Recently, the father of Nigeria’s ICT sector and Chairman of Data Sciences Nigeria Limited, Chief Don Etiebet, was honoured by players in the IT industry at the 39th Leadership Tribute Colloquium organised by the Centre for Values in Leadership, writes Peter Uzoho
Thinking back, during the dark ages, when access to
information and communication technology were only a
preserve of the West, and pondering over now what a good number of Nigerians are experiencing, through
different platforms, the gains of ICT in the country, one
would readily realise that it had taken strong effort, commitment and sacrifice of some to make this happen.
Today, the level of computer use, awareness, acceptability
and applications in different aspects of Nigerian’s life
cannot be said without mentioning one of the pioneers, Chief Don Etiebet, the Chairman of Data Sciences Nigeria Limited. His dream of computerising Nigeria
and making ICT a lifestyle in the country has been fulfilled. In the present day Nigeria, the talk about e-governance, e-marketing, e-commerce, e-banking, e-learning, and others, are pointers to it.
However, to remind Nigerians of those who pioneered the
development of ICT in the country, the Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), at its 39th Leadership Tribute Colloquium featured one of Nigeria’s prides, the father and poster boy of the nation’s ICT industry, Etiebet – to honour him as he marked his 73rd birthday.
The colloquium entitled: ‘The Evolution of ICT and the Speed of Change in Nigeria’s Economic Space’, saw experts and chief executives of IT companies, members of the academia, associates, lovers of worthy role models,
relatives and kinsmen appear en masse at the Nigerian
Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, to join in celebrating him.
Dignitaries at the occasion were: former Minister of
Communication, Chief Olawale Ige; Executive Director, Human Resources, Exxom Mobil Nigeria, Mr. Udom Inoyo; Provost, College of Fellows, Nigeria Computer
Society, Professor Adenike Osofisan; former Professor of
Computer Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Adebayo Akinde; Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Zinox Technologies Limited, Mr. Leo Stan
Ekeh; and Chief of Staff/Editor at Large, THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Ayo Arowolo.
Others were: Chief Executive Officer, Eto Investments, Mr. Charles Onyeukwu; Chairman, Energy Equity Resources Limited, Dr. Godswill Ihetu; Founder,
Centre for Values in Leadership/Host, Professor Pat Utomi; former President, Institute of Software
Practitioners of Nigeria, Dr. Chris Uwaje; Chief Executive Officer, InfoSoft Nigeria Limited, Dr. Pius Okigbo; Managing Director, Oil and Gas Free Zone
Authority, Obong Umana Okon Umana; Co-founder, Newswatch Magazine, Mr. Ray Ekpu; and Group Managing Director, SO & U Group, Mr. Udeme Ufot; among others.
The occasion offered them the opportunity to recount
Etiebet’s contributions towards the development of ICT in
the country while pouring encomiums on him. They also brainstormed on how best to radically grow the industry for the country’s economic development.
Born September 15, 1944 in Ekot Ekpuk, Oruk Anang Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Etiebet bagged a B.Sc (Special) Honours, Second Class Upper Division in Petroleum Technology from the famous Imperial College of Science and Technology, London,
England. He did his M.Sc degree in Applied Geophysics
from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, before
returning to his dear country in September 1971 with great knowledge in mineral and oil prospecting
techniques and computer programming.
Dawned on him that indigenous expertise and companies in the mineral and oil prospecting sector were in short supply in the country, he established Earth Sciences Limited, an indigenous company involved in geophysical prospecting and computer data processing services. In 1994, he set up a computer centre at his Yaba office for geophysical data processing consisting of offline Calcomp Plotters, Magnetic Tape Readers and IBM Punch Card Readers.
Also, in 1997, the father of Nigerian ICT founded Data
Sciences Nigeria Limited, to market, install, sell, and
maintain computer system and to train people in different areas of computer use, application and operation. Today, the company boasts of being instrumental in the growth of
many Nigerians who have come in contact with it.
Through Data Sciences, Etiebet became the first person to pioneer data communication techniques in Nigeria.
He was one of the first three computer professionals that
initiated and founded the Computer Association of Nigeria in 1978 which is known today as the Nigeria Computer Society where he is a fellow, the highest rank in the profession. The IT idol was instrumental in the
formation of several associations related to ICT and, till date, is a major stakeholder in all of them.
For his immense contribution to the industry, he has been
recognised by different bodies through accolades, appointments and awards, chief among them are the conferment of the title of ‘Father of ICT Industry’ on
him by various ICT organisations and publications; the ICT Lifetime Achievement Award (Computers), by the Nigerian Information Society; Member, American
Association of Petroleum Geologists, USA; and Member, Royal School of Miners, London. He holds the title of the Commander Order of the Niger (CON) having served as a Minster of Energy.
