Two Interesting Journeys


It’s been an interesting journey. Literally. And figuratively.

We set out, from Lagos, for the magical island of Seychelles on Wednesday night, to celebrate Temi’s birthday and our 5th wedding anniversary, but the journey grew wings. A strike action at an airport led to missing our connecting flight to Seychelles, even though the airline staff in Lagos went the extra mile – after we insisted, of course – to make sure we could join the connecting flight because the next onward flight to Seychelles would be on Sunday, 2 days after the major events we thought to celebrate on the beautiful island tucked away in the middle of the Indian ocean.

The duty manager called the central operations team to explain our situation and he was assured the connecting flight would be held for a few minutes to allow us board, especially as we packed only one bag. Well, our plans for this holiday isn’t one that requires a lot in packed luggage. But I digress. So, after we boarded and overcame the day-long airport staff strike action, we looked forward to a trip without delays. The moment we were courteously pulled aside on arrival, my alarm bells went off – the flight had left without us. A few minutes later, we demanded to speak with ground staff at the transit hub, and she was quick to say they’d put us in a hotel until Sunday.

Temi knew what would come next, so she looked at me as if to say, “baby, take it easy.” She assured me it was okay to work within the plans but I replied, “a promise is a debt, we have a birthday and anniversary to enjoy at our desired location.” After few calls on her phone and repeated attempts to convince me it was impossible to get us to Seychelles, I told Sylvia I needed to speak with the “oga at the top.” The lady I spoke with was calm, and quick to say everything Sylvia (I pitied her at some point) had already told us. I was calm (even Temi was surprised) but told the oga something like: “I know you couldn’t do anything about the airport strike but you made a promise.”

I continued, “Look through your network for an airline that can help fulfill your promise, hire a private jet or a very fast boat… but I have to pay a debt to a tired young woman.” I think she understood what was going on here. She asked for a few minutes, and after what looked like a very long wait, Sylvia showed up with a solution. I wanted to ask her why they called the task impossible before until I insisted on getting online myself to recommend possible connections, but we were too tired to gloat. A few minutes later, we were at lunch and arrangements to get us to Seychelles in time for Temi’s birthday and our anniversary were taken care of.

That’s the literal part of the interesting journey.

As I write this on the flight towards our final destination, Temi is reading the latest edition of Msafiri. I just checked the cover again to be sure I got that spelling right. I did. She smiled. Of course, she knows what’s going on here. I hardly write non-tech reports, so she knows this is about the journey – the literal one. The figurative journey started this time 5 years ago. In Lagos, Nigeria.

65 months before January 17, 2009, I met Temi at a friend’s wedding and immediately asked her to dance with me. The groom was my friend and the bride was hers but for some reason, we had never crossed paths even though we all attended the same university. I think it was because she lived in the classroom, a place I didn’t exactly consider my first priority while on campus. Okay, I digress again. After a failed first date – involving an inability to pay at Chocolate Royale, Temi suggesting she didn’t really like the place anyway (to save my ego), walking to another restaurant (and it wasn’t for fitness) – and many more incidents that included a friend advising her not to marry me because of my bad habits, we got engaged. Er, there’s a Part 2 for that video 🙂

The journey of marriage is one you can’t prepare enough for because the dynamics change once you both wake up without pretenses beside each other. In the first 3 years, I learnt tolerance. Chei! I learnt a lot. As far as I was concerned, I was making a lot of sacrifices and she was too busy trying to create a new body of knowledge. Temi was completing her PhD in the UK, so I was in Nottingham every month. I’d promised on our wedding day that I’d make sure we spent good time together each month, so I made sure that meetings outside Nigeria took me through the UK route. And for months that saw no work travel, I traveled anyway. After many fights, tears and a day she almost walked out of the house, we both learnt how to support each other’s career and enjoy it!

Anyone who knows me really well (not the new “friend”-ship as defined by social media) won’t be surprised to read this: I get plenty wahala. Yes, work in progress, but far from the picture that public appearances show. Not that I pretend, but you know how none of us would fart in public as we’d do when in the confines of our bedroom with folks who are used to the odour? I thought you’d get it. Now, let’s get back to pretending we all don’t do that. Cool. In the few years spent with Temi, I’ve done things that made her cry, shown signs that could make anyone doubt love regardless of how deeply it’s expressed, etc, but one thing that I can’t argue with myself about is that she’s the best decision I ever made.

