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NyaknnoAbasi Osso: The Search Engine Before Google

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Utibe Ukim

By Utibe Ukim

“Libraries store the energies that fuel imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve and contribute to improving our quality of life.
Libraries change lives for the better.”
Sydney Sheldon

When I chose Mass Communications over Medicine, it was because I had been so impacted by the Nigerian Chronicle published by the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, Calabar, that hanging a stethoscope around my neck lost its appeal. My father loved it and through him, I got ‘familiar’ with names like Nelson Etukudo, Ray Ekpu, Martins Usenekong, Antigha Bassey, Clement Ebri, Etim Amin and Signor Tofu (pen name for Elder Onofiok Ufot, multi-talented father of advertising great, Udeme Ufot, who at the time, was the registrar of the University of Calabar), all great writers of the time.

If that newspaper was great, it owed a lot to its library and the work of the man who started and ran it, NyaknnoAbasi Osso, Nigeria’s leading documentation specialist, whose birthday we celebrate today.

Nyaknno is the founder of Biographical Legacy and Research Foundation (BLERF). He served previously as Special Assistant on Library, Research and Documentation to President Olusegun Obasanjo and as the Chief Librarian at Newswatch where he published the groundbreaking Newswatch Who’s Who, a definitive biographical documentation of distinguished Nigerian achievers in all walks of life. He has been a friend and mentor for most of my life.

Through the years, Nyaknno has invested his entire life and resources collecting, assembling and managing millions of books, journals, newspapers, magazine and documents in a way no other Nigerian has. His home and offices in Abuja are filled with rare historical resources and reference materials fit for national archives.

BLERF has grown out of his passion to document our past through the lives and biographies of millions of Nigerian achievers so we can take lesson into our future. In a country where only little value is given to proper record keeping and preservation of historical documents, and where public and private libraries have been closed and entire stock of reference materials sold to paper recyclers, Nyaknno’s passion challenges us to rethink and take action to save what remains.

The celebrated Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta is his brain child. Twenty-five five years of his life and work are expressed in the beauty, content and rich treasures of that centre. It was his major preoccupation from 1988 to 2013.

His current project, BLERF, is a world-class news media research centre Nyaknno funds from his personal resources. It boasts a rich collections of more than two million books, journals, bound volumes of newspapers, magazines, clippings, rare photographs, CDs, flashes, hard-drives collected since 1971.

His dream for the centre is bigger than his purse which slows his speed at converting the idea to reality. BLERF’s website( www.blerf.org) has close to 35,000 names, the largest collection of Nigerian achievers, worldwide. The target is to grow the list to one million within the next five years. Such an enormous documentation project will require partnership and CSR investments to bring to life. Without strong financial partnership, this will only remain a dream.

I must have met Nyaknno around 1982 and was immediately struck by his love for everything in print! I spent what seemed like eternity in his office, receiving scant attention as he read and marked pages after pages of various local, national and foreign publications heaped in front of him. He would throw a question at me with his trademark laughter while his head lay buried in his work. The traffic in and out of his office was heavy. I soon found out it was production time and many reporters, writers and editors needed his input for the next day’s paper. I quickly figured it wasn’t a glamorous job in the newspaper publishing ecosystem and wondered why this smart and intelligent young man chose such a career path.

Nyaknno’s story is one of discovering his passion early and pursuing it with resolute devotion. It’s been a life of big dreams, lots of intellectual adventures, and an uncanny ability to strike the right connection at the right time. Call it, seizing the moment.

As an only child of parents who had buried seven children before him, childhood meant extreme protection. But when he saw other children playing in the school field across his home, he dressed up, joined them and earned himself a place in primary school. While the Bible and the Catholic Digest introduced him to serious reading in secondary school – where his love for history once made him to write out 72 pages at a school history examination- it was his first day at a gap job while awaiting admission to study medicine at the University of Ibadan that got him hooked on books.

