By Prince Osuagwu
The Executive Director Paradigm Initiatives, PIN, Mr Gbenga Sesan was Nigeria’s first Information Technology Youth Ambassador from 2001 to 2003. Those years exposed him to the huge opportunities available to a youth who have technology at his or her disposal, irrespective of background.
Four years after his tenure as IT youth Ambassador, an idea- Paradigm Initiative (PIN) was born. The primary objective was to connect under-served Nigerian youth with tech-enabled opportunities. While doing that, Sesan discovered the importance of a favourable policy environment and got the group involved in ICT policy, and now, Digital Rights.
Today, the little tree planted in an obscure cybercafe in Ajegunle, Lagos, has become a mighty tree with pan-African branches covering Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Sesan told Hi-Tech the story of PIN during the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the plans to leverage on the challenge to become even bigger and better.
PIN for LIFE
Through the LIFE (Life skills, ICT skills, Financial literacy and Entrepreneurship) program, PIN reaches underserved youth across Nigeria, along with in-school programs operating in 15 schools across the 3 states. PIN’s digital rights advocacy program includes media campaigns, coalition building, capacity building, research, report writing, hosting the annual bi-lingual pan-African Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum, and promotion of Digital Rights and Freedom legislation.
Disruptions by COVID
We suspended all physical activities in March and while our team members were able to continue working remotely, participants of our LIFE training program struggled to join the virtual training and even though we provided stipends for Internet access bundles for their phones, many struggled to keep the phones charged. Once they were unable to come to our training centres, where they had access to computers, steady power supply and a conducive learning environment, it was difficult to keep up.
However, our team members continued to put in their best even though we were all working remotely, and will do so until, at least, the end of the year. PIN is blessed with partners that understand — and support — our mission so we had adequate resources to keep the lights on during the period, and we also continue to prospect new partners for future programs.
We established a COVID-19 policy to help our team members and program beneficiaries stay safe during the lockdowns, and even though lockdowns have been eased, we continue to maintain the COVID-19 policy, limiting physical activities because the pandemic is not yet over. Part of our recovery plans include making sure we deliver on as much of the proposals that our partners have supported so that when we require additional support, such will be available for the work.
Tech interventions in other African countries
In addition to extending our presence to Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we have also partnered to deliver our software engineering program virtually so that anyone can take the courses from anywhere. PIN has organized Digital Rights Workshops across Africa, including in countries like Cameroon, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
We have led efforts to promote freedom of expression and privacy by challenging surveillance regimes in Gambia, Nigeria and Tanzania; intervened in Digital ID programs in Kenya and Nigeria; trained security agencies on privacy and other citizen rights in Nigeria; trained parliamentarians on digital rights in Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; brought stakeholders together to strategise on navigating
oppressive environments where freedom of expression was under threat in Gambia and Tanzania; challenged governments on Internet shutdowns around elections, in Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi and Nigeria; and developed frameworks for rights-respecting legislation in Cameroon, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Togo.
Best approach to national economic recovery
As we have stated in much of our communications during the ongoing pandemic, government needs to stay out of the way of citizens who are using online tools to support their livelihoods. The news of restrictions of digital platforms are worrying because digital platforms will contribute significantly to socio-economic recovery across Nigeria, given the opportunity that many young people have to understand and use technology tools to improve their lives.
We encourage government to promote a climate of innovation, online, and not a climate of fear. Nigeria should focus on encouraging access providers to lay more fibre optic cables and extend connectivity to the last mile so that Nigerians can connect to opportunities regardless of their location.
Again, Nigeria needs to understand that policy is meant to support, and not stifle, innovation. The country does not lack roadmaps but we need to implement the many plans that have been drawn up — the National Broadband Plan, Nigeria ICT Roadmap (2017-2020) and National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030).