As part of IBM Corporate Services Corp program I am now in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. Although I had been in many places around the world for official purpose, this is the first time that I am in any country of African continent. I reached Abuja on 11/06/2011 Saturday afternoon.
I started my journey from Kolkata by Emirates flight to Dubai. I was accompanied by one of my colleagues and friends Sumit Sinha ( we call him “Sumit Da”), who is also here in Abuja as part of the same IBM CSC program. We had nearly 7 hours stop over in Dubai to take the next morning flight to Lagos. Flight from Dubai to Lagos was routine and food was good. I watched two Hindi movies during this 7 hours long flight.
In Lagos we had not a very good first experience. Immigration went smoothly, however we had to wait almost one and half hour to get our luggage ( no, the luggage was not delayed by the airline, luggage was coming in the carrousel in ones and twos every 10 minutes intervals !! ). It was extremely gloomy and hot in the Lagos airport . After we collected our luggage the experience at customs clearing was little shocking, as one of the person ( not wearing any official dress, but seems to be from local customs department) asked some money to clear us through ( although we were carrying only our clothes and some noodles ! ) , however we did not have to pay any money when we told him that we did not have our exchanged currency.
Anyway, after clearing this hurdle we reached Lagos domestic airport to catch our flight to Abuja. There was no transfer facility available from Lagos international airport to domestic airport, one has to take local cab and for us we had to pay N1500 for the cab ( this was standard fair !) .
After 2 hours of delay from the scheduled departure from Lagos we landed Abuja at around 7 PM in the evening and met Lawrence, representative from IBM’s business partner who was waiting there for us with two cars, in one of them Anick and Brad, our colleagues from Canada and USA, were there. We also met Ke Xing, our colleague from China arrived an hour back from Lagos.
Drive from Abuja airport to hotel was interesting . The sun was almost set and it was dark, the car was running very fast and roads were good. After a few kilometers away from the airport, the out side view was almost similar to any small town in India where pedestrians were crossing the roads, people are shopping at road side small shops and certainly honking of cars. When we entered into city of Abuja, it appeared to me that it is a very clean capital city where roads are very wide and cars running pretty fast. There were not many tall buildings in Abuja, like any other capital city. I saw the golden tomb of the Nigeria’s National Mosque thru the window.
When we reached the hotel ( Onyx Hotel ) in the reception we met the other team members who arrived earlier. There I met Glyn, my team mate with whom I would be working for next 4 weeks in our CSC assignment. I was feeling tired after long flights, so I was eager to take bath and have some quick food and sleep. I went back to my room.
On Monday, 13th June we went to Universal Basic Education Council (UBEC) office who is our client . The Federal Government of Nigeria launched the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme in September 1999 for the purpose of achieving free, compulsory and Universal Basic Education, and as Nigeria’s response to the achievement of Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On Monday 13th June afternoon around 2 PM the car from UBEC arrived at our hotel to take us to the UBEC office. At UBEC we were greeted by Dr. Tony Alabi, Director Planning, Research and Statistics (PRS) department and Mr. Garba Kwandi , the Head of IT department. UBEC office is very similar to any Indian government organization. In a big conference we had our first meeting with Dr. Alabi and Mr. Kwandi where we discussed mainly on how we are going to understand their current process of data collection and assist them in improving, data management activity.
15th June, on the day of IBM’s centennial day we got an excellent opportunity to visit local schools in Kwali and Abaji local government . We were invited to travel to schools in those areas with the UBEC volunteers who were travelling there to inspect the social mobilization work and collect data on the fund utilization.
First stop was Lambata school in Kwali district. We were introduced with the head teacher. We visited his office to get a feel of the data collection process at the school level- how daily attendance registers are maintained, how records of the teachers are stored etc. Then we entered into a nursery sections- little children almost same to my younger daughter’s age were studying there. They were little surprised to see us there in the class, initially some of them were shy when we asked how they are. Within a moment they stood up and greeted us saying “Good Morning”. Now they were happy , we distributed some little candy to them and also gave it to their teacher, after that only they started eating it . They were sweet little nice kids really !
We entered into another class where the teacher was singing some rhymes for the kids. Seeing us children stood up and said “Good Morning”. That was a music class going on. Teacher asked the student to sing them a song for us and they started the rhymes Goosey Goosey Gander. Then me and Glyn sang couple of song. It was really an excellent moment for me ! I was just thinking about any Indian schools in remote village might look very similar to this.
Then we moved into one senior section. As they were senior students I started asking questions on computer – they were initially little bit shaky, not raising their hand for giving the answer, the silence broke suddenly when little girl stood up and answered it correctly. That broke the ice ! After that my team mate Glyn asked few more questions and all of them were answered by them correctly. But when we asked that if they had ever seen a computer they again went on silence and again very slowly 3-4 children raised their hands. The schools have no computer, no electricity – whatever these students learnt about computer they learnt it from books and from their teachers. They did not even touch a single key of computer possibly. But the way they replied the questions, I am sure if they were given proper facility, environment they could perform well – no one could say that there might not be a future Bill Gates arising from them. Again I found that there was a striking similarity between these kids in Nigeria and kids in any remote village of my country! I was little emotional after seeing them, I was touched by those kids – their simplicity, their intelligence. This trip was so far the finest moment of my stay in Nigeria
Entire last week we had several round of interviews and discussion with the UBEC and UBEB officials to understand their process and pain points. All of them were very cooperative, very good listener and extremely helpful. They were also eager to learn from us. Though they had plenty of infrastructural issues like lack of power, lack of AC, not having proper toilet – still they were working smiling faces answering all our queries.
Before I end this part, I have to specially mention about the punctuality of the chauffeur Chris from UBEC who comes everyday to our hotel to pick us up sharp at 8 AM in the morning. I also have to mention about some excellent African cuisine that I have had during lunch. African food, like Indian food ( specially like Bengali dish ) contains rice, fish, chicken and Moi Moi which is very much like smashed potato ( but not potato, I think it is beans and other stuff !) with egg and shrimps inside . However I found that African food is very spicy and hot – even I being a Bengali habituated of eating all kind of spicy dishes sometime I had to pass it as it was so hot . My team mate Glyn had enjoyed a lot of having the African spicy food.
That’s all for now ! I’ll upload more pictures very soon here ..stay tuned.