Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Balkanization Of Nigeria, What We Say And What We Do

Often you hear Nigerians saying that Nigeria as a country is nothing but a contraption created by the British and so it cannot work. Such statements come from people from every section of Nigeria who think that the "other guy" or the other ethnic group or region is responsible for their woes. Personally I think that is nothing but playing the ostrich. Before we blame that region or that ethnic group for our problems we need to first check to see if our local leaders from our own regions are doing a good job. But that is not the meat of this post. What I want to put forward here is a theory I learned regarding software development and marketing. The theory tells the software entrepreneur that what customers say they want isn't necessarily what they really want. The job of the entrepreneur is to find out what his target customers really want and surprise them with it.

So when some Nigerians say "Break up this country !", is that what they really want? I think not. There are many reasons for this conclusion but let's consider a few of them

First, the same Nigerians regularly insulting the country and calling it an artificial creation (is there a country that is a natural creation?) are the first Nigerians that flare up when a foreigner makes a rude statement about the country. Sometimes even if it is an honest and constructive criticism. Remember the outrage when late Muammar Ghaddafi called for the balkanization of Nigeria? Or the reaction to the current position of some international organizations that the Nigerian military are not fit to lead operations in Northern Mali? There is also a recent statement by Zimbabwe telling it's citizens not to come to Nigeria.

And then there is Football. Yes football. I noticed that when the Nigerian national team scores, all Nigerian celebrate whether it is Nwanko Kanu from Arochuckwu or Celestine Babayaro from Kaduna that scores. In fact we refer to the team as "we".

Quite a number of Igbos are still agitating for the breaking off of the South-Eastern part of the country to form the Republic of Biafra. I will not argue for or against that idea here but I will consider the actions of our Igbo brothers and not their words. I think judging by their actions, the Igbos believe in Nigeria more than any other ethnic group. Well, the Igbos are the quickest to buy land and properties in any area they settle. I recently learned that about 70% of all the land in Abuja is owned by Igbos. They are also found in every nook and cranny of this country doing business. That doesn't look like the action of people trying to secede.

And despite the efforts by some sections of both the local and the international media to paint the Boko Haram crisis in the North as a case of Northerners versus Southerners or Muslims versus Christians, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Igbo leader in Maiduguri urging for the amendment of the constitution to address the issue of indigenes and settlers. He argued that, many of his people have spent more than 30 years in Maiduguri and consider Maiduguri home and thus they shouldn't be regarded as settlers. I quite agree with him.

There are also Northerners that you hear saying that we should get rid of the South and bring back the groundnut pyramids. I still don't understand the logic behind that statement. Is any Southerner stopping Northerners from going back to the farm? Anyway I think the actions of those people speak louder and contrary to their words. Just like the Igbos, the Hausas who are the largest ethnic group in the North are found in every corner of the country usually engaged in petty trade. Do these pro-Balkanization Northerners think their ethnic brothers in South want to come back to the North? I believe anywhere in Nigeria should be home to any Nigerian. What these ignorant Northerners don't know is history. Before the consolidation of the Sokoto caliphate, the Hausa city states in that area often engage in wars between themselves. Hausas versus Hausas. Though they see it as something like Kano versus Zaria or Katsina versus Kano and so on. This alone tears the argument of finding Nirvana when we get rid of the other ethnic groups. As for the North-East, I believe that region whether it's the parts of the ancient Kanem-Bornu empire or the ancient Fombina has more ethnic groups than any other section of Nigeria. There is a local government in Borno state that has more than 40 different ethnic groups alone. Do we break that local government down to 40 countries?

When one considers points like the ones above you then wonder, why are some people still calling for the break up of Nigeria? Easy. Intellectual laziness. Instead of us spending time to discover and analyse our real problems, we take the lazy man's way out. We take to blaming the person that looks different from us or speaks a different language from ours for all the problems of the country.

I think by their actions, majority of Nigerians love Nigeria.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

