There are critical sectors that help a nation grow. They are health, education, agriculture, manufacturing and trade. Interestingly, the youth is the underlying demographic dynamic behind this sector set. When you have a healthy, educated young population that set their mind on innovations to support agriculture, manufacturing and trade, there is no limit to the quantum leap the nation in question shall achieve. This point must be noted in our relationship with richer nations. If you say you are our friend, then you should be able to help us boost these critical sectors, while positioning the youth to lead the way.
Last week, at the closing ceremony of the French Embassy’s Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects in Abuja, a clearer picture of France’s intervention pattern began to emerge. To be specific, one remembers the words of the wise man, Lao Tzu – founder of Taoism – who said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Recall that last year, the French Government awarded €150,000 research grants to indigenous researchers from five Nigerian universities. Each of them got €30,000 to support innovative projects under “Research in Health, Innovation, Information and Artificial Intelligence.” The implementation phase was to last for 18 months and is expected to have final outcomes that must be sustainable and replicable to the larger scale of the nation.
The University of Lagos project is titled, “A telemedicine approach for equitable access to quality eye care in remote rural areas of Lagos, Nigeria”; the University of Ibadan project is, “Gestational Blood Sugar Tracker: An innovative method for the detection, prevention and treatment of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus ”; the Obafemi Awolowo University project is, “E-health systems for strengthening health literacy, promotion, screening and health care access for population groups in Osun State”; the Bayero University Kano project is titled, “Detection of Malaria parasite in Blood Smear Microscopy using Artificial Intelligence”; while the University of Jos project is titled, “Web-based Malaria Information System.”
So, at the Abuja event, the Nigerian researchers who benefitted from the programme gave a report of their progress so far. It was encouraging to note that they have been able to, not only carry out the research project, but organise themselves in a way that has a potential to catalyse an innovative surge in the country’s tertiary education sub-sector, as it concerns research and development. In fact, the BUK Kano delegation testified that the French money they got has opened the door for other grants which they will use to scale up and diversify their research work. The University of Lagos team said it has executed its own work in such a way that it could be duplicated in many other locations nationwide.
The UNILAG project is a telemedicine innovation which utilised the grant to provide access to eye-care services in the remote rural villages of Lagos. The grant was used to develop and install portable, user-friendly telemedicine applications and video conferencing systems for remote consultation, diagnosis, and treatment of eye diseases in identified rural locations in Badagry, Epe, and Ikorodu. This serves difficult-to-reach citizen groups that are experiencing barriers to accessing eye-care. Therefore, it is a model for the configuration of telemedicine services in rural areas of Nigeria, in order to bridge the gap in our country that has a ratio of one ophthalmologist to 50,000 citizens compared to the global standard of one ophthalmologist to 500 citizens.
Certainly, research and development is at the core of technology transfer and wealth creation. There are other niche areas the French government is injecting new life in Nigeria. It recently signed a MOU with the Lagos State government to develop the gaming ecosystem, aka esports. What many may not easily perceive is the core value of gaming, including potential to expand science and technology. A casual observation would reveal that video gamers today are a diverse band with all kinds of youth exploring the virtual world. Moreover, it appears esports also lead to diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math as kids mesmerised by games develop interest and enthusiasm for coding. This is huge in terms of job creation and entrepreneurship.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and French ambassador to Nigeria, Mrs Emmanuelle Blatmann, signed the Memorandum of Understanding enabling professional e-sports players in Lagos to go on a real-time online community and compete with players around the world to earn fortunes from the multi-billion-dollar industry. E-sports are organised competitive video games played in real-time and watched by millions of participants across the world. There are an estimated 42 million e-sports players in Nigeria, with Lagos boasting of a growing population of casual and competitive video game players, who invest resources to participate in online competition.
Not only did the French government sign an MOU with Lagos, but it also sponsored some Nigerian startups to attend the Paris Games Week last November – indigenous video game designers who were hosted as guests of honour in their own pavilion in Paris.
In a conversation with the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blatmann, I learnt that the French government has a goal to unleash talents in Nigeria and help them build the right structures in order to move up the ladder in a competitive world. She said they are engaging in a multidisciplinary approach because there are many potential for wealth creation in the African continent, where Nigeria is an undisputed leader. She revealed that they were giving tremendous energy and resources towards improving vocational education in Nigeria for job creation, while also looking towards adding value in the cultural and creative industry.
But for me, the most important interventions are the ones tailored for the environmental sector, three of which are worthy of mention. Last year, the French Development Agency, aka AFD, and the Bank of Industry signed a €100m credit line for the expansion of green finance in Nigeria. Then they signed a grant agreement for €2.5m delegated by the Green Climate Fund. The grant is designed to build the capacity of the BOI to provide tools for effective identification and development of eligible bankable climate-related projects as well as improving the readiness of the bank’s customers to implement green practices in their operations. In other words, Nigeria will be able to identify its own shares of the global green monies and harness them for critical projects.
The other eco-related French intervention is the $50m grant from the AFD to the Enugu State Government to expand water supply in the state. The state had said it intended to extend more than 100 kilometres of water pipes to areas in the state that lacked water supply, thereby tackling the perennial challenge of water supply in the state.
The third is in agriculture and food security. In February this year, the French Government and the Federal Government, represented by the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, signed an MOU for a grant agreement of €1.2 million to develop an effective strategy for improved agriculture and food markets. The AFD grant will finance a one-year technical assistance programme to assist the FMARD in the design of a national agriculture and food market development strategy. Also, the one-year study, which is to commence from Q1 2023 to Q1 2024, will look at the whole value chains market ecosystem from rural to urban areas, with a particular focus on the three largest urban consumption areas in Nigeria, including, Lagos-Ibadan, Kano-Kaduna and Owerri-Port-Harcourt.