By Abdulwasiu Mujeeb
In Nigeria, the information technology sector is one of the fastest growing sectors. Second only to agriculture, it alone contributed a significant 17.92% of Nigeria’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2021. This is a recurring developmental trend evolutionalized over the last five years, with the sector growing at 18 percent between 2016 and 2019.
Growing from less than 1 percent of GDP in 2001, the tremendous growth has now positioned Nigeria as the leading tech market on the African continent, with 90 tech hubs and a growing and vibrant customer base. As at 2017, Nigeria ranks 143 on the global ranking for ICT Development Index (IDI)- a latest ranking by the International Telecommunication Union.
This development over recent times, have seen Non- Governmental Organizations in Nigeria using tech hubs to help youths at secondary and tertiary levels to develop skills and technical knowledge to ensure that they earn a living, and also create direct and indirect employment for others.There are also more women-oriented tech supports that are beginning to spring up, and venture capitals are being raised to support them.
But as impressive as this development is, it continues to exclude people living with sickle cell diseases. These categories of people are always regarded disabled and are often overlooked in its diversity and inclusion conversations. To understand the implication of this, a report by the World Health Organization revealed that over 25 Million Nigerians are excluded due to disability. As a result, they are made to toss around with a series of discriminations and stigmatizations hanging on their necks, leaving a wide gap between them and employment in all sectors.
Changing the Narrative
Changing this narrative is quite straightforward: all persons in Nigeria irrespective of their health status or disability should be allowed equal participation in Nigeria’s growing tech industry. But the problem is, sickle cell warriors face discrimination and barriers from getting needed tech skills that can grow their employability and drive their inclusion.
However, a Non- Governmental Organization; Sickle Cell Aid Foundation is engaging itself in teaching tech skills to sickle cell warriors as they spearhead the battle of an all inclusive tech industry in Nigeria.
Sickle Cell Aid Foundation is an Abuja based non-profit organization operating in both Abuja and Lagos state. According to information on its website, it was “founded in 2010 to help increase awareness on Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD)”.
Social Voices learnt that the foundation’s agenda is necessary to create support for every Sickle cell warriors in Nigeria and create a world where they live life to its fullness.
The Coding Training Project
In 2020, Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) built the Warrior Fund Initiative (WFI), a technology enabled database solution for SCD patients in Nigeria. This database enables SCAF to reach out to SCD warriors across Nigeria with the needed information on preventive health measures and career opportunities.
Through this database, the foundation was able to reach out to passionate beneficiaries including male and females who were then enrolled into the coding training project- a project that majorly involves the teaching of Java programming language often used to develop applications, build websites, softwares, and conduct data analysis.
“We have a Warrior Fund Initiative database that we developed in 2020 consisting of over 6000 sickle cell disease warriors in Nigeria, through which we provide other supportive projects such as mental health support, routine medications, and remote medical consultations. So the awareness of this project wasn’t created for the general public. What we did was to announce it within our database, and then admit on the basis of ‘first come, first serve’, the project lead, Oluwatobi Oseni, told this reporter.
Speaking further on the operational methods of its execution, he said the foundation considered the health status of the beneficiaries and made the training easier for them. According to him, all activities related to the project were held virtually for one month and beneficiaries were provided with stipends, allowances and the discretion to attend classes in batches.
“As the project lead, I was able to work with their timing,” he says. “I scheduled the training into morning and evening batches, two hours each for both batches. Subject to the timing that works for them, all of the beneficiaries had the option to attend any of the batches”.
“We also prioritized providing them stipends because we understand their conditions, so they almost had no complaints with data and power supply. This method was really interesting for them because it reinforced their learning, and for me as a trainer because it helped the delivery process”.
So far, the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation has successfully trained and graduated 20 sickle cell warriors on coding technology, 11 males and nine females spreading across Bauchi, Kano, and Sokoto States.
The Power of having Coding a Skill
Speaking to Balogun Fadilulah, an IT Consultant and Coding expert, it became clear equipping sickle cell warriors with IT and Coding skills can indeed drive the inclusion and enable the employability of sickle cell warriors in the technology sector but it will come at a huge cost and it will require further and extra efforts from the government and private stakeholders too.
“Coding skill is the most important skill to learn when it comes to problem solving. So it is a brilliant thing to equip sickle cell warriors with. it is like a round peg in a round hole, because it will enable them to come up with creative solutions to their own problem and increase their employability value in the technology industry,” Mr. Fadilulah said.
“The cost of learning coding skills is now highly expensive, so the government should be involved in this good initiative. They can do more by providing these people with necessary gadgets and a conducive environment that will help enhance their learning. They don’t have to get their problem compounded with insufficient learning facilities and bad network,” he added.
For Bashir Abdullahi Isa, the initiative was like a round peg in a round hole. Bashir is a sickle cell warrior who has been longing to empower himself with a coding skill, but he has not been able to take steps to achieve it due to his health status and the luxury of learning it. But when he was shortlisted for the opportunity, Ibrahim said he defied all odds to ensure its proper utilization.
“It was not easy for me to participate in the program. I could remember getting hospitalized during the program, but I just had to put more effort after because of the importance and time limit attached to it. I thank God I was able to fulfill my desire to learn the skills successfully”
Narrating how it has been helpful him, he further said:
“The coding skills have not only taught me the way out, but also motivated me to acquire an admission into college to further my career in technology”
Just like Bashir, Abdulazeez Adamu is another sickle cell patient and beneficiary of the opportunity. He said the experiences of pain and discrimination as a sickle cell warriors couldn’t stop him from exploring the opportunity offered to him by the SCAF.
“I must really confess it isn’t the easy one but because I was so curious to know what this tech guys have been doing, I was determined not to be distracted even though there were pains but am happy it doesn’t stop me and I didn’t give up during the program”
Abdulazeez said through the understanding of code writing and the general overview of what tech is, the training has helped him to kickstart his tech career.
“I’d always wished to be a programmer but I don’t really know how to start but through the coding skill program, I now have a glimpse on the overview of tech and interestingly I can now write some lines of code. These knowledge have really helped me to kickstart my career in tech”.
While the initiative was held virtually to escape the burden of classroom activities on the beneficiaries and to enhance easy passage of the knowledge, there are still challenges hindering the smooth progression of the initiative, often stemming from poor network, electricity and inability of the beneficiaries to solve basic computer technicalities. According to the project director, Oseni, he said the computers used by some of the trainees were not good enough for the project.
“Many of their computers were basic computers that were not good enough to operate for a long time. Their computers were lagging. Certain times, some people were drawing us back. For some, their computers were unable to process certain things. But because I am used to those things, I could easily detect if those kinds of things were about to happen with them and I will systematically introduce a kind of solution to it.”
Speaking further, Oseni noted that funding was also part of their limitations. According to him, the foundation had earlier wanted to conduct the project on a bigger scale by building a mobile app that can be made accessible to all participants through the App Store, but lack of funding restricted them.
“One of the biggest limitations was that funding. we had enough funding but was not quite enough, we tried to get more funding to do it at a bigger scale. What we actually wants to do initially was to build a mobile app that we can put on the store, but it requires a lot of expenses; budgeting 25 dollar per person before we can put them on the store, so we couldn’t consider that approach,” he said
Oseni said with more funding, the foundation is looking forward to solve these limitations by introducing the “mobile app” approach in their next project, and also giving all beneficiaries a brand new computer that will suit the standards.
“With more funding, we can actually give them computers that match standards and match them with internship at the end of the training so they can continue to learn because it is more of a practical,” he noted.
“This story has been supported by Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, solutionsjournalism.org”