The School of Information and Media at the Robert Gordon University (RGU)  in Aberdeen recently hosted Dr Isola Ajiferuke, a visiting researcher from the Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (ARCIS) at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Ajiferuke's background is in statistics. He spent the four years from 1986 to 1989 in London, Ontario, studying for the degrees of MLIS and PhD. On his return to Nigeria he taught for a year at Ibadan Library School and then transferred to the Centre for Information Science. The Centre, for West Africa, is one of four regional Centres for Information Science in Africa. The others are in Ethiopia, Botswana and Morocco.
Ajiferuke's research interests are in information systems design, measurement of information, modelling and simulation of information systems. While at RGU he will carry out research in support of his current project on the impact of information technology on small and medium scale enterprises in Nigeria. But he aims also to learn to use new software, particularly Windows-based packages which have become available and more widely used since he left Canada, and to gain experience of Internet resources, having access only to e-mail in Nigeria.
Nigeria's status as a former British colony has resulted in many aspects of Nigerian libraries and library schools being similar to the UK system. The major difference is in technology. The available resources are spread thinly, and students are not adequately exposed to computer applications. The Regional Information Centre has 20 PCs but these are relatively primitive, running mostly MS-DOS-based software. Ibadan Library School has only four PCs for 150 students. University and research libraries, funded by the Nigerian National Universities Commission, are relatively well computerised with internal networks, electronic mail and CD- ROMs available. Other types of library, however, have been barely touched by computers, and the information superhighway has yet to extend to them. Indeed, even in the country's university libraries there is a low level of Internet access because there is no Nigerian gateway to provide a high bandwidth connection to the Internet. Commercial service providers claim to provide Internet connections, but in practice the user bears the full cost of expensive international connections.
Awareness of Internet issues has been raised by the Nigeria Internet Group which was formed in 1995 with the assistance of the US Information Service. Annual meetings and workshops have been organised. The group is lobbying the Nigerian Government and international agencies for funding to the tune of at least $380,000 to meet the cost of a Nigerian gateway. Ahead of Nigeria in Internet access provision in the continent are Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Mozambique. Of these, only South Africa has full Internet availability. "In West Africa, only Ghana is in a better position than Nigeria" states Ajiferuke. "With only five universities to Nigeria's thirty seven, academic Internet connectivity is more affordable."
Network development in the country has been slow because the computing culture has been relatively low- level. The telecommunications infrastructure is poor, and currency devaluation has inflated prices. The cost of a PC in Nigeria is equivalent to the annual salary of a professor at a Nigerian university. This means that, unless a grant is available, or someone is returning to Nigeria from North America or Europe with a machine purchased abroad, a PC is beyond the means of all but a very few individuals.
However, job requirements are forcing people to become computer literate. This has increased awareness that Nigeria is technologically behind and needs to catch up. But there is a problem in finding adequate funding to satisfy the need.
Library networks are limited mainly to university and research libraries, with Ibadan University at the forefront. But at present they are not connected to each other. Communication is by fax at best which makes resource sharing difficult if not impossible. Most universities are only slowly becoming computerised, and at a high cost. Telecommunications are not reliable, and standardisation does not exist.
Yet the picture is not all gloomy. The Nigerian economy has stabilised recently, allowing technological development to progress. Internet access could be a real boon for rural librarianship in the country. Farmers in remote, poor areas need to know about disease treatments. Access to current, reliable information at the point of need could make a real difference to the lives of ordinary working people in an agrarian subsistence economy. As we contemplate the struggle of this telematically-challenged country to become better informed, the fact that it is the universities which are the first to benefit from Internet access seems somehow ironic, as though a country were building roads only between universities for the benefits of construction engineers to study, ignoring the needs of those for whom remoteness is a threat to their very existence. As Nigeria develops its information infrastructure and plans its priorities for the superhighway's route, it must think about the real and very obvious needs of its citizens. Could there be a lesson for our developed countries in that?