Visiting Nigerian professor leads his country into information age

International Programs
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-2026

Release: April 26, 2001

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Lennox Liverpool, a professor of mathematics at the University of Jos in Nigeria, is spending two months at the University of Iowa as International Programs Distinguished Visiting Professional.

Liverpool has worked extensively on improving information technology at the University of Jos. During his visit to the University of Iowa, Liverpool will share his knowledge and experiences with UI faculty, students and staff. He is participating in courses, offering public lectures, attending seminars, and contributing to the WiderNet Project, a partnership program that is building linkages between the UI to Nigerian universities.

While he is here, Liverpool is also learning about the newest advances in modern technology and their uses in computer labs and classrooms. Liverpool plans to apply what he learns to further enhance information technology at the University of Jos and other university campuses in Nigeria.

Liverpool, a Sierra Leonean by birth, has taught at the University of Jos for the past 20 years. UI faculty member Cliff Missen said the University of Jos is the most technologically advanced university in Nigeria, largely due to Liverpool's efforts. Missen spent ten months in Nigeria in 1998-1999 as a Senior Fulbright Scholar to assist the University of Jos in incorporating information technology into its classrooms.

"Dr. Liverpool has been instrumental in leading the University of Jos' digitization project since its inception," Missen said. "From securing funding and building faculty support, to overseeing the computer center's management and expansion, he has energetically crafted what is arguably the most comprehensive ICT program in West and Central Africa. The University of Jos has more than 250 computers hooked up to its network, with thousands of students, faculty and staff receiving email and hundreds trained in computer use. It has more networked computers than the other 27 universities in Nigeria combined."

Liverpool's time at the UI offers him a chance to reflect upon the progress he's made at the University of Jos. He is also assisting Missen in teaching the Internetworks in International Development course, and lecturing in Geography, Global Studies, and African Studies courses. In May, Liverpool will assist in teaching a three-week Global Health workshop on Health Informatics.

While at Iowa, Liverpool is also working with the WiderNet Project organized by Missen, a systems analyst in the department of physiology and biophysics, and Michael McNulty, a professor of geography. The WiderNet Project's main goal, Missen said, is to build digital bridges between the UI and Nigerian universities. It coaches administrators at Nigerian universities how to make informed decisions about technology, since most African universities are "first time buyers."

In addition to consulting from Iowa via the Internet, Missen and McNulty, along with other UI faculty, will visit Nigeria once a year to conduct workshops for Nigerian university administrators and to train the universities' technical support staffs in network design and management, multimedia development, web site creation and the use of standard desktop applications. The first training session is scheduled for June.

The WiderNet Project will also bring other faculty members from Nigerian Universities to the UI each year. Missen and McNulty received a total of $250,000 in two federal grants in August 2000 from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development to fund the three-year project. UI International Programs is also providing significant financial and administrative support.

Liverpool and Iowa's WiderNet Project both want to bring Nigerian universities into the information age. However, many obstacles stand in their way, Liverpool said. The University of Jos is still not connected to the World Wide Web. While thousands of its students, faculty and staff now have access to email, the university's modem connection is extremely slow and undependable.

"It only functions when the electricity and the phone lines are working simultaneously," Liverpool said. Despite these dilemmas, he added, Nigerians greatly appreciate email since external communications like faxes cost a whole month's salary.

WiderNet Project volunteers are collecting used computers to send to partner Nigerian universities. So far they have shipped 26 computers donated by local organizations and individuals and they have another 70 awaiting shipment.

"The need is enormous in Africa," Missen said, "and it is gratifying to see the equipment being productive and appreciated instead of winding up in a landfill."

Persons interested in learning more or participating in the WiderNet Project are encouraged to visit the project web site at or call 335-2200