The New Year is all about new beginnings and for Tunde Coker, former director of corporate IT at the Ministry of Justice, this New Year is about a return to the place he can rightly call home.
Having completed his contract with the ministry, Coker is heading to Lagos, Nigeria to become group CIO of Access Bank. As the western economy stutters to a halt and debt dries out liquidity, new economies may benefit. Nigeria is well placed to become the financial leader of Africa and a dominant regional economic player. Hours before flying to Lagos, Tunde Coker shared his thoughts on his journey back to Africa with CIO.
Coker had been with the Ministry of Justice for two years on a fixed-term contract. "They were very supportive," he says. Coker said he "feels he made a difference" at the Ministry. During his career there Coker started out as CTO for Criminal Justice IT before becoming director of corporate IT. He oversaw the £2m introduction of a joined-up IT project that connected information management systems at all levels of the justice structure and the introduction of virtual court rooms. He also rationalised the IT supply deals and developed the blueprint for Justice IT moving forward.
Coker was instrumental in the introduction of the Criminal Justice Exchange, an online platform for sharing information between the various bodies of the criminal justice world, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, the police and probation services. Stage one of the programme was the Criminal Justice Secure eMail, a system that is used by 15,000 users and has traffic of 500,000 messages a month. Stage two was the Criminal Justice Exchange itself, a secure system for access, exchange and the sharing of judicial information on the web. The Exchange has two business levels, information sharing and information delivery, the second being a set of portals delivering knowledge on the judicial world to users.
Coker describes the Exchange as a "massive middleware project" and he speaks with pride about the reduced opportunities for error in judicial information. "It had to be a very secure environment, yet allow solicitors outside of the legal golden circle inside," he says.
Coker was also responsible for exploring the application of new technologies to facilitate information handling at the Ministry of Justice following the Hannigan Report of late 2008 which sets out how the government needs to improve its information and data security. The Cabinet Office report was commissioned following the HMRC debacle at the close of 2007, when discs containing 25 million personal details were lost, and there was a spate of missing laptops from the Ministry of Defence. Improvements in working culture, scrutiny and technology for monitoring information were recommended by the report.
The Ministry of Justice has not been immune to data losses itself. In August last year it revealed that in a series of separate incidents it had lost the details of 45,000 people. The names, addresses and bank details of 27,000 supplier staff were lost when electronic storage devices were lost.
Alongside the Criminal Justice Exchange, Coker's career at the Ministry of Justice also saw the first trials of virtual courts, which the toweringly tall CIO talks of with great pride. Discussing virtual courtrooms, Coker reveals a passion for using technology to improve an organisation's processes and he is particularly proud of the virtual courtrooms as the improvement will, he believes, offer benefits to society. Virtual courtrooms will speed up the judicial process as hearings for sentencing and other shorter judicial processes can be done virtually rather than in a courtroom. This will also reduce a significant cost for the judiciary in terms of travel expenses. Coker explains that moving offenders to and from detention to court rooms is time-consuming and costly, especially for hearings of a lower importance level, such as sentencing. Removing the need for transportation will save the taxpayer money.
Coker's last major piece of work at the ministry was to devise a technology blueprint for the organisation, something he will not now be in place to implement. "The new CIO will have to execute it in a way that suits them," he says. "A key part of the blueprint is what is the role of the CIO in the Ministry of Justice and how IT works within the overall Ministry of Justice strategy and overall government technology strategies."
Coker now has the opportunity to define the role of CIO at Access Bank, and he is clearly excited by the move.
"Access Bank is a really dynamic bank with global intentions," he says of his new employer. Coker said he carried out some extensive personal research into the bank and discussed it with business and technology peers and found it is an organisation that commands a great deal of respect. When he met the leadership team of the bank the decision was made for him. "Their strategy is sophisticated and forward-looking and I feel they will be a big player," he says.
Coker was born in Lagos and lived there until he was 18, when he moved to the UK to go to university. He said a return to Lagos was a small part of the attraction of the job, but he said the big attraction was the global view of Access Bank.
"I wanted an international perspective to what I do," he explains. He will be based in Lagos, but Access is FSA-regulated in London and opened its first branch in the UK last March.
Coker explained that as group CIO he has a global role and will be travelling to the UK "as often as I need to", which will be a relief to the father of two. His son and daughter are now established in schools in Essex and he doesn't want to uproot them and disturb their education. As a technology leader, he explains that the same technology that is his working life will enable his personal life to continue, with online video contact with his immediate family. It is not a new experience for Coker: before joining the Ministry of Justice he was global applications director at oil giant BP, a role that saw him spend a great deal of time in the US.
