Many of the world’s developed countries use dedicated research and education networks to provide cutting edge services and drive technological innovation. Last week, we witnessed the inauguration of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) at the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Abuja. It was a big celebration with live music and enough to eat and drink. A video conferencing facility was demonstrated with remote participation from several Nigerian Universities and two overseas Universities who delivered their goodwill messages live. The Network Management Centre was also officially commissioned.
It was impressive to see the widespread support exhibited by the presence of delegates from the National Assembly, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Communication Technology, National Universities Commission and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. The NUC Executive Secretary spoke about the need for more funds to extend the network, how NgREN has been able to reduce Internet bandwidth prices and how prices will come down to $20 per Mbps in the second phase of NgREN. He did admit that more needs to be done to build capacity within campus networks for the REN to really take off and offer services. There was also a report by the CommTech Minister that some 290km of fibre cable was being laid to connect teaching hospitals to their university campuses.
I believe the high point of the occasion was the directive by Mr. President that organizations like TETFUND, NITDA, and USPF provide necessary funds for the growth and expansion of NgREN to all higher education and research institutions. This kind of high level support can potentially move Nigeria forward if it is coupled with a sincere desire to make research and education contribute to national growth.
Beyond just downloading from the Internet, students and researchers in connected Universities should be empowered to further their research and education using NgREN. A basic example is access to meteorological data for research into suitability of different areas for crop production. The applications are limitless; the key is to open up the networks and content to students and researchers for innovation. The NREN should also be used to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.
Very importantly, it would be good to see all the various research institutes we have across Nigeria plugged into the REN so we can harness their output. After all, what is the usefulness of research that ends up in a remote silo that cannot be accessed by those that could benefit from it?
This week’s celebration could be seen by some as a demonstration of videoconferencing which has been a basic communication tool for several years. It goes beyond that; it is hopefully the beginning of a new era in learning and research in Nigeria. I look forward to seeing real work being done with the REN and at the very least, access to research data that will help exploit opportunities and solve problems.