Zaria Community Network Visit – April 2019

If you’ve been following the Internet Society Nigeria Chapter, you probably know that our major projects for this year are the Nigerian School on Internet Governance and the Zaria Community Network/Culture Hub. There’s a long post on the Zaria project at https://isoc.ng/the-zaria-community-network-and-culture-hub/ and you might want to read that post first to get the details.

 

Anyway, late last month, a 3-man team from the Chapter paid our first official visit to Zaria after the grant award. The Secretary-General – Auwal Tata, the Secretary – Joshua Joshua, and the President – Dewole Ajao.

I would ordinarily have driven the 280km as usual but everyone said to be wary of kidnappers and other bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna highway so Joshua and I decided to take the Abuja-Kaduna train and complete the journey to Zaria by taxi and motor-tricycle. The advantage of taking the train is that you have the luxury of working or catching a nap. Auwal (everyone calls him Tata) also made a 160km trip via public transport as he had car trouble just as he was about to leave Kano for Zaria.

On arrival in Zaria, we headed straight to the University to meet with our anchors – Adewale Adedokun and Umar Shuaibu. After a meeting with the Director of ICT – Prof. M.B. Muazu who restated the University’s commitment to providing their facilities for the success of the project, we set out to visit other stakeholders in Zaria to explain the potential we see and the roles we would like them to play.

During the 2-day visit, we were able to reach the

  • Ahmadu Bello University ICT Directorate
  • Ahmadu Bello University Data Centre
  • Ahmadu Bello University, Department of Theatre and Performing Arts
  • Ahmadu Bello University Radio Station
  • Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic
  • Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital
  • National Research Institute for Chemical Technology
  • National Institute of Transport Technology
  • Centre for Energy Research and Training
  • Institute of Agricultural Research
  • Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology
  • Nigerian College of Aviation Technology
  • National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services
  • Zaria Education Development Association

We were also granted audience with the Zazzau Emirate Council at the Emir’s Palace.

Our approach to the first round of visits was to meet with the techies at each of the research and education institutions for interaction on a technical level (since we are techies ourselves). The techies are then expected to share the project information with their executive management using whatever language they feel will help them better appreciate the project before we come back for a larger group meeting where any questions they have will be answered. An online discussion platform will also be created from the contacts of those we already met with.

It was a pleasure to interact and get a better understanding of the varying states of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at each of the institutions we visited. At some of the locations, we got to see ICT facilities that had been deployed as donations from government agencies – some being used and some disused mostly because the recipients had not been consulted about their needs before the said donations were dumped on them. Never mind me, I’ve been crying about ill-advised “donations” for years – an example in this here ngNOG-discuss post from 2013.

The most interesting parts of the visit to me were the non-technical parts – maybe because I am totally confident that between the ngNOG and ISOC folks, all the technical challenges will be well taken care of, or maybe because I feel very strongly that our success will depend very much on the social factors.

I liked that members of the Zazzau emirate council were keen on the project and some even have technical knowledge and were interested enough to ask us questions. I’m also excited that we have the support of folks in theatre and performing arts to help spread the word about the Internet and its benefits. The University radio station is happy to partner with us and has even asked us to come up with a whole quarter of content for a 30-minute radio show that we can use to promote the Community Network project while teaching the public about Internet technologies!

My biggest surprise on this trip was finding out that Zaria has an Education Development Association (ZEDA) made up of successful Zaria indigenes whose mission is to improve the lot of their young citizens through remedial education, scholarships and training centres. They have computer training/testing centres with which we can conduct hands-on training for up to 400 participants at a go! One big headache off our heads as we plan basic computer and Internet appreciation for those that need it. 

Our challenges? We have a big gap in our funding for travel, accommodation and stipends for visits like this one. I’m positive that we will get support to take care of this though; For now, we soldier on.

The prospects? Several! We haven’t even touched on the Secondary Schools and the deep rural communities where solar-powered wireless connections and lighting could be introduced to make an immediately visible difference. Solar cooking stations too? Yeah I can dream of ending firewood struggles LoL :-p

We will be back in Zaria for a townhall meeting with the community next month after the Ramadan fast is over. Once that is done, we move on to the technical aspects of deploying the network. Please check back at https://isoc.ng/zazzau from time to time for updates on the project. Think you have something that will be of value to this or any other project? Please email info@isoc.ng and one of the Chapter executives will get back to you.

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