A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
The American University of Nigeria provides a modern education right in the backyard of Boko Haram, Nigeria's homegrown terrorist group. One clue: The campus claims 55 percent of all the Internet traffic in Nigeria.
It’s tough to get an Internet connection in northern Nigeria. That’s why Google was surprised to see – on their user map, where they track the locations of people Googling around the world – a big bright dot of activity in the Nigerian city of Yola, right on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
So when Google sent a team out to Nigeria last fall to figure out who was doing all that Googling, the California-based company was surprised to find a scene right out of an American college campus. In fact, they sort of did stumble on an American university – the American University of Nigeria (AUN).
According to AUN’s president, American Margee Ensign, Google was pleasantly surprised to find the campus.
“Google told us we were 55 percent of their traffic in the whole country,” Ensign says.
Latitude News caught up with Ensign as she was traveling from California to Nigeria. During a brief layover in Belgium, Ensign talked about what it meant to be an “American-style” university in a country associated in many people’s minds with spammers and Boko Haram.
AUN is the youngest American-style university abroad. The American University of Beirut was founded when Andrew Johnson was president in 1866. The American University in Bulgaria was founded in 1991, shortly after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. These schools, along with their counterparts in Rome, Cairo and the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, offer a liberal arts education – easy to come by in the US, but not so in other parts of the world.
AUN does not have an explicit connection with these other universities, although it has received critical support from American University in Washington DC. The Nigerian school, which opened its doors to students in 2005, was the brainchild of Nigeria’s former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who credits the Peace Corps for inspiring him to found the school.
As a child, Abubakar was orphaned in a town near Yola, right around the time Nigeria gained independence from Britain.
“[Abubakar] had American Peace Corps teachers and British teachers,” Ensign says. “He has said to me and others the British teachers slapped his hands and said, ‘Repeat after me,’ and the Peace Corps teachers actually asked his opinion.”
Ensign says Abubakar’s fortune ”is coming to the university.”
By Nigerian standards, the university is a hub for technology and infrastructure. Ensign says the campus is home to the largest building in northern Nigeria, and is the country’s only university with electricity around the clock. Students get laptops and have wireless, another unusual feature at a Nigerian university.
“We’re an entirely eBook community, all on iPads,” Ensign says, “and we’re introducing that same technology to a very poor community.”
“I would like to show the world that this technology can be used anywhere and can really allow people to leapfrog the challenges of poverty and illiteracy,” she adds.
AUN’s infrastructure is utilized by young Nigerians (and, increasingly, Rwandans, Ugandans, and Cameroonians) who are eager to pursue a liberal arts education. Like most American universities, undergraduate students study a diverse range of courses for two years, then focus on one field for their remaining two years. The campus is also home to a graduate program and a K-12 school – and a small army.
“When I was recruited for this position, like many, I was quite skeptical and worried about coming to Nigeria,” says Ensign.
Even though she feels at home now, Ensign says she faces constant, atypical challenges. Last week, there was a boa constrictor on campus.
“We had to deal with the local snake charmer,” Ensign says. She adds that in northern Nigeria, a big snake is a small challenge compared with “a terrorist organization about 100 miles from the university.”
The charmer got rid of the snake. A 350-person security force is there for the rest.
The security force, one-third of whom are women, are there to protect the 1,400 students and 90 or so faculty from Boko Haram, an Islamist group labeled as a terrorist group by the US government.
Ensign wouldn’t speak to specific threats from Boko Haram, instead saying the security force is there as a precautionary measure. She says students do not live under the constant threat of violence.
The international press, including Latitude News, has widely reported that Boko Haram literally means, “Western education is forbidden.” But Ensign claims even locals who speak the language don’t know what the phrase means.
As Latitude News has reported, Boko Haram’s rise is the result of complex ethnic, social, and political causes. In 2012, the group’s attacks have grown bolder, and the Nigerian government has had little success in thwarting the movement. In July of this year, the militant Islamist group took the lives of five people.
The State Department recently issued a travel ban that prevents its diplomats in Nigeria from visiting the north where the university is located.