When he left his village of Ete in Ikot Abasi local government area of present-day day Akwa Ibom State to join his uncle, the late Prof Jumbo Udo at the University of Ibadan, the plan was to enroll at the University of Ibadan College of Medicine. He wrote the exams and the gap job at the University Library was only to keep him busy. On his first day at work, he was chased home at midnight by the University Librarian. He had found his passion and nothing was going to stand in his way. That was in 1971. Out went medicine to the protestation of his uncle and family.

Throughout his life, providence has always positioned him in the path of opportunity. Media librarianship wasn’t something he imagined when he left Ibadan to join the newly established University of Nigeria Calabar Campus. A chance meeting with Ray Ekpu at the Cross River State Library, Calabar did it for him. An introduction and candid opinion that Ray’s writings could benefit from in-depth research earned Nyaknno the job of setting up and running the library at the Nigerian Chronicle. Ray would later introduce Nyaknno to Dele Giwa in 1980.

There’s an interesting story about how Nyaknno joined Newswatch. Giwa in the company of the late Chief Ime Umanah had arrived at his home at lunchtime one Sunday in July 1984. No pleasantries, just a simple instruction from the man he so admired. “Get dressed immediately. We are going to Lagos to start a magazine called Newswatch.” A few hours later, the trio were on board a Nigerian Airways flight to Lagos. Newswatch found its engine room. Nyaknno got himself a playing field that came to define his career trajectory.

At Newswatch, Nyaknno built a rich library that powered the intense editorial requirement of the news weekly. If you ever read and loved any editorial work in the magazine, his fingerprints were all over. When reporters and editors needed information on anything under the sun, they went to Nyaknno. He would deliver within minutes.

In those days without computers and internet, Nyaknno was the search engine that powered search, quality content and the award-winning journalism Newswatch came to be known for. How he did it so well can only be summed up in the inspiration he drew from a meeting and handshake with Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon: Lasting legacies are built by doing what no one else has done before!

I visited him at work and at home, a short walk from Newswatch, after my NYSC. I couldn’t spot the difference. Every space at home was taken up by books, just like the office. It has remained that way till today no matter where he’s lived. Sometimes I imagine that family is the only intrusion he has permitted to share his affection for everything in print in the 52 years since he said yes to book!

Nyaknno has interned or visited hundreds of major libraries across the world. So you can understand the pains he feels when he speaks about the dearth of public libraries in Nigeria. He wants Nigeria to return to building public libraries to speed up the development of our young people. As Bill Gates puts it, “investing in public libraries is an investment in the nation’s future.”

It would be a fitting tribute to Nyaknno for governments, individuals and corporations to commit to funding public libraries and supporting laudable private initiatives like BLERF so they in turn can, like Sydney Sheldon said, inspire us to explore and achieve and improve our quality of our national life.

Ukim is a journalist, writer and media entrepreneur.

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Opinion

Modelling Success: Dr Adedeji Adeleke And Adeleke University

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Success is a broad concept that has been widely researched and discussed for many years. While there is no specific formula for achieving success, certain principles are commonly observed among individuals deemed to be successful. Success transcends mere material wealth or professional achievements; it is a phenomenon shaped by intrinsic belief, goal setting, dignity, and respect for divine will. Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, a Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, exemplifies the principles of success through his life and impact on individual and societal growth and development, serving as a beacon of inspiration to many and reflecting these values through his accomplishments.

Success is believing in one’s capabilities and potential. Successful people have an innate sense of self-efficacy, confidently believing in their ability to take actions that will lead to the attainment of set goals. Such a belief is a powerful source of motivation, as it pushes one to remain consistent even in the face of adversity and to approach tasks proactively and with a positive outlook. Successful people also understand the significance of setting clear, specific, and attainable goals.

It is worth noting that while the path to success is often super-frustrating and challenging, it is achievable with well-defined goals and persistent efforts. As such, one must continually aim forward, transition step by step, and ultimately weave together a remarkable success story through various engagements by preparing detailed actions that translate into bigger ambitions. The journey to success begins with unwavering self-belief, which is not merely about confidence; rather, it is a deep-rooted conviction in one’s ability to achieve their dreams. This resilience is required to face life’s ups and downs with a positive mindset, seeing opportunities where others see obstacles.

