The Chief Executive officer, Basscomm, Mr. Demola Onanuga, speaks on working with undergraduates and grooming hackers to becoming millionaires. Excerpts
What stimulated the idea behind CodeFest Nigeria Hack Athon 2018 event you are holding this year?
CodeFest is the first of many and we are convinced that we can be a change agent. I have learnt that whatever a person gives attention to, oftentimes improves of which, innovation is one of them.
CodeFest gives us the platform to reach out young Information Technology (IT) enthusiasts’ people in our society. The event gives us the platform to give attention to the IT space and more attention to providing solutions. CodeFest is a vehicle with which you can add value to the society. If one looks at history during the industrial age when electricity was being discovered, it changes everything, also in California during the Gold Rush.
The internet also has the capacity to give a symmetrical growth, which means the growth is huge. So Nigeria, like any developing country can take advantage of this invention to provide what I term of shortcut,
“Shortcut to catch up on so many.”
We have the manpower and the resources. Intellectual and Intelligence quotient (IQ) is not a racial thing. It is available, but what happens most times is that the opportunity to harness it might not be available to all.
The opportunities people in the western world enjoy, unfortunately a lot of people in Nigeria don’t have it. We provide some of these opportunities in our own way which I believe somehow will change the face of things to some extent.
In the future, what we look forward to is the change becoming a reality. This is because, the moment people sees the first one works, they would be more open and willing to embrace it. In fact the interest and aspiration will double.
That effort is what changes the society; because when people begin to see that they can access things they begin to make more effort to raise the bar. Therefore, the quality of products and solutions will increase. That motivation and passion, that’s exactly where we are coming from. This event is a bit of change the world or change Nigeria. In our own little way, we will contribute to the advancement of our environment and IT space in Nigeria.
Who are the participants in this event and what are your reasons?
It is basically for undergraduates in tertiary institutions. CodeFest is a kind of event that brings innovators and enterprise in Nigeria together. This is a software coding and application contest across higher institutions in Nigeria where students come together and use technology to transform ideas into reality.
We chose students because they are the sample population who are smart, inspired and active. If one opens them up to the world, it is continuity for us. In future, we might let other categories of people come in, but we believe the students provide us with an inspired population.
Another reason is that, they are in a controlled environment which we can be part of. We want to be part of the solution. By the time they graduate, they are self-reliant with a genuine focus. One thing we notice is that education has been a little too dimensional in our environment. Its philosophy is to study hard, get good grade, and secure a good job when you graduate.
But, Hack Athon is saying while you are in school you can start to add value to the society and make good money. By the time they graduate it won’t be necessary for them to look for job. Two or three can come together to launch a big company providing solutions and known everywhere.
Just look at the transportation industry for instance, almost 5 billion people move from point A to point B daily. So, a student can create a solution that can help people to organize and streamline their daily activities. I seldom go anywhere without using my Google map, it has now become a social thing.
All these are things that are at play now, CodeFest has now come in to provide the opportunity to the students, by the time they graduate, and they are already well programmed and better equipped for the society.
Speaking of the students, do you have certain level you pick from?
No, the only criteria in choosing the participants is that, once they are students who have the knowledge about coding, they are free to participate by registering. The only thing they do is that we prequalify them by interviewing them to make sure they have the basis to code.
How about external students that are interested, is the offer to participate open to them or is it basically for Nigerian Students?
For logistics purpose, we have tried to make it for Nigeria undergraduates but the opportunity is also open to serving corps members and external students currently serving in Nigeria.
What are your plans for the students after the event in terms of follow up?
Absolutely, there will be follow up because some of the product that will be developed will be packaged. There’s going to be a continuous relationship between CodeFest and the teams. We will also be helping some of the people that have skill to get placement in various organizations for various projects and in various platforms.
Are you looking at organizing this event annually or will it just stop after this year and move on to another project?
This is a project that we are looking forward to organizing annually for now. But, by popular demand, we still can make it happen twice a year.
Earlier, you mentioned the idea of becoming a change Agent. How does this kind of event improve the economy of Nigeria and further boost the technological advan-cement in Nigeria?