Etiebet’s philanthropy and love for his people of Annang,
earned him the titled of ‘Atu-Ekong Annang’ (the fighter
of the Annang people) by the people of Annang, a tribe of about two million people in Akwa Ibom State.
He also holds the title of ‘Obong Unwana Akwa Ibom’ (one that brings development and light to his state) which was jointly conferred on him by all the 31 traditional rulers in the state – a title that has never been held by
anyone in the state except him.
In his welcome address at the occasion, Utomi stated that the world has in a more recent time become a VUCA world – a world he explained as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. “But it is a world more prosperous, much safer, in spite of how things seem,” he said. He added: “Critical to this order is the role information and communications technology has played in raising productivity, enhanced creativity and values
creation and made it possible to hold power accountable through systems like Freedom of Information project.”
Utomi said: “As we celebrate one of the early champions of IT in Nigeria, the remarkable Don Etiebet, we are reminded that this technology still has room to help us leapfrog and offer a better life for the people of
Nigeria and generations yet to be born.”
He said even though the world is a VUCA world, it takes technology to grow information and build knowledge that enable navigation through that VUCA world.
He also used the occasion to announce the plan of the Centre to produce a television documentary and a compendium on the evolution and memories of ICT industry in Nigeria, and to erect a website for the makers of the Nigerian ICT revolution. He said the cost of the project stood at N500, 000, 000, and called for support to enable them accomplish the project.
In her remarks, the Provost, College of Fellows, Nigeria
Computer Society (NCS), Professor Adenike Osofisan, said the country must go back to the basics if it truly wants to revolutionalise ICT and tap into the potentials of the sector, noting that, children from their young ages should be exposed to IT practical.
“We must begin to train our children in the act of
programming because it’s all about artificial intelligence. All the toys that our children play with from the kindergarten should be IT-based even though they may not understand what they are doing. We must train
youths to contribute their quota in the ICT sector. Government needs to emulate the example of U.S.
in developing the sector especially investing in the
education of ICT,” she added.
Osofisan congratulated Etiebet, who she said showed them the way in the ICT industry.
Also speaking, former Professor of Computer Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Most Rev. Adebayo Akinde, pointed out that on major problem he perceived in the country’s educational sector that has been making ICT difficult to develop at a high speed is the disconnect between knowledge and skill given to students.
“When you impart knowledge to them they catch the principles; they can retain what they learn. But it’s a different thing when it comes to doing and there is the need for us to look at the educational sector and not just place emphasis on knowledge than the ability to do, experience and skill,” Akinde said.
According to him, no nation develops especially in this
century without solid credible technological foundation. “Nigeria cannot afford to be an exception. We will have to shout to the rooftops to powers that be, that instead of
squandering money on cultural festivals, let us put our
money beside science and technology,” he added.
On his part, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Zinox
Technologies Limited, Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, said Nigeria can transit to where America is as cheap as possible if it can move into a digital culture, noting that, the country needs a very clever IT policy and digital lifestyle to move
the economy forward.
In a glowing tribute to Etiebet, Ekeh wondered where Nigeria would have been without the likes of Etiebet, who he described as a father in the industry. “We owe a lot to this oracle. Nigeria is forever indebted to you. You laid the foundation for us in the ICT and we are very proud of you. We are presenting you to Nigerians as the next President of the country,” Ekeh told Etiebet.
Contributing to the discourse, Etiebet said establishment
of technology parks in the country would play a key role in accelerating growth in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, calling on the
federal government to intensify efforts in that regard.
He said ICT is a tool that people should gain mastery of in
order to carry out their tasks effectively, adding that it
is very important to develop proper training to get users familiar with the basics such as coding.
He explained that in software development, the challenge
facing the sector is coding, urging the government to
develop the minds of youths in computer coding. “If the youths are able to make breakthrough in coding, they will be able to translate the indigenous languages to computer
languages,” Etiebet said.
He maintained that the business environment should be
structured in a way that would allow civil servants to
contribute to the growth of the sector.
He said: “The education curriculum should be revised again to include compulsory training in mathematics. Individuals must be ready to invest in intelligent youths. We should introduce venture capitalism to Nigeria to
encourage people. This is a process where individual comes up with an idea and he gives it to an investor to fund it, then the originator of the idea manages it and the proceeds from the investments are shared in an agreed ratio.”
The celebrant described as great thing, the convergence of
the industry’s experts at the occasion to brainstorm on
e-government and how to move the economy of the country forward. “Everyone has to contribute towards
developing the ICT industry,” he noted.
Etiebet thanked the Centre for Values in Leadership for organising the colloquium in his honour and appreciated profusely, all the guests for coming to celebrate with him. He appreciated specially, his kinsmen who came all the way from Akwa Ibom State to join in felicitating with him, equally thanking members of the Nigeria Computer Society who presented a plaque to him.