Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
6. Applications of IT
This section discusses IT applications in Nigeria under three sectoral categories, namely: manufacturing industry; the service sector, including banking, transport, and commerce; and the public service sector, including government, education, and medicine. This categorization follows that used by Drew in chapter 1 of this volume.
As Drew has pointed out, there are three distinct spheres of activity in industrial production. These are the design sphere (which includes research and development), the manufacturing sphere, and the coordination or management sphere. These divisions also exist in a developing country such as Nigeria, except that, in a technological environment heavily dependent on imported technology, the design sector is either non-existent or grossly underdeveloped.
NCUD (1988) lists about 200 computer installations in industrial establishments. This is a considerable underestimate however, as there are probably hundreds or even thousands of undeclared micros. Among the manufacturing industries to computerize are: oil sector (35), pharmaceuticals (16), textiles (12), flour milling (7), cement (6), vehicle assembly plants (7), tyre manufacturing (3), and food processing (3).
Table 3.13. Results of an industrial application survey of 12 firms
|Computer application||No. of firms using||Percentage|
|Inventory & stock control||4||33|
|Production planning & control||5||42|
|NC machine tools||-||-|
Source: Ref. 21.
Table 3.14. Use of computers in industry in a survey of 60 firms
Source: Ref. 22.
A limited survey of the use of computers in Nigerian industry was carried out by Tulien in 1985.21 The results, which are summarized in table 3.13, confirm the belief that the bulk of all computer installations in Nigeria use the system for financial accounting, including payroll. Nevertheless, the results also indicate that, in the Nigerian environment, examples of computerization in all three spheres may be found. The same conclusion may be drawn from table 3.14, which was obtained from a rather biased sample of 60 firms.22
The use of computers in manufacturing - with the exception of certain high-technology process industries in which the process computer is essentially a part of the process machinery (e.g. petroleum refining and the steel mill) - is only a recent phenomenon. It is in the area of coordination, or management, that the greatest advance has been made.
The design function is not highly developed in Nigeria, no doubt (as has been observed earlier) on account of industry's heavy dependence on imported technology and product licensing. Computer-aided design (CAD) in Nigeria is limited to a few engineering consultancy firms, especially civil engineering, as well as the oil sector, including refineries.
Computer-aided Manufacturing (CAM)
It is estimated that 3.3 per cent of all computer installations in Nigeria are used for the manufacturing function.4 If we allow that only 20 per cent of the installations are for industrial use, we may infer that only about 15 per cent of industrial computer installations are being used for manufacturing. The application area includes stock control, works order processing, production monitoring and control, and process scheduling.
A number of firms that have taken a lead in this area are already working on the computerization of their maintenance set-up. One factory at which the programme is very advanced (a vehicle assembly plant) is placing emphasis on maintenance cost control, and the integrated scheduling of preventive maintenance with regular machine operation.
Numerically controlled (NC) machines and industrial robots are for the most part unknown. Quality control, a much neglected art in Nigerian industry, is not computerized, although, in the case of a steel mill, computers are used off-line for product monitoring and quality control.
Coordination and Management
The management function includes the following tasks:
Computerization has been most widespread in the area of financial management, including payroll, accounts, general ledger, sales, and invoicing. In fact the accounting task is frequently the motivation for installing the computer in the first place. More than 80 per cent of computer installations are used in this way. There are also many instances of companies that have not installed computers but have their accounts and payroll batch-processed on a bureau computer owned by a vendor or an agency. A reasonable estimate is that more than 50 per cent of all Nigerian industry is using computers for accounting, either in-house by their own DP staff, or with the help of external computer agencies. The software used for this purpose is usually a commercial software product. The companies often do not have expert systems analysts; there may be one or two programmers to maintain the software.
Some firms are reluctant to use a computerized invoicing and billing system. The usual reason given for this is the fear of fraud. In this regard, the public perception of the NEPA and NITEL computerized billing systems as being fraught with absurd errors as well as being often hopelessly inaccurate has not helped to win public confidence.
Table 3.15. Use of programming languages in a survey of 60 firms
Source: Ref. 22.
Office automation is not widespread. Microcomputer-based facilities have word-processing software. Table 3.14 shows that only 26 per cent are using word processors, but this usage has not displaced the familiar secretary behind a typewriter. Companies with only mainframes and/or minis are, not surprisingly, still relying on the manual typewriter. Fax machines are found only in the most advanced offices, but the telex is more widespread. Electronic mail and teleconferencing are virtually unknown.
