CONTACT: MARY GERAGHTY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024
Iowa City IA 52242
Release: June 15, 1999
UI staff member helps Nigerian university enter the
IOWA CITY, Iowa On the face of it there's nothing
unusual -- just a computer lab at a university with 15 Pentium computers,
all of them wired to the network and running the latest Windows software.
However, a closer look reveals something extraordinary: Nigerian undergraduate
students using cutting-edge computers to create documents, images, databases
and World Wide Web pages.
In a country where the universities have fallen on
hard times, where faculty salaries are considered half of what one needs to
survive, where many library journals date back to the 1960's and 70's, where
whole cadres of computer science students graduate without ever touching a
computer, and where labor strikes and electrical failures plague universities
on an almost daily basis, the University of Jos has created a digital oasis.
Cliff Missen, a University of Iowa staff member, has spent nearly a year as
a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Jos helping to get the system up
Missen said it is crucial for the University of Jos
and other Nigerian universities to give their students and faculty members
access to email and the Internet so that they can join the global scholarly
Nenfort E. Gomwalk, the vice chancellor of the University
of Jos and the driving force behind the university's computerization campaign,
said, "It has become increasingly clear that Nigerian universities are fast
losing ground because we're not connected to other academics and on-line information."
Gomwalk toured American universities in 1994 as a
guest of the U.S. Information Agency and saw firsthand how information technologies
were reshaping higher education. Since then, he has moved his 10,000-student
university into the forefront of networking and computers.
The University of Jos now has a fiber optic network
connecting 24 departments, with more than 100 computers attached. Students,
staff, and faculty from all disciplines are being trained to use the computers.
More than 900 email accounts have been set up for campus users, generating
more than 5,000 messages a month that go out beyond the university's walls
to the wider Internet.
"It's not about whether one has computers," Missen
said. "It's about what one can accomplish with one's computers." He said one
of his goals in his Fulbright year has been to show students and faculty members
"how anyone using cutting-edge equipment can produce remarkable progress in
very little time."
Since arriving at the University of Jos in September
1998, Missen has emphasized the practical uses of computers and networks.
Based on his work as a systems analyst and instructor at the UI, Missen brought
to Nigeria a wealth of experience in academic computing, multimedia development
and distance education. Employing software donated by Microsoft and computers
donated by Gateway Inc. as well as by individuals from Iowa City, he has spent
the year demonstrating how computers and networks can be used effectively
"In the U.S., when I'm looking for ideas, I tour other
universities to see how they are using their digital technologies," Missen
said. "When I see something innovative that could serve my department, I mimic
it. But Nigerians don't have this option. PCs and networks barely exist in
Nigerian universities and virtually everything we are doing here at UNIJOS
is ground breaking."
Indeed, Missen is making a little history of his own.
He is teaching a course from the University of Jos that is being taken by
seven students in Iowa City and 20 correspondence students from three different
countries over the Internet (in addition to the 21 students in the UNIJOS
"It has been challenging and fun," says Missen of
the experience. "I've been lucky to attract a good group of students who have
hung in there and created some good discussion despite a lot of obstacles."
One such obstacle is a lack of an Internet connection
at the University of Jos. The university employs telephone connections to
send and receive email, but full Internet connectivity is currently too expensive
and tightly regulated by the government. With no telephone within a kilometer
of his house, Missen spends early mornings and late evenings at a friend's
home across town using the friend's telephone to dial up an Internet Service
Provider in Lagos, 700 kilometers away. Even then, Missen said that the connection
is "terribly slow" and he loses the connection every few minutes.
The University of Jos is working on setting up a satellite
link to the Internet. There are huge regulatory hurdles to be cleared, such
as a 4-million Niara license fee, and considerable infrastructure challenges
to overcome, like electric service that stops several times a day. But the
university's technicians forge ahead.
"We're going to prove it can be done," said Daniel
Inusa, the director of the University of Jos network. Inusa has overseen the
installation of the fiber optic network and is now working on setting up wireless
links to the university's satellite campuses. Originally trained as a software
developer, Inusa spent three months in Iowa undergoing advanced network training.
With few tools and fewer
resources - and a single staff member - he has managed
two separate email systems that supply the university community with a relatively
steady link to the outside world.
Like Inusa, several members of the university's Computer
Centre staff have traveled overseas for computer training and now their efforts
are turned towards training others at the university. The Centre runs computer
application courses on an almost daily basis and the classes are always overbooked.
The most popular training is Web page design. More
than 150 people have been trained to use Microsoft's FrontPage software to
create documents for the World Wide Web. Now they are bent to the task of
creating the first Nigerian pages on the university's Web server. Web sites
describing the University of Jos, the city of Jos, places of interest in Nigeria,
and faculty research have been developed. So that the rest of the world can
see their work, the sites on the University of Jos Web server are copied to
a mirror server at the UI http://intlinet.lib.uiowa.edu/unijos.
South African researcher Mike Jensen estimates that
only .022% of all the Web pages in the world originate from Africa. The "webmasters"
at the University of Jos hope to double that number when they finally connect
to the Internet.
This month the University of Jos Computer Centre will
extend its influence one step further. June 14-19 they will offer a series
of seminars and hands-on training for other universities and organizations
in Nigeria. With topics ranging from "NT Server Management" to "Power Protection
and Supply," the seminars are designed to deal with the obstacles and opportunities
faced by Nigerian network managers.
"There's no need for others to have to reinvent this
wheel," says Cliff Missen. "We intend to demonstrate, warts and all, our progress
here at UNIJOS. Hopefully, we'll hasten the adoption of these technologies
at other universities around Nigeria."
Raising all Nigerian universities to the technological
standards of the University of Jos may seem daunting, but Missen said it is
necessary if the Nigerian Universities are to be relevant in the Information
Age. University officials are hopeful that the newly elected civilian government,
which took power in May, will place more emphasis on restoring Nigerian universities.
"All Nigerian universities will make faster progress
if we learn from each other and support each other's efforts," Missen said.
"The sooner other Nigerian universities catch up, the faster and more sure
our progress will be."
Missen and his family will return to Iowa City in
the last week of July.
(Editors note: Reporters interested in interviewing Missen
about his experience at the University of Jos can contact him by email firstname.lastname@example.org
or telephone (073) 611935 or (073) 610933. Jos is seven hours ahead of the
Central Time Zone. Gomwalk can be reached at email@example.com.
Inusa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Missen family Web page, including notes and photos, is http://intlinet.lib.uiowa.edu/ourjosweb.)