Immediate past President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Chris Uwaje, spoke to Emma Okonji on the need for government to focus more on software development in order to be abreast with technology evolution. Excerpts:
You have served the Nigeria Information Technology (IT) industry for close to 50 years. What has been your greatest moment and is the IT profession your childhood dream?
I am fulfilled having served the IT profession and industry for 50 years. It is time for me to leave the stage and allow those we have trained to take over from us.
I just handed over the leadership of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) to another software specialist, having served in the capacity as president. I served ISPON for16 years, from 1998 to 2014, and looking back at what we have achieved collectively, I can say I am fulfilled.
We all dreamt to fly, jump high, and attain high positions in life, but when reality sets in, we all need to walk the walk of destiny, determination and fulfillment. Interestingly, I wanted to become a pilot.
Yes a pilot. I love the sky and I always think the sky holds the key to the puzzle of the future of humanity. 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.
So, what happened to your pilot dream?
It went with and is still in the sky. During my youthful age, I was focused and aimed to be at Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Miraculously, I am still passionate and from time-to-time, I do update myself on the professional pilot progress at Embry-Riddle.
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.
That was an interesting ambition, so how did you land into the IT profession?
That is another long story. After my secondary school education at Saint Finbarr's College, Akoka, Lagos in 1970, I worked at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Marina-Lagos to save some coins to fulfill my pilot dream.
However in June, 1972, after my Form-120 for the US Student Visa at that time, I was engaged in a centrifugal flight with the wind at the US Embassy, Lagos. However after wasting precious time, I headed to West Germany that same year.
Why Western Germany?
That was another directional life-wind at that time, which informed that Nigerians do not need a Visa to that country - what was needed was a Police Clearance Certificate. In those days, mouth information on travelling abroad was like a virus - some positive some negative.
You catch the information on the go and take action. 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. I was caught-up with 'Time'.
The two most powerful human infections were: the emerging computer profession and industry 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 the fact remains that I later tried visiting the Hamburg Airport where I disembarked, in search of an Aviation school.
I was compelled to enroll into a German Language school in Hamburg as part of the education requirements to become a pilot.
Meanwhile, those days, the Mainframe Computers were so large, inviting, intimidating and interesting to engage, so I went for it at Control Data Institute of Technology in Frankfurt, Germany. It was a time when Europe was retooling her economy and human capital.
So how long were you out of the country and what did you accomplish there?
Nine eventful years of 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 Policy 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, incorporating certificate in On-line studies (1980) in Communication Technology from the International Correspondence School, Glasgow, UK.
What were your pioneering effort on the National IT Policy?
It was indeed a great privilege and I am humbled. Truth is, I was just lucky and opportune to be there at that particular time. My background experience while working for Deutsche Fachfalag in Eschborn, Germany was instrumental to firing up my interest in Technology Policy matters.
There, I had to assisting 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" (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, I hosted the International Conference and Exposition on IT Policy at the International Conference Centre, in Abuja in 1999.
It was huge success. It attracted many eminent personalities, such as the then Senate Chairman on Science and Technology, Senator Wahab Dosunmu; Hon. Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mrs. Pauline Tallen; Panelists and delegates from India (Nelito Systems); Educational Institution from Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, a speaker from UK, among others.
Today, I still have the conference sticker pasted at a significant corner in my house and my children still ask: "Papa, you did all that in 1999, but how come Nigeria is still far behind other nations in IT development? The answer is still in the wind as we continue our search towards the Information Society.
Looking at technology development in the country, will you say government is focused and committed to it?
First, in the past, there has been a wide disconnect between government, academia and the Industry, with respect to Information Technology development.
Industry do not really know how government works, but in August 1999 when I was President of ITAN, I met Chief Ebitimi Banigo - at that time the Hon. Minister of Science and Technology, and government then was alive and up to its responsibility to the nation.
Ebitimi Banigo was from the private sector and the rare light in the tunnel. Indeed, it can be stated without any fear of contradiction that he was the bedrock of Nigeria IT revolution. He was the National IT development engine room that set the Nigerians IT-minds running and heading for success.
Many governments all over the world have been slow to catching-up with the IT evolution and ICT 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 lead 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 capability 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.
But it is fair to state that our government from President Olusegun Obasanjo to date, should be credited for listening and engaging stakeholders in the IT ecosystem. Indeed, with a bit of handholding approach by IT professionals, government should be credited and applauded for listening and establishing a long overdue Federal Ministry for the ICT ministry.
So, how will you access the take-off and performance of the Ministry of Communications Technology, since it was established in 2011?
