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A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network

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By Austin Okere

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

There is no cheer about the recent pronouncements from the hierarchy in the education sector and the long-term impact on our youth.

“Nigerian government reverses resumption of schools, says no WAEC exam for now.” was the screaming headline in the Premium Times on July 10, 2020.

The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, announced during a media briefing on July 6 that the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination will now take place between August 4 and September 5. In swift contradiction, the education minister, Adamu Adamu, speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided by President Muhammadu Buhari, said Nigerian schools will not reopen any time soon “until it is safe to do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The situation at the tertiary level is not any better, as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through an interview of their President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi with the Punch Newspaper on June 16, 2020 has declared that E-Learning cannot work in Nigeria. It seems that Prof. Ogunyemi totally overlooked Private schools in his pronouncement; many of whom have completed the syllabus for the current term through online classes at home.

The Ausso Leadership Academy (#ALA), foremost institution providing mentorship to Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs to scale their businesses geometrically has transitioned her models and frameworks online and continues to impact companies with game changing ideas to thrive now and beyond. Far afield, both Harvard and Princeton have announced plans to bring back students for the fall semester, albeit, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus. Coursera is partnered with 192 institutions from 43 countries and offering more than 3,200 online courses in 13 languages.

The irony is that Nigerian Universities would have had six years of leapfrog experience in online learning if we had taken the opportunity presented by the NgREN and consolidated on the budding shoots. But like most opportunities that come our way, we display gross unpreparedness and unprecedented nonchalance in the face of opportunity cost to our future generations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is real, and we have to take all necessary precautions and follow social distancing and other protocols advised by the Nigeran Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). But not knowing how long it will last, we cannot put our lives on permanent pause. We have to adjust to the new normal and get on with it. Companies like Zoom and Amazon have understood this and have ended up net beneficiaries.

I wrote this article four years ago when it seemed that the NgREN will become an abandoned project, and another of the many white elephant projects dotting our landscape.

What can we learn from this in order to forestall a reoccurrence?

One of the proudest moments in the history of the Nigerian Education sector was the successful implementation and commissioning of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN).

Being the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the unveiling event seemed justified and earned. The network which boasted 465mbps of internet capacity represented 20 times the average connectivity capacity leveraged by the universities. This was a project conceptualized, deployed and managed by Nigerians under a consortium of indigenous companies including CWG Plc, Airtel, Medalion, Resourcery, and Phase 3; finally, a project for us by us.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The idea of the NgREN was conceptualized as far back as 2004. After a long period of dormancy, it was revived under the auspices of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) and the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) in January 2010.The objective was for a Research and Education Network that will connect all Higher Institutions of Learning together, and to the global Research and Education Network. The achievement made Nigeria the first in sub-Saharan Africa to join the league of countries in Europe and America that had functional Online Research & Education Networks.

A catalytic fund was secured from the World Bank as grant, and counterpart funding by the Federal Government of Nigeria in mid-2012 for the first phase of the project, while the procurement cycle was concluded in February 2013.

The first phase of the project which connected 27 Universities, the CVC and the NUC, with over one million users, delivered 155mbps capacity to each university and connected to the Multiprotocol Layered Switch core network, which had a 10Gbps capacity, as well as 465mbps internet capacity, providing high definition telepresence capabilities for real-time collaboration, voice over internet protocol, shared access to research content and joint experimentation projects.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The second phase was planned to cover five more clusters of about 100 institutions and five million users. Subsequent phases were to cover all higher education institutes numbering over 600. The network was to be connected to the London Open Exchange via an international private leased circuit, and offer additional services such as web hosting, unified communication, digital library collection, video bridging and archiving services.

This indeed would have afforded Nigerian Universities the opportunity to take a quantum leap in online learning, and significantly improve their low ranking in quality and reach of teaching and research output, and thereby bringing them closer to their global peers. But alas, this was not to be; as the much heralded NgREN has been shut down for over eleven months due to non-payment of the segment bandwidth fees. The consortium of local providers however, left all the equipment intact in good faith, awaiting the provision of bandwidth to restore services.

