Fellow Nigerians, let me say emphatically that nothing travels faster than bad news. We were all enjoying our supposedly tranquil country, with the equanimity of mind that comes from being a long-suffering people bedevilled by man-made problems, when suddenly all hell broke loose two days ago. It is usually in our character to treat serious issues very lightly and with criminal levity. That was the case with the corona virus brouhaha as the beginning of denouement of tackling this harbinger of death travelled across the world. While most countries prepared for the worst-case scenario, Nigerians and their leaders carried on as if they are invincible and have death locked up in their pouches, like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I guess we’ve always been very lucky with our carefree, cavalier and oftentimes lastminute.dot.com attitude and approach to life. Well guess what, the chicken has finally come home to roost and the corona virus or COVID-19 as it is also referred to internationally has finally arrived on our shores surreptitiously and unwittingly, just like the Ebola Virus a few years ago. We were lucky then, that our meagre and inferior resources managed to contain what would have become a national tragedy of monumental proportions.
We must constantly commend the bravery of the late Dr Ameyo Adadevoh who singularly ensured that Nigerians beat the Ebola Virus scourge by taking several heroic measures. These steps included resisting the pressure and overbearing influence of the Liberian Ambassador to release, the Liberian carrier, Patrick Sawyer, so that he could attend a conference. She also inventively created a makeshift isolation unit for Sawyer by using wooden barricades and continued to treat him, despite the absence of protective equipment or any manual about how to respond to the virus beyond what she had personally learnt from educating herself. I salute once again an amazing woman, an Amazon of the medical profession and a stellar Nigerian who will forever be listed in the pantheon of Nigerian greats.
Back to the corona virus and our significant lack of preparation and defences to fight this medical calamity once more. I remember landing in Ghana some weeks ago. I was stunned by the level of preparedness at the airport. My God, there was nothing like bigmanism, the queues were painfully long and incredibly frustrating. But we were all politely patient and nobody complained as it was obvious this could be a matter of life and death, if care is not taken and the great attention to detail that we were witnessing was not enforced. Sorry, if I’m always giving kudos to the people and government of Ghana on occasions such as these. Truth is Ghana deserves the encomiums and adulations I pour on its people and government. I readily admit that Ghana is far from being perfect and it is a much smaller country to govern than our beloved Nigeria. But Ghana has very limited resources which it has managed more prudently, than we have managed our humongous resources and potential. What has largely helped Ghana is discipline. That same discipline is what was on display when I arrived at the Kotoka International Airport and was subjected to a rigorous scanning process to ensure that incoming passengers do not have symptoms of the corona virus.
There is nothing wrong in acknowledging an African country that is doing its best against all odds. Africa has a lot to learn from Ghana. I first encountered Ghana about 25 years ago and I can safely say I’m still very impressed with the quality of life in education, Medicare, infrastructure, security, tourism, electricity, and so on in the country. I have seen Ghanaian governments come and go, but the country has been largely blessed with cerebral and visionary leaders who have maintained the course and even improved the fortunes of their people and counntry. You can say Ghana’s economy is poor compared to other countries, but Ghana has managed its poverty well. The worst of Ghanaian leaders would easily be the best of leaders in most African countries.
I have gone through this preamble to demonstrate why Ghana is always ahead of many other African countries. When the Ebola virus broke out in a few West and Central African countries, Ghana immediately set up a very sophisticated testing system at its international airport. Till this day, it is a must to go through electronic screenings at Kotoka International Airport, Accra. In most other African countries including Nigeria, we were told the sophisticated equipment were ordered, but it seems that they were never delivered and certainly, as in the case of Nigeria, they were never deployed. Those that were delivered, and I won’t bother commenting on the standards, have long since been disbanded, dismantled and discarded. In any event, I consider that from disuse and lack of proper and constant maintenance, they have become relics of a distant past, even though not so distant. Ghana never indulged in such misadventure.
The efficiency at Ghana airports is of International standards. Not just that. Their data collection is superb. At the Immigration desk, finger-printing machines, as well cameras, are well positioned. You don’t have to take your passports to two different counters, thus saving some time. I have never been able to rationalise the basis for such procedure in Nigeria. Security, scrutiny and scanning of passengers is normally an unobtrusive and confidential process by the security agencies of other countries. As it is, you immediately know the identity of these supposed spooks of the DSS. How bizarre and crude! On the health and safety front, germicides and hand sanitisers are provided for you to cleanse your hands and fingers. Even the Customs’ desks provide gloves and so on.
My epistle today is therefore of a social service nature. How can my dear beloved people of Nigeria support our government at this dangerous hour? If we choose to play politics with the corona virus, it may prove fatal and calamitous for thousands of our impoverished and ill-cared for people. I have been contacted by friends from Israel and South Africa who seem to know what to do in the present circumstance.
