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

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



Be the first to know! Why should you read this? Because this Information Technology, IT-Nigeria, journey of a thousand future has never been published before!



The most interesting thing about the future is that it remains the elusive reality we unknowingly aspire and/or fail to see before it hatches. But the curiosity of imagining its numerous layers and possibilities spurs us on! One of these truisms is the journey of the National Information Technology Policy; as well as the strategic history which forms the absolute bedrock to the journey of a thousand future for Nigeria’s IT Ecosystem.



Due to its generational importance, this narrative can only be condensed and presented in several parts to enable us draw vital conclusions; while setting future tech agenda from lessons learned.



Today, technology is super-charging the world we live in. This incredible supercharges have exposed the glaring inequality of the global class struggle in stampede for the world resources. So, why is this conversation important? It is, for many reasons, and essentially because, most of the progressions and dividing paths to national and/or indeed global developments occur within the twinkle of an eye. It invites us to examine the hidden curves of accidental and happenstance variables that determine our collective future.


Indeed, it translates to that critical point in time that magically illuminates several unknowns. That is the adventurous momentum that throws us pioneers on whose shoulders we build; to advance further and conquer other meandering unknowns.


Above all, the importance of this narrative is that the history of the national Information Technology development has never been written in its original form!


And perhaps, it may never have been transcribed, unless its contexts stem from the perspectives of the vision-bearer/s.


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




Traveling back in time to the past future, my narrative was set in the ambience of an environment vehemently consumed by the Typewriter development culture! Exploring the steps of growing up in Lagos, my memories between Saint Paul’s Primary School and Saint Finbarr’s College; (between the 60s and 70s), one thing was profound. That is, the memory of women and girls carrying typewriters on their heads; marching to designated locations centres for actions I could not comprehend at that time! Now it has become clear that it was a race for and against the future!



A sprint in pursuit of Information/Data! Today, this trend merits to be graded as a distinguished milestone in the future of work as we currently experience. And indeed, there would be more breath-taking futures-of-work to behold by coming generations; if we can put on our thinking cap and anticipate the unknown future-of-things (Apologies to Dr. Leo Stan Ekeh).



At that memorable time according to the Type-Writer-Girl; ‘‘One profession which reigned king (or queen) above all was the type-writer girl, or typist. As one of the better paying and most “genteel” of positions, it was highly coveted by professional women. A woman possessing skills in typing, dictation, and shorthand could work as a private secretary; an authors’ amanuensis, a copying clerk to a solicitor, or for the Government.



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To equip women with the necessary skills, business schools and classes were founded, and after a stated period of time; the student was awarded a certificate, which verified to prospective employers that the applicant was trained and experienced in the aforementioned skills, as well as light book-keeping, business terms, business arithmetic, and précis (the summarizing of “a document in the fewest possible words, consistently with clearness and accuracy”).’’



Technologically speaking, ‘the future’ is a very delicate and magical word. It conjures an exploratory momentum, and inexplicable dogma! The momentum we strive to behold but cannot clearly interpret its anticipated clarity until that momentum hatches. What follows thereafter is the monumental adventure that not only explores but interrogates ‘what next’ and the chains of actions and reactions between the vision bearers, converted believers and policy decision makers.



Often, these layers of various ‘nexts’ consume the vision bearer/s in an unending somersault marathon chase. The ultimate matters when we approach the breaking point or punchline and do not drop the baton. The do or die resides in the drive of resounding governance.



The yolk of the journey of the national Information Technology Policy started to mutate between 1998 and 1999. At that point in time, I was highly privileged to dream without the box, in a land endowed with the future-of-things; but, adequately beclouded with the future of many unknowns! So, I was able to put pen to paper in 1998 and wrote down my thoughts: ‘‘The need for a national Information Technology (IT) Policy’’ published in the Guardian Newspaper in 1998.



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Three fundamental elements ignited the dreamy idea. One was the rare encounter with Uncle Sam Amuka commanding the Vanguard Yellow Project in 1994-96. The other was the momentous challenge to contest for the election for the office of the President of the Computer Vendors Association of Nigeria (CoVAN) – hosted by Dr. Leo Stanley Nnamdi Ekeh as the Managing Director of Task Systems Limited in 1999. After winning the election, I renamed CoVAN to Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN). And finally, the audacious encounter with Chief (now HRM) Ebitimi Banigo; the former Hon. Minister of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology 1998-2000.




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




The trajectory of this journey cumulated into many thrusts-of-things wrapping into one awesome visionary bang!  From the stable of HRM Ebitimi Banigo, I learnt that there can be no technology without determinative research. This is necessary to birth creativity and spur innovation. With hindsight and all humility, I overwhelmingly won the CoVAN Presidential election; not because I ran as the Past-General Secretary of CoVAN, but because the thematic thrust of my campaign was consciously researched and conspicuously extraordinary.




Tech policy matters was alien to the computing community at that time. Their primary focus was on buying and selling computing hardware and accessories. To God be the glory for giving me the privilege and addicting me with the idea, vision, and passion to have pioneered the National Information Technology (IT) Development for Nigeria.