Once a company has computerized its payroll, it quickly goes in for computerized personnel administration, making use of the same database employed for payroll.
Database and Spreadsheet
Databases and spreadsheets as software genres are used on micros by technical and general managers who may have a microcomputer installed in their private offices as stand-alone systems. One company plans to integrate these micros with a mini that holds the company's parts database.
COBOL is the most popular language used, closely followed by BASIC. FORTRAN and RPG 11 are also used. Table 3.15 shows the reported usage of these languages among the 60 firms polled by Ezechukwu. The percentages are assumed to be applicable nationwide.
The Service Sector
The term service sector is used to describe an amorphous group of economic activities that vary in size, scope, and financial capability. For convenience, the sector is further subdivided into three subgroups, namely: banking and other financial institutions; the distributive subsector, including wholesale and retail trade, and hotel and catering; and technical services, including engineering consultancy, building and civil engineering contracting. transportation, and communication.
Banking and Financial Institutions
Nigerian banks are under pressure to computerize23 and many are doing so with considerable financial outlay. NCUD (1988) lists 142 banks that have computer installations. These include both head offices as well as branches in major cities. The economic climate engendered by SAP, which has brought about huge profits and increased competition for the banking industry, has encouraged computerization in the industry. The need to computerize has arisen from operational reasons, for example the complex Interbank Foreign Exchange Market procedures, which necessitate good communication on a daily basis between headquarters and branch offices. But there is also an element of image-building to project computerized banks as progressive and forward-looking financial institutions.
In general, computerization in Nigerian banks is still limited to ledgers, communication, and current account management. There are no automated telling machines, nor are multi-branching facilities available. However, the service to the customer is improving in many respects, including "quick service" cash counters, and prompt and regular monthly statements of account. One area in which service seems to have deteriorated on account of computerization is that it is virtually impossible to obtain information related to a specific transaction outside the bank statement.
The thrust in computerization in banks is in the direction of more automation and networking, but the rate of progress is limited by the inability of NITEL to provide reliable telephone facilities.
There are 22 computer installations in other financial institutions such as insurance companies and investment houses. These use computers for management, in much the same manner as described under the manufacturing sphere.
In the distributive trades, the highest number of computer installations is found, not surprisingly, among computer vendors (162), with motor vehicle dealers (24) coming a distant second.
Microcomputerized point-of-sale check-out machines so common in the developed world have yet to make their debut in Nigeria. A few department stores, especially those linked with multinational companies, use computers for management. Computers are not in use in the hotel and catering business.
Here we consider such technology-based services as telecommunications, electricity supply, the construction industry, and transportation (including airlines, shipping, railways, and road haulage).
In the communications field, NITEL, the national carrier, is heavily computerized, with a huge installed capacity including mainframes, minis, and micros. These computers are located in four regional headquarter offices as well as in the national headquarters at Lagos. The machines are used for administrative purposes and for the management of the telephone network. At present they function on a stand-alone basis, but it is known that NITEL is interested in interconnecting these machines in both local and wide area networks for greater efficiency and increased flexibility.
The National Television Authority (NTA) is computerized, as are the leading telecommunication outfits represented in Nigeria such as ITT and TCas. Computer-assisted postal sorting offices are as yet unknown.
The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) has a virtual monopoly of the power supply industry. NEPA was among the earliest public institutions to be computerized, having acquired its first computer in 1976. Today there are more than 18 computer installations owned by NEPA and these are located at its various offices throughout the country. The computers are used for administrative purposes as well as for load despatching and customer billing.
Construction companies and civil engineering consultants account for more than 30 computer installations in Nigeria. Computers are used for estimating, document preparation, and structural design.
Three airlines, including the national carrier, Nigerian Airways, have computers. Major airline booking centres are computerized, some in network with their Lagos head office. Among the shipping lines, 16 installations are listed by NCUD (1988), with several of these belonging to the Nigerian Ports Authority. In road haulage only one private company owns a computer.
Government and Public Corporations
Government departments are rapidly computerizing. As many as 13 federal ministries have computers; the Ministry of Defence alone has 9 installations. The Ministry of Works operates a computerized maintenance system. The Federal Office of Statistics, the national body responsible for the gathering and compilation of statistical data ranging from trade statistics to commodity prices and population data, is fully computerized.
Among the state governments, it is usual to install a central computer facility in the Ministry of Finance. There are 10 such installations, which are used mainly for financial administration.
