In the middle of this pandemic, a Nigerian Tech Entrepreneur, Olakunle Yakubu has decided to look beyond the pandemic and seek possible solutions to reduce the spread.
In this exclusive interview with News Africa Now’s Adenike Fagbemi, Yakubu who doubles as the founder of ITD Africa, an NGO that focuses on building IT infrastructures in Africa reviews how he was inspired to develop the app to address the problem associated with contact tracing in the country.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Olakunle Yakubu, a Microsoft Certified solutions expert with B.sc in Computer Science from the University of Selangor, Malaysia. I started my career by working with an IT training hub as an ASP. Net (ASP.NET is a developer platform made up of tools, programming languages, and libraries for building many different types of applications) trainer, then moved to training students on Data collection and Machine Learning. I have worked on different teams to develop several applications that has improved processes and productivity in Real Estate, Logistics and Fashion companies.
What inspired you to establish ITD Africa ( Innovation for Technology Development in Africa)?
Being in the IT field, you realize that a lot of problems African governments are facing can be easily solved or at least understood with the right systems and applications that can only be built using IT technology but while delving into this, we also came to realize that a lot of people working in both the public and private sectors in Nigeria and Africa at large do not understand how to apply IT to their field of work. This is what inspired us to establish ITD Africa, an NGO that focuses on building IT infrastructures to solve Africa’s greatest problems while also training low and mid-level workers in public and private institutions on how to apply these systems and processes to their daily activities thereby increasing efficiency and productivity at their workplace.
How did you come about the application, Stay-Safe.NG for COVID-19 contact tracing?
Stay-Safe is an idea we got based on the current pandemic raging the globe. We followed the trend and noticed that a lot of countries, while adopting the right testing and social distancing rules that are needed to help curb the spread of COVID-19, were also figuring out ways to apply IT technology through data analysis to the problem of contact tracing. One of this solution is to adopt a cloud-based visitor registers which act as a logbook for people’s movement. Since the virus cannot spread without the movement of people, the only way to track the virus will be to track people’s movements.
How does the application works?
` When people register using Stay-SafeNG before stepping into public places, their check-in time is automatically registered on our cloud-based database and we can easily do what we call backward tracing if anyone gets tested positive for coronavirus in order to determine the names and contacts of the people that have been exposed to the virus through contact with this new case. For example, if Mr. A gets on a flight from ABUJA to LAGOS and gets tested positive for Covid-19 few days later, everyone on that flight will receive a SMS notification informing them that they have been exposed.
What strategy have you adopted to survive the COVID-19 outbreak apart from developing an app for contact tracing?
Like most businesses, the pandemic has nudged us to push more of our processes online.
The fact that we were already having several online training sessions before the pandemic has made it easy for us and our students to fully make use of opportunities provided by group meeting programs like zoom and google meet.
How would you evaluate Nigeria’s IT industry?
Nigeria’s IT industry is a growing one but one that needs much support from the government. People in government need to wake up and realize that data collection and analysis is the only way to solve most of our problems. I still don’t understand why we don’t have a realize citizens database with full demographic analysis which should be the basis of determining how the federal yearly budget should be planned. What we end up doing is manufacture numbers from the top of our heads and wonder why the federal allocations is mismanaged at the end of the day. Even when this budget is being spent and allocated, we fail to collect real-time data on how government policies affect people on the streets. The IT industry needs to grow, but that growth needs to start from the government adopting the right IT systems.
What are some of your expansion plans?
While we are currently operational in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, we hope to be a pan-African free solutions provider, supporting several countries and giving fact-based advises on how to apply data analysis to real-life problems faced by Africans.
What are the major challenges you have faced since starting your business?
The major challenge has been government acceptability. Government leaders tend to think data analysis will expose their flaws; this is why we will continue training them so we can change this misconception. We need them to understand that a problem is 50% solved when you collect and analyse data linked to it.
How do you think the government can address some of these challenges and security challenges?
The most efficient way is to get more government workers and systems into the 21st century by setting up an IT training fund for government workers. They should be required to pick a field to study and try to look for ways to apply what is learned during the training to their job.
What is your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Most entrepreneurs go through a lot of emotions daily, trying to manoeuvre the challenges of being a business owner. My advice for my fellow entrepreneurs is to identify these challenges and try to discover the opportunities they present. Our challenges sometimes can become a gold-mine.
Appraise Nigeria’s campaign against COVID19 and tell us how technology platforms like yours can help.
The country’s only focus has been on testing at an abysmal rate and the lockdown that has been put in place for over 3months has not been well enforced thereby having very little impact on the spread of the disease while causing more economic collapse. With Stay-SafeNG, the government can basically kill two birds with one stone. Keep the economy functioning at an optimal rate and keep track of the spread of the virus.
Is the tech/ IT community really doing enough to help Nigeria’s poor health sector?
There are several IT health solutions that have been deployed by Nigerian developers, some of which has gained the attention of Venture Capitalists and this already shows that Nigerians are always looking for solutions to problems across all services, including the health sector. The only thing lacking is government support and acceptability.
From your experience, what you know about how other nations are using tech to fight COVID19?
Malaysia is using 3 different QR based applications to keep track of their Covid-19 infections has this has led to a sharp decline of new infections. Using similar applications like ours, they have been able to keep their daily new cases to single digits after recording as high as 250 cases per day before putting these systems in place. South Korea, Thailand have also developed and deployed similar applications while several European countries have also either deployed or are currently developing similar apps to help combat the Covid-19 virus.
Are the Nigerian authorities doing enough to collaborate with the tech community in the fight against COVID19?
Several people in the IT community have been trying to reach the authorities and offer different IT Solutions that can help in the battle against Covid-19 but I guess the notion or belief of the authorities is that since it’s a health-related issue, all the solutions should come from health workers. We hope they will give us a chance to prove that we can achieve more by working together on a common goal.
Can platforms like yours be run by the private sector should the public sector refuse?
It will be difficult to fully implement Stay-SafeNG app without government partnership because our data analysis program can only run based on input received from the NCDC. The main input is the phone numbers of infected individuals. So, while we could develop and deploy the application without the help of the government, we will definitely need their cooperation to make it work.