(Webmaster’s note: This article was long delayed due to technical problems. It was wriiten to be presented at the last Ika World Foundation’s Convention in Amsterdam. We appologise for this delay).
In our traditional settings, everyone is able to interpret signs and gesticulation, listen and respond to gung and drum beats. If one can hear a signal and see the signs, one gets the message. This was a very unique identity and virtually within. To communicate with outsiders, one would need an interpreter, and beyond borders, an entirely different process. In the 19th century, and with the invention of telegraph and telephone, one could suddenly speak from one end of a continent to the other. Then came the 21st century, which ushered in a new circle: from the wire to the wireless, the track to trackless, and recently the Information Society to a virtual Information and Communication Society. It is now possible to hear and listen to everyone in the globe. Our mouths now talk less. Our fingers and the mouse rather do much of the jobs from medical consultation to billing, from ticket reservation to academic examinations, and from map reading to tax payment. Making SmartCommunities out of traditional communities where words, human relations, data, wealth, and power manifest by using computer-mediated communications. Ika Community belongs to this ‘virtual world’. The gains and the likely pains of Ikas embracing this technology are the objects of this write up.
By December this year and in Geneva, UN shall be hosting all organizations, both public and private world wide, to design a road map for the realization of a ‘Virtual World’ by the year 2010 through Information Technology (IT). This ‘Virtual World’ presumes an electronically transformed world especially as Information Technology (IT) transforms into Information and Communication Technology (ICT). A transformed world where all the villages, all the schools, all the medical centers, all market squares, all palaces, be it in Oza-Nogogo or in the remotest part of Namibia will be connected to a common network or Internet.
Presently, many countries in Africa have built solid platforms to accommodate this revolution that stands to change the world utterly and irreversibly. I personally believe that developing countries such as ours are the targets of this golden offer courtesy of IT.
Briefly, IT applies to everything with computers, networking (webbing), and information systems. The ‘IT’ field means the jobs and industry that surround configuring, installing, and keeping computers running. IT is the technology that deals with Information. Information itself is virtuous. It is unidirectional and irreversible. It can build and as well destroy. When data is refined and transferred, it becomes information.
In IT, computers are used to input data, process the data, store and retrieve such data. Data itself is useless, unless transferred to the end user. The transferred data is what is referred to as information. Computers are compilations of electronics components that understand their own languages. They do not reason and are not meant to. They only understand ‘high’ or ‘low’ voltages, and or mathematically, ‘0s’ and ‘1s’ codes. This is why it is either doing it or not doing it. OFF or ON. No interlude. Computers connect themselves via cables or wirelessly to form networks. Within an organization, this is referred to as Intranet and to similar organization but outside, we have Extranet. Internet is computer talking with another computer irrespective of the user, location or time. The exponential growth of this Internet ushered in a new global communications tool linking humans together in real time as never before. Information could now be transferred from community to city, and from cities across borders, 24 hours of the day, and 7 days a week.
BENEFITS OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
The convergence of computer capabilities, communications, and media industries promises tremendous benefits in no time. A few of the apparent benefits could be seen in
1) Students’ studies and researches using computers, multimedia and networks
2) Doctors diagnosing by information accessed through global networks
3) Businesses competing more effectively with timely and accurate market information
4) Teleworking -conducting works be it during the workday, after hours, or on an occasional basis from individual rooms, or from a remote location using telecommunications technology.
5) For public services, cheaper delivery of some services becoming possible, both by integration at one point and others at several points. Services such as electronic delivery of payments, filling and processing of forms are now possible.
6) Citizens having access to Government information which can sharply create a greater confidence in the democratic process and as such used in improving their quality of life.
7) Environmentalist issuing early warnings on draught and famine for farmers.
8) Transport cost being reduced, and also limiting movements on our roads. A possibility for reduced accident casualties and pollution.
9) Jobs seekers having access to job openings world wide and
These are the few out of the endless number of benefits that mankind can derive from the handiwork of former V.President Al-Gore of United States. Internet allows us to be everywhere in a few seconds while actually being nowhere. It has removed International borders. With it, this conference was organized glitch free. Through the Internet, Dr Joseph Onyeche could bring all the brains in Ika both the old and the young the ruled and the rulers, wherever and whenever to a round table discussion to talk on typical issues affecting the Ika people. Since I became a member of ikaworld.com, I have been reunited with over 20 friends that I thought I have missed forever.
