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.


By Latitude News

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.

Nigeria has 170 million people, the most populous country in Africa and 7th largest in the world. But Yola has fewer than 100,000 people, and is close to the home of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

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).

RELATED: What is Nigeria's Boko Haram? 5 things to know

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.

“It’s much more complicated than it’s been portrayed in the West,” she says. “Everyone from the BBC to Al Jazeera has gotten it wrong.”

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.

This article originally appeared at Latitude News, an online news site that covers stories showing the links between American communities and the rest of the world.


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Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
First-lady posted on 08-07-2012, 22:56:57 PM
What is the origin of that Nigerian Internet usage figure of about 44 million. From some Nigerian sources? Could you rationalise that one in every four Nigerians has internet usage? That includes the aged pensioners, men and women. That includes all the children.
Why do you accept this type of information without questions? Is 44 million a plausible figure given Nigerian circumstances?

If you believe that figure, my old grandma, long dead since the 70s used the Internet as well.

I hope you realize that Nigeria's population in general does not have many aged
The average life expectancy in Nigeria is 50 plus for females and late 40s for males
That figure is very very possible
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Ewuro posted on 08-07-2012, 23:18:41 PM
Internet usage has to do with bandwith, intensity of use and the duration of usage. There are institutions or individuals whose usage is 100,000-1000000 times more than several thousand users put together. If you download a lot of heavy applications, video applications, TV broadcasting, large databases, large graphics, your usage would be several milllion times more than the usage of one million individuals, whose usages are confined to visting NVS, tweeter for El-rufai, facebook etc,
Of course those who use the internet for video or TV broadcast must have the technical resources or capability to do so. The American university in Yola may have such resources and being a university that depends on accessing lesson materials from servers based in their parent university in US would be subjected to heavy usage, millions times more than many Nigerian intitutions.
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Ewuro posted on 08-07-2012, 23:42:27 PM
Internet usage has to do with bandwith, intensity or rate of use and duration. If you download very large data, video, grapghics, databases or you exchange very large information with a remote sever in the US, several hours a day, your Internet usage could be several millions more than an individual who uses the internet for just tweeting, Facebook or the NVS.
An American university based in Yola could depend on resources from parent server based in the US. If the Yola university has the technical resources to download very large data or information for their academic programmes, the usage could represent a very large proportion of Internet usage in Nigeria.
Google has a very large information database about Internet trafficks all over the world. Whether you use a mobile application like yoour cell phone or a fairly large server like the American University in Yola, Google knows what you are using. If that information comes from Google, you better believe it.
The only thing is I am not sure where that information comes from. I am just saying that just one university comprising of 2000 students could use the proportion of internet usage quoted.
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Nijalaw posted on 08-08-2012, 00:01:01 AM
Can AUN have more internet traffic than SPDC, SNEPCO, Chevron, NAOC, Schlumberger, Exxon Mobil, NLNG, Total, Schlumberger?
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Anioma777 posted on 08-08-2012, 01:50:52 AM
Utter nonsense!!!! Nigerians we are good at lying to those who believe BS? Next thing I will hear is that this school invented cloud computing and configuration management tools like Chef or Puppet.
Anyway fair play to Atiku for setting up the shcool.
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Ewuro posted on 08-08-2012, 08:08:12 AM
Internet usage has to do with available bandwith, intensity or rate of use, and duration. I am sure that the bandwith available to the vast majority of Nigerians is minimal. This is due to the internet backbone or infrastructure. If an American university in Yola invested in devioces that support the use of bandwuth for very heavy information downloads like video, TV broadcastiong, video conferencing, very large databases, etc the rich kids of the American university wouls deploy it to music and video downloads, 24- hour a day like all youths. As they are supported by a fairly good electrical supply, there would be a fairly good usage, quite disproportinal to most institutions in Nigeria.
If that information about usage came from Google, I would believe it. The information is measurable from thgeir servers. However, if you want to see racism in your bowl of akpu and onfe onugbo, no one could stop you.
I wonder where the racist intention came from anyway. Are the students in Yola some germam aliens? Crazy racism arguement!
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Denker posted on 08-08-2012, 08:22:35 AM
I can't believe that u guys even believe that google is a part of this conversation. This article is not only a figment of someone's racist imagination, but as a fib it is also silly.

mallam wind, big slap on dat ya big blackass...dats exactly wat i was saying up there...but as usual goatgerians always like to fuuuck logik...na by force to fuucck..must man always fuucck without restraint...
...read dat mallam auspicious, mallam odeku ewuro and tell moi must man always fucck indiscriminately...if man gonna must fuccck i wanna fuccck the best damsel out there....au revoir ma dear...indeed..vivamus.
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
First-lady posted on 08-08-2012, 13:20:09 PM
This is the most annoying thread. All my posts yesterday disappeared into space
Let me see if this one will take before I waste time marshaling out points that will vamoose

2 secs later.


Wind was the last poster when I posted and as soon as I pressed send,all the missing posts re-appeared
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
EezeeBee posted on 08-08-2012, 13:44:21 PM
'We' (NVS) might be dismayed about the position of this website in relation to others accessed from Nigeria but, good Lord, this is EXACTLY what the site is all about - INTELLECTUAL analysis of issues! May it never stop!

I feel sorry for any statistic that is tossed carelessly and casually into the sight of the eagle eyed users! See me see analysis!!!

Ajibs baba! Igboamaeze! His royal Auspiciousness! Geez let 'em down gently (those who would want to pull internet wool over our eyes)!
Re: A modern, wired university grows in Nigeria
Anike posted on 08-08-2012, 14:06:42 PM
\"Google told us we were 55 percent of their traffic in the whole country,\" Ensign says.
Maybe, just maybe, it is possible that most internet users in Nigeria don't use Google services (ignoring the 55% total usage in in the title)? Maybe the school promotes Google search for research and such more than say... Wikipedia, answers, bing,...?
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