By Emmanuel Elebeke
THE Managing Director of Debis Com puters, Ikeja, Dr Isaac Adeola Odeyemiis the first Nigerian scientist to obtain a Ph.D in computer science from Manchester University, England by 1971.
He is a fellow of Nigeria Computer Society, a member of Computer Professional Council of Nigeria (CPN). He was also a former Provost, College of Fellows of the Nigerian Computer Society. He pioneered the teaching of Computer Science at Obafemi Awolowo University in !971 and was a senior lecturer there and Director of Computer Studies. He retired from the university in 1980, and thereafter established Debis Computers in Ikeja, Lagos.
He has been in the forefront of computer education in Nigeria, having prepared the first set of students for CPN examination. Debis Computers, headquartered in Ikeja, Lagos today has branches in Abuja, Kaduna and Abuja. The firm has an institute which prepares students for certification, ICDM, international passport, driving license, CISCO and others and also admits professionals in various computer skills utilization programme. All these Dr. Odeyemi had done since 1981 till date.
In this interview with Emmanuel Elebeke, he spoke on how he became the first computer scientist in Nigerian and African that lead to the establishment of Debis computers, the need for creation of ministry of IT, why Nigeria must celebrate her golden jubilee year, the possibility INEC organizing a credible elections with the use of IT, economy among other issues. Below are the excerpts:
How did you made it becoming the first Nigerian to obtain Ph.D in computer science.?
It was really by accident.
I was recruited at University of Ife to teach mathematical physics because my first degree was in mathematics and the post graduate was in mathematical physics and then they wanted to send me abroad to go and do Ph.D in elementary particle physics. Because I had a postgraduate diploma immediately after my first degree in Nigeria, I did a University of London degree from Ibadan and I knew that I needed to learn how to compute, so I went to university of Lagos in 1967 to learn fortran programming and numerical analysis.
When I came back, we found out that out of three senior lecturers and a young person as an assistant lecturer then, I was the only one who finished the course and I said it was interesting while my colleagues, and other people said it was a useless course, saying something must be crazy with me.
Due to fellowship available in IT, they
were looking for first, second class, or third class upper degree holder in mathematics. I made first class in Ibadan, so they converted me and at the last moment I found out that I was studying in the first university that was doing computer science programme at the university level in England and I was one of the 30 post-graduate students, where there were 33 professors and lecturers.
A year later, I was given a Commonwealth scholarship in addition to my fellowship and I was told by the British government that I was the first Nigerian or first African to obtain Ph.D in computer science anywhere. That gave me a serious challenge. My Ph.D was in computer architecture anyway.
Shortly after my studies, knowing fully well that my studies would not be useful to me in Nigeria then because computers were scarcely used then anywhere in Nigeria, I added more knowledge by vising the bursary, the registry departments of the university and other areas they use computer in that university. I learned it and in the year of my arrival in Ngeria, I wrote a payroll which was written in fortran. It was used for 19 years at Obafemi Awolo University before somebody converted it after I had left.
With this feat and the establishment of Debis computers institute in 1981 after your retirement from active service, are you fulfilled with your achievement so far?
Yes of course, I’m fulfilled. If I retire, I will be the happiest man. We are not rich but have produced sound and well educated and well groomed IT lecturers but we do not have much population that we used to have before the wide spread mushrooming of computer training institutes. In those days, there were only few of us but now, people can have it in any place, but our goals are different. Some of these people educate people on cybercrime, but here we educate people to become very efficient computer experts.
If I set up the first computer science programme in any Nigeria university, and some of my students today are computer scientists in universities, Director of CPN, federal permanent secretaries and a set of others who have established different computer businesses far more than we have done here, I think I will say that I’m satisfied. Satisfaction is what we want.
How would you assess the impact of the explosion in computer training institutes in Nigeria in the past decades?
I wouldn’t put it this way.
You remember that whenever there is increase in demand, there will be supply. Once the suppliers cannot meet demand, there is bound to be supply from different angles. For instance, in Lagos, if the entire people who wanted computer education in 1981 or 1982 were less than 1,000, and you now have probably 400,000 people wanting to use computers now or internet or desk top publishing, there must be structure to take care of these needs. We do not have many quality training institutions in Nigeria.
Therefore, naturally, you will have new businesses with one or two computers doing their own thing and calling it computer training. However, the CPN was established in 1983 with intent to control the use of computers and the profession and many of these new hands actually are not aware of the existence of these control agencies and so, you would not say that they have followed the laid down procedure, probably they have not gone through the process of registering with CPN and being monitored by the regulatory agency. So, some of the products of these small schools can use computer but you cannot call them computer professionals because they were not trained with the standard curriculum.
What is your unique selling point at Debis?
We were the first to come out with a standard curriculum. I was the first chairman of the education committee of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), and the brain work of formulating CPN register and we were the first to teach the syllabus of CPN. So, some of our products are already in the field doing very well. That is our achievements. We set the standards and we teach the standards.
Would you give a pass mark to CPN looking at its performance so far?
I’m a member of CPN, and for that reason, I can not judge its performance. However, I will say that we are still struggling to reach many corners of the country. The CPN has been struggling in the past three to four years and it now has offices in the six geo-political zones of the country.
The major challenges?
The major challenge, I will say is that the computer in 1981 when we came out here was still limited to universities or federal government establishments. But today, computer is in every corner of this country and you can imagine if we have a government organ in each of the villages. So, it is not much of the challenge but the mission to be achieved and gradually people will get to know and appreciate the use of computer.
Nigeria is 50 years,
would you say the celebration of the golden jubilee was worthwhile, looking at the successes recorded in the IT sector?
It is only a foolish man that will say we have nothing to celebrate. Celebrating does not mean “not being sceptical”.
The number of computers in Nigeria in 1971 when I came back after my studies in Manchester was less than ten, and we are now saying that there are micro computers in almost every building in major towns and villages, then we have something to celebrate. Definitely, it will be useless trying to count the number of calculators that market women use. Is it not worth celebrating that these women can use calculator in the market, than counting cowries and subtracting with their fingers.
So, where do we go from here?
We are looking forward to the Federal Government to see the importance of information technology and the CPN, NCS and all accredited computer practitioners are urging the government to create a ministry of information technology. We are lucky so far that the government had adopted the IT policy and created the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). So, these are steps in the right direction. We are saying that if the IT ministry is created, we could transfer our thinking from petrodollar to knowledge dollar using IT. So, these are the things we should be looking forward to.
I believe that with new administration coming on, we will make more progress. At least since the advent of civil rule in 1999, IT is being given its pride of place in Nigeria and the government will really see a revolution in the economy if IT is given more attention.
We will get there because I can recall that in 1971 upon my arrival from UK to OAU, then University of Ife, I went from department to department, teaching computer and even the lecturers then will also come to learn fortran. Now children who are in primary school visit the internet and they get computer literate.
To what extent do you think IT can go in helping the present INEC deliver credible election to Nigerians?
I think that Prof. Attahiru Jega has brought in new vision and enthusiasm. And if there is a way of trying to use GSM as a tool of information dissemination during the elections, and educate people on it and also renew data, we will have credible elections. We all have bank accounts, and if somebody pay into your bank account and another five seconds, it reflects on your GSM and you are confident that it is there.
The same happens when a withdrawal is made on your account. So, if they can connect this elections with GSM, in a way that what is collated at the higher level is consistent with what is counted at each polling station, then we will have credible elections.