Government set up a committee known as the Central Computer Committee. The committee was charged with the task of assembling available national data on computing. Further, the committee was expected to develop standards for users, vendors, and consultants on computer projects; as well as to develop inputs for a national policy on computing. 

 

 

As this was a period of import restrictions, the committee had the additional function of reviewing all applications for the importation of computers and making recommendations to the Ministry of Finance for the grant of import licences. But the misfortune dawned on us, that a nation, without a grounded Science and Technology Research foundation is only doomed; enslaved as consumer of the creativity and innovation products of other technology capable nations.

 

 

The experiences of how we engaged past Information Technology opportunities and/or grossly missed many low-hanging opportunities in the computing and digital evolution is worth a renewed fact-finding analytic engagement. Can research assist and empower us to unearth the hidden or missing links? Did Nigeria miss the rare opportunity to make the nation a world-class digital state between the 1970s and 1980s? 

 

 

Information Technology in Nigeria: The journey of a thousand future II - Chris Uwaje

 

 

 

With hindsight, are we still on the right and desired trajectory leading to remarkable tech success? What new choices are currently available to catch up? Also, which should we recondition and choose from, between individual effort and collaborative team strategy? 

 

 

 

The United Nations University survey further revealed as follows: “It is on record that the electronic digital computer made its first appearance in Nigeria in 1963, in connection with the analysis of the 1962/63 national census data. In the 10 years between 1963 and 1973, the total computer population in the country stood at 20-25; with 6 or so of these being associated with the multinational companies. By 1977, the total number of installations had grown to around 70.

 

 

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It was by this time that many universities, government departments and parastatal organizations; including the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA); the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Federal Office of Statistics, as well as many banks and commercial firms, began to show interest in computers”. 

 

 

From the same referenced survey, it is disclosed that “up to 1977 there were only three computer vendors in Nigeria. They were JCL, IBM, and NCR, and all three were the local subsidiaries of overseas computer manufacturers dealing almost entirely with mainframes and minicomputers. 

 

 

In 1977, the government promulgated the Indigenization Decree, which set apart some categories of industrial activity exclusively for participation by Nigerian nationals; while stipulating a minimum of Nigerian interest in others. One of the three original vendors, IBM, did not want to comply with the decree; choosing instead to pull out of the country. The decree produced two other important effects. 

 

 

 

First, it triggered an influx of indigenous vendors in the computer business. Secondly, the keener competition in the industry led to more aggressive marketing policies. As a result, the number of computer installations in the country rose sharply. Whereas 39 computers were installed in 1975-1977, 1978-1980 witnessed the addition of 197 new installations. There were 149 new installations in 1981-1983, and a further 99 in 1984-1986. Already by the end of 1982, the price of crude oil was beginning to drop sharply in the spot market; and this marked the beginning of the foreign exchange debacle and the attendant import restrictions”.

 

 

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The known trends of technology development and innovation cycles have not changed – only the product outcome has. Tech development comes in layers at a critical time and curve of development; ensuring that one layer disrupts, consumes and leads the other! The foregoing plunges us into the story of Surulere Tech Hub. As at that time, Surulere boasts of many significant landmarks. One of the most distinguished amongst them is the National Stadium, Surulere. For the benefit of history, in the 60s, growing up in Lagos; the area where the National Stadium stands today was a swampy area inhabited by large mammals and home to precious birds, monkeys, and snakes. 

 

 

As a Boys’ Scout, in those days, the landscape provided a placid environment for creative knowledge adventure. It was a dream to behold. The Lagos National Stadium was built in 1972.

 

 

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It stands tall as a technology edifice and a spectacular piece of engineering comprising an Olympic-size swimming and an inter-connected multipurpose arena, amongst others. Records show that it also served as the main stadium for the 1973 All-Africa Games. 

 

 

 

The New Lagos neighbourhood, also known as the Surulere Re-Housing Estate, is among the first public housing projects in Nigeria. Also, it prepared the grounds and ambience for the spectacular Festac ’77; also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. The set-pieces of the above acts held together and brought to life by technology knowhow. However, today, the stadium has become a shadow of itself.

 

 

So, what has Surulere got to do as a critical factor within the emergence of the Information Technology Industry? The journey of Communications Art through Data collection, Television Playbook, Film production studios etc, started quietly in the mid-1970s in Surulere; by the spectacular movements of High-tech equipment and tech-expertise occasioned by the preparation logistics and actual construction of both the National Stadium in 1972 and followed by the National Theatre, Iganmu Surulere, as showcase for FESTAC’77. 

 

 

 

The influence of this Tech-metamorphosis continued through the late 1980s well into the 1990s. It was home to script writers and television presenters like Patrick Oke and Chief Chris Okolie; the founder/President of Newbreed magazines and others. All these Tech-addicted activities eclipsed other renowned parts of Lagos and made Surulere a breeding ground for technology presence. CAC records will reveal that there was a surge of incorporation of Information Technology and Telecommunications companies in Nigeria during that time onwards. It was an era when company business cards were in top gear. Business suitcases were brandished at every nook and corner loaded with bundles of typewriter flattened documents; while printers laughed to the Bank! 

