Amb-Dr. Oyedokun Ayodeji Oyewole is the Chairman of the Board at the Institute of Information Management (IIM) based in Nigeria. Prior to leading the institute, he spent years in IT and cyber-security roles for Swedish firms and consulting for the Oil and Gas industry. Dr. Oyewole is both an accomplished Records and Information Management practitioner and a fierce advocate for the discipline. I sat down with him in July to ask him about his journey through the universe of information management, his thoughts about professional development and the emerging opportunities in Africa.
Dr. Oyewole, your work developing new practitioners in the Records Management field is substantial and encouraging. You have empowered individuals, young and old, to harness their analytical skills to advance their professional development while instilling pride and confidence in them.
Tell us what inspired you to look at Africa and decide how building a community of skilled practitioners could make a difference not just in individual’s lives but in their communities?
My sojourn into the information management space started in 2004, with a very big vision and mission. This was at a time when information management technology was being implemented by only a few organisations in Africa. With the vast opportunities in the RIM space in Africa coupled with the many societal challenges faced by the continent, I saw the need for us to buttress the demand for proper management and security of records and information in both public and private organisations. A very large chunk of organisations were still struggling with managing physical records and certainly not prepared for electronic records. Poverty, corruption and a lack of employment opportunities were crippling. In analyzing all this, I felt the only meaningful solution to both alleviating suffering and empowering people was through advancement of this all important industry, information management, neglected for decades in Africa. Having a society where quality records and information can be easily accessed must be a priority in the face of several challenges ranging from lack of government support, inadequate legislation, poorly trained professionals and practitioners, to the absence of standards and necessary tools for adequate data and information governance.
Most people around the world don’t realize that many parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria, do have sophisticated infrastructures despite being considered developing nations. The history of Africa is varied and rich in so many ways, with much of its potential still yet to be unlocked.
What if anything do you feel is unique to African nations in their management of records, information and data that you might not find in places like the U.K. or in the United States?
The information management industry in Nigeria is still evolving with a great deal of potential yet to be tapped. I think what seems to be unique about the records and information management profession in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is the tremendous commitment and passion you find in an average information management professional, in their resolve to take their career to the next level amidst a myriad of social and economic challenges.
You spent quite some time working for Chevron Nigeria Limited on its Agura Independent Power Project designing EDMS systems. Nigeria’s oil reserves are substantial and as this sector develops, just like in the United States, there are social and environmental issues impacted by this progress.
How much are projects such as these affected by laws and regulations in African nations and what trends do you expect in the African regulatory landscape over the next five or ten years?
The regulatory environment in Nigeria is complex, creating challenges even for companies that strive hard to be compliant. There are arrays of legislation and by-laws to regulate almost every area of economic activity. However, there hasn’t been much impact on projects like these compared to other sectors like financial, telecommunications, FMCG, and energy. On the one hand, the pro-transparency, anti-corruption inclination of the present administration are seen as helping ensure accountability and ‘good governance’ in the private sector, meaning empowered regulators can be expected to come down harder on perceived breaches of local regulation.
Within this challenging environment of regulatory instability and ambiguity there are also opportunities for organisations to advance their local positioning and risk management approach. In the short term, performing the necessary compliance audits and investing in internal capacity-building around compliance issues can be achieved. Companies should prioritize engagement and seek to build long-lasting interaction not just with regulators but across a broader base of key public sector stakeholders. Engagement will intensify understanding of regulators’ priorities and facilitate dialogue that will improve policy formulation, and consequently help organisations to shape the business environment around their operations.
You recently hosted a well respected IG leader, Alison North, at one of your conferences…
What other contributions are professionals in the rest of the world making, if any, to support development of the profession in Africa and what opportunities are there available for people in the EU, United States and around the world to help drive growth?
A lot is happening in terms of development in the global RIM space which I think Africa is yet to fully integrate into or benefit from. Nevertheless, some professionals and organisations like the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS), the International Records Management Trust (IRMT) and the Information Governance Initiative (IGI) have been of tremendous inspiration and support to the development of the Industry in Africa. There lots of opportunities in the African RIM space for professionals who might be interested in exploring, including business and consultancy services. The records and information management professional of the 21st century is for the brave-hearted and is more exciting now and offers more potential than ever before.