by Wilfred Okiche
Two states across Nigeria impressed us for taking trips into the future – combining technology and education to lethal effect
“Within the next ten years, the state will produce professionals who will control the ICT world.’’
Allow us some ‘big words’ – it’s a towering edifice of epic technological proportions.
It’s an exciting time to be Nigerian. No, seriously. Information communication technology has been identified as pivotal to the growth and sustainable development of nations and has taken pride of place in the policy framework of most developed countries. Thankfully, Nigeria is one of the developing nations waking to this realisation.
Meaningful development is all but impossible these days without a sound knowledge and full utilisation of ICT – complete with all its tools, applications, and opportunities.
Nigeria’s government has not been the first “man” on the scene when it comes to innovation in technology, who woulda thunk it? It is a pleasant surprise to see some states of the federation picking up from where young Nigerians stop and solving problems in a way that makes life easy for everyone.
Anamba and Akwa Ibom states for instance.
Light of the nation
Formerly known as the Home for All, the commercial capital of South Eastern Nigeria has been through perhaps more than enough of its fair share of political turmoil and negative spotlight.
Once infamous for its secondary students missing out on the West African Senior School Certificate (WASSCE) because teachers were on strike, Anambra has come a long way in terms of education. And so it should; this is after all the state that has given the nation some of the brightest minds we can boast off: Professors Chinua Achebe, Kenneth Dike and the Okigbo brothers.
The Peter Obi administration, in turn infuriating and exasperating in many respects, has kept its eye on the education blog. Through the Anambra Integration Development Strategy (ANIDS), particular attention has been paid to enlightening and empowering the young minds. Computers have been deployed to schools along with generators and internet facilities. Figures coming from government reveal that since inception, ANIDS has provided 160 schools statewide with ten computers each so that no child growing up in the state would be ICT illiterate.
Even software giant Microsoft has taken note and partnered with the Anambra State government; adopting over 110 secondary schools in 2010 and christening them Microsoft Academies. Fifty laptops were provided to each school with internet facilities and capacity for training their students.
It goes a step further in delivering the manpower and human resources; the state government in 2011 recruited 200 ICT teachers and organised a three-week training programme for all of them in collaboration with Microsoft and New Horizon computer learning centre.
The programme was commissioned by Governor Peter Obi in Awka, the state capital where he declared that it was all in line with the vision and determination of his administration “to empower people properly to fight poverty as ICT remains the engine and capital that will drive the future.’’
According to Tim Akano, the Managing Director of New Horizon, Anambra is the first state to embark on such a programme; projecting that “within the next ten years, the state will produce professionals who will control the ICT world.’’
Hardly ground breaking prophecy since the state already produced Philip Emegwali, whose claims to being one of the internet’s founding fathers is questionable, but who has won awards for his brilliance with innovative use of ICT globally.
Not that it is all sugar and spice. Many of the schools do not have access even to basic computers and some schools who have been supplied still insist on stockpiling them in their stores due to lack of trained manpower, laziness, no power source or perhaps a combination of all of the above.
And of course, as someone needs to tell the governor, many of the schools are still waiting for deliveries that never show up.
A gigantic vision
The vision spreads a little wider. Right in the heart of Awka, the state capital, is the Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Doomed to constantly exist in the shadow of its fore bearer, the more widely respected University of Nigeria Nsukka, the self-acclaimed “university of the moment’’ has however found its niche, growing in leaps and bounds – and one of the reasons for this meteoric rise is, the Festus Aghagbo Nwako Digital library. Allow us some ‘big words’ – it’s a towering edifice of epic technological proportions.
Commissioned in 2008 and opened to users in March 2010, the digital library, named after the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the university and frontline professor of pediatric surgery, Festus Aghagbo Nwako, it is the largest online library in the country. With a seating capacity of 2,500 people and 700 computer space, it is indeed a “gigantic vision’’ as described by university librarian Dr. Chinwe Anunobi. It archives essential resources in almost all fields of learning and provides access to search engines like HINARI, ARE, AGORA as well as the world digital library and what is more, users can log in from anywhere in the world. We’ll write them a cheque for the PR, but seriously, Nigerian students haven’t had it so good. Sadly, they haven’t really begun to notice.
“Poor awareness among staff and students on the overall importance of the structure has been a problem,” Dr. Anunobi has said in a chat with the UniZik bulletin the school’s news publication. “Only a handfull of them are fully aware of what they have on their hands.”
She has also noted that the project is being grossly underutilised and stressed the need to increase the server capacity so that the maximum 700 computers can be powered simultaneously as opposed to the current 50.
Still, the potential is awesome.
Forward thinking Uyo
In oil-rich Akwa Ibom State, Governor Godswill Akpabio might be guilty of life-sized billboards singing his own praise, but on at least one matter that praise is more than well deserved – putting the state at the forefront of ICT innovations.
For one, there is a free education policy for all indigenes in place. The government renovated and upgraded all state-owned libraries. Existing traditional libraries are being remodeled and new ones are springing up by the day.
The crown jewel of all these exciting going-ons would have to be the giant E-library situated along Ibrahim Babangida Avenue, Uyo, the state’s capital. When completed, the complex will comprise a library complex and computerised library facility complete with electronic books and archives. The building will also house state of the art conference and meeting rooms as well as access to leading e-libraries worldwide.
The chief executive of Xousene Technologies Limited, Uduak Etuk, described the e-library as the first of its kind to be established in this part of the world. When fully operation, he says, “it will link the good people of Akwa Ibom State to the outside world for socio-economic and educational contacts.”
Impressive in scale and dizzying in its ambitions the project is also aimed to serve as international resource centre in the Niger Delta and is set to put Akwa Ibom on the world wide ICT map.
“It is difficult to provide books for every student and even if you have money, it is still difficult to come by some text books but electronically, you can access any book anywhere in the world,’’ Nseabasi Akpan, the state’s commissioner for education explained, summarising that “the e-library hopes to reinvent our reading culture and instill the discipline of research among our population.”
The state has emphasised the introduction of ICT courses earlier in the lives of children from the state with an eye on global competitiveness. There are also long term plans to set up computer laboratories in both primary and secondary schools for teaching computer applications.
The state, whose governor has been crowned by the Nigeria Digital Society as the “Digital Governor of Nigeria” has also, in partnership with indigenous computer makers Zinox, commissioned the Chief Akpabio Digital centre in the state-owned Akwa Ibom Polytechnic.
On to the future
Unfortunately, the Nigerian is given to pessimism, so one wonders about the usual challenges – power, politics and the too-absent culture of sustainability.
Thankfully, for now at least, even all that pales to insignificance when you fully appreciate the scope of what these governors have decided to do from their corners outside the media mainstream.
It is ideas like these that drive today’s world – ideas beyond Lagos and Abuja and the usual suspects. In fact, and of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the forward thinking innovations abundant in our country. Every day, somewhere, someone is doing something to change our circumstances . We need only to look harder. Y!