‘We have acted as technology inspirers and enablers in Africa’
Mr Chijioke Eke is the Executive Director of Software Solutions at SIDMACH Technologies Nigeria Limited, a Nigerian ICT platform firm with interest that covers eAgriculture to eLearning. In this interaction with Anthony Nwosu of IT EDGE NEWS, Eke dissects the direction of Nigeria’s technology sector; the impact of ICT in Nigerian agricultural sector and how examination fraud has been reduced using technology.
Congratulations on your induction as a Fellow in the Nigerian Computer Society. Is this recognition not long overdue?
I first dedicate this award to my wife and also to the SIDMACH team. If this award is late, I think the award itself is not late. This recognition and induction is as a result of my years in the industry and also my humble contribution. When you do your work very well, people sit down and spot you quietly. Then they will call you up, that is what happened here. This call up I am not seeing it as an end but a means to spur me on to ensure we in SIDMACH keep developing and delivering better ICT solutions. My staff members are a great team. There is nothing I can do without them. They give their all and they are cerebral, working with this team has been enriching. My first point of dedication is my wife then my staff. The NCS has seen that I am overdue and I appreciate this recognition, this is a recognition of my over 30 years of experience. Early this year I was given the award for Titans of Technology. I give thanks to God for this recognition.
You were at the last GITEX in Dubai; can you say that SIDMACH met their objectives this year when you place your participation side by side with that of 2014?
If I say that we met our objectives, then there is no need to be here. There’s always room for improvements and that’s what we are capitalizing on. This year’s GITEX was an improvement from that of last year. I can tell you that we improved on our experience and global exposure from that of last year. You have to know that in today’s global world,ICT infrastructure is the way things are going; we are delighted to be part of this GITEX 2015 project. Over the years it has come to be known that Dubai has become an international hub. The location of Dubai is also important due to the proximity to Africa. If you consider the fly time back to Africa we realise that it is imperative that we are here so that we can network and open up business discussion with other global players in ICT. We are also using this opportunity to introduce WAVETEK a sister firm to the international space using GITEX as a platform. We are also delighted with our partnership with NITDA. In Dubai, we went looking for partners that will add value to our firm – one of our objectives at GITEX was to evangelize our solution and also explore expansion into other countries. So in terms of objectives and as to whether we have met them; the answer is that it is a work in progress and we are improving on what we did last year. I am also impressed over the start ups that NITDA brought to 2015 GITEX for global exposure. I am very excited about these start ups, they are the ones that will power the firms in a decade’s time. This is very important and I pray for them so that they can be far better than what we are.
What are the unique ICT services WAVETEK is bringing to the marketplace?
WAVETEK is basically a Nigerian company, this is an associate company that some of us are mentoring. Its major responsibility is to find the most positive disruptive technology that will transform adoption of wired fibre and communication infrastructure in Nigeria. We all know the challenges of laying fibre cables in some terrains in Nigeria. There can be challenges such as security in some areas, vandalizationsin others or even very hostile and rough places. With WAVETEK technology, most of these would be a thing of the past. That is why we have introduced this technology to Nigeria. If you look at Third Mainland Bridge, every single week one of the telecommunication firms cable will either be cut or vandalized and there are some group of people that are doing this deliberately so as to extort money from these firms. This technology will bridge these gaps. This is the most ingenious, creative and resilient fibre grade connectivity solution that will correct these anomalies and also leapfrog the issue of connectivity and that of last mile. This technology will carry gigabytes bandwidths wirelessly across many distances some have the capacity to transmit and carry data to up to 3 kilometres. This kind of technology can be deployed in a hostile terrain and that is what this firm WAVETEK is all about.
SIDMACH is a firm noted for eLearning and from the look of things, you are diversifying into software development and virtualization, don’t you think this move will affect your core competencies?