 

 

 

Information Technology in Nigeria: The journey of a thousand future II - Chris Uwaje

 

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It is both amazing and significant to note that what should be have become a ‘lifetime advantage’; the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), was created in 1976. That was succeeded by ‘The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology’ established on the 1st of January 1980 by Act Number 1 of 1980.  In January 1984, the ministry was merged with the Federal Ministry of Education; which was then renamed, Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.  This worrisome merger was later re-separated. 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the importance for efficient telecommunication service in the development of computer-based technologies in any nation cannot be over-emphasized. In 1985, the responsibility for the implementation of public telecommunication service was vested in Nigeria Telecommunications Ltd. (NITEL); a new limited liability company created in 1985, in succession to the now defunct Post and Telegraphs Department; to run the telecommunication service on a commercial basis. 

 

 

Based on experience from informed sources, the network has several limitations including inadequate trunk facilities; low grade of service, frequent system breakdown and a long waiting list for new connections.

 

 

 

In 1985, I was privileged to meet with very resourceful Information Technology players at Akerele Street, Surulere, Lagos. This encounter with a company named Komplek Nig Limited, where I met Mr. Tunde Njoku; now Tunde Ezichi, a computing encyclopaedia and extraordinary lifetime achiever on his own rights. Ezichi was a past President of COAN and the Foundation President of Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria CPN); Goodwin Anekwe and Joseph Nwoga. It is instructive to note that as far back as 1985, Komplek Nigeria Limited was able to deliver a digitized Mica-Cheque Solution to Central Bank of Nigeria. This opened a floodgate of professional networking and especially the inner learning of the capabilities of Nigeria’s IT Ecosystem at that time.

 

 

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It is significant to equally emphasize that on the same Akelere Street was a distinguished computing hub called CHAMS Computers. It was a site to behold when driving down Akerele road. Her impressive logo with deep green background and white inscription still reminds me of the patriotic breeze one feels in acknowledgement. Miraculously, CHAMS Computers was incorporated in 1985. Holding the IT vision-bearer flag. 

 

 

 

 

Same as Computer Warehouse Limited on Adelabu Road; now Computer Warehouse Group Plc., which was delivering hardware solutions to Citizens Bank and other financial houses back then. Today, CWG is a vision bearer in the dynamic ICT Ecosystem.  There are other young and bright tech startups numerous to mention. One of them is WECO Computers.

 

 

 

Question is, what is so significant with 1985 in the annals of computing history in Nigeria? It is simple.  Surulere environment with its easy access roads, adequately constant electricity and affordable rent qualifies as an ICT demand-driven cluster for youth tech entrepreneurs. In fact, there were many other factors. But for me, what championed the momentum is the memory of being invited to the Annual Conference of the Computer Association of Nigeria (COAN) held at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON – established in 1973) premises in Badagry, Lagos State. Specifically, the Keynote Speaker was a vibrant guest – Lt-Col. Larry Koyan of the Nigeria Army. 

 

 

 

 

To say the least, the keynote literarily electrified the conference! To date, his speech remains fresh and resounding in my memory. Further, it invites us to query why the mission of our youthful and brilliant leaders are not sustained in their journey to illuminate, inspire and mentor the nation with their visionary abilities in constructive development. 

 

 

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My next encounter was with an enigmatic computer accessories entrepreneur, Mr. Simeon Ochuba; the Founder/CEO of Simoch International Computers Limited, situated at the junction at Randle Avenue, Surulere. Simoch International Computers was arguably the seasoned IT Enterprise with largest stock of computer hardware accessories in Nigeria then. His clients and trading partners stretched from Lagos, to Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Sierra-Lone, Cameroon and beyond. Certainly, Simeon Ochuba gave Surulere the deserved recognition as the pioneer computer landscape in Nigeria. 

 

 

 

Also worth mentioning are the following: Broadway Computers, CWG, Dataflex Nigeria Ltd., Chips, Bits and Bytes, Microview, Palette Computers, etc. 

 

 

 

Indeed, Surulere was at that time the centre of gravity of the Nigerian Information Tchnology ecosystem; spanning from Ojuelegba Road, Barracks, to Randle Avenue, to Akerele, Mabo Streeet, meandering to Alhaji Masha; Adeniran Ogunsanya Road, Adebola Street, spanning to Adelabu Street, Bode Thomas Street, Eric More Road, Kilo Street, Ogunlana Drive; Aguda, Lawanson Road, and covering parts of Idi-Araba, Iporin, Itire, Ikate, Iganmu, Ijesha Axis; up to Papa Ajao and Orile axis where Top Class Computers and others held sway. 

 

 

 

To be continued…

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