Success is not only due to human will and actions but is also influenced by environmental factors that can pose significant challenges. These factors can become potential stumbling blocks if the individual does not believe in the power of their dreams. Dr. Adeleke’s story is indeed one of belief in self and in the guiding influence of divine will. Despite the numerous challenges he encountered on his way to achieving his set goals, he believed in himself and his immense potential, also trusting in the divine purpose for his life. This propelled him forward, enabling him to build a legacy that cuts across different areas, including education, business, and philanthropy.

Accepting divine will means a careful, responsible acceptance without succumbing to extraneous rules or laws that rob us of our confidence and authenticity. This perspective fosters humility and gratitude and an acknowledgement that our achievements are not solely ours but are also gifts and opportunities that come from a higher source. Dr. Adeleke exemplifies humility and a powerful sense of purpose. Despite his immense success, he remains grounded and attributes his accomplishments to divine guidance.

His philanthropic efforts include huge contributions to education and community development, demonstrating his commitment to giving back and serving the greater good. Dr. Adeleke’s story indicates that true success is a harmonious blend of self-belief, goal setting, and submission to a higher purpose. It is about striving for excellence while remaining humble and purposeful.

From Dr. Adeleke, we learn that the idea of success is personal and varies from individual to individual. It is not defined by societal standards or criteria but by one’s own goals and values. Through inspired actions, individuals can realise that success is achievable for anyone who believes in themselves, sets clear goals, and respects divine will. Modelling success requires more than ambition and hard work; it involves an inherent belief in oneself, discipline in setting and pursuing goals, and a humble recognition of the divine influences in our lives. Dr. Adeleke’s life is a testimony to this whole process of success, demonstrating that success is both an internal and external journey.

Dr. Adeleke exemplifies that success is achieved through belief, goal-setting goals, and respect for divine will. He has shown that his achievements stem not merely from external factors but from nurtured internal qualities. For everyone to be successful, they must follow these prescripts and approach their goals with belief, intention, and reverence toward the divine. Belief provides the motivation, while goal setting charts the course. Goals, when clear and well-defined, act as a blueprint and a guiding light, directing actions and decisions and making the path to success easier. Goals break down the seemingly insurmountable journey into manageable steps, making the path to success more navigable.

Remarkably, Dr. Adeleke’s success in business and life is proof of his strategic mindset and commitment to setting goals. His achievements with Adeleke University and other ventures illustrate how his endeavours have successfully evolved through effective planning. Milestones play a crucial role in goal planning and maintaining focus, and Dr. Adeleke’s invaluable achievements in different spheres of life epitomise that setting realistic goals and pursuing them with dedication and hard work yields significant rewards.

 

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Opinion

Sogolo’s Moral Values And Social Change In Nigeria (5)

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

By Tony Afejuku

Our reading of Professor Godwin Sogolo’s mature opinions on our moral values and human situation in general terminates today.

Read it!

Moral Imperatives of the 4TH Industrial Revolution (4IR)

The 4th Industrial Revolution is already transforming the way we live, work, and interact. One of the key areas in which moral values will have a significant impact is in the development and implementation of emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, automation, big data analytics, genetic engineering, etc. These technologies have the potential to revolutionise industries and societies, for good! But, they also raise complex ethical dilemmas and challenges. For example, the fear is that the widespread use of artificial intelligence and automation in the workplace would lead to job displacement and economic inequality. While these technologies have the potential to increase productivity and efficiency, they also have implications for workers’ rights, fair distribution of wealth, and human dignity. Moral considerations for justice, equality, and respect for human rights must be the guiding principles in the development and deployment of the new technologies. 

Furthermore, the collection and analysis of massive amounts of personal data raise concerns about privacy, consent, and the potential for surveillance and manipulation. Moral values such as privacy, autonomy, and informed consent are essential in ensuring the protection of individuals’ rights and freedoms in the digital age. As technologies continue to advance, it is important to consider the implications they have for our value systems, and to address potential ethical dilemmas before they become widespread. That assessment falls within the purview of the humanities in general, and philosophy in particular.

