News Column

My Contributions, Fears for the ICT Sector

June 18, 2014

Emeka Aginam

His name resonates in the ICT sector with deafening precision.His words are almost law in the sector; little wonder he is called the ORACLE. When he roars, somebody in authority must listen. He is Chris Uwaje.

In over 50 years, he has led a revolution that brought positive developments in the Nigerian ICT sector, having led several Nigerian ICT groups, including the Information Technology Association of Nigeria, ITAN, Nigeria Computer Society, NCS, Computer Professionals (Registration) Council of Nigeria, CPN and lately, the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria, ISPON .

But just recently, the ORACLE bowed out as the President of ISPON and Hi-Tech had the opportunity to peep into his world of ICT activism.

The encounter was very engaging as the veteran spoke on a number of industry issues, including slow pace of integrating IT in governance, his pioneering role in IT policy and why Nigeria should not be allowed to remain predominantly an ICT consumer nation.

Excerpts:

Early foundation

I was born and raised in Lagos. My Father was a Nurse and my mother, a meticulous, confident and hardworking small scale entrepreneur in the Tobacco industry. I am from a polygamous home, the third in a family of eight from my mother's side.

My father had two wives, and raised 14 children; all, living in competitive harmony due to the humility and discipline inculcated into us by our father.

For the family, education was mandatory. And in the good old Lagos, attending Saint Finbars College, Akoka made education a big fun and a significant roadmap for the future. We had superlative infrastructure and committed teachers under Rev. Father Dennis Slattery as Principal.

Childhood dreams

As a child you dream of being many things but reality is that everybody has a hidden destiny that would unfold someday, in most cases, outside his dreams. Interestingly, I wanted to become a Pilot. I love the sky and still do today. I always think the sky holds the key to the puzzle of the future of humanity and still do. The sky is and remains a mystery in itself and the twinkling little stars makes the unknown the more interesting to explore. It is perhaps the crystal ball of human innovation, creativity, productivity and development - all in one.

Being a Pilot in those days, makes you set sail for the United States of America. At that time, I was focused and aimed to be at Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Today, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University provides instruction through more than 150 locations in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, and through online learning. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, teaches the science, practice, and business of the world of aviation and aerospace.

Foray into IT profession

After my secondary school education at Saint Finbars College, in 1970, I worked at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Marina-Lagos to save some money for my Pilot dream. However in June, 1972, I headed to West Germany, after attempts for the US Student Visa at that time, was not forthcoming.

That was another directional life-wind at that time. My plan at that time was to get to Germany as a by-pass of landing in the US. But I was caught between two very tempting and powerful infection - the emerging computer Profession and the life-encounter with a very charming, intelligent and beautiful lady who today is my wife and life. The two positive time-bugs were so tempting and exciting that the Pilot dream had to temporarily wait and later gave way.

However I later tried to enrol in an Aviation school in Hamburg but was compelled to enrol into a German Language school as part of the education requirements to become a pilot.

Meanwhile, this was also when Europe was retooling her economy and Human capital, so I enrolled at Control Data Institute of Technology in Frankfurt, Germany.

Experience in computer field

I spentnine eventful years, engaging the Computer Science World, related electronic technologies and the logic-adventure of systems analysis, operations research, software development and policy construct. That helped and prepared me with the significant platform for pioneering the National IT Policy for Nigeria.

Between, 1975-1980, I graduated as Systems Analyst from Control Data Institute of Information Technology, Frankfurt, Germany and Operations Research at the British Institute of Engineering Technology UK; Certificate in On-line studies, 1980, in Communication Technology from the International Correspondence School, Glasgow, UK.

Role in National IT Policy.

My background experience, working for Deutsche Fachfalag in Eschborn, Germany, was instrumental to firing up my interest in technology policy matters. There, I assisted in proof reading hundreds of pages of policy processes, procedures and standards. Moreover, I had access to very informed United Nations documentations on Information Technology on my return to Nigeria in the 80s.

But above all, it was another dreamy and passionate adventure when I was challenged to lead the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN) as its President in 1999.

Having written and published a paper titled The need for a National Informational Technology Policy for Nigeria in 1998, all that was left was to design the Framework and transform it into a national initiative and ITAN afforded me the platform and opportunity to lead the advocacy.

As ITAN President, in 1999,I hosted the 1st International Conference and Exposition on IT Policy at the International Conference Centre, in Abuja. It was a huge success. It attracted many eminent personalities, such as the then Senate Committee Chairman on Science and Technology - Senator Wahab Dosunmu, Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mrs. Pauline Tallen, Panellists and delegates from Nelito Systems, India, Educational Institutions from Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, and a speaker from UK, among others.