This interesting journey has involved days of those tough marriage questions: does she really love me? Why on earth won’t she see that I almost killed myself to do that? And more. Maybe the fact that I knew I was a flawed human being helped me learn a lot. Of course, she isn’t a saint, but she’s such a sweet soul that I wonder why she considered signing those dotted lines on January 17, 2009. Five years and many decisions later, I look at her and I smile. I smile because we’ve taught each other a lot (most recent lessons from Temi include small talk, remembering people’s names, calling friends and family, etc) and I’m glad we have many more years to continue to do that.

In many ways, I think this fifth wedding anniversary signals the next phase of our union, but it also represents the next phase of our careers – bodies of knowledge we’re both proud we’ve spent years to build. I don’t even know if I’m writing this to say thank you to the woman who changed my life (and continues to do so), or just thinking out loud about this interesting 5-year journey, but I am glad to have a co-traveller that inspires me, and one I am proud to call Mentor. We push each other towards career heights that ordinarily scare us as individuals, but most of all, I have discovered the true meaning of love. Love is Temilade Adeyinka Sesan.

Temilade, thank you for saying yes.

Adeyinka, the promise to become better is a debt.

Baby, I’m sorry I stole your birthday and turned it into our wedding anniversary. Well, it’s insurance against ever forgetting 😀 Happy birthday, hun!

I know I’ll get a chance to say this privately, but to the woman who has spent the last 5 years laughing at my increasingly almost-not-funny jokes and working with me to keep smiles on both faces: oooooooooooooooooooooooosé!

Cleaning Her Way Towards Opportunity

She’s young. Very young. We hired her as a cleaner when it became clear that the new office needed someone to look after it through the day, especially as there was now a lot of human traffic through the Ajegunle Innovation Centre – parents seeking opportunities for their kids, students who come in daily for 7 weeks to learn new things that could turn their lives around, young people who just want to check out what was so important that their colleagues went through the rigour of interviews. Tinuke didn’t come across as one with a lot of confidence. Actually, she lacked confidence and you could see through it. But she was just a victim of the lack of opportunity that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria is working hard to at least make a dent in – and continue to chip away at the alarming numbers. When we hired her, she didn’t bother to tell us that she had gone through training at an ICT Centre, and that she actually did teach. Yes, she didn’t bother trying to pick up a job with that skill and grabbed the opportunity she could get.

I’ve seen a lot of that. People don’t bother looking for matching opportunities because 54% of the other young people out there are unemployed, and they will accept a much lower pay to edge others out of the competition for the few spots that open up. At one point, a graduate attended the interview for our program but hid what you would think was his competitive advantage. He knew it was a program for folks who, among other things, have not had a chance at tertiary education and didn’t want his degree to disqualify him from a program that could offer a 3-month (or longer) internship that might just be his entry to the world of work that had eluded him for over 3 years after he was told by his Vice Chancellor that he had been found worthy, in character and in learning, to join the labour force. He didn’t get a job, like many others, so he lowered the bar to start from anywhere. Chances are that the security guard you were rude to last week holds a BSc but ate the humble pie as he keeps searching for that better opportunity. I don’t think this was Tinuke’s deliberate approach, but she is also a lot more powerful than the position she accepted.

As she cleaned the training room, she showed interest in more than just keeping it neat. After asking her about her plans for tertiary education, I’d think to myself: she should join the next set of students so she can pick up skills that could set her up for much more. Little did I know that she would one day walk into the class to train the students she was cleaning up after. Tinuke is no longer just the cleaner who had to keep every stain off, she is now the tall lady who puts students through on those computers she still cleans. Of course, she won’t be there for much longer as she has now taken the bold step of showing interest in an opening to do what she had been doing on the side – assisting our program lead with making the experience much better. Just before the staff evaluation exercise at our recently concluded staff retreat, other members of the team confirmed the need for her to step up, “come out of her shell” and show much more confidence. I took time to tell her in person, when she sat alone with me to give honest feedback that could help us at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria in our desire to be a much more desirable place to work.

Tinuke is work in progress, as I am. As you are too? Well, I thought it was just me. And Tinuke. LOL. I won’t be surprised when she goes on to become much more than she was ever given a chance to be, and I am extremely glad that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria is able to add value to the students that walk through our doors – and the young men and women who work very (read that as VERY) hard to make sure that our program beneficiaries get a chance to improve their lives. Our vision is summarized by ICTs + Youth = Socio-Economic Opportunities and it is the work that people like Tinuke and the other team members do that allows us to hit the nail on the head. But this isn’t just about a young woman who is climbing higher on the ladder of opportunity, it’s also about what she has taught me. Tinuke has reminded me again that it’s okay to start really small and grow, and to never allow the smallness of the space you currently occupy take away the sight of that big vision. Thank you, Tinuke, and all the best with the rest of your career journey.


