Patrick Okene is the Founder and Director, Computer Professionals Conference and Exhibition (CPCE).He is an Historian turned IT professional in UK who has handled high profile ICT projects abroad, coming back home to carry out a program by CPCE that will showcase Nigerian ICT companies to the world. He spoke with Tony Nwakaegho in Lagos in this exclusive interview on the use of ICT in electoral process, government policies, cybercrime and other sundry issues. Excerpt:
What informed your coming up with a program known as Computer Professionals Conference and Exhibition?
I am Patrick Okene, the Director, Computer Professionals Conference and Exhibition (CPCE). I have lived and worked in the UK for the past 18 years. I studied history in Nigeria and when I got to England I did not know how to use the computer so I trained myself and did all the professional exams and became an IT professional immediately. I have been working as an ICT professional since 1998 and since then have handled quite a few high profile projects in Europe and Nigeria. The one that comes to mind very easily is the London 2012 games. I was the ICT project manager for all the Games venues before the Olympics. I also designed and led the implementation of the first email system for Jimmy Choo (the high fashion house). Recently I ran a project for Volkswagen while working for Verizon the US owned global Telecoms and ICT Company. I was the Global Project Manager for the design and implementation of a secure $10 million USD Remote Access Platform for Volkswagen AG in Wolfsburg Germany. This platform was earmarked for all Volkswagen employees and Third Party Vendors in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa). The project lasted for over 2 years and was completed last year. I also worked for Atos during which I carried out the Olympic projects and also led the data center transformation and relocation of a critical Oracle and UNIX based financial system (located on legacy mainframe systems) for the UK Highways Agency. I also led a Global Identity & Access Management implementation for Barclays Bank, this project impacted 20,000 windows servers spread across eight countries. I am currently doing a professional doctorate in Information Security with the University of East London and my area of research is the ‘enhancement of democracy using technology’ and looking at Nigeria as a case study because of the recent election. I am also looking at Kenya and Ghana where they have used similar systems before. My aim is to apply the “appropriateness of technology” principle, developed by Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher, to election systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The research will consider the social economic factors that underpin the environment into which these systems are deployed. CPCE is the first indigenous platform that is planned to showcase the ICT capabilities of Nigerian companies to the world.
What is the CPCE all about?
My primary reason for coming to Nigeria apart from visiting family members is the Computers Professionals Conference & Exhibition (CPCE) in Nigeria that we are putting together. It is a platform we are building which is going to be the first main technology event which indigenous people will handle to showcase the ICT capabilities of Nigerian companies. Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that within the region. Most Nigerian companies if they want to show their capabilities have to go to places like Dubai which is the nearest place. So we decided to set this up and we are going to have the first edition in August 27th and 28th 2015 at the Events Centre here in Lagos. It will be a forum for Nigerian professionals where they can come and showcase their skills and set their marks and the world will take note because I have seen great things in Nigeria in terms of technology and development. I think it is a good story, but we need a platform to enhance that because if you think about it if Nigerian indigenous companies went to events like InfoSec or CeBIT which are the leading technology events in Europe are they going to get a lot of mention? I probably don’t think so, so we need to develop one and that is why we are developing CPCE and it will serve as the platform for the Nigerian indigenous companies to showcase their skills, products and services.
What is your assessment of using ICT in a democratic setting particularly in the just concluded election in Nigeria?