There are 45 computer installations in the educational sector. In almost all the 25 universities there is a well-staffed computing centre equipped with a timeshared multi-user mainframe computer used for teaching and research. In addition, several departments and faculties have their own computer facilities, consisting mainly of micros.
Many university computing centres provide computer services for the administrative departments, such as the bursary, the registry, and the library.
Computerization is lagging behind in hospitals. Four private hospitals and a WHO Foundation in Nigeria have computers.
Problems and Prospects
We have seen from the discussion in the preceding sections of this report that computerization in Nigerian industry has advanced considerably beyond the stage when it was a monopoly of a few rich, multinational oil companies and business conglomerates. Computers are now being used by middle-sized companies under indigenous management. Establishments in the latter category are turning to the computer in ever-increasing numbers as an answer to the challenges posed by the economic recession in a new, largely deregulated, and more competitive business environment.
The trend will most likely continue, with the computer diffusing in greater numbers to the medium-sized and, perhaps, to the smaller-scale industries. It is also possible to foresee the computer being put to more complex uses. But the rate of progress will be determined by actions taken to remove the constraints to development present in a number of crucial areas. In this section, we look at these issues in turn, and attempt to predict the prospects for the future of informatics development in the country.
Problems of the DP Departments
All companies with mainframes or minis, and those with a sizeable number of microcomputers (whether stand-alone or connected in network), have data-processing (DP) departments under the control of a data-processing manager who reports either to the technical manager or to the general manager. In general, the staffing levels in those departments is far from satisfactory. One finds a handful of supporting staff- a systems analyst, one or two programmers, and some data entry personnel (who have generally been converted from a lower staff cadre) - and an operator. This staffing level is often adequate to handle only routine data-processing tasks using accounting packages that may have been modified and are maintained in-house. In these circumstances, there is little time or encouragement to engage in original software development aimed at extending or intensifying the degree of computerization.
The problem of inadequate staffing is not primarily due to a lack of qualified personnel in the country. Indeed, unemployment among qualified and trained computer practitioners has become a fact of life in Nigeria today; there is however a dearth of experienced high-calibre personnel. The poor staffing levels seem to have been necessitated by management policies that do not accord a high priority to the DP department in a period of economic recession and job insecurity. As one DP manager put it: "How can you ask for more staff when you are lucky to keep your job?"
The issue is compounded by a lack of cooperation from personnel in departments slated for computerization. There is the fear that computerization will, at worst, lead to mass retrenchment, or, at best, to a loss of earnings from institutionalized overtime perquisites.
Management, on its part, sometimes appears only tolerant of the DP departments, and can justify their existence only by saddling them with other responsibilities outside the strictly data-processing function (one DP manager is also in charge of the procurement and maintenance of office equipment and supplies).
The problems faced by the DP departments are thus: low status; lack of management support; poor staffing levels; and lack of cooperation bordering on outright hostility from departments "in danger" of computerization. As a result, there exists a severe underutilization of computing equipment, as well as low productivity among the staff. As one DP manager observed: "It makes you and the computer seem dull."
An improvement in the situation discussed above can come about only with the development of a better attitude to computers among decision makers, managers, and the general workforce. There is no indication at present that the representatives of the labour unions are being confided in by management, when computerization is being planned, to get their support. Efforts by individual industries in this regard must however be accompanied by a national informatics education campaign.
The problems associated with the inadequacies of the infrastructural factors as they affect computer development in the less developed countries are very well known. A leading member of the computer community in Nigeria has observed: the environmental situation in Nigeria has remained, resulting in considerable additional cost to computer installations. It is true that computers have become more tolerant to adverse conditions as they have be come smaller, but none-the-less, any installation still has to be supported by a generator, or an uninterruptible power supply system, high quality air-conditioning and, above all, a dust-free atmosphere. I fear that this expense will continue to be with us for some years to come.24
These issues can bear further elaboration.
Electric Power Supply
The most acute problem arises from an erratic power supply. PC users are the greatest sufferers as very often they cannot justify spending large sums of money, perhaps greater than the cost of the PC installations, on stabilizers and UPS (uninterruptible power supply). The cost in frustration when, in a session of about two hours, the power supply fails three or four times, or remains down for an hour or more, has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Apart from a general qualitative appreciation of the power supply problem, there has been no attempt to quantify its severity in terms of extra cost to the user, loss of data, personal frustration, and equipment malfunction. NEPA ceased long ago to publish statistical data of faults in the power system; but the sources of its problems are only too well known:25
The attitude that these things will always be with us pervades all strata of society, from the user to the supply authorities. And this is probably justified if one thinks merely in terms of the enormous capital investment that would be needed to bring about a change. This is where a national body supervising the problems and progress of computerization can come in. Such an authoritative body would be in a position to quantify the cost to the nation of an erratic power supply as it affects both the computing community and industry generally. It may well be that the annual cost of enduring an erratic power supply is far greater than the annual cost of the capital investment required to bring about an improvement in the reliability of the supply. The issue of reinforcing the national grid to achieve greater reliability must be seen as a national priority.