Security vs Freedom: Update on Internet Freedom and Communication Privacy in Nigeria

Military History and Clampdowns

On January 15, 1966, Nigeria’s 6-year old post-colonial democracy was truncated by a military coup. What would be the country’s first phase of military rule lasted until October 1, 1979, when General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected Shehu Shagari. On the last day of 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari resumed the second phase of military dictatorship that survived until May 29, 1999. The years of military rule saw huge oppression of citizens and massive clampdown on the media and civil society.

Civil society leaders fled to exile. Media institutions that chose to report the news as it happened faced threats, attacks and even death. Every dissenting voice was billed for squashing until various events led to the re-emergence of democracy in Nigeria. In the same year that the military handed over the leadership of Nigeria and the nation joined other nations across the world to practice democracy, a Constitution (for the Federal Republic) with provisions for citizen rights returned as a supreme instrument.

Among other provisions, Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) makes a very strong case for citizens’ rights to privacy: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.” Though Nigeria returned to democratic rule, this provision has not been perfectly respected. In fact, military-style provisions like “Official Secrets” and “Sedition” were popular until a Freedom of Information law was finally approved in 2011.

Threats to Privacy and Freedom

For a long time, Nigeria has seen various degrees of unrest around various regions of the country. In the South East, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) recently gave a sit-at-home order. The South West’s Odu’a People’s Congress (OPC), that has morphed into something close to a vigilante group, was once dreaded for its activities.

Militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta area were probably the most popular for their hold on the State until the North East started seeing terrorist acts by Jama’atu Ahlisunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram. Following a bomb blast at the venue where the 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria should have held, in October 2010, and other terrorist activities, the Nigerian State began activities that were borderline illegal as far as the privacy and freedom of citizens are concerned.

A Telecom Facilities Lawful Interception of Information Bill was introduced in the National Assembly in 2010 but as with many legislative needs in Nigeria, the bill did not enjoy much traction before the 6th Session of the Assembly completed their term in May 2011. In 2013, the telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, introduced Draft Lawful Interception of Communications Regulations, which sought to achieve, through secondary legislation, what the Lawful Interception Bill was slow to achieve.

Considering the constitutional provision that protects the privacy of telecom users, various groups kicked against the act. Groups asked the Government to do the right thing by subjecting any such regulation to the rigour of legislative processes. At about the same time, an online newspaper, Premium Times, revealed that the federal Government had awarded a secret contract to Elbit Systems – to monitor Internet communication in Nigeria.

In May 2013, an online technology newspaper, Technology Times, revealed that DigiVox, a company that specializes in lawful interception services, listed the Nigerian State Security Service and all private telecommunications operators in Nigeria – MTN, Airtel, Etisalat, Glo – as its clients.

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria’s (Ongoing) Intervention

With support from the Citizen Lab/Munk School for Global Affair’s CyberStewards Program and Internews’ Global Internet Policy Project, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) strengthened its focus on ICT Policy in Nigeria in the first quarter of 2013. This put the organization in a good position to fill an existing vacuum in advocacy for Internet Freedom in Nigeria.

Beginning with a Freedom of Information request that was not responded to after the mandatory seven (7) days, PIN commenced a targeted advocacy effort that has now evolved into the application for an “order of mandamus” through a Federal High Court in Abuja. The court is yet to set a date for ruling as at the time of submitting this abstract to the Connaught Summer Institute on Monitoring Internet Openness and Rights.

PIN also continues to consult widely with stakeholders including the National Assembly, Ministry of Communication Technology, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), technology enthusiasts, Internet users and some security agencies. A Policy Brief titled Nigeria: Making A Case For Enduring Internet Freedom was published on May 29, 2013, and has been widely distributed.

The National Assembly has announced that its Information and Communication, Security and Human Rights committees will jointly investigate the secret contract awarded to Elbit Systems, and PIN has been invited to follow the proceedings, which could start before the summer institute convenes in Toronto in July 2013. PIN also worked with a group of 10 other CSOs to release a joint statement on the need for government to follow due procedure in its attempt to monitor private communication in the name of keeping citizens safe from terrorism.

PIN has enjoyed tremendous media support in the advocacy work, which has been further helped by the ongoing global discussions on the issue of citizen surveillance, and particularly PRISM in the United States of America.