We started from security of networks and systems then we metamorphosed to an integration firm. We developed competency in virtualization and power management solutions but while doing these discoveredaccidentally that in educational system there was a need to reinforce security and integrity. Therefore we sort of paused in the integration aspects and focused on key critical institution in education such as The West African Examination Council (WAEC) and other organizations such as Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). We can say that we have revolutionised the education system. We are the first firm that made WAEC to use pictures embossed in certificates. The first year we introduced these pictures in certificates, there was a certificate rejection of about 800,000 certificates. This is to show you the level of scam and fraud in the education system then which we have successfully curtailed. These electronically embossed pictures in the certificates changed the game. This has reduced impersonation and mercenaries to a certain degree. Now this was carried over to Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and there is high integrity of value in these examination bodies. We also went ahead to introduced digital and electronic features on certificates apart from the pictures. Even if you photocopy any certificate today in Nigeria, with any Smartphone we can detect fake smart phones. These certificates have encrypted security features in them. Things are getting better and there has been a lot of price to pay. Sourcing money here in Nigeria is a difficult thing. Going back to virtualization is like backward integration and this was where we started and mind you we have evolved to a platform ICT firm. We have started virtualization and putting them in the cloud. Cloud is the future; our mission is to put the power of computing in the hands of the user thereby eliminating the middle man.
Are you making efforts to enter the ECOWAS market outside of Nigeria and also other countries across Sub-Saharan Africa?
Let me tell you, Nigeria is such a vast and blessed country but I must be honest with you we have not been able to scratch the surface here in Nigeria. The opportunities are enormous. You gotovillages, you can see old women in the remote areas; they are under served and there is need to let them understand the need for ICT. Let us take, for instance, having her know the importance of making calls with Viber or any of these video calls with her phone, so that apart from hearing the voice of the caller she will see the individual calling. This is possible and we are looking at those possibilities. But if you look at us from the international or sub Saharan perspective, you know that the West African Examination Council (WAEC) is a multinational body that can be found in most West African Countries and some of the ECOWAS countries are offering WAEC so directly or indirectly, we are working with WAEC and to me, we are impacting in Sierra Leone, Gambia and other ECOWAS states. We have acted as technology inspirers and enablers in these countries and they have copied us. In terms of stepping out, yes we are doing that, we are hosting educational curriculum development in partnership with a government agency, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC). In one of our international outing, we linked up with Kenya’s educational council and we have linked the two educational councils between Nigeria and Kenya. Recently, we had a workshop in Kenya that has seen a lot of synergy between Nigeria and Kenya in the area of education. What are the implications of this?We have engaged both governments and we are glad to tell you that we had approval for this to go ahead be it in Nigeria and Kenya. Our students can stay here and take Kenya’s education curriculum and sit for their exams. We are looking at learning material which can be hosted in cloud also. Most countries in Africa have seen our strides and they are interested in us investing in their human capacity skills. South Africa and Ethiopia have served us a notice to come over, we let them know that we are coming. This is enabling the unity of divergent in education in Africa. If students in Kenya start exchanging lesson notes with Nigeriastudents you can see the impact in Africa. We are envisaging that in foreseeable future the Kenyan student can write exams in Nigerian history maybe, the Kanem Bornu Empire and their Nigerian counterpart can do exams that cover the history of the Mau Mau uprising. We can leverage on ICT to ensure that this is possible and that is what we are doing.
What are your solutions for corporate Nigeria and how can Nigeria SMEs key into your solutions?
We have been partners with NITDA in many aspects such as the eAgricultural portal.We have an eAgricultural platform which is in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture. The National e-Agriculture Web Portal is a strategic initiative of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMA&RD), to showcase the essential features of the key aspects of the food and agriculture industry in Nigeria. It highlights the strategic and operational components of the agricultural value chain in Nigeria; particularly as it relates to the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the Federal Government of Nigeria. This portal is a one stop place where farmers can come and know what is happening in Nigeria agricultural space from fertilizer distribution to weather or agro business viabilities. We also made the portal advisory where food belts are located, such as if you want to go into dairies the site will let you know the zones that are suitable for this agro allied business. We are trying to ensure that we present agriculture as an attractive business. There will be learning content and data; there are also business intelligence and analytics embedded in the website. This is another value added business in Nigeria. So we are making this portal to be a very big portal for agro allied business. We are working with NITDA and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to be providing online and real time updates. Those who want to stay outside the shores that intend to do agro allied business can visit the site (www.eagriculture.org.ng ) and they will find it helpful. These are the few things we are doing silently. We strive to be innovative. We do not believe in blowing our horns from software development to eLearningand now eAgriculture.
