The Story of Institute of Software Practitioners Of Nigeria(ISPON)-How it all began-Moving ISPON forward

The time was 10.29am,on that day in September 1996.The venue was Broadway Computers Limited,Surulere and the Mission Critical Subject was Windows 95 softpack with its Embedded Virtual Basic …

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ISPON-Logo1-300x162The time was 10.29am,on that day in September 1996.The venue was Broadway Computers Limited,Surulere and the Mission Critical Subject was Windows 95 softpack with its Embedded Virtual Basic Program.

The encounter that led to the formation of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria(ISPON) occurred in the month of September 1996,and the two professionals in this encounter were Chris and Chris!Today,these names continue to spur us positively within the cockpit of the national IT development domain.Now let us get back to the subject.It all started when Chris Uwaje,the CEO of Broadway Computers limited placed an advert in the Guardian on that faithful Sunday(not Tuesday)in September 1996,for the sale of his newly acquired product-WIN 95 CD-the hottest O/S at the time.

And guess who first responded on the second day of the advert placement in search of the product?Dr.Chris Nwannenna-now past president of Nigeria Computer Society(NCS).It will be recalled that based on the proposal of the COVAN delegate on a courtesy call to The Guardian,the publication of the computer section(which was published on Sundays,before it moved to Tuesday)was later changed from ‘Computers’ to ‘Information Technology’ and moved from publishing on Sundays to Tuesday and later Wednesdays and renamed ‘Compulife’.Other newspapers soon followed suit.

Our argument at that time was that computer news is featured on Sunday when corporate IT business is asleep.I argued that just like the Property page on Mondays,there should be an IT page on Tuesdays when the corporate business is alive and active.
During the encounter,the following dialogue ensued:

Chris U:Good day Sir,Welcome to Broadway Computers,how can we help?
Chris N:I’m attracted by your recent advert in the Guardian and interested in the WIN 95 product.
Chris U:Sure,we have the quality product and can demo it for you right away.
Chris N:Wait a minute!your advert claimed that the Visual Basic programming tool is inclusive,is that correct?
Chris U:Sure,that is our edge over other WIN 95 products.Others are just O/S,but ours is bounded with utilities.Here,take a look at this.
Chris N:OK what is your asking price?
Chris U:Quite affordable,it costs X Naira
Chris N:Anyway,to be frank,i am only interested in the Visual Basic Program.Can that be sold separately?
Chris U:Am sorry,the CD is bundled and can only be sold as it is.
Chris N:Alright now,maybe i have to look elsewhere and get back to you.
Chris U:My pleasure Sir,but tell me,what exactly do you do?
Chris N:I am the CEO of Condata System.Former lecturer at UNIPORT
Chris U:Boy!you must have been having the best of times in the campus!
Chris N:Far from it,the University system here is not quite what is obtainable in UK,where i did my Doctoral degree.But how is it in the industrial sector?
Chris U:Oh!I am also rather new in town.I have been in Germany for about a decade,studying and doing just Software,Electronics Engineering and specialising in strategic IT projects implementation.To be precise,designing,analysing and writing code lines on Mainframes and Minis with some policy interfaces.Between 1978-79,i also had the opportunity of contributing through peer review proof-reading assignment-to the National Digital Data and personal Privacy Security document on Digital Personal Privacy-which was a policy document of the German Government at that time.By the way,are you a member of COVAN(Computer Vendors Association of Nigeria)?
Chris N:No,those are hardware people.I belong to COAN(Computer Association of Nigeria)which happens to be group of intellectuals from the academia!
Chris U:Really,then there is a critical missing-link somewhere,if the academia and industry are disconnected.
Chris N:How do you mean?
Chris U:COVAN is hardware focused.There is a software missing –link and there is fundamental need to connect them together by establishing a specialised professional body/entity for software.My little experience at CoVAN tells me that the IT industry in Nigeria is still at the infancy.It is a very young organisation but currently not nationally focused!The future of IT lies in the establishng of a roapmap for concrete policies and the mastery of software,sophisticated command and instruction code lines.In deed,Nigeria does not have a National IT policy.
Chris N:I agree completely with you,software is very important in IT development cycle.
Chris U:Then you must also agree that the Nigerian Youths can be groomed to become code warriors and engage global competitiveness?Above all,we must recognise that without an institutional framework to craft the vision to deliver this software mission,there may be no future to hold on to!
Chris N:True,but that will take some time.Now i have to go and catch up with another appointment.
Chris U:Before you leave,i wish to invite you to the next monthly general meeting of CoVAN,so we can further explore and set up a framework for a National Software Development Association.
Chris N:I will think about it.Goodbye and see you some other time.
Chris U:Good bye,but don’t forget buying my software pack and more importantly,to think about my idea of forming a National Software Association.
Chris N:I will

Both us of parted ways for many months,Then in june,1997,Chris and i met at the national Conference organised by COAN.After many months elapsed,i braced up the challenge and placed a call to Condata Systems at Opebi.Chris N was out of his domain.Needless to say that the Nitel 93xxxxx line was a hilly task to catch-up a stable call.This was a time when Nigeria’s tele-density profile was at ground zero!
A time when 150 million people had about 720,000 lines-out of which only 400 was functional.And more than 10 million would-be subScribers were on waiting list to secure a phone line nation-wide.

