Friday, 3 March 2006

The Matron has spoken

WITHOUT PREJUDICE
Shut them down
Sometimes headlines in Nigerian newspapers are so sensational that they excite the kind of curiosity that kills the cat.
So when I saw the headline from a blog indicating “We will shut down IT firms, says CPN President” I knew I was in for an interesting read – clear the decks!
The CPN which is an abridged acronym for Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria was established by decree in 1993 to manage computer professionalism in Nigeria.
It lists amongst a number of Information Technology organisations of in Nigeria which include the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) – much I want to resist – the link given by Jidaw Systems Limited for information regarding that site apparently uses htpp rather than the globally accepted http protocol. I would return to this point later in my write up.
However, Jidaw is one of the first training organisations to be accredited by CPN; their homepage speaks volumes like a page out of the almost comical Web Pages That Suck which teaches good webpage design by analysing rotten webpages. Then the title of the About page goes, “In the beginning of Web Nigeria was JIdaw”. We begin to get the context of what this is all about. In the beginning I was going to easy on this topic.
I decree that …
It appears the CPN does not have a website so it would have to be contacted by snail-mail.
In general, the objectives and purpose of the decree are laudable to prevent unprofessional conduct and practices in the despatch of IT services in Nigeria.
However, on closer scrutiny one begins to wonder if this was written for the first half of the Twentieth Century.
For instance, this is the preamble introducing the purpose of the decree.
The Computer Professional (Registration Council of Nigeria) was established by a decree of the same name, promulgated as Decree No 49, 1993, with the objective to advance the knowledge of Computer Science and the use of computational machinery and techniques related thereto.
Computational machinery? Halfway down the second page of a Google search for computational machinery, I struck gold, something to do with Nuclear Shielding – everywhere else, it is Computing Machinery – but then, this all might be home-grown sufficiency for Nigerian computing – forgive my histrionics.
The council does have the remit to accredit institutions, approve courses, supervise instruction, conduct examinations, award certificates, maintain a secretariat of sorts – for the library, I would suppose – encourage research, register associates and set behavioural standards – supposed ethical, professional and responsible conduct.
A world without dabblers
The decree then makes it illegal for anyone to practice any computing trade if not a member of CPN.
To that, I could probably say we would have no Microsoft, Apple, productivity or games software because most of these were developed by people outside formal professional settings. Edsger Dijkstra whose contributions to software engineering helps define many of the ideas from which many software methodologies have evolved studied physics.
Whilst the decree might seem to encourage research, it could also in event be stifling creativity, especially, that which requires ‘thinking outside the box’.
This provides the background for the interview that was conducted with the president of CPN where an excerpt is gathered into the headline “We will shut down IT firms”.
A body of egg-spurts
So the interview commences with a question that asks about the statutory responsibilities of CPN.
Part of the answer goes thus
we are also supposed to at the same time protect the IT professionals by not bringing anybody from aboard to come and take up the IT job when we have professionals in the country who can do the same thing or even better
Exactly, create an insular body of professionals – however, the positive side to this would mean that Nigerian professionals working for global organisations would have to be shipped out to participate in design or be trained up to be in sync with global IT strategy. The “even better” part – I have not yet been convinced, but I am encouraged by many other things I have seen going on in Nigeria.
Funding – the first law of initiation
The second question builds on the first in terms of the remit of the council.
The response includes a lament about funding – I cannot believe that a professional organisation that has a register to practice code cannot price its registration regime to allow capable autonomy.
One would think just the registration fees of corporate organisations according to size, activity and clout would have cleared up that matter. It is a shame that the decree provides for the setting up of the council but fails to address the essential part of sustainable funding.
Practitioners of IT would generally be professionals, however, the analogy linking IT professionalism to that conferred on engineers or doctors misses the point. Many of these professions have been established for centuries; the crux ofSoftware Engineering leading to Computer Science and all other related fields only began life in the late 1950s.
There are arguments that contest labelling software development engineering; however, software development is adopting traditional engineering methods in terms of structure, planning, design, implementation and maintenance.
The law is an ass
It is then logical to have an organisation that registers professionals, but how do you cater for the draughtsman or nurse in the engineer or doctor analogy. Basically, where do interns, trainees and under-qualified computer literate but un-lettered stand?
We follow on to another answer
If they are going to run/offer computer services, they must register with CPN
Fair cop that is the law in Nigeria, as she saws ignorance of the law is no excuse; CPN is out to enlighten everyone of that requirement.
We want to know your level of proficiency so that you will not deceive the public because we are also here to protect the Nigeria public.