In all sincerity, the Hon. Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson has done well by all standards. She engaged the IT professionals, industry and stakeholders the best she could. She was full of energy and listened to the IT community. No doubt, our ICT ecosystem has grown over the years, but it has not developed.
Many factors are responsible for this. Science and technology remain the main determinants in today's knowledge-based and globalized economy, for creation of wealth and improvement in the quality of life.
The process of evolving a productive science and technology policy and culture should recognize the interplay between incentives, capabilities and institutions. While the IT Policy derives its strength from the existing National Policy for Science and Technology, it is an independent instrument specially focused on the enhancement of technology innovation for the people of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.
By extension, a National Software Policy should also be an independent instrument specially focused on distinctive knowledge logic at the intangible level - knowing that software is the next thing to magic.
Therefore, developing a sound Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Blueprint requires, but not limited to, an amalgamation of various scientific principles, guidelines, measures and logic required for structured development of societies in general and for the guided decision-making processes of government in particular.
In this context, government in the process of formulating the policy on Information Technology recognised and indeed, adopted the "inclusiveness" approach and strategy aimed at establishing and achieving sound and qualitative foundation for the development of the state.
IT is recognised worldwide as a multi-disciplinary andessential framework for the development of informed decisions in the processes of governance and for sustainable growth, development and progress.
How will you rate Nigeria in terms of technology development?
We are still predominantly an ICT consumer nation, and this is sad and a bad omen for Africa. There is a fundamental difference between 'growth and development' in nation building.
According to informed sources; what governments don't seem to understand is that software is the nearest thing to magic that mankind has yet invented. It's pure "thought stuff" - which 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.
You conceptualised and promoted the establishment of Women in Technology in NCS some years ago. What was your vision then?
Yes, I pioneered and promoted the concept of Women in IT as a Council Member of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS). Women in Technology : (WIN-IT) is a fundamental concept designed 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).
The initiative is focused on establishing sustainable opportunity platform to promote and empower the concept of Women in Technology development and accelerated technology diffusion for women at all levels, especially those in the rural areas.
To join forces with thousands of women in the IT profession and industry, it aims to innovate and create change for a better society. The issue of women's under-representation in information technology, whether in school, higher education, or industry, is dear to my heart and has been studied in many ways over several decades.
Many of the studies which ask why women avoid IT, or if they enter the field, sooner or later fall away, make explicit recommendations to remedy the situation.
However, the proportion of women continues to drop from 40 per cent in 1986, to about 29 per cent at the end of 1999, and is still dropping. Nearly 80 per cent of jobs in IT are in the management information systems departments of non-IT firms, - where women can fit in effectively if they are adequately trained and given the opportunities to deliver IT services.
Above all, the initiative is tremendously very economical to national development and growth of GDP due to the multiplier effect of its accelerated influence of IT in the family and nationwide.
Can we state that undoubtedly, you hold the record of the longest serving and committed members of the National Information Technology Development Team across all platforms?
That is left for the IT Profession and Industry and in particular, the gentlemen of the press to research document and report. However, for the records, I have cumulatively given 50 significant and extremely productive years of IT service delivery to the nation.
I served the Information Technology Industry Association of Nigeria (ITAN) as General Secretary and President from 1997-2004, and served as founding member, 1Vice-President and President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) from 1998 to 2014.
Concurrently, I also served as Council Member of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS): representing ISPON from 1999 -2014 and Computer Professionals (Registration) Council of Nigeria (CPN): representing ISPON and as elected member between 2001-2013.
In March, 2010 you launched a book titled "e-Knowledge - Time is Running Out". Was it a wake-up call to Nigeria?
Oh! That was part of my endless passion for IT. The book represents a harmonisation of some 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 colonisation of nations - through the interfacing global impact of Information Technology, some of which have started to emerge - going by the revelation of Edward Snowden - a citizen of United State of America.
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 and prepare a strong IT foundation for their survivability and global competitiveness.
The book, "e-Knowledge - Time is running out!" is grounded on the philosophy and concept of ensuring the consistency of preserving "Inter-Generational Knowledge" (IGK) base, as a model for sustainable nation building and global competitiveness.
It is borne out of the believe that global 'knowledge' in itself, represents a buildup and clustering of 'patches' and 'layers' of life's common sense that are perhaps not so common) over many centuries.
This pattern of knowledge formation is finally adopted, reviewed and enthroned as global standards and best practices, from time to time.
So, what are the next steps out of Uwaje's IT Arsenal?
For now, I just wish to appreciate all gentlemen of the press in Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world. They were a candid friend and partner. Having said that, I will love to go on holiday, have a good rest and after a while, put on my thinking cap. But count me in the emerging Mobile Technology race.