By Bill Megalos
When I was invited to speak at the 2012 ISPON National Software Conference and Competition at Tinapa, Cross River State, I was immediately interested in attending. A few years back I had spent a considerable amount of time and energy preparing for a trip that was designed to lay the foundations for a formal film school in Lagos.
Sadly this ambitious plan fell through and I have been trying to visit Nigeria ever since. Based on emails with Chris Uwaje, President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), I quickly learned that the ICT industry in Nigeria was every bit as energized as Nollywood. I saw this invitation as a great opportunity to get a measure of Nigeria and its people 2012.
I would be less than truthful to say that I had no trepidation about making this trip. I, like nearly every foreigner who has not visited Nigeria, had heard many negative things about the country. My multiple trips to East Africa had taught me to wait to see for myself, but personal friends had themselves had bad experiences in country.
The way that my previous project had fallen apart did not leave a very good taste in my mouth, but I was very open to seeing the good side of Nigeria and this trip showed me 95% positive trends and I am very happy that it came about.
It wasn’t until the week before the conference when I received the schedule that I saw how wide-ranging the topics covered would be. The schedule impressed me and I was looking forward to meeting the other participants, but without a doubt, the most intriguing part of the conference was the competition among Nigerian Tertiary Institution (University and Polytechnics)students for best Software Developers and the fact that half or more of the attendees would be students.
Indeed, this proved to be the most exciting aspect of the convention. The students were very engaged and excited to get into conversations. My presentation on interactive games for social change was well received and many students came up to me afterward to discuss their projects. Outside of individual conversations, I had a meeting with 15 students that went into more detail about my presentation than I was able to cover in the time allotted.
I found these students to all be sharp, well informed and hungry for guidance and new ideas and leads that could advance them in their fields. It became clear to me that these young people were not just very smart individuals, but that they were like boats lifted by a rising tide created by a government and university system dedicated to bringing about a vibrant ICT industry in Nigeria, an industry that would be the leader in Africa.
The awards ceremony on Tuesday afternoon was especially moving to me. After being impressed by demonstrations of the top student-created software, to see the pride in the students being called up as winners and to hear the Governor of Cross Rivers State, Senator Liyel Imoke deliver an inspiring speech, I felt very proud and honoured to be able to be a part of what seems to be a new dawn in Nigeria.
Not every aspect of the ISPON conference was as encouraging as the time I spent with the students. The themeof the conference was “THE CLOUD AND THE FUTURE OF SOFTWARE NIGERIA” it took most of the conference to reconcile my idea of the cloud with what is feasible and likely to happen soon in Nigeria.
Although there were strong and optimistic proponents of the cloud giving presentations, there were also a significant number of participants making strong cases for caution. Certainly, based on the thoroughly inadequate bandwidth available at the conference centre and hotel, I can’t imagine the intriguing schemes proposed happening any time soon.
I understand that there is a tremendous amount of fibre capacity already in Nigeria, but it is waiting for the most difficult and expensive “last mile” to get into people’s hands. I can’t urge strongly enough that all parties, private and public, put on full speed to get this capacity into the hands that need it.
I left Tinapa with more hope for the future than with satisfaction with the present. To a person, every participant in the conference was serious, well-informed and committed to creating a better Nigeria. The attendance and participation by His Excellency Governor Liyel Imoke (MON)and Mrs. Omobola Johnson, the Honorable Minister of Communication Technology and other ICT leaders like Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, Prof. Cleopas Angaye (DG NITDA) and Mrs. Funke Opeke (CEO of Main One Cable Company), shows support on the part of the government.
The projected creation of a Knowledge City in the Tinapa facility is very encouraging. I look forward to seeing Nigeria take full advantage of its digital resources and lead the way to a better future for all her citizens in particular and Africa in general.
Bill Megalos, a Professor of Film Technology at the University of Southern California, wrote from Venice, CA, USA.