("Wahala", BTW, is a Hausa term for trouble or grief.)

I see the issue from two different perspectives:

I understand the frustration of our Skannet friends, who, IMHO, run one of
the best email services in Nigeria under almost impossible conditions.  We
have 260 people who depend upon Skannet for almost daily mail.  It is
particularly important to us when our other email system, supplied by the
Nigerian Universities Commission, "disappears" for weeks at a time.  The
folks at Skannet have been remarkably helpful and customer service oriented
-- a rarity in Nigeria.  They have consistently lowered their prices and
improved their services. If there are commendations to be awarded to those
who fight in the trenches to establish digital communication in Nigeria,
the folks at Skannet deserve a chestful of medals.

On the other hand, I see Jeff's point.  Of the "impossible conditions"
which Skannet and other Nigerian ISPs operate under, none is more
debilitating than the Nigerian telephone system.

At our university, we consider ourselves lucky if we come to work to find
two of our dozens of telephone lines working.  Consistent telephone service
requires frequent visits to NITEL, the national telecommunications
monopoly, and "dashes" for the technicians and administrators.  Even then,
one can expect their phone to cease functioning at any time.  At one point
NITEL responded to our pleas for a working phone line by hooking up someone
else's line to our phone.  It lasted one day until the "someone else"
caught on, made a contribution of their own to NITEL, and recovered their

I live in a part of Jos that has been senior university faculty housing for
over 15 years.  There's plenty of good paying customers in our
neighborhood, but there's not a telephone for at least a kilometer in any

I'm consulting with administration officials at Amadu Bello University in
Zaria, the largest university in Nigeria.  In the six months I've been
doing so, I have yet to complete a call to any phone on their campus.
Since both our email systems depend upon the telephone, we cannot reliably
exchange messages.  We literally send couriers in cars to travel the three
hours by road and deliver dead-trees-and-ink messages.

Last week I was at a conference in Abuja (Akin was there, too) which was
sponsored in part by NITEL.  We met at the ECOWAS Secretariat building, one
of the poshest venues in town.  I needed to place a phone call.  It took 30
minutes to secure a calling card, 10 minutes to wait for the only working
phone, and after six attempts, the best link I got would only allow me to
hear my party -- they could not hear me.

Technically, Jeff could have sent email via Skannet while he was here in
Jos.  But the only working phone at our Computer Centre was busy
downloading a three-week backlog from the NUC email system.  Visiting my
home meant entering the telephonic Twilight Zone.  Being in town less than
24-hours meant prioritizing visiting our Centre, eating Jollof rice, red
stew, and roasted mackerel -- and scrapping sending email.  I suppose I
could have taken him across town to my friend's house, where I go when I
need to grade student assignments which have been posted to my Web server
in Iowa.  But even then we would probably have experienced two- and
three-minute calls as the phone connection gets dropped pretty regularly here.

As one who wanders around the U.S. with my Palm Pilot connected to my
cellular phone, it can be awfully frustrating to place a phone call in
Nigeria (and mildly euphoric when it actually works!)  A savvy Nigerian
might know how to work the system, but a visiting professor like myself is
a babe in the woods.

What you guys are experiencing here is a perfect case study.  I hope you
don't mind my intrusion.

As the locals say here in Jos,  "Wetin we gon do?"


-- Cliff

At 08:42 AM 5/3/99 +0100, Akin Akinbola wrote:
>On Sun, 2 May 1999, Jeff Cochrane wrote:
>> The following pertains to an Internet networking experiment with
>> agricultural scientists in West Africa, managed by Dr. Gbassay
>> Tarawalie of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.  [Note:
>> the message was composed in Nigeria, but I was unable to gain access
>> to a phone line there, and am sending it now from France.]
>Could you please be specific of where you were unable to have access to a
>phone line in Nigeria...


Cliff Missen

University of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria
University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA

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