Boko Haram’s existence, Ensign says, means her No. 1 goal is to keep students and faculty safe. Those students seem to have good prospects once they graduate – with an economic growth rate of about7 percent, fueled by oil exports, Nigeria was the fifth fastest-growing economy in sub-Saharan African in 2011, according to the World Bank’s most recent Global Economic Prospects Report.
As Nigeria’s economy booms, the fortified campus will keep Google’s map glowing.
Vanity upon vanity, all is vanity.
So much for being inspired by peace corps.
I guess 'peace corp' also inspired the looting that made AUN a reality. Oshi ati Iranu...
Cruel as it may sound, some of us look forward and live in hope for the day some of these people will be arrested, tried and executed.
Some will say Atiku at least invested his stolen loot in Nigeria. Well, my answer to that is, yes indeed, he apparently ploughed back some, but how much? And to what effect? American University to do what? And is he truely investing in Nigeria and Nigerians or in members of his Wabenzi class? His cohorts , and the children of his godforsaken fellow crooks?.
If they are offering useful education (which I doubt, but that is another story entirely), is it to ordinary Nigerians who have no godfathers or who have not had an opportunity to ransack the treasury and add their own shit to the pile?
I guess we have different understanding of what it means to invest.
I just can't believe this statistics. How can traffic from a campus of less than 2,000 Internet users account for over 55% of Internet traffic of over 30m Internet users in Nigeria? I wagger that Internet traffic from blackberry wielding students in Owerri is more than the entire Internet traffic from North East Nigeria.
Google has some explaining to do...
Leave IT matters to the people that know. Google will surely know from their servers stats. As to your 30m Internet users in Nigeria. That is a fiction. Very far from reality.
Do not depend on sources like Wikipaedia or other sources for your information. Google do collect real time statistics. They know.
Hard to believe that you'll be high on Odeku this early morning. I said over 30m, your chart says 44m, where then is the fiction? If there are 44m Internet users in Nigeria as a whole and 55% (or 24.2m) of them are in one remote University in a village called Yola with total population of less than 2,000 and you don't see the FRAUD in it because it's from Google and I'm at Ogbete, then Odeku may have done more damage than I thought.
Fiction ni, faction ko...
Bringing out that 44m stat was a honest move. This is to show that I know the kind of stats you rely upon. If a poor country like Nigeria with power outage 90% of the time has more internet usage than South Korea, Iran, Italy etc., I would question the source of that 44 million usage. That is the reason an Intelligent obsesrvation would query that 44 million or the 30 million that you use.
Google collect real time data. I would find them a reliable source.
If the Nigerian population is 160 million and 44 million have internet usage, it means one in four Nigerians have Internet usage.
The question an intelligent mind would ask is in your primary or extended family do one in four, including children and old age people have internet usage?
How many of your Ogbete market friends have Internet usage. How many schools have Internet usage in Nigeria? Look , in the UK and most western world, every single school, primary or secondary have massive Internet usage. Even then the usage is is about 54m.
You are talking about Blackberry. Even that has become so old fashioned, if we look at the number of android phones that had been in use in the last few years.
Leave Internet stats to those who know.
Note: When google talks about Internet usage, they refer to the intensity or usage per second or per minute. The number of hits per per sec or minute. I could imagine the Yola university students rely on internet or web collaboration with their parent campus in America for their lecdtures or tutorials. If they have a more reliable electricity source than the rest of Nigerians, thatr statts is a possibility.
My friend stop confusing issues. It's not about whether Nigeria's population is 16m or 160b. It's not about whether we use Internet in Ogbete. It's whether, irrespective of the numbers, more than half of them are in AUN?
Just admit that Odeku has misled you, yet again...
It is impossible to re-educate an ogbete-ego-infested mind. Anyway, I should not be discussing numbers with you. I am going out to watch some Olympic events. Let some other people use Igbo language to explain the concept of Internet usage intensity with you.
That's more like it. You don't really need much of senses to watch games.
Leave Odeku, so that Odeku can leave you...
So, when will Boko bomb AUN. Or is that a way of saying it belongs to a patron of the group?