Apart from the immense benefit in value and global trends, the economies of scale of the project saved the universities immense costs, as embarking individually on such a project would be grossly sub-optimal and prohibitively expensive.

Nigeria has a long history of poor project execution and abandonment. According to journalists Chuka Uroko and Joshua Bassey, in the past couple of years alone, it is estimated that over 11,886 federal government projects with an estimated value of N7.7trillion have been abandoned.

Should we start singing a funeral dirge to a well conceptualized and implemented system as the NgREN, with all its benefits after spending so much tax payers’ money on it? By this action of omission or commission we would have inadvertently reversed the solid gains made in the broadband transformation agenda and shut our youth from critical online learning and the emerging digital economy.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

The importance of broadband to online learning, the digital economy and social development cannot be overemphasized. This is underscored by the open letter from the Global Broadband Commission to the G20 leaders’ meeting as far back as 2012, wherein they enumerated the importance of broadband in moving the global economy onto a higher growth trajectory, and in generating sustainable, social and economic growth of all nations, especially literacy development to address inequity and deliver inclusive growth for all.

In particular, they argued that broadband enabled technologies are simulating fresh innovation and inspiring a new generation of digital entrepreneurs. The digital era will produce a whole new range of digital careers and industries of the future. Broadband reduces barriers to entry, offering opportunities for small and medium enterprises to challenge existing hierarchies, to innovate, compete and grow.

The targets of the NgREN were to make broadband universal among our youth in higher institutions and their surrounding communities, make it affordable, connect homes and businesses, and get more people online. In essence, it would have enabled our institutions to have the same opportunities to learning as those in the developed world, and impacted their communities as is currently witnessed in places such as Silicon Valley in America.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

With such nonchalance to educational development in our country, it is no surprise that none of our local universities is included in the ranking of the world’s best 1,000. Tertiary education in Nigeria has suffered from long periods of neglect to the extent that parents would rather take their Children to countries like Ghana, UK, US and Canada.

It is estimated that Nigerians studying in British and American Universities have spent over N137billion on tuition and living expenses in the last two academic sessions. If the over 71,000 Nigerian students who pay tuition fees in Ghana were to contribute the N160billion they spend annually, they would account for about 40 per cent of the Nigerian education budget. According to Mr. Ian Stewart, a member of the British Parliament, there are about 30,000 Nigerian students in the UK alone.

A Dirge to the Nigerian Research and Education Network, SiliconNigeria

In the wake of the expressed resolve of the Muhammadu Buhari led federal government to make public institutions more accountable and responsive to the needs of the society, it is expedient to immediately revive the NgREN project, and in the medium to long term properly situate it, including exploring Private, Public Partnership (PPP) to ensure that this laudable project does not die an avoidable death. We should as a nation learn to stop being wasteful in the face of acute scarcity and make the most of our scare resources.

Austin Okere is the Founder of CWG Plc, the largest security in the technology sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at CBS, New York. Austin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network, and on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. Austin now runs the Ausso Leadership Academy focused on Business and Entrepreneurial Mentorship

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Education

NCC Pledges Increased Collaboration With Varsities

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NCC Pledges Increased Collaboration With Varsities, SiliconNigeria

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has pledged to increase collaboration with higher institutions of learning across the country in order to transform Nigeria into a full knowledge-based economy.

The Chairman, Board of Commissioners of NCC, Prof. Adeolu Akande, stated this during a courtesy visit by NCC Board members to Bayero University, Kano (BUK) at the weekend as part of activities lined up for the 2020 NCC Board retreat held in Kano State.

According to Akande, who praised the university for producing Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, the NCC superintends a sector that is knowledge-driven and therefore, would not be able to achieve its mandate without strengthening collaboration with citadels of knowledge like BUK  and other higher institutions of learning to produce the knowledge base needed to support the growth of the telecoms sector.

“The NCC is superintending a sector that is knowledge-driven. In the absence of the citadels of learning, one could only imagine what would have become of the communications industry. So, if we come to Kano, we need to come to the prime centre of learning in Kano and other universities across the state,” he said.