IKA IN BRIEF
Ika is a people situated on the Northwest end of Delta State. With a population of about 350,000 and a growth rate of 5%, she is the parent body of Ika North-East with Owa-Oyibo as Headquarter and Ika South having Boji-Boji Agbor as Headquarter. Amongst Ikas, there are 6 kingdoms, and each has her own reigning kind known as Obi. The ‘Obi’ title is hereditary and essentially by the eldest male child of the palace. The Obi oversees the traditional issues directly affecting the people.
Presently, Ika has 2 tertiary Institutions of learning, 23 secondary schools and 52 primary schools being managed by government and several other privately owned institutions. There is a General Hospital and one local orthopedics. Ika has 78% arable land with 67% completely even (flat) and 0.2% waters(running). From this, she is one of the Nigerian leaders in the cultivation and production of cassava, yam, palm-products (palm-wine, palm-oil, broom, sponge, fibers etc). Ika is also blessed with untapped mineral resources ranging from carbon silicate to fossil carbons. She is also blessed with Kaolin. The soil has capabilities to produce a good quantity of rubber for wood and lactase.
On Information Technology, there are 29 computers in Irabor IT center, 10 in Congo House, 20 in Mariere Street, 25 in Azun-Owa and 12 in Oza house that are connected to the Internet. Several others would have been connected as at the time of this conference. In our space or wavebands are several telecom infrastructures with wires or without wires that promise effective connectivity. Waiting to be tapped.
Ika is the gateway to all travelers from the East of Nigeria to the North, and from West to the East. All these robust blessings put Ika on a good track towards a viable and strong society in Nigeria. Owing to decades of Nigeria’s economic woes, majority of us still struggle on daily bases to make ends meet despite the enviable natural resources. Ika as a segment of this country became over shadowed with Jobs insecurity, robbery, poverty, hunger, hopelessness, business scams, and other attributes that are alien to our culture. People now dread getting out of their beds in attempts to sleep away the fear of inadequacies in daily bread, potable water, shelter, clothing, education, security that the rising sun will shower on them. We are all gathered here today, not simply because we want to maintain a culture, but that we were forced by the artificialities of the Northern khakis. Now that they are gone, and may be forever, or before they come back, Ika becomes invincible. Some of us have been forced into what were not originally ours. If we do not nail this phenomenon now, our children and children’s children will surely denounce us. You and I can make this happen if we want. We only need to take advantage of this age of Information and Communication Technology. If we have the will, there will always be a way.
REQUIREMENTS FOR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
These requirements also apply to the standard for ICT. I will start by navigating us along the corridor of optimism, and removing the fear of the ‘too complicated and capital intensive technology’ syndrome out of us. I will also limit myself to the obvious and little about the obscurities.
Internet is the backbone of this paper. Without computers being connected, there will be no Internet which in INTERnational NETwork. Computers can be classified into Personal Computer PC (Mainframe, Desktop, Laptop, ~Palmtop); Calculators (Scientific, Commercial and Adding machines); Personal Data Assistant (PDA); Mobile phones and any other electronics composition that can receive, process, store and release data. Generally, one speaks of PCs whenever computers are referred. Presently, these features were being miniaturized to become more handy and convenient as man’s best companion, anywhere, anytime. For one computer to talk to another, communication components are required. These components can be described under three main headings: the giver, the messenger and the receiver. From the coast to the pole, cables already exist. In our space are several communication satellites roaming steadily at their individual orbits covering the globe as much as possible.
These are referred to as servers. They simply broadcast to messengers wirelessly or through cables. Any message viewed over the Internet originates from a server. Servers are always hosted by telecom operators and or by Government parastatals such as NITEL, NIPOST etc and generally called Internet Service Providers (ISP). Phone calls emanate from their callers, in most cases, to other similar devices or terminals. The message could be transmitted in analogue or digital form. Websites broadcast to the public through two addresses viz: the IP (Internet Protocol) address which is in digits of four compartments having three in each case with a maximum of 255; while the other is the artificial domain name chosen to reflect the activities of the organization with a dot.com, dot.ng, dot.org etc extensions. An example of a domain name is our ‘ikaworld’ whose Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is http://www.ikaworld.com. so that at a glance, one could exercise some meanings into the expectations of the website. Computers do not broadcast with domain names. They simply disguise with it so that the address is readable to the general public.
