The astronomical rise in the enrollment figures, reaching over 21,740 students within a short period, and with over 1,800 active sessions at the last count, is a testimonial to the usefulness of the courses offered by the Academy, leading to their rapid uptake, as a way of filling the void created by COVID-19.

The disruptive outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has altered a lot of things and affected our socio-economic lifestyles in more ways than one. Globally, areas of human endeavour, from healthcare to sporting activities, have undergone tremendous changes in the last six months. One of the key essential human activities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak is education. Schools, from kindergarten to universities across the world, have had their gates shut to formal conventional learning. The implication is that students have had their schooling suddenly truncated and some other persons who desire going back to school for additional education, in the form of degrees or short courses, have no place to go to.

In addition to the truncation of our day to day activities, such as the pursuit of education, coronavirus has also rendered hundreds of millions of people redundant. By this redundancy, it means a lot of people are idling at home fighting boredom and trying to adapt to the new life of restricted movement and other protocols.

The experience of Nigerians is not any different from that of the wider world. The lockdown has affected Nigerians and disrupted our educational, business and social activities. The void left by the inertia that followed soon led to the manifestation of indolence and, in some perverts, social ills.

With every challenge, goes the saying, there is an opportunity. One opportunity that the coronavirus outbreak has manifestly shown to the world is that indeed the future is digital. Business transactions and government businesses are increasingly moving online. With the dangers of physical contact, technological solutions are evolving to simplify human interactions and keep the world going, in spite of the dreaded virus.

It is in light of the above scenario that one must appraise and appreciate the intervention of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), which is the government agency in charge of driving the development of information technology and regulating the Nigerian digital space.

True to its mandate of boosting digital literacy in the country, NITDA launched a free Virtual Learning Academy, to bridge the learning gap created by the outbreak of COVID-19. The platform is hosted in partnership with some of the biggest names in technology and modern education, including Microsoft, Oracle, CISCO, Huawei, and Harvard University.

Some 47 courses are offered by the virtual academy under three broad categories, which virtually cover all segments of the society. There are sections for students’ training, another for civil servants from government ministries and agencies, and another segment of courses for the general public.

The astronomical rise in the enrollment figures, reaching over 21,740 students within a short period, and with over 1,800 active sessions at the last count, is a testimonial to the usefulness of the courses offered by the Academy, leading to their rapid uptake, as a way of filling the void created by COVID-19.

It is with this in mind that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy gave the necessary guidance and support to NITDA to pilot the virtual learning programme. While launching the academy in a virtual event back in April, the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, hinted that with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, ICT skills and training have become a necessity for many services, including governance.

Pantami’s vision for his Ministry to use the window provided by the Virtual Academy to create a pool of trained and skilled youths; to encourage continuous learning at home; to build, upgrade and integrate the capacities of Nigerians; and bridge the gap between the academy and industry, is steadily being achieved, as evident in the enthusiasm for the programme that has been displayed so far.

The overall objective, as stated by the minister during the launch, is for the academy to add value to millions of skilled and unskilled Nigerians and prepare our citizens for the post-COVID-19 economy, in which technology is certain to play a major role. One key ambition that the ministry under Pantami has set out to achieve is to bridge the gap between various disadvantaged groups in the society, such as women, girls, the physically-challenged, and less-privileged.

The idea of the NITDA virtual academy is one of the pillars of enhancing the digital economy sector to further position Nigeria on the path to effective ICT development. This is an agenda being consolidated by the management of NITDA, as led by Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.

Thanks to NITDA, one can now surf from the comforts on one’s home and register for online coursesat the Academy, free of any cost. One can chose from an array of courses on offer and take lessons from professionals at a great and steady pace.

In tandem with the federal government’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020–2030), NITDA under Kashifu Abdullahi is widening its mandate around the promotion of digital literacy and skills, leading to novel initiatives like this virtual academy. As training and skills are the basic tools for knowledge acquisition, the NITDA academy is a needed stimulus for harnessing the inert talents in Nigerian youths and advancing these for national development.

Coming with his cognate experience and knowledge as an internationally trained IT expert, Abdullahi obviously has big dreams for NITDA and the IT ecosystem in Nigeria. As an insider during the immediate past leadership of the Agency, he has fully understood and internalised where it itches in terms of the mandate to advance the IT industry as a potential huge revenue earner for the country. But for you to earn, as the maxim goes, you have to spend. This is reason for the investment in the virtual academy, in order to deepen the knowledge and skills of Nigerians.

In effect, the creation of the NITDA Virtual Academy is one that kills many birds with a stone. First, and most important, is the dissemination of knowledge and building of the capacity of Nigerians in key IT related areas. Secondly, partaking in the courses on offer keeps participants away from idleness and irresponsible actions. The programme also helps to stimulate the country’s IT sector to up its game by through increased learning as a way of staying relevant in an increasingly competitive world.

While the meteoritic increase in the figures of students for these courses is gladdening and reassuring, one must note that the figures are still no where near the academy’s projections. More Nigerians need to come on board this initiative. While NITDA has been doing a lot to publicise the existence of the institution and encourage potential students to sign up to the courses, it is apparent that Nigeria has all it take to lead digital innovation, at least in Africa. With the current leadership at NITDA and the Communication and Digital Economy ministry, this is an achievable dream.

Mubarak Umar, a staff of NITDA, writes from Abuja.