Low adoption rate of e-government

Let me say that there has been a wide disconnect between Government, Academia and the Industry with respect to IT. The only time this gulf was abridged a bit was in 1999 when Chief Ebitimi Banigo was Minister of Science and Technology. Government was alive, at home and up to its responsibility to the nation.

Banigo was from the private sector and the rare light in the tunnel. Indeed, I can state without any fear of contradiction that he was the bedrock of Nigeria IT revolution. He was the National IT development engine room that set Nigeria's IT-mind running and heading for success.

Many Governments all over the world have been slow to catching-up with the IT evolution and revolution. And every country has reacted differently on how it should engage the challenging impact, due to the fact that it was and is still a relatively new technology.

Those who saw the light early were able to articulate strategies and policies that have worked for them. Other nations such as ours preferred to consume rather than innovate and create! Many factors led to the above confusion: First, the science and Technology Culture is not well rooted in the background of the late comer countries. Secondly, their investment profiles in Research and Development is either very low or non-existent.

Thirdly, the intellectual culture of merit capacity and knowledge processes are deeply beclouded and flawed by political consideration, ethnicity, nepotism and corruption - throwing up light-weights and leaving smart minds behind)at many levels of IT knowledge engagement and functionality.

However, credit should be given to the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo for listening and engaging stakeholders in the IT Ecosystem. It was his listening approach that led to the establishment of a long overdue Federal Ministry of Communications Technology.

Now, the new Ministry

In all sincerity, the new ministry of Communications Technology has done well and by all standards the lady, in charge of the ministry, should be commended. She engages the IT Professionals, Industry and Stakeholders as best as she can and this has help to some of her land mark achievements.

However, the same cannot be said of the nation. No doubt, our ICT Ecosystem has grown over the years, but it has not developed.We are still predominantly an ICT Consumer Nation.

This is sad and a bad omen for Africa! There is a fundamental difference between growth and development in nation building.

What the government doesn't seem to understand is that software is the nearest thing to magic that mankind has invented. It's pure thought stuff, means that it enables ingenious or gifted people to create wonderful things out of thin air.

All you need to change the world is imagination, programming ability and access to a cheap PC. Microsoft and Facebook are typical examples. Nigerians can do the same if empowered. You don't need much capital or material resources or adult permission. Tim Berners-Lee and a tiny group of colleagues created the web out of nothing more than vision and programming skill.

Why I conceptualized NCS's Women in Technology

First, I am extremely proud and happy to be the father of three Princesses who can engage and have significantly demonstrated the ability and capability to engage the world and succeeded on their own by exploring Information Technology. Yes, I pioneered and promoted the concept of Women in IT as a Council Member of the Nigeria Computer Society, NCS.

It was designed as a fundamental concept to accelerate technology development process, with central focus on the intervention and affirmative action for empowering women to excel in mastering Information Technology skills, application, and support services. Today, relevant studies have shown that this is a logical, economic and cost-effective model for leapfrogging and diffusing IT process delivery, especially for the developing countries. Indeed, it has become a common knowledge that women involvement in IT activities is central to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

50 years in active ICT practice

For the records, I have cumulatively given 50 significant and extremely productive years of IT service delivery to the Nation, and I thank God for his mercies.

I wouldn't say whether that's an unbeaten record. But the right judges are posterity and the stakeholder community. I served the Information Technology (Industry) Association of Nigeria (ITAN) as General Secretary and President - 1997-2004), Served as founding member, 1st Vice-President and President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) (1998-2014). Concurrently, I also served as Council Member, representing ISPON, at the Nigeria Computer Society, from 1999 -2014; and at Computer Professionals (Registration) Council of Nigeria CPN, Representing ISPON as elected member between 2001-2013.

My book - e-Knowledge: Time is running Out!

Oh! That was part of my endless passion for IT in digital expression. It was a wake-up call to Nigeria. The book represents a harmonization of some of my recent and earlier writings on the subject of Information Technology as it relates to and affects my fatherland, Nigeria. Yes, it was published as a wake-up call on the unconscious and layback attitude of our leadership and policy makers to critical issues on the role of Information Technology to national development and nation building. In particular, the book aims to share my mission-critical concern on the state of IT-Nigeria and shape of things to come, within the context and possibility of 21st Century Digital colonization of nations.

Some of my fears in the book have started to emerge, going by the revelation of Wikileaks' Edward Snowden. Time may therefore be running out on future generations of Nigerians, who may though as Digital Natives, have been sentenced to live in a Digital Colony.

Unless we take the bull by the horn now, to prepare a strong IT foundation for the survivability of our digital natives, global competitiveness will remain a mirage.

Can you give the industry more 50 years?

For now, I will love to go on holiday, have a good rest and after a while, put on my thinking cap. But count me in, on the emerging Mobile Technology race.


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Source: AllAfrica


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