Another important function of moral values in the 4th Industrial Revolution is to address the socio-economic implications of the new technologies on employment, income inequality and social cohesion. Moral values such as compassion, solidarity, social justice, etc., are essential in ensuring that the benefits of the emerging technological progress are shared equitably, and that vulnerable populations are not left behind.

The 4th Industrial Revolution has the potential of either exacerbating or mitigating the ecological challenges that we currently face, depending on the strength of our moral values and the decisions and actions of individuals, groups, businesses, governments, etc., in connection with the issues of environmental sustainability. Technologies relating to renewable energy, smart grids and circular economic models offer promising solutions. But, they require a commitment to moral values such as environmental stewardship, intergenerational responsibility and sustainability. It is important to prioritise these values so as to minimize the negative environmental impact of the new technological advancements in furtherance of sustainable development.

In adapting to the new technologies, we must bear in mind that moral values also guide issues relating to personal ethics and the well-being of the individual. The constant connectivity, information overload, and digital distractions that come with the 4th Industrial Revolution pose serious challenges to the issue of personal identity and mental health of the individuals in matters of inter-personal relationships and group interactions. We need to develop faith and confidence that the human ingenuity that created the new technologies is also able to devise means of controlling its negative consequences. For instance, if you ask ChatGPT to provide information on how to prepare a nuclear bomb, the response will be that it cannot help because it is dangerous and illegal. That is how values can assist in controlling the negative and disastrous effects of the new technologies. What the people need are moral values such as empathy, compassion, mindfulness and digital responsibility, essential for cultivating a healthy and balanced digital life that puts premium on the collective interest.

Finally, although I have emphasized the role of Philosophy in this discussion, I must add that other disciplines in the humanities also have their unique roles to play in the 4th Industrial Revolution: the classical studies and history can provide models of  personalities, social institutions and historical events that have propelled human civilisations in the past: linguistics and the languages perform communicative functions that give the individual an understanding of human relations and the working of social institutions, while the creative, visual and performing arts recreate human models, personalities and events, both real or unreal, thereby informing and inspiring the people. And, of course, the discipline of religious studies helps the individual in coping with the vicissitudes of our confusing world, further complicated by the flux of unending changes.  Together, the humanities are designed to prepare the individual to understand, control and adapt to the new changes. Already, Western nations, led by the United States of America and some European nations, have shown the moral and political will by working together on ways of controlling and adjusting to the changes that will accompany the 4th Industrial Revolution. Very recently, the American President, Joe Biden, announced a joint project with Microsoft to setup an AI control Centre in the US. Africa, especially Nigeria, cannot afford to miss out, again, on the journey of moving to the next level.

Conclusion

Historical antecedents, years of bad governance, misplaced values and ill-conceived education system, have led to a state of moral crisis in Nigeria. The social ills have had the most severe impact on Nigerian youths who, today, lack the moral foundation needed to transform the animal (Aristotle’s tabula rasa) into a human person. Not only is a large proportion of our youths denied access to basic education, the few that are lucky to have access, have been taught nothing but techniques that are bereft of positive moral values and integrity. It is obvious that Nigerian youths are ill-prepared for the arduous and compelling demands of a changing world. Surely, there is an urgent need for  retooling  our educational curricula, with emphasis on the inculcation of moral values in our youths, to save the nation from descending into the Hobbesian state of nature, anarchy  and more importantly, to enable our society to  keep pace with the changes that are coming with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Concluded.

Afejuku can be reached on 

08055213059.

