Olawale Ajimotokan reports on the maiden ‘Who’s Who in Nigeria’, the first online biographical encyclopedia on great Nigerians, spanning over a century of the country’s existence from 1861, when Lagos was ceded to the British as a colony
Nigeria has finally produced a digitalised version of the biographical publication on the country’s super achievers in all walks of life. The initiative, tagged Biographical Legacy and Research Foundation’s (BLERF) Who’s Who in Nigeria, is a historical compilation of over one million distinguished Nigerians, spanning over a century of the country’s existence from 1861 when Lagos was ceded to the British as a colony.
The online biographical version is the creation of Nyaknno Osso, acknowledged as one of Nigeria’s brightest record and institutional memory custodians. Osso served as a former Special Assistant to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Library, Research and Documentation from 1999 to 2007. He was also the Consultant Librarian at Newswatch led by the Late Dele Giwa, where he was credited with the compilation of the first and most authoritative Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria in 1990.
BLERF’s creation is touted as the most comprehensive and up-to-date collation of Nigerians that excelled, home and in Diaspora, in commerce, politics, military, academia, civil service, literature and sports and other human endeavours.
Osso told THISDAY that the online publication is the maiden Nigerian Biographical information database. He said the individual bio-data were listed without bias for ethnic and religious affiliation.
The biography is organised and stored in the website (www.blerf.org) in such a way that it is easy to follow, preserve and retrieve after the entries are verified through background checks.
Osso’s hard copy version of Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria, produced 28 years ago, comprised 2,700 entries. It was adjudged a very useful publication and a basic reference source on prominent Nigerians and their achievements.
The document is a benchmark for a country often derided for poor record keeping and where the absence of a functional National Library, National Museum and Monuments and National Archives remains a drawback.
“When I did Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria, the US government, through the then United States Information Service (USIS), now known as Information Resource Centre (IRC), Lagos, brought 300 copies, which were distributed to Harvard, Princeton, Columbia Universities and other institutions and academia. I was invited and spent six weeks in America as an international visitor at different places, including the office of the US President, to explain how I gathered information like this. At that time, it was in a book form, but now it is converted into electronic format, which makes it easy to use,” Osso remarked.
A Decade of Research
He spent the last 10 years, nurturing a legacy that will transform the Abuja based BLERF, into a media resource centre, for local and international journalists on biographical information they require on Nigerians. The pursuit is devoid of government and private backing. He undertook intensive visits to some of the world’s top media outfits, researching on the intricacy of information storage and retrieval and management.
Osso said he paid several visits to the Time Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution and Times of London while carrying out the task. He was also exposed to indexing at the Financial Times. The research work also took him to the British Museum, US Library of Congress in Washington, the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Newspaper Library at Colindale in Edgware, North London that boasts of the best libraries in the world.
He said he had invested his private savings on the project and that the time had come for rich Nigerians to support BLERF through the donor agency, adding a project of this nature should be seen as a national legacy.
“Nigerians appreciate biographical contents elsewhere. In fact you will be surprised by the volume of artefacts the British and Commonwealth libraries and New York Times have on Nigeria. The UK has its own Who’s Who, Spain have their online version of Who’s Who, just as Canada, France and USA. Outside South Africa, Nigeria is the first African nation that has been able to place its Who’s Who online for the use of researchers, historians and reporters. The features can be accessed by logging into our website, www.blerf.org ” he said.
He boasted that as a resource centre, BLERF regularly updates information at its disposal and requires 24- hour notice from news outlets, working on a major stories, for the provision of organised and digitalised information they could use for editorial referencing.
“Somebody alluded we are competing with Wikipedia. When the Wikipedia man in charge of Africa came to Nigeria, he frowned that most of their information was not accurate, because it was coming from all manner of sources. In our own case, because we are dealing with Nigerian personalities, those I have known personally, and those I have written something about, I can double check and ensure that the information I am giving out is very accurate and very authoritative. Nobody can take that away from us”.
Osso said 30,000 names of outstanding Nigerians, who made impact in business and public service, will be compressed into BLERF’s database online early next year, while 10,000 names will be listed for the book: Biographical encyclopedia.
Osso asserted that the BLERF website (www.blerf.org) had more visitors, who sought more information on Babajide Sanwo-Olu, when the latter’s name started trending as the person likely to replace Akinwunmi Ambode as the APC governorship candidate in next year’s general elections.
He said Sanwo-Olu entry had about 500 visitors and reached more than 1,000 hits the following day. Ever since, searches for his data have been growing on a daily basis.
BLERF’s team of analysts and researchers work almost 18 hours a day processing and preserving information in a way that it is easy to retrieve on line. The platform is run by a collection of brilliant analysts, led by Osso’s daughter, Sera, who graduated with a First Class degree in Information System and Business Analysis (ISBA) from Aston University, UK.
Lack of Coordinated Research
He however, bemoaned the lack of coordinated research effort in Nigeria for a befitting centre for research analysis and record keeping.
“There are so many resource centres in Nigeria doing about the same thing, without coordination, with no background, no centre for analysis and records keeping. Also the decisions we take here are not backed by data and are parochial. I am happy that the National Bureau of Statistics is making the effort to streamline this. We need to complete the National Library in Abuja and have in place key institutions like the National Archives and National Museum that hold national records, digitalise them and train people on how to retrieve information.
“In a modern way of managing information, before you can take important decision you must check all the facts. We must come to a point where we define national interest and national legacy, heritage and train people to manage those heritage for us. This is the point I think government should Improve on”, he added.