The climate will certainly be a change from the UK. When we meet at London's Institute of Directors it is a freezing January day; Lagos in comparison is always hot, Coker reports, although often wet. "Lagos is a vibrant city, it is very entrepreneurial, with lots of different cultures and it can be chaotic," Coker says warmly of the Nigerian business centre which is the second biggest city in Africa and one of the continent's fastest growing conurbations. He said first-time visitors may see similarities with Jakarta in Indonesia or Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.
On a practical note, Coker knows that the shortcomings of the city, which is no longer the political capital of Nigeria but remains the financial hub, will pose challenges to the CIO. "The infrastructure in land-based technologies that we take for granted here has not gone through the same levels of investment," he says. But as with many African economies, mobile networks have paved the way for technological development. "It will present a radical opportunity for innovation. One of the acknowledged problems is power supply, so you design a world that can work and be resilient despite this," he says.
Coker says CIOs from Europe would be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the workforce in Nigeria, as the nation has high education levels. "Just as when you join any organisation, you find you have different talents and there will be the need to balance local talent with bought in." Speaking of the workforce, Coker doubts Lagos could ever compete with India as an outsourcing centre, but he does believe as a city it will become a global financial services hub and its high-quality workforce will attract global investment.
To many of us in the UK all we know of Nigeria is that it is in Africa and it is the home of a million email scams. But Nigeria, and Lagos in particular, is emerging from a difficult past to become a modern world economic player. US banking leader Goldman Sachs has said it believes Nigeria has the potential to become one of the world's 20 largest economies by 2025, a target the national government is working towards. A seven-point plan that is aimed at markedly improving the nation's power supply, food security, reduce the reliance on oil, improve transport, reform land ownership, and improve national security and education is in place.
Nigeria is known as the ‘giant of West Africa', nestling in the crook of Africa's left-coast bulge it is the continent's most populous country with 148 million inhabitants, but it faces constant ethnic strife from its mix of Islamic and Christian population. Democracy returned in 1999 after years of military rule, several coups and failed earlier experiments with democracy.
High global oil prices are benefiting the nation, which discovered its oil reserves in the 1970s, but it is struggling to prevent a growing black market in stolen oil.
Lagos is a thoroughly modern city with all the trappings of skyscrapers and flyovers that form today's vision of urban planning.
A series of tribal areas were melded into one nation by the British Empire in the 19th Century, and the tensions between these tribes still exist, according to expert commentators. Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, but the nation sadly slumped into an extensive period of civil war, culminating in the brief succession of the oil-rich region Biafra from Nigeria in June 1967. The resulting war led to the death of a million people and the misrule of a series of military juntas have dogged the nation.
Surprisingly, oil has not always been a beneficial industry, and a slump in the oil price in 1981 led to a recession that lasted until 1986. President Umaru Yar'Adua is under pressure to increase stability in the nation, which saw sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in the central city of Jos in late 2008. Yar'Adua has been accused of being slow to react and for not doing enough to rid the country of its energy problems which regularly lead to power cuts. The president was the first leader in Nigeria's history to take power peacefully, a major step forward in the development of the country.
Away from the teeming city of Lagos and politics, Nigeria is one of the most geographically diverse nations in Africa, with rich delta swamps and lowland forests that have produced palm, cocoa and rubber crops, through to a savannah and mountains in the north. Lagos also has some amazing beaches on its doorstep and is developing a luxury middle-class region, even though many roads on the city edges are thronged with slums.
From oil to IT
It was a scholarship from Anglo-Dutch oil giants Shell that brought Tunde Coker to the UK. The softly spoken Nigerian studied mechanical engineering at Glamorgan University in Wales before moving to Cranfield University in Bedfordshire to do an MSc in manufacturing systems engineering. After qualifying, he decided to remain in Britain and followed a career in engineering that inevitably led to IT. He joined Ford Europe at its Brentwood, Essex headquarters before stints with Capgemini, advertising giant eMC Saatchi, and digital marketing agency Agency.com.
Coker took his first step into the financial sector as director of digital services for online bank Egg, and two years later led to a return to the oil industry in the shape of a global role at BP, and then into the public sector at the Ministry of Justice.
As he steps back into banking and back to Africa, Coker and Nigeria are two lines of track that are now rejoining. Just as Coker came to Britain to study and then forged a career here, Nigeria has shaken off its troubled past to become a credible world nation, a place where CIOs can build careers and take part in the next and exciting stage in the story of Nigeria.
Tunde Coker: CV
1989-93: Quality engineer, Ford Europe IT
1993-2000: Senior analyst, Capgemini UK
2000-01: Senior manager, eMC Saatchi
2001-02: Senior VP of technology, Agency.com
2002-04: Senior VP technology, Egg, the Internet Bank
2005-06: Director of digital services, BP
2006-08: Chief technology officer, Criminal Justice IT
Aug-Dec 2008: Director of corporate IT,
Ministry of Justice