Let me begin with the information I received about OPERATION CHRISTOPHER. “Christopher is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that offers deep marketing, consumer/citizen engagement and research services. It is a sophisticated real-time data-profiling platform with the ability to profile target audiences and analyse the information. Christopher enables private and public organisations to respond with accurate, hyper-personalised messages to relevant consumers when it is relevant to them by engaging in relevant conversations in real-time on social media platforms.
In South Africa, Christopher is currently using Social Listening to detect huge discourse on social media about the Corona virus. Christopher then replies to these questions and concerns by engaging in these conversations to provide citizens with safety tips, food health tips, travel tips etc.
In a period of 1 week, Christopher served replies to over 2.8 million South Africans addressing their concerns, queries and providing guidance on Corona virus. We are yet to see anything of this magnitude in Nigeria even when, as I write, the founder of Christopher is in Lagos. If needed and necessary, our authorities should reach out to the 25 years old genius who conceived of this wonder solution.
There’s no doubt about the wizardry of these superlatively gifted guys. Christopher was provided with all the information relating to Corona virus as available on the health insurance website which was loaded onto the software. Using Artificial Intelligence, the software responds to queries on social media by extracting relevant information in a personalised manner. This has helped provide more accurate and timely responses to citizens’ concerns and queries beyond the traditional media approach. This is the power of Christopher technology using AI to tap into consumers micro moments and conversations to deliver mass personalisation.”
Now to my friends in Israel. From Israel comes this unique technology which evolved from the current state of the worldwide pandemic crisis that the corona virus potentially represents. Clearly, it is only a matter of time before COVID-19 is declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. There is no doubt that it is causing major global concern. With globalisation taking people across trans-national borders as has happened globally, leading to the first confirmed case of the Italian who flew through Turkey, before landing in Lagos and travelling to Ewekoro in Ogun State, COVID-19 is spreading at an unprecedented alarming rate. The main risk factor for the corona virus spread is difficulty in tracking down potential points of disease transmission and dispersion. Investigators for the World Health Organisation are struggling to chase down the path of infected travellers before they come in contact with healthy individuals around the world.
The Israeli model for preventing corona virus is well developed and is one that can be purchased as soon as popossible. As the literature on the system which is known as Columbo goes:
“In order to aid countries to minimise the risk of corona virus entering through its country’s borders, we recommend the customer to use Columbo system which provides location history (accurate up to devices GPS capabilities). As an investigation and intelligence system, Columbo allows for crossovers of relevant locations and timestamps to quickly locate potential infectious individuals. Use cases on this system’s functionality within the current situational threat are presented below:
1. Identifying individuals that were present within a country that appears on a defined “Risk List” and are present in the country as well as present in the country within the 14-day range since leaving the risk country.
2. The routes taken by risk individuals while they were within the country (locations as well as the frequency of visitations to each location), which can then be automatically displayed on a map within the system’s GUI (i.e. Heatmap)
3. The system can cross-reference between individuals that visited countries of risk and whether they adhered to quarantine after returning to the country (quarantine identification: defined as one location with XX meters of movement)
4. Identifying 1st and 2nd degree circles to outline associates of risk populations within the country. 1st degree circle includes individuals that have come within 2 meters risk population and 2nd degree being those that have come within 2 meters of the 1st degree circle.
The system is not fool-proof and comes with drawbacks which the literature highlights.
• Because collection is within the country, we can get only the country roaming subscribers who came from pre-defined countries.
• Limited collection due to timeframe and budget – best effort.
• Prerequisite of open GPS
• Prerequisite of individuals having used applications while they were staying in the country.
• The system is not guaranteed to identify all individuals that are present within
a designated location at a specific timeframe.”
Even Canada has an Emergency Alert system which I am aware is being offered to Nigeria by some entrepreneurs willing to collaborate between the Canadians and Nigeria. This system would effectively gather pertinent and relevant information and news for dissemination locally or nationally as required. It would practically eliminate the menace of fake news and its attendant scare mongering.
I always try to give praise where and when it is due. Our leaders should learn to engage with their people in a positive manner. It is heart-warming that Governor Dapo Abiodun represents the kind of progressive, forward-thinking and proactive leaders that we need in Nigeria today. The candour with which he has dealt with the presence of the corona virus in Ogun State, the limitations, inadequacies and lack of preparedness that he recognises are faced by his State and his willingness to co-operate with States and agencies to immediately contain the spread of the virus and the urgent and viable steps taken in this regard are significant and admirable and laudable.
My take is that we do not have to reinvent the wheel when we have systems like Christopher and Columbo available to assist our efforts. We can see and purchase what is readily available…