But on the third day,i got him on phone and insisted for a meeting of a larger group to discuss the formation of a National Software Association.We agreed to call our individual contacts and meet at Chris N’s office at Opebi.I called on two software developer firms:Pius Okigbo(jnr)CEO of InfoSoft Limited and Tony Udoh of Progenics Corporation,who are personal friends and head-deep in the trenches of software engineering and development.

The first meeting was held on a Tuesday morning in February 1998 with three in attendance:Chris U,Chris N and Pius Okigbo(jnr)with an apology from Tony Udoh.The vision was clear:To establish a software profession and industry body with the objective to promote Software Nigeria,build a critical mass of indigenous Software developers with a mission to harness the indigenous Software potentials of our nation for improved productivity,economic growth, creation of wealth and national security for our people and above all,for legitimate global competitiveness.

Some of the highlights of the meeting included,but not limited to creating a common front to endorse the need for establishment of a national Software Development Association,create national awareness on the potentials of Nigerian developed software,enlarging the contact group;Examine the modalities for the official registration of such a body with Corporate Affairs Commission(CAC) and developing strategies for collaborating with other existing IT bodies(that is COAN and CoVAN respectively)

During the next meeting which was also held at Chrs N’s office,only two people were in attendance-Chris and Chris.Both of us agreed to continue meeting while ensuring that the advocacy for the establishment of a National Software Association is carried far and wide to the door steps of other practitioners.It is pertinent to emphasise that at that point in time,there was no name considered for the dream association.After a few months of meeting by the duo of Chris and Chris,we decided to change the strategy,by taking the meeting to the offices of some of the targeted potential members.We moved the meeting venue to 90 Opebi road,the office of Pius Okigbo(jnr).

This ensured that we had a useful three man meeting made up of Chris Uwaje,Chris Nwannenna and Pius Okigbo(jnr).At this meeting,we unanimously agreed that Dr Chris Nwannenna should serve as main coordinator and Chris Uwaje as secretary.

Three very significant developments further helped to shape and sustain the formation of the National Software Development Association as we moved on.They are:The official election in 1999 of Chris Uwaje as the President of COVAN(computer vendors association of Nigeria)which later became ITAN;The global challenges of the Millennium bug otherwise known as the Y2K Bug and preceded by the west Africa/country road show and Lauch of Microsoft Windows XP at lagoon restuarant-Ozumba Mbadiwe street on Victoria Island,Lagos.
These three interfacing development happening almost inter -connectedly in time helped to upscale the dream to actualise a National Software body.In the first place,the new president elect of CoVAN-carrying along its NEC,changed the name CoVAN to Information Technology(Industry)Association of Nigeria(ITAN) and went ahead to pioneer the articulation of a program to foster and promote a Framework on National Policy for Information Technology as the central focus of ITAN Project agenda for 1999/2001.

Secondly,the global challenges and related issues of the millennium(Y2k)bug accelerated the importance of software component in information technology revolution.And thirdly,the Microsoft road show on windows xp that same year brought under one roof a flood of software enthusiast and developers in attendance.In our estimation,about 650 youthful stakeholders in the software developers/user domain were present.This was incredible at a time when hardware was king.I was there with Chris Nwannenna and we couldn’t believe our eyes!These are target group and stakeholders we have been looking for in the past one year only to find just three of us,meeting to carry the gigantic software challenging load of the Nation?What is the reason for this?Nwannenna and I went out of the presentation hall to ponder on this very disturbing and highly challenging issue steering us boldly at the face!

The following discussion ensured between Nwannenna and I:’’How do we analyse and explain this incongruity of non-commitment to service the fatherland and resolve our software challenges?’’-I said to Nwannenna,My brother,this is rather strange.We have been looking for and calling for Software Developers for almost one year without positive response and suddenly here they are in their hundreds!-he responded.Not satisfied i took the punch-line again and asked,’why do we call software Developers to a meeting and receive near-zero response and here we have a full hall for Microsoft?’’Nwannenna responded again and said:’’Going by your analysis,i am beginning to think that we need a big-shot with a credible face to move the national software dream forward.This means we need a lot of resources to create massive national awareness on software and related matters’’in my response,i asked:Do you know anyone we can contact to fill the gap?’’Yes,i have someone in mind-he is Engr.Simeon Agu,the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Computer System Associates(CSA).I am sure he is the man to move the dream forward.Though,he is a very strict personality,but if both of us appeal to him,he will oblige us.Let me approach him first.I will call him up and set up a meeting,and we will take it up from there’’ok,i’m committed.Please,call me up as soon as you set up the meeting and i will be there’’,i responded and we departed after windows XP presentation.

