A Seminar paper for the ITAN EXPO 2000 held at the Centre for Women Development, Abuja between 6th and 9th December 2000 by ‘Gbenga Sesan, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
Oil may cease to flow
And crops refuse to yield.
Even when natural resources are exhausted
And industries experience a breakdown;
Information would remain a key to existence
And knowledge would make room for continuity.
I introduce to you today, a dream, reality about to be unveiled and a story yet untold. Here is my contribution to the emergence of our nation, Nigeria, form the dungeon of obscurity and scorn. I present to you, eCommerce, Nigeria and the Next Generation.
Information has proved to be an inevitable factor in human endeavour over the ages. From the time when the cave man conveyed messages through shouts to this age of silent whispers on mobile sets, information has remained the centre of human interaction.
The entire human race is bowing to probably the greatest revolution of all times, the Information Revolution. Electronic Commerce (popularly referred to as eCommerce) is a dynamic constituent of the Information Age.
This paper seeks to take a good look at this tool that is redefining the structure of business and the frame of human existence. It also identifies the prospects for Nigeria and the role of her youths in national recovery, development and establishment.
Synergism has always produced amazing results. The case of the marriage of the two giants of history, Business and Technology, is not an exception. With eCommerce, the market is brought to the consumer with the least interference between them.
Organisations, business models, market strategies and customer relations are all being reconstructed by the technology of eCommerce, which also provides businesses with the unprecedented ability to communicate directly with the target market on a wider scale.
Web surfing brings each eCommerce site and its product or service into the home, office, room or palm of the client and orders can be placed with the click of a mouse or the push of a key. Personal identification, customer preferences and a sophisticated database of customers can be monitored to provide tailored or customised services to clients. Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) makes it possible for transaction to be completed with payments carried our real-time and online.
The truth is that with eCommerce, less cost is incurred on operational expenses and that reveals its advantage not only to the end users but also businesses. This explains the growth of B2B (Business to Business) eCommerce outside the usual B2C (Business to Consumer) mode of transaction.
“A people spread abroad yet not scattered
Dwelling in the midst of plenty
But many yet poor.
A nation of might yet uncelebrated
A look to our inner strength may be all that we need
Synergizing the masses’ strength to enjoy the beauty of the land”
‘Gbenga Sesan 2000
The most populous black nation on earth, with a population of over 100 million, Nigeria is often tipped as a potential market for any introduction to the business world. Despite the obvious misappropriation of resources, we still remain blessed with human resources, natural resources and what I call the untapped resources. The stories of Nigerians who make landmarks beyond our shores keep reaching us by the day and it sets our hearts into resonance with a question WHY?
Everyone keeps wondering why the richly blessed nation was ever quoted as the 13th poorest nation of the world. Something called reformation must happen to our nation. If we do not awaken this sleeping giant and crawling forty-year-old, we will remain a developing nation for a long time to come.
The truth is that much lies ahead of our nation if we could obey the clarion call for a reformation. This warfare would not need to involve any weapon nor would any General’s tact of warfare be required. It is a mental revolution, a radical opposition to the status quo. We would need to re-educate ourselves right from the grassroots.
Borrowing the words of David Diop to Africa in his poem titled AFRICA, I say:
“It is Nigeria that springs up again
Springs up patiently obstinately
And whose fruits ripen with
The bitter flavour of freedom”
2.3 The Next Generation
When John F. Kennedy addressed the youths of his nation by telling them not to ask for what the nation could do for them but what they could do for the nation, he knew he was carving the future of America. There is no nation that can progress beyond the next few years of its existence without investing in its youths.
The Next Generation refers to those who will take the nation to new levels in all spheres. That definition particularly covers the bracket of those between secondary schools and Universities, and this paper focuses more on the undergraduate students within the walls of our ivory towers. We form the major percentage of tomorrow’s workforce and much more.
3.0 WE CAN’T IGNORE THIS!
We cannot close our eyes to the benefits of eCommerce. The benefits cannot be exhausted in this paper but some that are worthy of note are:
§ Saving up on administrative cost
§ Unequalled speed (According to a new report published by ITU in February, 1999, it took telephony technology 75 years to reach 50 million users worldwide, it has taken the Worldwide Web (the graphical portion of the Internet) only 4 years to hit the same user mileage.)