The media that convey messages are the messengers. Air, wire/cables are the presently available means for transmission of intelligence which are the messages and or the signals. Messages or signals weaken with distance and time. Therefore, boaster stations are erected occasionally to amplify their strength. The satellites in space are reflectors placed high enough to avoid interferences from human and atmospheric activities. Messages sent into space are reflected and dispersed to earth by these satellites. The messages are picked up by waiting ground stations who then onward a modified version to the end receiver or terminal.
For now, you and I are the receivers. What we want is what we get. What we want to hear, perceive, read, or feel depends on the terminal devices at our reach. We can all imagine how what we see, hear, feel, perceive from computer networks is changing our relationships.
Consider simply the effect of these networks on the speed of knowledge transfer, and hence on the speed of cultural and technological evolution. Before the invention of the written word, it was not possible to codify knowledge nor save it over time. When a man endowed with so much wisdom dies, a library goes up in flames or enters the grave. In the pre-literate times, progress depended on the capacities of human to remember and hence, progress was very slow. With writing, but especially with the mass-produced book in the last century, knowledge became independent of its bearer and independent of space. With computer networks, and with an increasing migration to wireless styles of communicating, knowledge is being liberated of the constraints of space. ‘ When a network appears in a home, an organization, in a city or state or country, every innovation, every creative thought, every possible solution to a given problem, becomes widely and nearly instantly available over the course of the network. This sort of computer network will accelerate the growth of culture and science. It will permit a greater diversity of science and culture, representing the ideas and emotions of many more groups of people, to become available to larger and more divers audiences.
HOW DO WE BENEFIT?
The benefits are countless, but I will highlight on a few that are seemingly obvious especially from the proliferation of Internet cafÃ© and Mobile phone technologies in Ika and Nigeria in General.
1) Marketing of farm produce: Ika climate favors good agricultural outputs just as it also subjects them to quick decay. With our Internet or mobile phones, we can advertise for interested buyers or auctioneers for a quick disposal.
2) Governance. Fashionable democracy can be achieved through Information Technology. With a well designed database management system, the government can at glance or a click of mouse, be abreast with situation reports. This will enhance a quick decision-making, prompt intervention to pressing demands, good financial accountability and equitable distribution of resources. Electronic tendering, electronic billing, filling and processing of forms and electronic taxation will enhance performance. Geographic Information System will assist in Land Use and Allocations issues, best crop yield
3) Social and Healthcare Services: Although primarily the responsibility of the Government, Ika people can use knowledge gathered from the Internet to improve our social life. For example, partaking in interactive discussion groups, is an electronic antidote to the depressing reality of our village condition. We can as well fall in love. The era of no doctor, patient dies will gradually vanish, because patients can get online helps through the Internet, or by simply calling. This will lower overall costs such as the need for expensive diagnostic technology in smaller clinics and remote hospitals.
4) Technologies: Focus towards the better use of technologies instead of mastering technologies will put us right back on track. Mechanized farming, crop storage and preservation systems, food processing, new farming methodologies are now available on the Internet.
5) Security: People have agued of a possibility of the use of mobile phones by armed robbers to coordinate operations. This is true, but the armed robber is also under threat of a stander-by having mobile access to contacting Police.
6) Job Opportunities: Through credible search engines, one can have immediate access to job openings world wide.
7) Education: Online libraries is one of the robust features of the Internet. 88% of all the international standard books have been digitized and published on Internet. Example problems and solutions similar to those of classrooms can be found in the Internet.
8) Development: Before now, target places for future settlement have always been in the bigger cities. If I can check my mails in Irabor IT center, receive and make calls from my mobile phones, settling in polluted and congested cities may not be of any options. These attractions will loudly contribute to the infrastructure development and as such, invite government facilities. Urban migration is certainly under threat.
9) e-Obiship: Electronics Obiship is now a possibility. As policy makers, the Obis will acquire basic knowledge and skills that can enable them use computers to analyze arising problems, design solutions for such problems, take decisions, implement the solutions, and test whether the solutions take care of the problems.
10) Cultural Heritage: Restoration on our tarnishing variety of heritage, culture, and language will be researched upon and documented in digital format. This will enable it to be passed on from generation to generation.