However, the untold story is, unknown to many. This digital policy adventure really started early-1994 during my encounter with Uncle Sam Amuka – the amiable publisher of Vanguard Newspaper. That was when he invited me to look at and advise on the computerization and production processes of ‘Vanguard Yellow Pages’.


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This was in his passionate effort to harness the creation of a reliable database for the Nigeria Business Community.



He charged me with the assignment of ensuring that the analogue-mode information which were typewriter-written and sent by the client, is digitally compiled through a computer-based process. In his patriotic view, doing that locally, he said, will save a lot of foreign exchange for Vanguard; as well as the nation, while creating employment locally, instead of outsourcing the entire process; (from Data entry to Production and shipment costs) to and from London.



It is important to remind readers that at that time; the world was still in the Electronic Data Processing (EDP) and Management Information System (MIS) mode of information management. Needless to state, this assignment became an eye-opener leading to the realization that there is large paucity of ICT Infrastructure and skill-sets in-country – at both professional and user levels. That indeed was my learning process in understanding the difficult state of Information Technology development in Nigeria. It unveiled the overwhelming challenges for the nation within the context of the emerging Information Society.



Having worked abroad in an EDP Department and gained policy insights, my understanding is that Technology Policy Framework; Strategy Architecture, and Institutional Framework, as well as focused Regulatory/Legislation are fundamental to the development; as well as sustainable growth of a digital nation and economy.



Therefore, my concern to ensure that my nation benefitted from my knowledge knew no bounds after the Vanguard experience spanning many years; from digitizing Yellow Pages to training some staff – all leading to the setting up of Vanguard Computer Unit and Computerization. It was a great fun working for/with Uncle Sam – perhaps the most humble Nigerian with awesome leadership simplicity I have ever met.



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His humility and unassuming nature remains a factor that has qualified and made him a distinguished mentor of mentors to many at home and abroad. Above all, he is a patriot to the core.



His abundant wisdom, insightful wit, disarming jokes, logical query and smiley expression often neutralizes the opponent; with modest feedback that opens another window to learn new things. I still remembered my sessions with him at his home on how the computer Keyboard, Memory Chip, Hard disk storage; as well as other internalized functional parts such as the I/O unit works.



To my uttermost surprise, the following day, Uncle Sam bought a brand-new Personal Computer for his home study! His belief in Nigeria’s ability to develop technologically is unparalleled. He further fired my imagination, challenging and encouraging me to put pen to paper and share my thoughts on Information Technology; so that others can read, hear and understand what I have to say on the amazing world of Information Technology (IT).




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



This challenge can easily be validated as the beginning of my intellectual advocacy in the ICT Advocacy domain; with a critical focus on Information Technology strategic thinking and national development policy.



Those papers/write-ups on IT advocacy drive later spread like a positive wildfire in the Harmattan to almost all other worthy Media/Newspapers in Nigeria and elsewhere. Eventually, in 1998 I published “The Need for a National Information Technology Policy for Nigeria”.  Early 1999, on my election as President of CoVAN (later transformed to Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN); I made the ‘Establishment of a National IT Development Policy’ my foremost project.  Dr. Nnamdi Leo Stan Ekeh, then MD of Task Systems Limited and now Chairman of ZINOX Group supported the concept of the enthronement of a National IT Policy for the country and encouraged its actualization during his Keynote delivery during my induction ceremony as CoVAN President at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Lagos, 1999.



We further took the advocacy to Abuja and organized the first National IT Policy Conference 1999, at the International Conference Centre; to facilitate the buy-in of the Federal government. Building on the conventional inclusive Stakeholders adoption strategy, as President; I drafted Mr. Olugbenga Sesan whom I had earlier discovered at Obafemi Awolowo University on my speaking engagement runs; to speak on e-Commerce. Gbenga and one member of his team were a revelation on how hungry Nigerian youths are for the acquisition of digital knowledge as far back as 1999!



On the same trajectory during the tail end of the Military era when General Abdul-Salam was the head of State; an opportunity to lead the IT Policy advocacy beckoned itself once more through the global panic orchestrated by the ‘Millennium Bug’; which was popularly known as Y2K, Year 2000 Bug. That was a huge project organised by the then Honorable Minister of Science and Technology – General Chuka Mormah and his Permanent Secretary; General Olu Bajowa.



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At the Military exit, General Olusegun Obasanjo was installed as Civilian President and Chief Ebitimi Banigo became the Hon. Minister; Federal Ministry of Science and Technology; Mrs. Paulin Tallen, as Hon. Minister of State; Senator. Dr. Wahab Dosunmu, (Chairman S&T -NASS). Members of the Committee included late Chief Segun Odegbami, Chief Don Etiebet representing CPN, Ladi Ogunneye and Dr. Chris Nwannena; both Past-Presidents, Computer Association of Nigeria (COAN); Ex-Senator Sunday Fajimi, Dr. Jimson Olufuye, VP ITAN.



Above all, the Information Technology media space stands out in their performance. They deserve my commendation to the following media enigmas: Sonny Aragba-Akpore, Aaron Ukodie, Mkpe Abang, Shina Badaru, Don Pedro Aganbi. Others include Friday Okoh, Emeka Aginam, Prince Osuagwu, Dr. Bayero Agabi & others.




To be continued……

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