Globally, the outbreak of Coronavirus came as a sudden shock to humanity. Its impacts is for sure going to leave indelible impacts with us. As it is a fact that women, youths and children are the most hit, countries all over the world are doing a lot in terms of providing palliatives, some running into millions of dollars, to ease their suffering.
Technology, one of man’s greatest tool for growth, development and advancement of his societies, has no doubt made the world a global village. Technological innovations have improved, supported and enhanced livelihoods in terms of transport, health, communication, religion, education, entertainment and a host of others.
It could also be seen as man’s saving grace in the wake of the pandemic. Economies of the world are crumbling, schools are shut, movements restricted, jobs are lost, and health care systems are overwhelmed but however, technological innovations by creative citizens will be lifesaving in exceptional ways.
Today Thursday 28th May, 2020, a renowned global network, Foreign Investment Network (FIN) organised a virtual webinar tagged “Deploying Technology to Mitigate The Impact of the Pandemic. The essence of the webinar is to bring together experts in various fields to dissect and explore opportunities in technology to keep economies of the world sailing during and after COVID-19.
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Notable participants include; Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, Head, Sub-Saharan Africa GSMA, Dr. Chaesub Lee, Telecommunications Standrdization Bureau, ITU, Dele Nedd, CEO Descasio, Ifeoluwa Adebayo- Special Assistant on Innovation, Office of the Nigerian Vice President, and Benjamin Benaim- Founding Partner, Seedstars.
The virtual session, chaired by Mr Zulfiquar Ghadiyali, Executive Director DHIC, began by 02:00PM. The first discussant, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, spoke extensively on the technological initiatives of the Federal Government of Nigeria. He noted the various challenges encountered in the various sectors of the Nigerian economy. He also commended the synergy between the NCDC and Telecommunication companies in Informing citizens adequately since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“It is worthy to note that there are challenges in various sectors of the Nigerian economy before the outbreak of coronavirus. There is room for development despite the challenges and problems encountered. The media is doing well to communicate with people and create awareness, ” he said.
There is no doubt about the fact that education, health and the economy are the most hit sectors of the society. The pandemic forced government to shut down all institutions of learning from primary to tertiary institutions. A small fraction of children, teenagers and youths are believed to be engaging in remote learning while at home which is due to the access to smart phones and data.
The Minister discussed his ministry’s strides in digitalising the economy and other sectors.
“Before COVID-19, I proposed a National digital economy strategy which was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Ministry of Trade and Investment, Education, Finance and CBN were captured which they keyed into. I also came up with National Broadband Plan which is expected to capture 90% people by 2025. These were fast tracked due to COVID-19 outbreak”, he said.
When asked about his plans on technological training and continuation of working remotely after COVID-19, he noted that plans are already in place for virtual training of Ministers who will key into the use of technology. He also noted the establishment of collaboration with International institutions for youths to get trained and the launch of Virtual Academy at NITDA.
On remote working, he expressed the fact that physical interaction at work is beneficial adding that working at home virtually also saves time and allows for participation.
“We can’t rule out physical interaction benefits. Working at home saves time and allows for participation. Virtual meetings participation even after COVID-19 will be retained in a higher percentage. We need to learn how to live with the virus. So, virtual meetings and communications will be maintained.
Discussing further, some participants looking at the law perspective quipped the minister on legislations regarding data protection and how the Judiciary is maintaining enforcement. He categorically stated that there are plans in place for the protection of data in order to promote digitalisation.
“Data should be protected and not compromised. Nigerian Data Protection Legislation has translated from subsidiary to principal legislation and it is being taken to the National Assembly to be passed into law. In the 2020 budget, we have captured it and the target is to create awareness to reduce breach of data use. Some companies in Lagos and Abuja wrote to us and have apologized for not being aware of the law and promised not to release data indiscriminately”, he said.
Dr Pantami made it clear to participants that COVID-19 came with its benefits owing to the fact that Finance and other industries are investing heavily on remote technology. He noted how many countries will discover their priorities as ICT was not considered before now paving way for digitalization and E-commerce to thrive. He also expressed delight at how trips will save tame and resources to participate in quality discussions.
In his closing remarks, Dr Pantanmi expressed his strong desire to continue to work with the Ministry of Health by providing research grants to researchers with a bid to bringing the pandemic under control. He also praised the synergy between NCC and NITDA in promoting Public and Private Sector participation and Telecommunications Companies with Health care Institutions.
The virtual session proceeded with one of the discussants,
Mr Goodluck, Head, Sub-Saharan Africa GSMA, making his contribution on the webinar’s theme. From his perception, he agreed with the notion that COVID-19 will reinvigorate thinking. He noted the disparity in internet usage. He harped on the need to use technology to make the difference through digital literacy, mobile money, mobile and smart phones, data, SMS and so on.
“COVID-19 will reinvigorate thinking. For us to make a difference, mobile voice identification must be linked to data. Difference will be made where we can use the infrastructure to facilitate payment but limited to smart phones and data which represents two per cent of us here”.
“Bottom people on the pyramid must be online. We can use mobile money to facilitate social transfer and reach people,” he said.
Goodluck further stated that a lot needs to be done by governments and Civil society Organisations with the right political will to bring people to do online things like finance, health, eduction and every other good things they desire. He implored that the compelling proposition of people to come online should not be based on music and video offering alone but for even farmers who are the majority.
Another discussant, Benjamin Benaim in his contribution was hopeful of the fact that the world will survive the COVID-19 crises just like other cases. He frowned at the fact that 80% of Nigerians are excluded from the internet. He also expressed elation at the level of resilience in start ups of SMEs, innovative private public partnerships and the use of phones to access drugs and medication in Nigeria.
In his remarks, Mr Adebayo noted that parts of the measures to reach less privilege and people at the bottom of the pyramid is the reduction of data and call costs. He also pointed out that the NCDC is always being in touch with people via messages making sure no one is left out.
On his part, Mr Dele Nedd informed participants participants of the investment opportunities in digital technology and now is the time to invest in it in order to see Africa produce the Ali Babas and UNICORNs of this world. This, he said, can only be achieved by investing in the right skills such as digital skill. Infrastructures in electricity and education must also be revamped.
Participants are also of the view that humans are extraordinary when it comes to adapting to change and solutions in all facets of life must be thought about to mitigate disease spread, insurgency and so on. Adaptation is the new normal but how fast is the big question.