I usually don’t like to comment or talk about political issues, neither do I like to give strategies based on hindsight, because let’s face it, hindsight is nowhere near as valuable as foresight, but the recent coronavirus pandemic, and the manner in which it was handled in Nigeria has birthed a simple conclusion; Nigeria needs Design.
The beauty of Design is less in the product (even though they are beautiful), but in the process itself. Design is a holistic approach to problem solving that involves empathy (understanding the users, stakeholders, and all those who will in one way or the other interact with the solutions you create), problem definition (Finding out what the problem really is), ideation (Engaging a multidisciplinary team, or in this case giving all relevant stakeholders a seat on the table), prototyping (creating a low cost and easy to create version of your solution), testing (Running time bound trials with the prototype created), and finally iteration (learning from the results obtained from those trials, finding areas that don’t properly align with the users or stakeholders, fixing them, and reiterating them to birth better solutions to problems).
The idea behind democracy is simple; we can’t have 200 million people sitting in a chamber in Abuja and giving their opinions on national matters and issues that concern them, so we gather those 200 million people, and instead of stuffing them into an overcrowded chamber, we give them voting cards and tell them to choose 469 people from their various constituencies that they believe can adequately represent them. We give those representatives 4 years to prove their worth, if they don’t deliver, we kick them out and put someone else, if they do deliver, we give them another 4 years, and it goes on and on like that.
The real idea behind democracy is simply this; everyone should have a say on issues that concern them.
The Coronavirus pandemic outbreak in Nigeria was not handled in a ‘Democratic’ manner.
The purpose of this article is not to castigate or praise any political party, allegiance or ideology, but to outline what the ‘Present’ Government can do to mitigate the economic damage that has been meted out to a good number of Nigerians because of a copy and paste approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic called ‘Lockdown’.
How Design can Save the Day.
So let’s rewind the clock and paint a picture of what a design driven approach to the coronavirus pandemic would have looked like.
The Government gathers their top advisers to a strategy meeting. The premise is simple; there is a seemingly incurable virus on the horizon that has killed thousands of people globally, and we have recorded our first case. Someone lays down all the hard data; the death rate is around 2%, meaning this disease is not a fatal disease. It can be transferred through fluids from coughs and sneezes, but it isn’t Airborne. 2–14 days incubation period, some people could however appear to be asymptotic (showing no symptoms). Who are the most vulnerable? The elderly.
What are the options on the table? What have other nations facing this pandemic done? Some have introduced a concept called “A Lockdown.” where all economic activities in the country, or affected States are ground to a halt, or partial halt, to avoid movement and spreading the virus. How do those nations support their citizens? They are able to afford to feed people daily, and provide the basic amenities required to keep people alive and living well. Can we execute that? With the facts on ground, No sir. Why? Sir we lack the data to be able to properly distribute food items to people consistently and avoid those items getting into the wrong hands, corruption is also a major challenge, as those tasked with sharing those resources might as well keep them for themselves or chose to sell them to make a quick buck, and finally, I am nor sure we have the financial wherewithal to support such an agenda since oil prices have gone down, and we do not know how long this pandemic will last.
The problem then becomes; “How Might We curtail the spread of the coronavirus, while keeping any adverse economic effects at a minimum”.
A team of stakeholders from various fields are gathered to brainstorm a solution to the problem outlined above. Experts from Academia, Medicine, Economics, Politics, traditional heads, religious leaders, business leaders, Trade unions and groups are gathered to brainstorm a solution. Concessions are made; public gatherings above a certain amount that cannot be properly controlled are banned, all schooling and academic activity are on hold, Markets are shifted to smaller clusters were social distancing procedures can be properly enforced. Mandatory laws are passed that prohibit moving around in public places without a face mask and hand gloves. The Government supplies hand gloves and face masks to Lower income households that can’t afford them.
Companies that can afford to embrace remote ways of working are encouraged to do so, transport services are given passenger carrying limits. New media services are inaugurated to curb the spread of fake news, rumors, and conspiracy theories.
This solution is tested over a 2 weeks time bound trial to observe the results.
On trial, it is observed that although people are satisfied with this solution, businesses that may be affected by the pandemic may need some form of financial bailouts to avoid going bankrupt and flooding the labor market which would have an adverse effect on the economy.
A reiteration occurs to make sure bailouts are placed on the table to allow businesses directly affected by the pandemic to be able to keep their respective jobs.
This is a design driven approach that could have been embraced to curb and reduce the resultant adverse effect on the economy that a lockdown would have caused, and also to try and arrest the spread of the virus.
What to do now.
Enough hindsight, now to move with foresight, what strategies can the government employ to soften and put an end to the economic side effects of the lockdown procedure?
Design is also the answer.
The problem the Nigerian Government is presently facing when it comes to handling the long-term economic repercussions of the lockdown and the pandemic itself is what we designers call ‘Wicked Problems’. Wicked problems are problems that are complex and require more than a linear process to resolve.
One of the ways to solve a wicked problem, is to engage systems thinking.
System thinking is an approach to problem solving that is based on breaking up problems into systems to gain a holistic view of the situation, knowing fully well that a tweak in any part of a system, will invariably instigate a change in another.
The truth is, the root cause of poverty is a lack of proper and quality education. That means a tweak in the quality of education will invariably affect poverty levels. This is no magic button, this is a long-term strategy.
The Federal Government has to use this opportunity to invest in its human resources. The vast majority of Nigerians are either uneducated, or poorly educated. The school system is based on delivering the ‘Minimum required Quality’, this is why people graduate from institutions of higher learning, and have no valuable skills to add value with.
The Government needs to invest in quality skills acquisition. Not the conventional ‘teaching people to make beads and bake cake’, but teaching the skills of the future. With oil prices dwindling, and the world gradually beginning to embrace clean energy, the coronavirus pandemic has given Nigeria an opportunity to do what it should have done a long time ago, we need to teach the skills of the future, we need to up skill our populace.
How to do so.
- Instead of importing people, or giving “.PhD holders.” These privileges, it is better we tap into the tech ecosystem already resident In Nigeria, and give opportunity to the young men and women all over Nigeria who are active members in the Nigerian tech space to facilitate this transformation.
- Create a system whereby those interested would be allowed to volunteer to teach valuable technology skills part-time in under served communities that are willing to learn.
- Those involved should be given some kind of compensation for their time.
- The Government should promote the program as a rallying call to ignite the patriotism of Nigerians to come together to fight a common cause.
If the Government can support this initiative, and really see it as a top priority, the up skilling of the general populace, to prepare Nigeria to be competitive and relevant in a world where technology is the new norm, we then may be able to use this coronavirus pandemic to our advantage, and birth the beginning of a new Nigeria.