In summary it may be observed that the rate of diffusion is fastest in payroll and other accounts-based functions, slower in office-based coordination applications, while manufacturing and design applications come out a poor third.
A similar pattern has been observed in Ireland, and seems to conform to wider international experience. It has been explained in terms of the need for rationality (defined as "the existence of unambiguous and documented procedures by which work is performed") as a precondition for effective computerization.26 In this view, payroll, accounts receivable, general ledger, and other accounting-type tasks are among the most rational processes for all organizations, and are consequently the earliest to be computerized. As a corollary, it may be observed that a general weakness of small-medium-scale industries in Nigeria is that they cannot boast of having the degree of rationality conducive to effective computerization. The diffusion of computers to these areas could be impeded as a result.
7. Education and training in IT
Computer Education in Tertiary Institutions
Computer education in Nigeria has come a long way since the foundation of the IBM African Education Training Centre at the University of Ibadan in 1963 for the training of computer personnel to operate, program, and, to a limited extent, service IBM 1461/1620 machines. Today there are fully fledged computer science departments in Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions teaching a range of subjects including computer organization; software engineering; programming and programming languages; numerical computations; and systems analysis. Studies at these institutions lead to degrees or diplomas in computer science (see table 3.16).
In addition, electrical and electronic engineering departments of Nigerian universities are teaching courses in microprocessors, digital design, and computer interfacing.27
Computer Education in Secondary Schools
Computer literacy camps have been organized for secondary schools in Lagos State. Lately the government has been showing considerable interest in the need for greater computer awareness and literacy in the country. For example, the Federal Ministry of Education in October 1988 announced a programme to spend a sum of N20 million to equip 45 Federal Unity secondary schools with microcomputers. To turn out teachers for the programme, 40 micros will he installed at the National Teachers' Institute, Kaduna.
It is important, however, to place the government's latest initiative in perspective. Assuming that the programme will purchase up to 500 micros, this works out at slightly over 10 micros per school. The Federal Unity schools have no more than 2 per cent of a total secondary school enrolment of about 2 million (on a population base of some 100 million). This effort may be compared in relative scale with a similar programme in Singapore (total population 2.5 million), which as far back as 1981 flooded all secondary schools in that country with 200 mini and micro computers.28
Computer education and training are also offered by a number of private academies (some with government recognition), vendors, and consultants (see table 3.17). These are usually profit oriented and are limited in scope. In many of the major towns there are now computer bureaus, equipped with one or two micros and which offer short-term courses on operating systems (mainly MS DOS) and commercially available application software, e.g. Dbase, spreadsheets, and word processors, in addition to other services.
Table 3.16. Computer education in tertiary institutions
|Ahmadu Bello University||Kaduna||Math with Computer Science||Degree|
|Anambra State University||Anambra||Electronics/Computer Science||Degree|
|Bayero University||Kano||Computer Studies||Degree|
|Federal University of Technology, Abeokuta||Ogun||Computer Science||Degree|
|Federal University of Technology, Bauchi||Bauchi||Computer Science & Computer Technology||Degree|
|Federal University of Technology, Owerri||Imo||Communication Computer Engineering Technology||Degree|
|Obafemi Awolowo University||Oyo||Computer Science||Degree|
|Rivers State University of Technology||Rivers||Computer Studies||Degree|
|University of Benin||Bendel||Computer Science/ Data Processing||Diploma/degree|
|University of Ibadan||Oyo||Computer Science||Degree|
|University of Lagos||Lagos||Computer Science/ Electronic Data Processing||Degree/certificate|
|University of Nigeria, Nsukka||Anambra||Computer Science||Degree|
|University of Port Harcourt||Rivers||Computer Science||Degree|
|University of Sokoto||Sokoto||Computer Studies||Certificate|
|College of Science & Technology, Port Harcourt||Rivers||Computer Science||Certificate|
|College of Technology, Calabar||Cross River||Computer Science||Diploma|
|Ibadan Polytechnic||Oyo||Computer Science||Diploma|
|Institute of Management & Technology||Anambra||Computer Studies||Diploma|
|Kaduna Polytechnic||Kaduna||Computer Studies||Certificate|
Source: Ref. 6, 3rd edn.
