Gbolade Bankole, PMP and VDT Communications Limited
Number of Hours Pledged: 1,000
SDGs Supported: #4 Quality Education, # 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Summary: Students at the Federal University of Lafia and nearby Nasarawa State University, Keffi in Nigeria have long struggled to complete their assignments without reliable internet access. “To do their research, some were traveling to the Federal Capital Territory Abuja,” 43 miles (70 kilometers) away, says Gbolade Bankole, PMP, senior network engineer at VDT Communications Ltd.
That’s a big barrier to the kind of inclusive and equitable quality education promised in U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 4. And the issue of affordable, reliable, high-speed internet access isn’t limited to Nigeria’s students. Approximately 25 million people in the country don’t have access to basic phone service—much less the internet, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the nation’s telecom regulatory authority. And only 6.6 percent of the rural population has online access with “good” quality and functionality, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).
Looking to close the digital divide, Bankole and other PMI Hours for Impact volunteers came together to launch a project that would “provide the opportunity to touch lives and make an impact.” The team began pitching in to bring high-speed broadband access to students, as well as government institutions and locals through the Rural Broadband Initiative. Launched by the NCC and Universal Service Provision Fund in 2010, the project provides subsidies to operators to establish broadband services for rural and semi-urban areas across the country.
As volunteers began work at the Nasarawa site, their main challenge was finding a location for internet hotspots that could deliver coverage for the university, nearby government institutions and the state broadcasting station, Bankole says. But the team devised a clever solution: “We used the Google Earth app to help us analyze a technical site survey,” he explains. They leaned into innovation in other ways, too. For example, when the team couldn’t lease a particular building that fit its parameters, it constructed a purpose-built bungalow for the project in just two months.
Bankole says that working with other Hours for Impact volunteers has helped him gain a better understanding of managing cross-functional team members—and their constraints. “I’m humbled to understand that some resources are not readily available to everyone, so I need to learn to use them judiciously,” he says.
The team has since created similar centers in Akure, Ijebu Ode, Offa and Otukpo, with 40 workstations that offer “24/7 uptime,” Bankole says. The spaces are designed to run for four years, after which the government will review the progress toward SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure).
The initiative is part of the first phase in plans by the NCC and Ministry of Communications & Digital Economy for the digital transformation of all the government institutions in Nigeria, Bankole says. Project leaders ultimately hope RUBI is a catalyst for other broadband-dependent projects, including e-libraries, e-health and e-government programs in underserved or unserved areas.
Meanwhile, ramping up internet connectivity is already delivering positive social impact for rural citizens—particularly students in Keffi, who might otherwise fall behind their peers. “I’ve seen them at the center, and they look pretty excited,” Bankole says, adding that they’re also looking forward to having free Wi-Fi and connectivity on site. And the tech is helping government workers, too—putting valuable time back on their calendars now that they “don’t have to do their work the old-fashioned way on paper.”
And that’s just a glimpse into how digital transformation could help Nigeria build a better future. According to A4AI data, people who have “meaningful connectivity” not only have better access to information, but are more likely to be economically active, socially active, politically aware and able to participate in developmental activities such as online learning, conducting business and managing finances.