No Apologies For Being Nigerian

I always say that most of the problems of Nigeria is manifested in our so-called educated people. They are the ones that worry so much about how the world think of us and less about how we really improve at home.The so-called illiterate rural dwellers who make the bulk of our population worry about real problems like getting fertilizer for their farms or getting a clinic close to their village. I've had this feeling for some time but didn't have the right words to articulate it in writing. So I am now reading Tope Fasua's book titled CRUSHED and just came across a chapter where he expressed just that feeling better than I can ever imagine to. He complained about the lack of deep analysis of the corruption problem in Nigeria by our intelligentsia and how we are unable to trace the root causes of the problem. We often prefer to ignore the powerful countries' roles in promoting corruption in Nigeria and Africa. We ignore things like Swiss coded accounts that facilitate the looting of Africa's money to Europe by corrupt leaders. He hit the nail on the head when he sited how a common foreign news anchor was bombarding Nigeria's then vice president Dr Goodluck Jonathan for all the corruption going on in Nigeria. And worse of all, the position of most people was like "Oh we are sorry we are corrupt". My point? I am tired of that attitude and have stopped accepting that holier than thou stance from any foreigner just because I am Nigerian.
So some days ago I tried to buy a hosting service from a U.S.A based company, all the process went smoothly until I tried to make the final payment. Their system suddenly blocked me out because my address is in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Instead of walking away from the transaction, I submitted a support ticket to them specifically telling them that I am Nigerian and that I understand that I cannot pay for their services because of that. Instead of apologizing for my being Nigerian, I requested that they delete my account since they will not do business with me. That I will go and find a hosting company that is ready to do business with me. Less than ten minutes I received a reply from them with an apology and an explanation that they have manually generated an invoice for me to make the payment.
My friend and co-owner of our startup software company is an ardent follower of a certain blog that revolves around a version control system. When the blog author gave out free copies of his book, people need to fill out a form on the blog site to show their interest. The form however has no provision for Nigerian addresses and doesn't allow alternate means of supplying such addresses. So my friend emailed the author and told him that he shouldn't ignore Nigeria because he has readers there. I do not know how the conversation continued but the author went out of his way to send him a copy of the book all the way to Maiduguri.
So I imagined if every Nigerian will try that method instead of getting a fake U.S address, may be with a few transactions we can change that attitude towards us. I think the world is like a playground. People will bully you when they think you are weak and have no options. I am not saying that we should be proud of Yahoo boys but I think I should not be held responsible for what Yahoo boys do. Afterall, no country ever decided not to buy Nigerian crude oil because of corruption. The psychological bullying will only stop when the victim stand up to the bully by proving his worth.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Compile To Web

One of the problems I have always had with web development is the looseness of the different technologies used to deliver a good result to your end user. For any body that has developed software using compiled languages like C/C++, Java and C# combining things like HTML, PHP and Javascript in the same source files feels so dirty and inelegant. Though there are various methods of seperating the different layers of web applications, I personally feel they are still not as efficient as what you get in non-web programming.
Luckily, my sentiment seem to be shared by the majority in the software development world and as expected better methods of developing web applications are emerging. Most of these solutions allow you to develop using compiled languages but your source code is translated into web languages like HTML and Javascript instead of the expected binary code that is generated by those languages. Here are three of such technologies I find most interesting.

Google Web Toolkit : This is developed by Google and basically let you develop your program using Java but generates Javascript application as the output. Just like most Google tools, Google Web Toolkit is free of charge.

VisualWebGui : This is an open-source tool but also seems to have a commercial version. It integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio and let's you convert a .NET programs to a web application.

JSIL : This is an open-source tool in development. It takes code in native .NET executable format (CIL) and converts it Javascript ready to run in a browser.

There may be others that I am yet to discover but this trend is good news for people like me that want to get desktop development experience in web development.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

I Want To Touch My Money

I couldn't help but keep thinking on the way the Central Bank Of Nigeria is pushing hard for the adoption of electronic money in Nigeria. I mean, why the relentless push? First of all, I am not trying to resist change, being a software developer, I should be in support of innovative use of technology but my view is that it shouldn't be pushed down people's throats.

When ATMs were introduced, the CBN never forced people to start using it. ATM got traction because it's value is obvious. It saves you a lot of time you would have spent on a queue in a banking halls. It also lets you withdraw cash anytime of the day.

So I was thinking, is the CBN pushing us to the right direction with it's cashless policy? To answer that we have to consider the qualities needed for something to qualify as good money. Apart from the well known qualities of money like acceptability, portability, durability and homogeneity, modern money should be easily transfered from the physical form to electronic form and back to the physical form. This is not magic or science fiction, we have been doing it for some time now. When we put physical cash in a bank account we are in essence transforming it to electronic form. We can electronically transfer that money to somebody else's bank account and the receiver can cash it, or in order words transform it back to physical money.

The ATMs were successful because they allow us to get money in it's physical form that we can see and touch. People don't want their money to be kept simply as records on some server.

This is me, a person with a fair understanding of electronics and computers being uncomfortable with the cashless policy, how about the local cattle dealer in Maiduguri that transacts in millions and takes his money to the bank in grain bags?

I think what the CBN should do is to make the cashless thing so attractive that people will opt in on their own. And I don't think they can do that by eliminating cash.

The bottom line is, my money should be available whether their is a functioning Internet access or not, whether there is electricity or not. As far as I know now, that can only be in physical cash.

Please tell me if I'm wrong.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

On Moving To The Web, Again.

Yes I'm back on the same topic again, whether we are moving to the web or not. To make things simple, I think most software have already moved to the web but the web advocates didn't even notice. I use the desktop version of Ubuntu Linux on my personal computer and I realize that many of the programs I use are already web enabled. For example I use a program called Empathy for facebook. I use Ubuntu One which is integrated to my file browser for cloud storage. I also use Tomboy for note taking which I synchronize with my Ubuntu One account. Other web enabled applications on the Ubuntu desktop include the default text-editor which allows on-line collaboration. And there is the good old Mozilla Thunderbird which allows me to download mails from my various e-mail accounts to my local desktop.