SIDMACH is a software firm. Do you have this software developed in Nigeria or are you a vendor?
We are a platform and solution firm, we just deliver solution to clients that are scalable and reliable in Nigeria. These solutions are personalised to individual firms need. Mobility and cloud services are one of our core areas which include hybrid solution for data which can be on and off premises. We are partners with Microsoft and we are Gold certified. We deploy only Microsoft solution in the area of data base management. We also do development on Android, iOS and other mobile based solutions. We see ourselves as a total platform firm. From their homes, we encourage people to register with their mobile phones for their WAEC exams. We have revolutionised the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC). Today, corps members can register online before they report to their orientation camps unlike those days that you will see corps members reporting to camp days after the camp has been closed. Today, as the NYSC camp is opening, most of these corps members have registered from their homes, these data have been documented which can be used for future use. We so believe in this country that is why we are doing it Nigeria first before any country. People have come to trust us with their data, user friendliness and good customer services. We try to be innovative and creative. Since 1998, we have been into the data base management in Nigeria; we try to ensure that data is not in the wrong hands. We continue to innovate. We have invested a good chunk of funds in database management. We keep evolving towards high grade integrity and trust. If we do not do that, the clients and customer will lose confidence so we do not want that type of situation. We continue to innovate and implement.
eRegistration in Nigeria seems to be in disarray as a lot of agencies are doing similar registrations. Don’t you think this will cause duplicity in efforts?
I will tell you this without equivocation: why must we have multiplicity in registration? It could be better. How can I be registering myself in NCC, NIMC and others? We have National Population Commission, I think we can begin to collect the data from them and give it to National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for authentication and collaboration. With NIMC registration and NPC data collection, I do not see any need for all these electronic registration. We need to create scan centres to synergize with these government agencies.
Who should synergize the electronic registration in Nigeria, should it be NIMC or NPC?
We should not continue to replicate, if we can creatively manage what is coming from NPC and NIMC we do not need any agencies again. We must work in tandem with the global best practise. Multiplying and replicating registration is not the issue but synergizing these institutions. The oversight organization such as legislature should help us to do that. The onus is now on the legislature to ensure that this duplicity is limited or curtailed. Technology is an enabler not a solution. We have to leverage on technology to offer citizens’ centric solution. Every country does and we have to ensure we put the right professional in charge of this. I talk with passionate emphasis; we have to embrace technology and modern tools to deliver these things.
What’s your expectation of ministerial appointments by President Buhari especially in the ICT?
It is simple. He is a man of credibility and honesty but he has to ensure that square pegs are in square holes. If you can remember, the president stands for ‘Change’ and he should realise that ICT played a critical roles in his election and social media was very crucial to his becoming a president. He should improve on what he met on the ground. I trust his judgement and I urge the government to continue to impact on ICT.
Does SIDMACH have a defined policy to support and encourage ICT start-ups?
At the beginning of GITEX 2015, Iwent and call these start-ups together, I call them young Turks. W individually visited their stands one by one. We tried to find a way to support them up and encourage them to grow. Luckily most of them are based in Lagos; we are encouraging them to come to our office with their value propositions. We have to give back to the society. We will look at it from two angles: thereare some that will come under our corporate social responsibility (CSR) and some that will come under joint venture initiatives. But one thing is that these start-ups must earn it. We want to groom them if they agree we can partner with them and we will support those we can support. It will be our own little way of giving back to the society.
“We should not continue to replicate, if we can creatively manage what is coming from NPC and NIMC we do not need any agencies again…. Multiplying and replicating registration is not the issue but synergizing these institutions.”
“The first year we introduced these pictures in certificates there was a certificate rejection of about 800,000 certificates. This is to show you the level of scam and fraud in the education. These electronically embossed pictures in the certificates changed the game”
“WAVETEK …is an associate company that some of us are mentoring. Its major responsibility is to find the most positive disruptive technology that will transform adoption of wired fibre and communication infrastructure in Nigeria.”