There is a template and this is part of my research. There is a famous German philosopher Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher who basically in the early 70s when technology was going into different areas came up with principle called the ‘appropriateness of technology’. You don’t just roll out technology; it has to be appropriate both from an economic and social point of view. So if you look at the elections in Nigeria, in a way it was good in the sense that everybody agreed that it reduced corruption and rigging during the electioneering process. However, you cannot also turn a blind eye to the fact that the use of that technology disenfranchised a lot of Nigerians from voting and that defeated the whole purpose of democracy in my opinion. If you look at the whole process which is part of my research is to break the whole electoral process into three parts. You have the first part which the pre-election activities where you have your voters register, biometrics was used in Nigeria, and then you have the Election Day where people actually go to cast their ballot and they then use technology for verification, and after voting the transmission of results. But look at what was done in Nigeria it was mostly during the voters’ registration and verification. Nigeria and other African countries however got their preparations wrong; they sort of put the cart before the horse regarding the Electoral Act. The first thing they need do is to have the right law in place. In Nigeria today, the Electoral Act does not allow for e-voting, so why is that? We need to address that. So what we did is to use technology to develop or to clean our voters register. Then on the day of voting we used technology as part of the verification process and when that failed there was a resort to the old manual system which is, and was, open to abuse. It depends on which side of the great divide you stand. Specifically for me it was good, but that the same time it also disenfranchised a lot of people and for me that is a negative. When I talk about the appropriateness of technology you look at cost, sustainability amongst others. What happened before and during the 2011 election INEC went and bought direct capture machines (DDC) and each unit cost $1700 and they bought 120,000 units. Now when you talk about sustainability in IT, they are supposed to use that technology for different election circles. They made all of that investment in 2011 and by 2012 they had discarded all of that. They went out and bought new devices about 130,000 units so what is going to happen in 2019? They will probably discard all of that investment again and buy new set of devices. So this is why sometimes I think in terms of the policies, the enabling laws are a little bit suspect in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. Why is that we don’t learn from each other? Why did we not learn from the experience of Kenya in terms of using technology in elections and also the experience of the Ghanaians? African countries tend to do these things without considering what is happening in other places. We need to learn from other places and Nigeria should be a case study for others in the region so you know what to expect that if they make such investments in similar technology, that it might not work on election day, so what do you do to make sure you don’t disenfranchise people because the story of what happened in Nigeria is the same thing that happened in Kenya. And we don’t seem to be learning as Africans and you find that a lot of the people who recommend the technology for these countries to use are the donor agencies. Why are they going around recommending same systems that had problems in other countries? So these are the questions we should ask ourselves. And these are some of the things I am trying to bring out in my research.
What is your assessment of management of the ICT sector in Nigeria?
In terms of ICT in Nigeria I will say that we are just trying to take baby steps in Nigeria. I will give you an example, some years ago I ran a project as a technical architect for the Metropolitan Police in the UK. And as part of the bid process what the Metropolitan Police did was to give us their ICT road map and that was a guide for everybody that was going to participate in that bid. The road map was what they were projecting five years down the road. What type of Operating System are they going to be using? What sort of storage security and encryption standards they envisaged. You as a supplier develop a solution based on their road map. I can assure you in Nigeria we don’t have road maps for most of the government agencies. If you look at government agencies quite a few of them are building data centres everywhere. That for me indicates lack of policy or a joined up process. Why should governments’ agencies next to each other be building separate data centers? Of course we have seen it with government parastatalslike the Nigerian Airways; Governments are not very good at running enterprises. Sometimes it might actually be better for them to lease out space in a privately operated data centre. They can do that because we have companies like MainOne, Etisalat, Rackspace etcthat own and operate world class data centres. Do Government agencies have the competencies to manage Data Centres? I don’t think so. In any case has anybody done an IT assessment to determine the DC space requirements for Government agencies? Why are they all building DCs all over the place? I fear the Federal Government is going to end up with a whole lot of white elephant IT projects. I can assure you a lot of the government owned DCs are going to be underutilized and badly run. Why not these agencies coming together and let’s look at their overall needs and if they even have to build a data center they can build one or two data centres and outsource the management to a third party company. Currently I don’t think we are planning very well in this country in terms of ICT. We are still taking baby steps.
How do you position the CPCE among other annual events for ICT professionals in the country?
We want to use CPCE as an event that will provide the platform for Nigerian ICT professionals all over the world. Two days in a year they can come here, we meet and brain storm and if a government agency wants to participate that will be great. The thing is to project Nigerian ICT professionals. We are not trying to rival any association because we know we have the Computer Society of Nigeria and other bodies, so we are not going to rival them but we are going to complement their efforts. Even though we have British Computer Society that has not stopped events like Infosec or Cloud Data from holding every year. So we are trying to provide a platform for the professionals to come and look at the latest technology.