Just as the good side of IT, I may wish to alert us on some negativities. The cable that brings information into our houses are capable of taking away information out of our houses. Internet is a lawless world that has its counterpart in the dangerous end. We may not know who is going to pop up on group discussions or whether we are going to suffer viral infection. There are no hidden depths in Internet Society, all is on screen. Let us be cautious of the fact that we never end at a touch of mouse. The things we see may appear totally public, actually they are all hidden. Users can easily hide their identities, their personalities, sexes and others. All these are capable of contributing to the anxiety that Internet inflicts onto the users. Internet is capable of distributing pornographic pictures which our culture does not favour. Internet also undermines data security.Scams now use internet to try and convince their victims on ‘how their father was the late Abacha’s freind or wife, and now wishes to manage some billions of dolars left after the death of Abacha’.The use of mobilephones to coordinate robbery incedences and as well that high-speed transport system has the ability to carry crimals quickly away from the scene of a crime are liklyhold. To me, these problems are generally temporal and transitory. Addressing these problems requires our people to develop a better understanding of the new means of interaction offered by the infrormation infrastructure. One can not rule out those negative facts. Nevertheless, the disadvantages are far outweighed by the potential benefits. Generally, success in reaping the benefits will depend soley on the roles of Local Governments officials, traditional rulers or the policy makers. The key questions are in the definition of a super Ika.
The government must affirm the democratic principles of free flow of information and freedom of expression as key elements of the Ika Society. The several priorities to be focused open are
1) Infrastructure Development, network security and human capacity building, that is education and computer literacy.
2) Competitive Environment: The objective of connectivity, continuous improvements in services, and steady reductions in price can only be met if there is open competition – in telecommunications equipment, means of access, and the provision of services. Accelerated de-monopolization and privatization of predominantly government-owned telecommuncations organizations, still the rule in Nigeria is a crucial prerequisite.
3) Means of Access: The PC will be the primary means of access for at least the next few years. Existing PCs workstations like the ones in Irabor IT center and other computers suitable for networking are already the main means of access for emailing, business transactions, researches and others at a very moderate fee. There is no doubt that most users desire access flexibility, versatility, and hardware and software upgrade-ability. I believe time will allow this.
4) Technical: Throughout this evolution the foundation infrastructure will be likely to consist of a hierarchy of underlying capacities
(a) A high-capacity (high-bandwidth, in telecommunications terms) backbone of network, with branches of substantial bandwidth to regions, major cities, industrial centers, large biz concentrations, college of education, medical centers, and other institutions with high demand for network services. Hopefully, the proposed launching of own Satellite early next month by Russain agency will boost this area.
(b) Connections of more modest but still substantial bandwidth to corporate local area networks, smaller biz, schools, local libraries, local gv offices, clinics, and similar secondary institutions
(c) Adequate access to households eventually reaching as widely as ordinary telephone service.
5) Housing Policy: By 4c above, the Government can make a policy that from hence, ‘except a design for a housing unit includes access points for Internet, it should be approved’.
6) Setting Targets: Every one of us to set a target before the next convention. An evaluation committee could be set up. The target could be in form of a Community Development Program to be executed in any remote area in Ika that worth t #30,000.00 or 250 Euros. Those residing in Boji-Boji should choose village of either lineage, since Boji-Boji is excluded from this program. Efforts could also be made to attract International philanthropists by preparing good grounds for the extension of their programs to Ika even as scheduled by ITU, African Information Society Initiative (AISI), British IS and UN.
7) Calls: On Federal to deregulate the telecommunications system and spread the gospel of the new technology especially on the wireless technology, satellite transmissions, etc.
8) Local Level: To adopt feasible and cost effective policies such as (a) use of ‘off the shelf ‘ technology; (b) locally tailored Software or content development; (c) commercial models; (d) entry process to target group or contact persons; (e) Champion. leadership; (f) encourage enthusiasm from the user communities; (g) support from Local Council Chairmen &amp; Personnel; (h) Close connections to the community; (i) attachment to and support of existing development activities and facilities (j) networking several organisations and finally (k) accurate timing.
A SmartCommunity out of Nigeria is in the making. The good works of Chiefs Jim Ovia, Nduka Irabor, and others in the field of IT should be emulated. If you have mansions in Lagos, building complexes in Abuja, they are meaningless to Ika people. Some time, someday, you will get to know that you do not belong to those areas. Ika is only 67 km away from seaports, now 45km away from airports, and zero km away from train stations. Lets bring out our whole self, and make Ika a society to reckon with. I wish you all good deliberations and and an enjoyable stay in Amsterdam.