Back to Kano

(c) Friends of Nigeria

My first visit to the ancient city of Kano was on October 17, 2003. The second visit is coming about 4 years later, having arrived Kano on March 12, 2007. Though almost 4 years apart, both visits revolve around the same theme: ICTs for Development. The first was fuelled by the passion of an energetic young team that would make a difference regardless of what obstacles stood on their path, and this second visit comes with passion (increased and focused passion), skills (grown over those few years) and economic opportunity (reward for skilled labour). On that first visit, Titi Akinsanmi was my team mate (with support from Tope Soremi who was taking care of administrative work in Lagos); and for this second visit, I arrived Kano with Anne Musyoki and Gladys of Computer Aid International. In 2003, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) was a youth-led online volunteer team trying to connect Nigerian youth with ICT opportunities; and now in 2007, its an institution that has chosen to spearhead appropriate ICT4D opportunities for Africa’s youth.

The 2003 visit was tagged WSIS Youth Nigeria Policy Train and it was organized by the Nigerian Youth Coalition on ICTs (led by PIN) and hosted by the Center for Information Technology Awareness and Development (CITAD, the same institution facilitating these 2007 meetings between the Computer Aid team and relevant institutions in Kano). Today, I return to the Kano office of the British Council, the same place where we held a meeting with young ICT enthusiasts on October 18 2003. Today’s meeting will introduce Computer Aid International to a wider audience — non-profit institutions and heads of Kano’s secondary schools.

I read the 2003 report again this morning and can’t help smiling having read especially the following:

On arrival in Kano at about 7:30pm, communication became a major issue. We had phones, numbers and all that we needed but the calls would just not be completed. After several attempts, we were able to contact our hosts, CITAD, after which we proceeded to the Mambayya House which would be our office, home and secretariat for the two days we would spend working in the beautiful ancient city of Kano. Not long after we checked in, it was the next day: Saturday October 18 2003.

The program had two segments — the consultation with 44 participants (which included very few dynamic non-youths) and the visit to Zaura Babba which was a Rural Internet Penetration program that enjoyed the support of the National Information Technology Development Agency’s (NITDA) Mobile Internet Unit (MIU) and dynamic staff. Beginning with a welcome address by CITAD’s Garba Idris and followed by an opening remark by the Customer Service Manager of the British Council, the day’s high tone was set. A presentation on “ICT and Policy” was then delivered by ‘Gbenga Sesan while Titi Akinsanmi continued with an update on “Youth @ WSIS”. After the two presentations, an interactive session followed and it was centred around the need to involve the less privileged in the use and bountiful opportunities that ICTs offer. This came as a wonderful discussion because our planned visit to a rural community in Kano came in handy.

The prolonged and insightful questions and comments (well captured on video) moved naturally into an impromptu but effective and timely 5-minute presentation on the use of the Internet by NITDA’s Garba Mohammed who lectured in English an also added the local flavour, being an indigene of Kano himself.

The team (NITDA, CITAD, Titi Akinsanmi and ‘Gbenga Sesan) proceeded to Zaura Babba for the rural internet awareness program but it was not without some good drama. About 15 participants from the first segment showed interest in joining us at the village, and the Emir’s convoy lightened up our transition as captured in one of the three 3-hour tapes where the Kano Policy Train has been archived. Arriving Zaura Babba after a minor “lost in Kano” experience (due to the hired driver’s expertise), we were greatly surprised by the presence of about 100 young people aged between 2 and their mid twenties. The greater surprise was the pre-arranged welcome by the Village Head, his chiefs and the entire Zaura Babba community. It was most sentimental as the ill (but obviously learned) village head welcomed us in his local language and with only two or three words in English. He could actually have spoken in English but tradition would have him address visitors only in his mother tongue! He apologised for not slaughtering a ram or chicken and asked us to return for a taste of the Zaura Babba hospitality!

‘Gbenga Sesan spoke on behalf of the coalition and thanked the community for being so receptive to the dynamic opportunities that ICTs would offer them and also urged the youth and elders to embrace the use of ICTs in development. The Village Head thanked the visiting resource persons (‘Gbenga Sesan and Titi Akinsanmi) and “cut the tape” for the Computer/Internet Training for Zaura Babba community. Beginning with an open air address, the entire community, especially the youth, were urged to learn from the day’s training and to make sure they passed the same on to the other members of the community, especially the women. We noticed that there were no young ladies in their teens present at the “village square address” and Titi Akinsanmi urged the men to involve their sisters, mothers and wives in the use of ICTs.

We proceeded to a classroom in the Government School, Zaura Babba, where about 40 community members (including the state’s Press Secretary) were introduced to computing. The training on, “What is a Computer?”, “How does a Computer work?” and “What can a Computer do?” was led by ‘Gbenga Sesan and enjoyed interpretation in the local language. You need to see this on video as words would not capture the excitement and thrill in that classroom for over thirty minutes! Physical demonstrations with a laptop which we got courtesy of Tokunbo Fagbamigbe of MTN added colour to the classroom segment of the training. Surprise was written all over the faces of the participants as they saw their own pictures that were taken with a digital camera only a few minutes before then, on the computer — which is referred to as inji mai kwakwalwa (a machine that has a brain) in Hausa.

It was then time to proceed to the Mobile Internet Unit, where community members had the opportunity of touching a computer, using it and connecting to the vast space of the World Wide Web for an historic first time for the majority of them! Ranging from mere admiration to reading news on the BBC Hausa service, creating email accounts and surfing the Zaura Babba website that was quickly put up by ‘Gbenga Sesan as a Coalition donation to the Zaura Babba community. Titi Akinsanmi urged the community to complete the design of which presently has a simple welcome page with a picture taken during the Village Head’s address. The younger generation trooped out of their evening religious lessons and proceeded towards the MIU. We welcomed them and enjoyed the thrilling song from the ladies while the gentle men treated us to a local “survival of the fittest and last man standing” game! We showed them a laptop and asked questions about their desire to go to school. A young lady said she hoped to become a school teacher and many more expressed their desire in becoming doctors, lawyers and more!

While this report, pictures, 3 video tapes and the Nigeria Youth Caucus website will keep the memories of the Kano Policy Train alive, the excitement and challenge etched on my, nay our minds would linger beyond the lifespan of any of these media! I will never forget the moment that tears almost dropped from my eyes as I saw Aisha and other young people in Zaura Babba trying to enter the classroom but had to be kept outside so that the whole event would be orderly. “Can’t our fat leaders and overfed political opportunists see the depravity in the community and act?” Well, let it be known that very soon, Zaura Babba will produce ICT experts that will touch the heart of the global Information Society! This Policy Train has planted at least one seed, and we look forward to more opportunities for Nigeria¡¦s youth to give back to their community!

It is not all about what the country can do for us but what we can give back to the communities where we find ourselves.

For this 2007 visit, I’m completing a consulting assignment for Computer Aid International. We have held meetings with library experts, academics, government officials and other stakeholders; and the primary objective of this visit is to equip the different institutions with ICT4D equipment which can help all of us bridge the digital divide faster. It looks to me like this is a follow-up to the 2003 visit because while in 2003 we travelled to Zaura Babba with a Mobile Internet Unit, the 2007 visit presents CAI-assisted computer acquisition opportunities to institutions that qualify.

It won’t take another 4 years before I return to Kano, but I am excited at the opportunity of playing a role in the ICT4D growth of Kano, and any other developing city in any nation of the world. It is not about what the world can offer me, it is about what I can do to change the world, our world!

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