Thanking the university further for “contributing” Danbatta to the industry,  Akande said the sector, which NCC regulates, has also benefited immensely from the knowledge being imparted by the university. 

He said the BUK has produced a good ambassador, excellent professional and a man with administrative acumen and superb human relations in Prof. Danbatta. 

“Hence, the Board of NCC decided to visit Bayero University with the EVC, who is a ‘home boy’ and to show our appreciation for the services of the EVC, an outstanding product of the university, has been rendering to the nation at the NCC. 

We are here also to show that we work together and our coming to Bayero University would be an expression of appreciation of Danbatta’s good work at the NCC,” he said.

In his remarks, Danbatta said all the achievements “we have recorded as NCC can be attributed to the team spirit and cooperation between the Management and Board of NCC even as we are poised to achieve more,” adding that “Our profound prayer is that we leave the NCC better than we met it.” 

Appreciating the university’s management for hosting the NCC’s despite a short notice, Danbatta used the opportunity to also congratulate Prof. Sagir Abbas for his appointment as the 11th Vice Chancellor (VC) of the university. 

While expressing delight to receive the NCC Board, Prof. Abbas noted that the school management cancelled all engagements to receive the board in order to show the university’s high regards for Danbatta, whose name, he said, cannot be omitted in the history of Bayero University.

“Prof. Danbatta has served the university diligently, as lecturer, as head of department, as Dean, as director and he was also a former VC in Kano University of Science and Technology, but wherever he goes, you find him relating to his base. 

“So, we hold him in very high esteem and we are always happy to see him and his team discharging the national assignment his is saddled with and Bayero University is proud to be associated with him. We have no doubt that the Board and Management of NCC will enjoy him more as he begins his second term in office,” he said.

According to the Vice Chancellor, the university has received many donations of computers, iPads and other interventions such as professorial endowments from NCC, all of which, he said, have had positive impacts on the university’s academic programmes.

Sagir, however, appealed for more digital assistance by the Commission in supporting the university more in the area of its ongoing restructuring to fully accommodate virtual learning into its system in view of the current reality globally where ICT is mediating the lecturer-student interaction.

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HP Launches IDEA Program To Equip Nigerian Teachers, Educators

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HP Launches IDEA Program To Equip Nigerian Teachers Educators, SiliconNigeria

In a bid to offers teachers and educators in Nigeria the opportunity to create digital capabilities based on educational frameworks from leading international universities, HP Inc. has launched the HP Innovation and Digital Education Academy (IDEA).

The programme which is in collaboration with Intel, a leading producer of semiconductors and Mirai Partners, an education innovation consultancy.


In the COVID-19 era, educational institutions in Nigeria are scrambling with the new realities and are finding themselves forced into rethinking their operational models in the midst to ensure minimal disruption to their student’s learning experience and their career development.

While technologies are increasingly available, teachers find themselves navigating new territory as they balance in-person, online, and hybrid learning.

The Senior Education Business Lead for the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe at HP Inc., Mayank Dhingra, said, “Education is among the worst hit sectors from the pandemic.

At the same time, it is one of the most promising sectors that – if we get it right – can reap the benefits of this new way of learning. In fact, we can now reach even more people than we ever did before.

While the technology is advancing fast, there is a constant need to innovate to remain resilient. Hence, we need to make sure that teaching staff are able to acquire the right skills to take advantage of blended and digital learning solutions, which is why we have partnered with Mirai and Intel to launch HP IDEA.”

“This program is exciting as it is focused on pedagogy rather than based on specific product. This way we can equip educators with the latest tools and best practices in teaching and learning, which in turn will enable better learning outcomes,” he said.

The Director General, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Abiola Seriki-Ayeni, added, “The teacher is the singular and most important individual in the education ecosystem and this partnership is a welcome development at such a time as this.

Being an educator myself, this program would give teachers and educators the needed opportunity and expertise to be digitally inclined, acquire the right skills for a blended and digital learning solution and navigate new territories as they balance in-person, online, and hybrid learning. We are working closely to onboard our teachers to improve their capacity which would, in turn, reflect on our students’ learning outcome”.