There is a general consensus that the quality of training, especially in software, is good.13,24 Nevertheless the broad-based educational programmes offered at the universities and polytechnics concentrate on hardware and software issues. There is only a limited exposure to industrial problem-solving. Despite the difficulties in providing training courses in application areas relevant to the needs of a developing country,29 there is a need for greater efforts in this direction. Without doubt, the products of the existing programmes are adequately trained to man routine DP departments and computer centres; and they will always be needed in limited numbers as the base of computerization in the country widens. However, it is emphasized that the country needs a crop of application-oriented computer experts with a firm background in applied science or engineering, and good training in computing and computer-interfacing, to harness the higher capability of the computer to transform a nation's industrial economy.
Table 3.17. Computer training provided by computer vendors and consultants
|Course title||No. offering||Percentage|
|Real time programming||16||76|
|Audit of computer systems||11||52|
|Key punch operation||11||52|
|Languages for micros||6||29|
Source: Ref. 6, 3rd edn.
Other bodies, including the universities and computer consultants, also organize conferences, workshops, and seminars on computing themes. Ogis & Ododo, a computer consultant, has pioneered computer publishing in Nigeria with the Nigerian Computer Users' Directory. Ogis & Ododo also publishes a monthly trade journal called Computing and Computers. Another computer directory, The Nigeria Computer and Telecommunication Buyers' Guide, is also available. A new trade journal, The PC Digest, was launched in March 1989 by a computer vendor.
That avenues for disseminating technical and semi-technical information (through books, and international journals and periodicals) are still limited is a sign of the immaturity of computing in Nigeria.
The first professional body on computers in Nigeria was the Computer Association of Nigeria (CAN), established in 1980. CAN holds widely publicized annual conferences on computers and computer applications at which papers on relevant topics are presented. Adeniran found that, of the 165 papers presented at conferences from 1965 to 1985, no fewer than 89 were presented at CAN conferences.30 Conference proceedings are not generally available in published form.
In 1975, the Committee of Directors of Nigerian Universities Computing Centres (CDNUCC) was formed as a "forum for the sharing of experiences, exchange of ideas and general cooperation" among Nigerian university computing centres.31 A biennial series of conferences was initiated in 1985 and the proceedings were published; there has been no further publication since.
Nigeria has made a good start in the adoption of IT but the pace of computerization has been affected by the economic situation, especially the falling revenue derived from crude oil export. IT development in Nigeria has passed through three distinct phases, namely: the early phase from 1963 to about 1975, a period of rapid growth from 1977 to 1982, which was followed by a period of relative stagnation from 1982 to 1986. Currently, there is a new upsurge in the acquisition and use of computers. With the removal of import restrictions and foreign exchange controls, and given the pressure on the management of industrial and business concerns to adopt more efficient methods of production, the use of computers is expanding rapidly both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The pattern of computerization is shifting from mainframe and minicomputers to systems based on the microcomputer. The area of application is mainly in the management field, with emphasis on payroll and other accounts-based functions. CAD/CAM is practiced mainly in the bigger concerns, such as those in the oil and motor vehicle assembly subsectors.
IT has been adopted in many sectors of the economy, particularly industry, banking and other financial institutions, and business. The most common use of computer installations is for administrative and management functions. Considerable IT activity is also taking place in the universities and other tertiary institutions, and in research institutes. However, growth in the applications of IT is hindered by the shortcomings of the computer supply and service industry, as well as by deficiencies in the infrastructural facilities, particularly in the area of electric power supply and in telecommunications. These deficiencies are not being tackled speedily enough.
There is also a need to ease the cost of owning and maintaining a microcomputer. In this regard, due consideration should now be given to the local manufacture of a standard brand of the micro, and the establishment of software houses, possibly with the backing of the federal government. In the educational field, emphasis should now be placed on the production of graduates with experience in applications-oriented areas.
Progress in dealing with these matters will be faster and better coordinated, and will extend the use of computers to more fundamental areas of application, if developments are mediated by a national informatics policy. A national informatics authority should be set up to plan and regulate the process of informatics development. As suggested by Foster et al.,11 the national informatics authority should, among other functions, promote informatics applications in all sectors of the economy; monitor the progress and trends in informatics development in the nation generally; and set national targets for all sectors.
Contents - Previous - Next