The Presidential hand-shake for winners

The determination to prepare Nigeria for an emerging global revolution in technology showed in the reception accorded the five girls who won the World Technological innovation challenge in the United States recently.

Equally re-assuring were revelations by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when he received the team at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, September 6, 2018, on behalf of the Federal Government. Osinbajo had explained the government plan to support the youth and equip them for the challenges of the rapidly changing world through effective academic curriculum and skill acquisition.

The victorious girls are Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye – all Junior Secondary students of Regina Pacis Model Secondary School, Onitsha, a Catholic educational institution. The team was accompanied to the Presidential Villa by the Anambra State Deputy Governor, Nkem Okeke; Commissioner for Education, Kate Omenugha; Principal of the girls’ school, Rev. Fr. Vincent Ezeaka; and Mrs. Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, the instructor who also led the girls to the competition.

Gov. Willie Obiano had earlier received the girls at a grand reception held in their honour at the government house, Awka, on Monday, August 27, 2018, a date that coincided with the 27th anniversary of the creation of Anambra state (in 1991). Obiano expressed delight at the performance of the team – a feat that brought fame, honour, pride and grace to Nigeria. A cash award of N1 million was bestowed on each of the girls; while their instructor and the school principal received N2 million each.

The official reception by both the state and federal authorities underscores the understanding that the global surge in the technological revolution has its base on human capital development. It is also the outcome of uncommon commitment to quality education and skill development which are major government priorities in Anambra. This provided the ground for a higher level of creative ability that enabled the girls to beat contestants from more advanced nations: USA, China, Spain, Uzbekistan and Turkey.

The Nigerian team emerged top for developing a mobile application called ‘FD Detector’ to tackle the lingering problems of circulation of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. This suggests that the girls, through the support of the school, understand their societal challenges. Called Team Save-A-Soul, the group explained the reason for the problem they chose to solve: “Leveraging technology to save lives is our utmost priority; that is why we have decided to maximize this opportunity to solve the incessant rate of death caused by the fake drug.”

Every year, Technovation invites girls from across the globe to identify problems in their communities. They are challenged to find solutions to such problems by developing Andriod applications that would practically address those problems. In the course of the programme, participants are exposed to problem-solving challenges involving field trips meant to give them the benefit of participating in life-changing workshops and engaging in a networking session.

Being an ICT-development initiative, Technovation is aimed to offer girls the opportunity to learn the programming skills required to make them tech-entrepreneurs and leaders. The win by the Nigerian team could not have come easy in a competition that featured over 2,000 entry-apps. The 2018 World Pitch Summit held at San Francisco, was the final ‘pitch’ of the programme. It followed more than seven months of hard work, innovation, and problem-solving tasks by more than 19,000 girls in 115 countries supported by over 5,000 mentors.

According to Vice President Osinbajo, the Federal Government would collaborate with the government of Anambra state to support the ‘FD Detector’ developed by the Nigerian team. Government would further collaborate with Edufun Technik Stem Centre, whose managing director, Mrs. Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, mentored the girls in developing the application that earned them the gold award. These suggest that the project will not end up in the show-case of government “efforts”, as government move to prepare the youth for the fast-changing developments in education system globally.

As Osinbajo observed, “For us, this is existential. We have no choice but to ensure that young people, especially from pre-primary to primary school, are able to use technology in innovative and creative ways. The world has changed. The entire system of education has changed because certainly, we cannot prepare not just for the 21st Century but even the next five years without serious investment in technology.”

Relevant government agencies and other bodies should queue-in into these plans in collaboration with our universities and research institutes. The project should be of interest to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON); Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and Ministry of Health. The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) are important bodies in moving the app into global space.
That way, Nigeria’s major trading partners promoting the circulation of fake, expired and sub-standard drugs will find no further business in our society. It is estimated that Nigeria loses over N50 billion annually through importations of fake, expired and substandard products. It also contributes to high entrepreneurial mortality across various sectors, especially among the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The introduction of the ‘FD Dictator’ by Team Save-A-Soul, could not have happened at a better time.

Another factor the award draws attention to is the quality of leadership that created the enabling environment for the five Regina Pacis girls to excel at the Technovition contest. The feat could not have been achieved in a culture that is allergic to visionary leadership. The stage is set to take the ‘FD Dectator’ to the next level. Gov. Obiano administration should therefore drive the project with the required vigour as global attention turns to Anambra.

Egbuna, a development analyst, wrote from Nnewi.

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