Tech girls: Of over-celebrated villains and underrated heroes, BY Zainab Suleiman Okino


You will expect a nation with a barrage of negative news and reputational baggage to revel in a few things that put us ahead of others and project the country in good light.
Not so with Nigeria.
Amidst the battle for supremacy among politicians in the race for the 2019 elections, came the exhilarating news of five Nigerian girls that wrote Nigeria’s name (and theirs too) in the golden map of tech-innovation in the United States of America (USA).
For these girls—Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye, all from Regina Pacis Secondary School, Onitsha, Anambra state, they spent five months to research and develop the app and defeated representatives of other technological giants, including the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China to clinch the gold medal in a Technovation Challenge that featured 2000 competing applications in San Francisco, USA.
Although 115 countries participated in the qualifiers, only 12 teams from all over the world, made it to the finals.
Under the mentorship of Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, the founder of Edufun Technik STEM Centre and within the context of their local community and the problem that ails it, the girls developed a mobile app to tackle the challenge of fake drugs.
Code-named, “FD Detector”, the girls pitched their app story creatively that could help fight the menace of fake drugs in Nigeria, its largest market.
Being the first time Nigeria would get to the finals and an opportunity to visit Silicon Valley, California, the world’s IT capital; they would also use the opportunity to get investors to buy into their app idea.
According to available information, “Technovation is a programme that offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the programming skill they need to emerge as tech-entrepreneurs and leaders.
Every year, girls are invited to identify a problem in their communities and then are challenged to solve them by developing applications that would address those problems”.
Apart from winning the competition, it came as a breath of fresh air from Nigeria to the world, whose only recollection of information about Nigerian girls in the last few years, are the abduction of Chibok girls by Boko Haram in 2014 and Dapchi girls last year, the rape of women and girls in IDP camps and daily abuse of minors, the vulnerable and poor, without many of the perpetrators being prosecuted and brought to book.
But for the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo’s tweet congratulating the girls and Anambra state governor, Willy Obiano’s brief send-forth ceremony, where he charged the girls to put Nigeria and Africa on the global map with their talent, there would not have been any official recognition by the Nigerian government.
In a tweet, showing the pictures of the girls, the VP said: “these young ladies in a junior secondary school, developed a mobile application called FD Detector to tackle the problems of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria.
Yesterday, they won the 2018 Technovation World Pitch in California, Congratulations! We are very proud of you”, the VP wrote.
Notwithstanding the VP’s tweet, I can almost bet without equivocation that, that is where it will end.
In any case, the VP tweeted in his personal capacity, without any policy statement on what the Nigerian government will do to encourage the girls and patent the app for commercial purpose and use by relevant government MDAs.
The Ministry of Science and Technology, Nigeria Information and Technology Agency (NITDA), the possible regulators of the new concept, Ministry of Health and NAFDAC, perhaps the end users, have kept mute.
In a country so polarized, a few points of convergence such as in football, the feat achieved by these youngsters is a symbolic rallying point.
They may hold the key to our technological break-through, who knows.
The country is divided along so many fault-lines; it is only in a few cases like football, that we get together without questions of where did this or that player come from? What’s his religion? Is he protestant or Catholic, Sunni or Shiites? Latching on the successes like this also has the capacity to unite us; that is, for a government that places premium on human capital development and technology innovation anyway.
Nigeria is not technologically advanced, not because we do not have clear-headed, talented and innovative creators, but because there has never been deliberate encouragement from the government with a proper policy framework that practically supports innovation.
Even the media mention of the girls’ exploits was scanty.
Yet, we pay lip service to girl-child education and technology.
I have no doubt, a lot of media blitz would have taken place, if government officials had been involved with full compliments of television crew from different stations; all of who will collect estacodes and come back home to show their faces on television, while government spokespersons would make a big capital out of it as one of the achievements of the Buhari government and then, the chapter is closed.
That’s how we roll in Nigeria.
That is why we import everything including tooth picks, and it is the reason why the production of pencil is celebrated as a big achievement by the government.
The frustration arising from unrecognized innovations and research works gathering dusts at our universities and research institutes is responsible for the brain drain disrupting all facets of our growth and development.
Right now, the only thing that matters to those elected to provide leadership and policies towards the development of the country is the battle for re-election, Senate President Bukola Saraki’s impeachment-to be or not to be and defection to PDP or APC.
The fight for power and supremacy goes on; but in the mix, Nigerians pitch their tents and choose who to hero-worship or disparage.
And in doing that we celebrate the wrong people, who do not add any value to the country or our lives as a people.
Therefore, it won’t be a surprise if the success story of the tech-girls in the US fizzles out like all such impactful efforts of the past while stories of villains doting our political space continue to dominate headlines.

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