Building Networks — and Research Capacity — in Nigeria
A spotlight on Mozilla Fellow Seun Ojedeji
Etiki State — a region in the southwest of Nigeria — is home to several esteemed higher education institutions. Schools like Federal University Oye Ekiti, Federal Polytechnic Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State University, Afe Babalola University, and college of education Ikere teach thousands of students and conduct research on everything from engineering and agriculture to management and social sciences.
Yet researchers who wish to collaborate across institutions face a major barrier: poor connectivity. Two institutions in Etiki may be separated by just a matter of miles, but use an internet infrastructure that could take their data all the way to Lagos (and in some cases, offshore to London) and back again before arriving at the other school. As a result, communication can be slow, bandwidth costs are high, and, ultimately, innovation suffers.
But Seun Ojedeji, and like-minded partners, have plans to fix that.
Ojedeji, a veteran network engineer and engineering manager, begins his work as a Mozilla Fellow focusing on Open Internet Engineering this October. Ojedeji will embed with the Network Resource Startup Center (NSRC) and take on an ambitious project: creating a “research education network” connecting some of the institutions in Ekiti. “It’s about connecting institutions locally,” he explains. Ojedeji’s work is about building physical infrastructure, but also unlocking the potential for more innovation, collaboration, and breakthroughs.
Ojedeji will be building capacity, too: Much of his approach is centered on training like-minded engineers in order to scale his project’s impact. Ojedeji will also seek out sponsors to further fuel and scale the work.
“This work needs a life beyond my fellowship,” he explains. He will start by focusing on a specific number of institutions, but is hoping that more and more institutions will be added to the network over time. Ojedeji uses the metaphor of a highway: He’s helping build the road now, and in the years afterward, more and more cars — or, institutions — can travel on it.
Ojedeji also expects the local network will allow for increased service sharing — and thus cost saving — among institutions. “Instead of each institution paying for access to a journal or another research service or tool — which is usually very expensive — they can pool resources together,” he says.
Few are as well equipped for the task as Ojedeji. A computer science graduate of nearby University of Ilorin, he has spent his career supporting internet development across the continent, especially in the realm of academia.
“I’ve been working in the internet space for 15 years,” Ojedeji explains. Most recently, he served as Chief Network Engineer at Federal University Oye Ekiti. Prior to that, he helped build internet infrastructure and services on the University of Nigeria Enugu campus, where he served as system and network administrator.
Along the way, Ojedeji has served on university consortiums, developed extensive experience training and managing other network engineers, and conducted volunteer work. “If an institution has a need or a service request, I do what I can to support them,” he says. He has also served as trainee, trainer, and lead instructor for the Africa Network Operators Group (AfNOG) and the Nigerian version of it called the NgNOG.
Of course, meaningful connectivity isn’t just about network hardware — it’s also about the policies and practices that govern that hardware. In this respect, Ojedeji is once again a veteran. “Apart from the technical side of things, I’m also involved with the policy side,” he explains. Ojedeji is a current board member, former board vice chair, and former policy development working group (PDWG) co-chair of the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), the continent’s internet registry. He also has over 10-years experience serving and learning within the AFRINIC community. He is a member of the AtLarge Advisory Committee (ALAC), which represents and advocates for internet users’ to ICANN.
Ojedeji is most passionate about internet policies that empower end users, like access initiatives and net neutrality. “Over the years, I have gained a lot from the internet, and I’m very much interested in contributing back,” he says.
Ojedeji is active in the open source community, too: He served as council chair of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), and is also the vice president of Open Source Foundation for Nigeria (OSFON). While some might associate open source with software development, Ojedeji says the spirit and principles can easily apply to network engineering.
For a project like mine to succeed, it’s going to need open-source solutions.
“For a project like mine to succeed, it’s going to need open-source solutions,” he explains, noting everything from the training kits he shares, to the services and tools that will be deployed, to the documentation written will be open. “Open source is how you share knowledge.”