All those programs are web enabled but the advocates of moving to the web do not notice it. Why? maybe because they are unknowingly just advocating for a move to the browser. I personally do not believe that applications will all move to the browser. To me, the web is more about the protocols and not necessarily about HTML. Those desktop applications I listed above are already taking full advantage of protocols like HTTP, HTTPS, OAuth etc. So in essence, the move to the web has been made but the advocates simply did not notice.

If you are still waiting for the move into the browser, then I believe you have a long long wait ahead of you. People simply prefer to use thick client applications of popular web services than using the browser interface. That's why twitter and facebook desktop clients are very popular. Just think of it, even though modern smartphone browsers are very mature, most users prefer to use native apps on their phone that connect to web platforms whenever possible.

Google started the Chrome OS claiming that the days of the native desktop are over. But each iteration of Chrome OS seems to be moving closer and closer to the traditional desktop. The latest version so far has a wallpaper, a taskbar and a launchpad.

I know many people are excited about the web and what we can do in browsers using things likeHTML5, JavaScript and CSS3, but if you are still waiting for the move to the web, then you have been left behind. We are already far into the future, at least judging from the standpoint of the pro browser advocates.

Monday, 23 January 2012

SOPA, PIPA and the Dying Hollywood

If you are in the tech business and didn't know about SOPA or PIPA yet then something must be really wrong with you. For the non-geeks SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA(Protect Ip Act) are two legislations proposed by the United States congress and senate to give government the right to seize domain names of companies or individuals they feel are aiding the piracy of American intellectual property.
The idea naturally didn't go down well with people in the tech industry and people stood up against it. Major websites even blacked out for hours to register their protest against governments attempt to take over the Internet. In the end, the idea is suspended.

Naturally the lobby group pushing for the adaptation of the legislation are the ones representing big hollywood studios. This lead me to the realization that hollywood is dying. SOPA and PIPA is a desperate attempt by a sinking hollywood to grab anything they believe can keep them afloat for any time longer.

This point of view is even more aptly articulated by the folks at Y-Combinator. They did not only stop atacknowledging that hollywood is dying, they went as far as offering to fund a good startup idea that will accelerate that death. If you wonder why they are taking such a stand, then know that hollywood will not die a natural death with fighting back and in the process causing many casualties. The faster the demise, the less casualties they cause.

The following is from Y-Combinator's page requesting for startup ideas

"Hollywood appears to have peaked. If it were an ordinary industry (film cameras, say, or typewriters), it could look forward to a couple decades of peaceful decline. But this is not an ordinary industry. The people who run it are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise. "

Read the whole article here

Friday, 6 January 2012

I Smell A Revolution

Not that I have ever been in a revolution before, but the recent protests regarding the removal of petrol subsidy by the Nigerian government smells different from any other protest I have seen in Nigeria before. I thought then, that most be the smell of revolution. I did once posted on this blog that our on-line revolutionaries were just talking and can't do much in the real world. I guess I may be wrong, people are indeed pushing into the real world. It all started when some people in Abuja communicated via some social network technologies to meet at the Eagle Square to sign a petition against the petrol subsidy removal. In less than two hours, more than a thousand people have gathered. And that's despite the fact that most Abuja residents were out of town not back from the new year break. The police made some arrests but the released the people the next day.

Other cities followed suit with massive protests. These include Lagos, Kano, Gusau, Benin, Kaduna, Yola to mention just a few. Today is the fifth day of protests and it seems to be growing even bigger.

The Kano Convenant
The most interesting of all the protesting cities in Nigeria so far is Kano. In Kano apart from the fact that protesters sleep over at the venue of the protest, there was also a convenant that Christians and Muslims will protect each other during their respective prayers. The evil Nigerian political elite have always used religious difference to divide the masses. I think the unprecedented Kano convenant has taken them unawares.

Nigerian Hackers
So far some group of Nigerian hackers have been expressing their anger by attacking some websites and placing messages on the front page expressing their anger with the government. These may not be too legal but the mistake has already been made. The Federal Government has unleashed the devils in many Nigerians. The website to attacked is that of the Federal Ministry of Transport.

Government Playing Tough
The Federal Government has so far declared that the fuel subsidy removal is final and it will not revert. I think the government is being dumb instead of being tough as they think. Closing all options for the masses means the masses will eventually resolve to any means possible to get back at the decision makers. It's not going to be pretty. People are no longer afraid of dying. I heard many protesters urging their comrades to proceed even if they are killed in the process.

The ruling elite seems to be ignorant of history, it seems history is about to made but they choose to be on the wrong side of it.

The best thing the government should do is not to let the protests turn violent by avoiding brute force and listening to the people. Apparently they think that is cowardice.

"Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable"

- J. F. Kennedy

Time will tell.