The Institute of Software practitioners holds annual events for app developers at Tinapa in Calabar, what is your take on this event so far?
There is nothing wrong with that, but I think we need more of that. So what we are actually to going to do as part of CPCE is to offer a training scholarship to individuals who either have finished from university, polytechnic or any other field. You don’t have to be an IT graduate just like me who studied history in Nigeria and I went to work as an ICT professional. So we are going to offer training opportunities for ten candidates, pay for their training, certification and at the end of the whole program they are going to be IT professionals in Nigeria. Again we went to avoid the quick rush to foreign training institutions so we will be working with local or indigenous ones.
Is the Nigerian Content Program in ICT late in Coming?
In Nigeria and other African countries we tend to put the cart before the horse. It is great we have the local content in oil and gas sector, but when we talk of indigenous content where are the developers and where are they going to come from? We don’t even have enough developers in Nigeria. So how do we address that? If you look at a place like India you may ask why it is a power house in ICT development. If I want SQL developers today, I can get hundreds at the click of a finger, but if I want an SQL developer in Nigeria I am going to struggle because we are not training enough of them. I don’t think it’s a matter for the association, but I think it is the matter of the government to look at policies in terms of training opportunities. For instance in England they have what is called a Career Development Loan and that is what I used to train as an ICT professional. What that simply means was that the government guaranteed the loan I was going to take from Barclays Bank and I took a loan for £2,500. All the government did was to guarantee my loan that Barclays Bank should give me this money that I am going for this training and when I start working I will pay the bank the money. I and other people took that loan; we trained and became ICT professionals. So we need something similar in Nigeria where somebody who read Mathematics for instance, he has no job and he says I want to be an ICT professional. He or she can go to a bank fully assured that he will be given a loan because the government is going to guarantee it for him or her to go for that training. When he comes back he is going to get a job because we don’t have enough developers in Nigeria. From my interactions with some of Nigerian ICT professionals a lot of them tend to go for the wrong courses and these are some of things we want to bring up during the conference in August. A typical Nigerian guy if you ask him, what you want to study in IT, he will tell you that he wants to study CISCO. Often times CISCO sounds great, we have a lot of CISCO people but do you have a lot of CISOC roles for them to go into and work? No you don’t. So this is why we have a lot of people who have certification but they cannot work. The sort of skills we need they don’t have people training for them. For instance there is a company that approached me they needed somebody who was good in virtualization in Nigeria. We looked around for over a month we couldn’t get anybody who was good at virtualization. The few that were there were already working, but if you say Cisco you have a lot of them in Cisco. So many of them are studying Cisco but where are the Cisco jobs, they are not there for them.
The things you need are things like virtualization, developers such as Java, C+ +, Visual basic, we don’t have those skills. We need the government to come in here, rather than the government saying we need the local content which is putting the cart before the horse. We want government to say we are taking a long term plan and at the end of the five years plans we hope to train X number of Nigerians to have the skills we think will become relevant in Nigeria and in the world. That is why anybody who wants to do a development will go to India. Go to the banks in Nigeria today most of their developers are Indians. They go there because those skills are available and cheap. Before we begin to talk about local content first let’s make sure we have the resources to fill those positions that will come up as a result of it. There is no point putting up local content and you don’t have people to fill those positions.
We are inundated with cybercrime in banks through the use of ATM card. Now there is no cyber law to tackle these cyber threats. How do you react to the trend in the country?