 

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Opinion

Aáwé’s Day Of Glory And Development Challenges

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The Alawe of Aawe, Oba Cornelius Taiwo Oladokun

By Tunji Olaopa

July 5 2024 was a historic day in the political and cultural annals of Aáwé town. That day was the memorable culmination of more than thirty years of a struggle to achieve the status of a beaded monarch for the Alaawe of Aáwé, Oba Cornelius Taiwo Oladokun. And the Oyo State Governor, Engr. Seyi Makinde, made this feat possible by the singularly courageous act of cutting through the red-tape of political shenanigans and prejudices to underscore historical imperatives that have to do with the cultural status of Aáwé as a significant Yoruba community in the southwest. Aáwé has always been a town that has been shaped by sociocultural and political conflicts and circumstances. And so, it becomes inevitable to connect this current breakthrough with the trajectories of so many others that situate Oba Taiwo Oladokun right within the dynamics of the Aáwé forebears and the Aáwé mystique.

What I have been calling the Aáwé mystique derives from Aáwé’s pragmatic mix of critical enlightenment, communal investment deriving from social capital, and educational commitment that facilitate the capacity of a small town to forge its own path within the context of complex sociocultural ferment from then till now. Aáwé’s strength lies in the generational, communal and diasporic investment that birthed great names that contributed to Aáwé’s image of resilience and progress. Even though Aáwé is a small Yorùbá town, it carries the weight of great achievements — the aggregation of its diverse indigenous pool into a developmental capital that propels continuous advancement in social, cultural, economic and political terms. Aáwé’s indigenous pool is made up of the expatriates abroad who invested in educational advancement and those, equally educated, who stayed behind to keep up the chain of communal commitment and advancement.

This mystique is founded on an even more fundamental governance principle that takes the grassroots seriously as the basis of a distinct and peculiar development founded on subsidiarity and social capital. These two principles form the basis of local governance that embeds governance and development in traditional institutions and the will of the members of the grassroots. I have provided these sociological and political narratives to underscore two points. The first is to underscore the rationale behind the doggedness and courage of His Royal Majesty, Oba Cornelius Abiola Taiwo Oladokun. This kind of struggle and sacrifice to realize the transformation of the status of the monarchy at Aáwé could only further elevate the status of the town and the historical forbearance of Aáwé’s forebears. The Kabiyesi is only following in the footsteps of the Aáwé ancestors who kept up the trajectory of historical and cultural responsibility to the town and to posterity. The new beaded crown is therefore a testimonial to the historical resilience of Aáwé as a small town that withstood the complexities and intrigues of being situated within the context of larger Yorùbá historical circumstances that had the capacity to swallow it up.

More importantly, therefore, beyond the pomp and circumstances of the coronation, I am reading the entire event as Aáwé’s Nehemiah’s moment. At a very critical juncture in time, the biblical Nehemiah came to that conscious moment when all circumstances became propitious for him to take on the challenge of harnessing the will of the people and the resources of the land to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem. I am convinced that Aáwé has reached its own critical moment when there is a conjunction of history, vision and possibilities; it is a moment to rehabilitate the shared vision that has never failed to unite the Aáwé homeland and the Aáwé diaspora, or the Aáwé people and its distinguished elites towards a sustainable developmental future. Given the committed efforts of Aáwé’s ancestors to the Aáwé mystique, there is already in place a vast demography of generational capital — in terms of human capital and available resources — that creates a space of possibilities. What must then be added is a context for the sharing of opinions and blueprints for moving Aáwé forward. And it is the responsibility of the Alaawe to facilitate the flowering of the space that accommodates different shades of opinions and scenarios within leadership large-hearted seminal spirit; especially the peculiar one, required to manage a demographic of people with perhaps one of the largest professors and professionals per capital in the world, for moving Aáwé forward.

Like Nehemiah, these needed conversations and discourses need to be had around the urgency of taking Aáwé to the next level of composite development. There is no questioning the visible and tangible level of infrastructural achievements that dot the landscape of Aáwé as a result of self-help efforts. And they are though few, but too numerous to be mentioned, from the Oba’s palace to the Odo Sogidi tourist center, and from the police post to the bank. We must also not fail to mention the industrializing spirit of the late Chief (Sir) Anthony Amoje (the Otun of Aawe and his Amo Sanders), Chief Debo Omotoso (the Asiwaju of Afijio and his Bond Chemicals), etc. These self-help and industrial activities tell a tale of communal and collective responsibilities to the perceived need of a community that has always been aware of itself. However, by reason of this significant event of the crowning of the Aáwé monarch, we are challenged to rethink Aáwé’s development status and to take the self-help initiatives a fundamental step further. This is to the extent that the existing self-help efforts provide the enabling motivation to ground real development that transforms the well-being of the Aáwé people.