The Co-founder of Mirai, Christine Nasserghodsi, commented, “We have been supporting schools in their response to COVID-19 since February. What began as a crisis response has evolved into a long-term approach to teaching, learning, leadership, and the use of digital tools and resources.

Effective distance and hybrid learning require innovation and a deep understanding of learning design, one aspect of which is the use of technology.

No one is better equipped to shape the future of education than teachers and school leaders. That is the core value of the HP IDEA program which we have translated into a year-long program for select schools.”

The program is mapped against and delivers on United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG’s), the CESA objectives (Continental Education Strategy for Africa), the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and the Ministry of Education goals for UAE. The academy also incorporates world class research and frameworks from Harvard Graduate School of Education and University of Michigan.

As a result, Ministries of Education across the region, namely Nigeria, UAE and some more have shown great interest and are participating in the program by onboarding their teachers and school leaders to the new HP IDEA.

Furthermore, private education providers have also joined HP’s newly launched platform, which marks a great start to the program as educators can now acquire lean and flexible teaching methods.

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Education

360 Young Nigerians Receive Scholarships from MTN Foundation

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360 Young Nigerians Receive Scholarships from MTN Foundation, SiliconNigeria

MTN Foundation has awarded scholarships to 360 university students at a virtual ceremony on November 12, 2020.

The scholarships were awarded under the MTNF scholarship schemes made up of the MTNF Science & Technology Scholarship (STSS) and Scholarship for the Blind Students (SBSS).

In attendance were the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, represented by the Technical Assistant, Dr. Olufemi Adeluyi; Honourable Minister of Science & Technology represented by the Acting Director-General of the National Space Research and Development Agency, Dr. Francis Chizea; former Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson amongst other notable dignitaries.

Speaking at the ceremony, the representative of the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Olufemi Adeluyi said: “We are here with the MTN Foundation to celebrate scholars that have excelled in school. MTN is also supporting people with disabilities by funding their education and this is very commendable. The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is constantly working towards elevating skills over degrees. We are also committed to ensuring that individuals are empowered with the right tools and skills.” 

Also speaking, Honourable Minister of Science & Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu represented by Dr. Francis Chizea said:  “I am glad that MTN, in giving back to the society through its foundation, set up a scholarship scheme to empower the youths and as well, drive science and technology. This is a welcome development and a commendable effort that other organizations need to emulate.”

A major highlight of the ceremony was a fireside chat themed “Insight. Influence. Impact” with thought leaders sharing inspiring insights with the scholars. Nigeria’s former Minister for Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson reiterated the role MTN continues to play in the ICT space and its impact on the country. “We need to get a workforce that is very comfortable with technology. We are in a state where we need world-class educational institutions and interventions such as this that will enable students to be very vast in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” Johnson said.

Leading to the ceremony, this year’s graduating students from the scholarship programme were hosted to a career incubation boot camp facilitated by experts from Google, Oracle, Cisco and Jobberman. Facilitators shared insights on various opportunities amongst other vital employability tips.  

Speaking on the scholarship award ceremony and workshop for graduands, Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma said, “Providing access to quality education is the first step to a world of opportunity for the youth of our nation. We know it does not stop there. We need to also ensure that they are adequately prepared for the workplace. We hope that the fireside chat at the award ceremony will inspire the students to reach for greatness and innovation.

“Furthermore, it is our belief that the employability workshop held earlier will enrich the career path of the graduating students. The MTNF scholarship scheme is more than just funds; it is a commitment to build the capacity of our youth. We wish all our graduating scholars success as they set out to take on the world and congratulate all awardees as the next set of young nation builders in the making.”

The newly awarded scholars will each enjoy a scholarship grant worth N200,000 annually till graduation as long as they maintain a CGPA of 3.5 or its equivalent. The scholarship covers tuition, book allowance and stipend. Till date, MTN Foundation has awarded scholarships to 3,829 students valued at over NGN 2.1Billion.

The MTNF annual scholarships are awarded to high performing students in Nigerian public tertiary institutions.

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