CodeFest Nigeria, Hack Athon 2018 provide us with an opportunity to have products that are able to secure your key presence from hackers. Let’s me cite an example; about few months ago, we also fall victim, our website and email were hacked and fraudulent activities took place.
So, when I talk about being a change agent by adding value to our society, many of these acts had befallen different organizations in which they had suffered so greatly from. Out there, a lot of things are happening to the banks and bigger companies. Of a truth, Cyber security is a massive business. It is huge.
That’s just one; there are many others, in terms of providing solutions. You can sit in UNILAG and sell your product all over the world. For instance, Karpesky Anti Virus is a Russian product known all over – these are products people and organizations are always in need of.
According to the event tag “CodeFest Nigeria, Hack Athon 2018”, and one of the sessions is learning to code. As a layman, won’t he take it as an opportunity to learn to hack for selfish interest, how can you clarify that?
There is no need; we want to catch them young, it’s an advertising strategy. Let them come with the intention; it is our responsibility to sit them down and teach them what is right and essential to learn. Whenever you want to grab peoples’ interest, help direct them to build them up.
I mean, why do you want to hack negatively, when you can hack ethically and make money. You not only make money but you will succeed by adding value to the society.
Speaking of Cyber Security, what do you have to say about cyber security in Nigeria?
Cyber security is a fast growing environment in the IT space. This is because; when one looks at the internet space, more people are getting online and more transactions are carried out in the cloud daily with lots of applications.
Due to this known fact, there will a lot of opportunities for more people to play pranks; this also gives us the opportunity to stop them.
How do you think Government can advance Nigeria technologically and also protect its Cyber world?
The government is already getting involved, also some state governments are now involved in schools coding program. Am aware of Lagos state government involvement in this area, which is basically to set people on the right direction.
The government will continue to try, but the real massive development often times have to be private sector drill. Government is best with policy, Government is best at creating enabling environment to encourage people to go in that direction.
The real effect belongs to the private sector. It’s got to be private drilling because there are opportunities embedded within, government does not need to enter into it. The only thing they want to do is to collect tax.
I learnt BASSCOMM is the organizer of the event and that the organization has been in existence for over 24 years, of which you recently celebrated the organization’s 24 years of consistent innovation. What is the secret of remaining relevant and standing strong in the industry, what has kept you?
There is no secret. Seriously, it’s being challenging like every other things, it all started with a vision. The people that started BASSCOMM had a vision that this business will outlive them. The vision is an anchor. When the environment storm came, the vision kept us going because we wanted this vision to outlive us, we kept going at it.
During those years what we did was, we delayed gratification. Instead of buying cars, we bought more computers and invested more in the business. The vision drove us. Remember the longevity of any organization has to start with a vision and how far one what to take it. Once one has that, success is sure.
This is 21st century and the world is currently experiencing technology shift at a very fast rate. How have you being able to leverage ton technology to improve your service discharge?
We see technology as a way of life. For instance, I want to eat now, I will just go to Jumia Foods and that is technology. Everything now is technology. We have immersed ourselves in technology, we also think technology.
As a matter of fact, generations being born now are very technology-savvy. Anybody that is going to remain relevant has to understand that, technology now is a platform to take off. To improve our service discharge, we built around technology because that is the society we have now.
What are your expectations in the science and technology industry this year?
For the environment, I expect more entrants into the IT markets, more growth, and more customer adoptions of technologies. If CodeFest is able to produce one or two solutions, I look forward to more people adopting the solutions.
You can see Fintech is already happening in Nigeria. One doesn’t necessarily need to go to a bank, with the help of some applications, banking transactions can be carried out. Also communication had been made very easy and stress-free with the help of Android phones. This is affecting every aspect of our lives and that is what I see. I see more of it in acceleration, because technology for technology’s sake doesn’t do anything for anybody until I use it, you use it and everybody uses it before the benefit becomes exponential. The benefits society can derived from technology are numerous.
What are the challenges of technology these days?
Power, infrastructures and regulations are the major challenges of the technological environment in Nigeria, Infrastructure essentially. More so, user adoption is another thing because some people are still resistant to change. Like every other thing, every challenge will gradually be surmounted to bring in more opportunities.