I mentioned that part of the Aáwé mystique is the available demography of people and resources that have been accumulating for a long time. This implies that there is really no need to reinvent the development wheel in putting Aáwé on the map. Starting from the Egbe Omo Ibile Aáwé to the Aáwé Development Plan: The OPTICOM Approach — and the ongoing but relevant Chief Emmanuel Adisa, the Asiwaju of Aawe-led attempt at developing an Aáwé Vision 2050, a blueprint that encompasses Aáwé Economic Renaissance and Restructuring for Economic Activities and Revitalization — speaks to the larger intention to take Aáwé beyond its present status in terms of leveraging local governance principles. For instance, Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje’s OPTICOM — from optimum community — represents a unique experimental approach to grassroots mobilisation for community development. It is an attempt at establishing interactive platforms between researchers and grassroots producers in a unique synergy that facilitates the critical flow and fusion of knowledge and expertise. The OPTICOM thesis rests on the assumption that traditional structures possess the inherent capacity, borne out of centuries of adaptability and resilience, to bear the weight of responsible policy initiatives properly managed by equally responsible and development-sensitive leadership.

A revitalized OPTICOM approach, adapted to current development challenges, will provide the framework for transforming individual efforts into cooperative endeavors. For example, Aáwé farmers could be given the opportunity of re-organizing into enhanced cooperative societies and the building of entrepreneurial networks that could connect them with multi-sourced credit and infrastructural supports within a structured agro-processing industry value chain. This feeds directly into the poverty alleviation component of the Opticom model that is meant to reduce the burden of individual efforts that do not usually amount to much outside of cooperative capacities. This also speaks to Aáwé’s small and medium enterprises whose tenacious capacities as cottage industries not only delimit Aáwé’s comparative advantages, like the ebu ose (black soap) industry, but also remain the key to the creative industrial and economic transformation of Aáwéland. When the late Prof. Mabogunje consolidated this component in the celebrated experiment in Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), its success had the critical support and the transformational leadership inspiration of the HRM the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona. This is then the crucial benchmarking of traditional governance structure and development achievement that Aáwé needs to emulate.

The development drive in Aáwé is also tied further to the dream of connecting Aáwé to the world, especially through age-long struggle to facilitate the establishment of a tertiary institution, as well as the urgent construction and rehabilitation of Aáwé’s network of roads and highways. Three highways are crucial in this regard—the Aáwé-Ife Odan, Aáwé-Akinmorin and Aáwé-Iwo roads. These are significant contributors to the industrialization of Aáwé. At the sociocultural level, Aáwé is also embedded in a historical and cultural axis under the sway of the Alaafin of Oyo. This places a heavy burden of wisdom and diplomacy on the Alaawe to find the right amount of relational skills and diplomacy that will make the peaceful coexistence between the different interests within Aawe town and those in diaspora on the one hand, and with our neighbors on the other, the centre-point of Aáwé’s development. And given that the days of imperialist expansion are long gone, what we are left with is a scenario of mutual and peaceful coexistence within the context of regional advancement that Aáwé itself can benefit from.

Therefore, even before the euphoria of the crowning ceremony wears off, it is time to commence the process of communal dialogue instigated by the Alaawe, the council of chiefs, Awe Development Corporation, the numerous egbe omo ibile Aawe, the Aáwé elite at home and in the diaspora, and the Aáwé people themselves. It is high time Aáwé took its place in the comity of places that deploy local governance through the political and sociocultural sophistication of their traditional governance structures to connect their people to human flourishing. This is a critical junction when the broken walls of Aáwé’s development trajectories needed to be rebuilt. And I believe the omens are auspicious sufficiently for us to re-start the formidable engine of progress.

Olaopa is a Professor of Public Administration, and Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, Abuja.

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