We touched on this in the conference I came for in Calabar last year. In that respect the law is not there. In the UK we have what is called the Computer Misuse Act and various Acts that will deal with cyber security that we talk about data privacy. Any part of Europe you have what is called the Data Protection Act which also guides you as a company when you deal with user data and how to secure them. Again it is part of what I called the joined up process in Nigeria. We don’t have appropriate policy. I understand that that Act has been passed to Senate for approval and that is the last I heard of it. We live in a world that is changing by the day and in UK for instance or anywhere in Europe if I am doing any project when it comes to data I know the sort of standard I should adhere to. If I am doing a similar project here in Nigeria I don’t know the standard here because we don’t have any. Another good example is the project I had with a bank in Nigeria (name withheld) about two years ago and they invited us for a meeting and they said they wanted to transfer all of their core applications to a data center in Europe. I now asked the CTO in a meeting why he wanted to do that. He told me that the bank wanted to de-risk their data center because of physical risk to the DC in Africa and if something happened they would lose all of it so they wanted to take it to Europe. You have a lot of organizations like that who take their critical data and put them into data centers in Europe and US. Now do we have any Act because if I am in UK and I want to place user data outside the EU, the EU data protection law will not allow me to do that. If I have to do it I have to adhere to certain standards, but in Nigeria anything goes. Now if you take a bank data and put that in a data center in US, there is what is called the Patriot Act in US which is a law that has to do with anything that will deals with the protection of US security. So US security can go in and seize any data. I will give you an example, there was a company called MegaUpload, now the company dealt with pirated software and MegaUpload kept their data in a data center owe by another company so the US security services wanted to prosecute MegaUpload so they went to that data center and the company that hosted their servers and took down all the servers in that data center. So you can imagine if the Nigerian bank or company had their data stored in that data center the US security services could have taken all of that data, and there was nothing they could have done and their operations could have collapsed.
Now I know that things are not perfect in Nigeria but I don’t think security services in Nigeria will even allow you to go to a data center and close everything down. So for a UK company if I have to put my data in a data center in US, I know that I have to adhere to the EU data protection laws and the only way I can do that is then go because US and EU have signed an agreement that is called the safe habour treaty. So what that means is that under the safe habour treaty if your data is in the US data center they are going to apply the same sort of protection you have with the EU to it. But for a Nigerian company putting their data into a US data centers what protection do they have? None.
Now everybody is telling about the latest technology which is cloud, and most of the cloud vendors are EU, Amazon, and Verizon among others. Now the problem with cloud is that you are not sure where your data is around the world. Your data could be in a data center in EU or it could be in US. I know there are a lot of banks who use office 360 that is cloud base solution. Where is that data stored? So you have countries like Saudi Arabia that have laws which states that if you want to do these things data must not leave our country, but in Nigeria that is not the case.
Nigerian companies have to wake up, the likes of Dangote are growing and competing with European and American companies, you now have Nigerian banks that are being listed on international stock exchange, they are growing and there is competition. There is espionage everywhere so they need to pay close attention to the security of their data, and they should not constantly think because it is abroad it is safe. The government should also act in the interest of the people and put in laws that will guide all the companies that if you must put your data abroad you must adhere to this standard and those companies should guarantee that they are going to adhere to them.
What are your views on the story of abandoned CCTV camera which was reported by Sahara reporters, recently?
That was a project that started about 2010 where the Chinese were supposed to build and install CCTV cameras in Nigeria including base stations etc. They installed about 2000 with a further plan for 8,000 more. The project started and passed UAT testing. They handed over the project to government in 2012, now three years on, the CCTV project is not functioning and the $460 million project is just gathering dust. Now, we are talking about terrorism, what Nigerian doesn’t know is that with the CCTV project it has the capability to enhance security in Nigeria. You can build facial and number plate recognition into the system. When you talk about facial recognition and somebody is wanted like Shekeau of Boko Haram who grows a beard, but if he shaves it, you wouldn’t know its Shekeau. With facial recognition, no matter the beards you grow or shave, if you go past any of those cameras it will trigger an alarm. In the fight for terrorism that is a key project that the government has not even used. Why spend $460million on a project that has been completed and you have allowed it to gather dust for three years? It is just incredible. It is a sheer waste of public fund. The last I had was that they were going to hand over the project to an individual who does not even have a history of running an IT or technology company and this individual was then going to write off all that investment and make the Nigeria Police to become tenants on their own network. Can you point me to any country in the world where the Police network is owned by a private company or individual? You really couldn’t have made it up.