§ Reduction of human intervention in business processes
§ Wider scope of business (globalisation)
§ Allowance for customised order placements
§ Customer tastes and preferences monitoring, etc
Obviously, there are issues such as security, legal matters, and environmental conditions (e.g. infrastructure) but experts are tackling such by the day. Of particular note is the issue of electronic fund transfer (EFT), which is not presently in serious operation in Nigeria (in the true sense of he concept). I personally believe that the networking of banks and InfoTech Consultants on a national scale would solve the problem, even if we would only begin with our debit cards.
The truth is that the key word for our action is NOW! We cannot afford to waste any time as the digital difvide is starring us straight in the eyes. I believe it’s high time we took our eyes off oil and soil alone and take to the advice of Dr. Philip Emeagwali when he said, “Europeans learned our (agricultural age) technology, used it to enter the Industrial Age and became more prosperous…Unless Africa vaults into the information age, the economic gap between Europe and Africa will widen. …My recommendation is that we should not put all our eggs in two baskets… Nigeria should use a multi-pronged attack strategy to enter the information age.”
We are also thankful for the various actions being taken by concerned bodies. One of such encouraging works that I have read is the National IT Policy – The Imperative for Information Infrastructure, a seminar paper delivered by Chris Uwaje (ITAN President) at the International Conference Centre, Abuja during the ITAN EXPO 1999.
3.0 QUO VADIS?
It is not only enough to highlight the high points of employing the powers of our youthful populace in the present eCommerce revolution in relation to Nigeria, we should also consider what should be done in order to arrive at our destination, A New Nigeria.
I have a dream. I believe that one day, the nation we have all invested in building would be unveiled before our very eyes, and the words of the not-too-often-sung second stanza of our National Anthem would be true:
Direct our NOBLE course
Guide our LEADERS right
Help our YOUTHS the truth to know
In LOVE and HONESTY to show
And living JUST and TRUE
Great lofty HEIGHTS attain
To BUILD A NATION
Where PEACE and JUSTICE shall reign.”
Here is my submission as to the way forward with eCommerce, Nigeria and the Next Generation:
ü That a strong awareness campaign be embarked upon by corporate bodies in the Information sector in order to conquer the looming digital divide,
ü That the organised private sector and non-governmental agencies, along with the Federal Government of Nigeria, contribute to the elimination of InfoTech illiteracy among Nigerian youths through training, recruitment and other incentives,
ü That Nigerian Universities should introduce courses in eCommerce and other Information Technology related truths either as special electives or during seminars,
ü That the students in our various Universities be exposed to eCommerce trends globally, particularly when interest is shown,
ü That students be encouraged to attend seminars organised beyond the walls of their various institutions through rate subsidies. (I must at this point say an unequalled Thank you to the Dr. Philip Emeagwali, Dr. Chris Uwaje and the Information Technology Association of Nigeria for believing in my project and particularly to the ITAN President for considering this paper for presentation.),
ü That students be given a forum to showcase their projects and knowledgebase for proper analysis and possible modifications,
ü That, in the next few years, courses would be offered by dynamic Nigerian Universities in such fields as eCommerce.
On a final note, I believe that there are individual projects of Nigerian youths in the field of eCommerce that can influence global standards if given expression. Such could be discovered, encouraged and channelled in the proper direction of creativity.
4.0 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND DEDICATION
Success that does not have links beyond the central individual is almost questionable. I must say thank you to the following people:
q Mr. & Mrs. J. O. Sesan, you laid the foundation and provided the right atmosphere for growth, thanks.
q Tunde, Jumoke and Tosin, growing up with you is quite an experience, thanks to you all.
q Dr. Olumide Sotomi, you’re not far from my choice of a lifetime career, thank you.
q Dr. Chris Uwaje, what a (big) wide door you opened, I’m eternally grateful.
q Dr. Philip Emeagwali, your example is an assignment for us all, I won’t let you down.
This paper is dedicated to the unknown experts whose secret works have the potential of changing the course of history. Keep up the good work even though unnoticed.
5.0 REFERENCE SOURCES
1. EMEAGWALI, P.: ‘Can Nigeria Vault into the Information Age?’ A Seminar paper delivered at the World Igbo Congress, New York. 1997.
2. UWAJE, C.: ‘National IT Policy – The Imperative for Information Infrastructure’, November 1999, available: http://www.itan-ng.org/papers.html
3. MEYER, A. and TAYLOR, P.: ‘IEE Review’ June 2000.
4. DIOP, D.: ‘AFRICA in ‘African Heritage (Ed: DRACHLER, J.)’’ Collier-Macmillan Limited, London. 1970.
5. SESAN, O.: ‘Poetic Lines (Unpublished work)’ 2000