We both left the lagoon restaurant with an uplifted zeal to engage the mission and actualise the National Software dream.Two weeks later,we visited CSA office at 38 Warehouse Road,Apapa,Lagos,the Head Quarters of Computer Systems Associates,and had a wonderful meeting with Engr.Simeon Agu.On first encounter,he strikes you as an intimidating personality,especially with his large physical frame and the sculptured art work of a lion strategically positioned on his table-reminding and or presenting one with one of his personal characteristics.

But indeed,i found Simeon Agu (the Software Business Lion) to be an amiable personality and above all,a shrewd entrepreneur.He is very observant and straight on the point.His intermittent smile instantly gives him away as a very shrewd manager of men,with a logical vision and focused business goals.He is a software veteran,not by professional assessment,but by his immense wealth of experience in strategic Software project articulation and management,as well as his embodiment of skills and experience as an investor and employer of labour in the software industry.Undoubtedly today,with CSA,now transformed into Neptune Software Systems,Agu remains the leader of the largest and most successful software company in Nigeria today.Indeed,Neptune Software is a global plc company with HQ in the United Kingdom.

Incorporation of ISPON:The institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria(ISPON)was officially incorporated in 1999 with 5 trustees.The first name of Software Institute of Nigeria(SIN)was rejected because of the nomenclature.ISPON was preferred and ratified.The first election was held in 2001,with Engr.Simeon Agu as the 1st President and Chris Uwaje as the 1st Vice President and Kola Ogulana as 2nd Vice President,Mr Salisu Afolabi as secretary and others.

Today ISPON is a founding member of Nigeria Computer Society(NCS) and remains greatly indebted to Engr.Simeon Agu for his inspirational courage,determination,exemplary commitment and dedication to national duty.He had not only nurtured ISPON to the state of manhood,but indeed shouldered all ISPON’s financial and official responsibilities for more than 8 years.Not only that,he did not only foster the establishment and promotion of the National Software Development Initiative(NSDI),but championed the aspirations of the Software profession and industry to attain a state of international observation status and recognition.

His 10 point agenda for National Software Development and engagement remains a formidable milestone in the annals of history of software development process in Nigeria.Agu’s successful handover of the baton of leadership to Chris Uwaje is a testimony of his professional accomplishment for the software Industry.

Uwaje took over as President of ISPON in November 2009 and has not only sustained the collective dream of the software profession and industry,but accelerated the momentum for government intervention,through his advocacy for National Software Policy-prompting the federal government to set up a 22-man committee to undertake the assignment.

Framework for Sustainable National Software Development Strategy-ISPON’s long- term mission:The challenges are tough and the road maybe long and thorny,but ISPON is determined to succeed.The following is an attestation of the mission critical assignment:Mapping National Software Development Direction:National Software Policy Direction and legal empowerment;Establishment of a National Software Developers’ Directory;promotion of Nigerian Development Software(Local Content);National Software Lobby Group-in collaboration with Economic Summit Group;Establishment of ISPON Software Testing Standards-through the adaptation of international Standards;deliberate on issues regarding open standards and open source;others.

Capacity Building:ISPON intervention on National Software Development Curriculum in Education;conduct International Software Engineering Development Training for ISPON members;Establish software industry academia Program(Special Training Program/workshop-Hands-on for lecturers and students;special IT leadership for policy makers.Funding:engage and lobby NITDA,NCC,Banks,Mobile network solutions providers,oil and gas and ETF to allocate special fund/grant to software developers;venture capital investment and funding program for Software Nigeria and particularly for ISPON members.

Implementation Strategy,Policy Direction:Generate position paper on National Software policy Direction/Critical isssues-Submit to NITDA board;Government white paper on National Software Policy;Establishment of Software Knowledge parks;

Funding:Produce financial proposal for a Software Marshal Plan as special knowledge infrastructure grant estimated at Five Billion naira(N5billion)to software Engineering entities and developers to jump start high level National Software Development.It will lobby the NITDA,NCC and NOTAP boards;SME funding,NNPC,CBN, and others for special software funding incentives form the banks;financial proposal to ETF for accelerated Software Industry capacity building(Training and Research) Capacity Building:Establishment of Software Engineering Development Institutes(Private and or through PPP-assisted with grant);Establish Software Developers Clubs(Code warriors)in schools;Explore Developers Consortium approach to secure big tender/bid.

Promotion and publicity:National Software Exhibition at e-Nigeria;establish Software forum on radio to promote Nigerian Developed Software;Electronic and print publications on Software;monthly software bazaar at strategic locations.
ISPON was also instrumental to establishing the federal Government’s official directives-through a circular from the secretary to the government of the federation(SGF)-Compelling MDAs to buy only Nigerian Developed Application Software,unless it is not available in the country.

ISPON has grown to become a formidable and resourceful professional Software organisation with significant contributions to national development and innovative membership,and matured leadership.
At the academia level,ISPON under the leadership of Chris Uwaje has set up software clubs in about 32 Nigerian Universities.

Nurturing innovative Nigerian Youths to create Wealth through Knowledge and National Security fortified by Software,is at the centre of ISPON’s development agenda.As we break new grounds with organisation of the 1st National Software Conference-Calabar 2011,ISPON has indeed come of age and fully ready to engage global competitiveness.

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