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Nigeria: Artificial Intelligence to the rescue?

By Bola BOLAWOLE turnpot@gmail.com

Each time some Christians pray against 666 or the mark of the beast, I laugh! If God has said it will happen, it will happen; prayer or no prayer! Otherwise, we make God a liar! The best anyone can do is, read the prophecy with understanding and chart a course for yourself! What can we do to escape it? And in the event that we fail to escape 666, what remedy is there for us to still make good our salvation? Praying that the prophecy shall not come to pass appears to me like if anyone had prayed that the prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah should not come to pass. Trying to abort the occurrence of the mark of the beast will, in my view, be as futile as the efforts of Herod to abort the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his Messianic assignment.

Tell me, in today’s Nigeria, if the Beast suddenly emerges with a pyramid of bags of rice behind him and piles of Naira notes on his left and right hand side, will Nigerians not throng him to receive the mark so as to get a piece of the action? The rapid advancement of technology also makes it imperative that the coming of the Beast may just be around the corner. Who would have thought it possible, in 1960 when Nigeria got its Independence, that one can send or withdraw money without entering the banking hall? Or that banks without buildings were possible? Today, we can withdraw cash from ATM machines with our fingerprints! How far away are we from 666?

The awesome advancement in technology should convince anyone that anything is possible. We now drive cars that carry no engine and that do not run on petrol or diesel. We have robots that look like humans – unless you were told, you may hardly notice the difference. These robots have an IQ that competes with humans and can perform human activities more efficiently. Ask ChatGPT and such other platforms any question and you will be amazed at the response you get.

I began to ruminate on these a few days ago when I got the information about the formation of a National Association of Artificial Intelligence Practitioners of Nigeria (NAAIP). Formed on April 29, 2024, NAAIP has Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, the immediate past vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, as its foundation president. NAAIP’s press statement speaks for itself:

“The National Association of Artificial Intelligence Practitioners (NAAIP) was founded… as a high point of the graduation ceremony of 931 participants drawn from the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across Nigeria, that participated in a 13-week rigorous training on the use of Artificial Intelligence to support teaching, research and community engagement. The NAAIP drew its membership from the graduates of the course as the recognized chartered members of the Association.

“On the 6th of May, 2024, the pioneer executive officers were democratically-elected in a keenly-contested election (and they) will steer the (affairs of the) association toward its mission of advancing AI education and practice across Nigeria… Most of the foundation officers are former or serving Vice-Chancellors, Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and other highly-placed officers in the Higher Education sector…”

Ogunbodede, during the ceremony, expressed deep appreciation to the Visioner and founder of NAAIP, Emeritus Professor Peter Akinsola Okebukola (OFR), who is also the Facilitator-General of the Virtual Institute for Capacity Building in Higher Education (VICBHE) that conducted the AI course that produced the Charter Members of the Association. He added that the establishment of NAAIP is another testimony to the giant strides taken by Okebukola as he continues to contribute meaningfully, on many fronts, to the development of education globally. Okebukola was a one-time Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC).

Speaking further, Ogunbodede said the use and dominance of AI has become unstoppable. “As it continues to evolve, its effect will shape the future of the global economy and Nigeria has been put at an advantage with the inauguration of NAAIP”. He pledged the support of the Association to the Federal Government in its bid to establish a national strategy and develop a road map to harness the potentials of AI for the overall benefit of the Nigerian society and the economy. He called on the Federal Government to aim at positioning the country as a leading AI hub on the continent of Africa.

“NAAIP will support the Federal Government in its noble objectives and will also support researchers, educators, developers and AI enthusiasts to collectively provide quality service that will increase production and productivity of governance in all sectors of the economy”, he said, adding, however, that “as promising as AI technologies are, with its myriad strengths and opportunities, it has weaknesses and threats (and) to ameliorate these negative attributes, NAAIP will promote the ethical practice of AI and ensure its responsible use in our society”

NAAIP, he said, would promote advocacy and policy development to shape regulations and guidelines that promote the responsible and equitable use of AI, support research on AI matters, and strengthen education at all levels in the country. It will also enhance the provision of educational resources to accelerate understanding of AI technologies and their impact on the society; develop ethical frameworks and best practices to guide the development and deployment of AI systems in a manner that prioritizes safety, fairness, transparency, and accountability, collaboration and networking among AI professionals, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to foster innovation and knowledge exchange.

My interest was further aroused when the NAAIP press statement by its publicity secretary, Professor Nkechinyere Nwokoye, hinted that membership was open to individuals, organizations, and institutions “committed to advancing the ethical development and deployment of AI technologies”. He listed the benefits to members to include continuous capacity development, networking opportunities and access to educational resources. The Association will work hand-in-hand with the Virtual Institute for Capacity Building in Higher Education (VICBHE) for its training programmes; it will also engage in National and International collaborations with organizations having similar aims and objectives.

I feel a compelling need for a wider section of the Nigerian literate community to be aware of the formation of NAAIP and the limitless opportunities of AI now brought to our doorsteps. Reading a portion of the press statement where Okebukola was quoted as describing the establishment of NAAIP “as another veritable evidence that Nigeria is the leading country in Africa in terms of educational development”, I paused and took a deep breath! Describing NAAIP as “a veritable vehicle that WOULD help make Nigeria the leading country in Africa (and beyond) in terms of educational development” is a more believable proposition!

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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