By Prince Osuagwu
Tthe Executive Director of Initiatives Paradigma, PIN, Mr. Gbenga Sesan he was Nigeria’s first youth information technology ambassador from 2001 to 2003. Those years exposed him to the enormous opportunities available to a young man who has technology at his disposal, regardless of background.
Four years into his tenure as TI’s youth ambassador, an idea was born: the Paradigm Initiative (PIN). The main goal was to connect underserved Nigerian youth with technology opportunities. While doing that, Sesan discovered the importance of a favorable political environment and involved the group in ICT policy, and now, Digital Rights.
Today, the little tree planted in a dark internet café in Ajegunle, Lagos, has grown into a mighty tree with pan-African branches that covers Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Sesan told Hi-Tech the story of the PIN during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to take advantage of the challenge to be even bigger and better.
Through the LIFE (Life Skills, ICT Skills, Financial Education and Entrepreneurship) program, PIN reaches underserved youth in Nigeria, along with school programs operating in 15 schools in all 3 states. PIN’s advocacy program for digital rights includes media campaigns, coalition building, capacity building, research, report writing, organizing the annual Pan-African Bilingual Forum on Digital Rights and Inclusion and Advocacy for Rights Law and digital freedoms.
We suspended all physical activities in March and although our team members were able to continue working remotely, participants in our LIFE training program had a difficult time joining the virtual training and although we provided stipends for internet access packages for their phones, many struggled to keep the phones charged. Once they were unable to come to our training centers, where they had access to computers, a constant power supply, and a conducive learning environment, it was difficult to keep up.
However, our team members continued to do their best even though we were all working remotely, and we will do so until at least the end of the year. PIN is fortunate to have partners who understand and support our mission, so we had adequate resources to keep the lights on during the period and we also continue to seek new partners for future programs.
We established a COVID-19 policy to help our team members and program beneficiaries stay safe during closures, and while closures have eased, we continue to maintain the COVID-19 policy, limiting physical activities because the pandemic still It has not finished. Part of our recovery plans include making sure we comply with most of the proposals our partners have supported so that when we need additional support, it is available for the job.
Technological interventions in other African countries
In addition to expanding our presence to Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we have also partnered to offer our software engineering program virtually so that anyone can take the courses from anywhere. PIN has organized digital rights workshops in Africa, including in countries such as 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 The Gambia, Nigeria and Tanzania; participated in digital identification programs in Kenya and Nigeria; security agencies trained on privacy and other citizenship rights in Nigeria; parliamentarians trained on digital rights in Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; brought together stakeholders to develop navigation strategies
oppressive environments where freedom of expression was threatened in the Gambia and Tanzania; challenged governments on internet closures around elections, in Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi and Nigeria; and developed frameworks for rights-respecting legislation in Cameroon, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Togo.
The best approach to national economic recovery
As we have said in many of our communications during the ongoing pandemic, the government must steer clear of citizens who use online tools to support their livelihoods. The news of restrictions on digital platforms is concerning because digital platforms will contribute significantly to the socio-economic recovery in Nigeria, given the opportunity for many young people to understand and use technological tools to improve their lives.
We encourage the government to promote a climate of innovation, online, and not a climate of fear. Nigeria should focus on encouraging access providers to run more fiber optic cables and extend connectivity to the last mile so that Nigerians can connect to opportunities regardless of location.
Once again, Nigeria must understand that politics is meant to support, not stifle, innovation. The country does not lack roadmaps, but we must implement the many plans that have been drawn up: the National Broadband Plan, the Nigerian ICT Roadmap (2017-2020), and the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy ( 2020-2030).