This is bordering on the naïve; this indicates implicitly that CPN registration confers the assurance of professionalism that any job undertaken by a registrant would meet CPN standards. Surely, there is a waiver somewhere.
You only have to search of software failures to list the big software projects that have cost the world and failed to deliver; implemented by the biggest names in global software. There are not guarantees or assurances that registration confers ability and credibility to deliver required solutions.
Market forces, reputation and independent comparative reviews with the framework the Internet goes a long way in helping customers choose reliable professional services. Registration might help you get noticed, but it would not necessarily create business.
Only in Nigeria
Is this CPN registration mode in line with international standards?
I will cite an example with the internet. You know the internet is owned by nobody, can go there and use it in whatever way you want but people are now beginning to come up and say there must be some form of regulation. Anything that is not regulated is not good for the society.
First of all, there are many international professional organisations catering for all sorts of fields of Information Technology, but I know of no Western country where you have to be registered with some registration QUANGO to declare yourself a computer professional. However, any professional in Switzerland has to have a first degree as a minimum.
Your services organisation might be certified by particular vendors to provide a service; they might be accredited to a particular standard in terms of methodologies used, just as individuals can both be certified and accredited, however, none are legally binding pre-requisites.
Losing our liberties carelessly
The president of the computer professionals association in the most populous Africa state believes that an unregulated Internet is not good for society.
I cannot begin to think of what she would want to regulate before it all becomes as closed up at the Internet in China.
Civil liberties encroached upon with reckless abandon as ISPs are asked to submit for audit all activity of their customers and probably their private and confidential information, enforced under the code of national security.
All my career life, in every security implementation in the light of confidentiality and protection of privacy, I have always erred on the side of civil liberties and the freedom of expression.
There is a mentality that feeds into the mindset of the elite that allows for many to succumb to a pseudo-police state and still believe their liberty is intact.
Benjamin Franklin has this to say to all concerned, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.
In the light of the abuses we see in government and society, this is not the time to allow those abuses to pervade access to the Internet as the seemingly last bastion of liberty, safety and freedom. Never should such advocacy be heard, even not so from a computer professional.
However, it probably is the typical headmaster/mistress complex which is demonstrated in the urge and propensity to control.
As stated in the next answer.
If as a professional you do a shoddy job for a company, the consumer has a right to come and report to us and then we will discipline the professional. So, we are there to protect the public.
Well what exactly is a shoddy job?
  • A failed project in terms of cost, time, or resource overruns?
  • Requirements and functional specification not aligned with deliverables?
  • Scope creep?
  • Customer expectations deviating from finished product after the fact?
I would like to see how objective arbitration would be brought to bear in deciding liability, fault and compensation.
When it comes to issues of professional competence be it a court marshal or some hearing to medical negligence and legal incompetence managing burden of proof with respect to apportioning blame is both a delicate and complicated activity.
I would suppose the CPN would first have an arbitration committee before it goes to a disciplinary committee.
Is that operational now?
Well, I am afraid not yet.
It is all hypothetical for now
Thankfully and gladly, it is more or less all hypothetical. For now, this only affects those who intend to contract with the government and it appears they have not brought into the requirements for the decree.
I am only halfway through the interview, there are a lot more issues to address and comment on in another instalment.
I have taken time to write on this because an organisation which essentially should promote the recognition of Nigerian IT expertise is set up like a bureaucratic non-governmental organisation with the remit to act as headmaster rather that enthusing mentor.
It is scary that the ideas of the head of the organisation are far from liberal in terms of IT development but represent a foreboding that would allow the possible abuse and misuse of power to take “progressive or dissident” organisations out of business.
Whilst there is a desire to develop home-grown talent and utilise the same in major software development in Nigeria, we cannot veer off on some exploratory self-sufficiency that would make us incompatible with other global advancements.
The most unfortunate state of affairs
I will for now leap to the last question.
Many people do not know what CPN is really about; they keep asking us. What are you doing about this?
Actually today I have made up my mind that after you leave I will answer all of the enquiries that I have too. I have the electronic copy of CTN decree and I will mail it to all of them so that they can go and read.
That must be a joke, if I ever heard one. The organisation that is to register IP professionals in Nigeria does not have a website. Besides that, the president is finally decided to handle her Inbox – she is going to be a very busy lady.

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