On Using Digital Tech to Drive Mental Health Advocacy
The Nigerian software ecosystem is considered by many to be Africa’s technological Polaris. It is the largest, and arguably the most talked-about tech industry on the continent. And for good reason; Nigeria has the numbers, population-wise. But there is an age-old problem hindering it from genuine greatness: The systems that should nurture it seem to be hell-bent on stifling its progress. Yet, young people are striving every day to make it work, regardless.
Justice Otuya is one of these strong-willed youths.
Justice fell in love with computers in university. Something he feels is as a result of flunking his Economics degree. When Economics didn’t work out, he took on odd jobs and saved up for a personal computer. Once he bought it, he decided to give school a second chance. He enrolled for a post-graduate degree in computer science. Although the program did next to nothing for his career, considering the many setbacks in the educational system, he has not looked back since.
Like most young techies in Nigeria, he learned basic coding on his own, using internet resources, and then he moved to Lagos. While here, he continued to garner knowledge and experience, tapping into the networking power of the blossoming Lagos tech ecosystem. “My desire greatly improved when I was put in charge of the programmers who were building an app for the company I previously worked for. I am now 11 months into my career as a software engineer,” he says.
In March 2019, Justice saw an Enye ad on Facebook calling for applications. At first, the offer seemed too good to be true, yet he did research and reached out to members of the previous cohort. Satisfied with their feedback, he applied. How could he pass on the opportunity to learn at—and work with—international tech companies?
Tech people in Nigeria dream of such affiliations: international standard. They wait, sometimes for years, to be summoned by luck and opportunity. Enye has brought that dream closer to reality; just be ready to put in (lots of) work. “The challenge was to learn new technology on-the-go while building our MVP for the first stage; I had to learn as fast as possible,” Justice says.
Once accepted into an Enye cohort, every developer is expected to work on a project that will cater to a pressing societal need. Justice was part of the three-man team that built Help me, an online platform seeking to promote mental illness awareness, foster conversations around mental health, link therapists to patients, and form a support system for affected people.
The spiking suicide incidence in the country is bothersome. “The country is hard enough as it is,” Justice says, “and most Nigerians need therapists even though they will vehemently deny it. We want Help Me to be that safe place where the stigma that comes with being mentally ill will is absent.”
About having to work with other developers remotely, Justice says, “Enye taught us teamwork, we became really good friends.”
Help Me is yet to fully kick-off, but it has begun with zest here (https://teamhelpme-app.herokuapp.com/). Justice and his team will reach top gear as they keep acquiring more skills.
Things haven’t always been smooth, but these days, Justice is full of hope for the future. Working with Enye has turbocharged his career, even with the small things. “I redid my CV and have gotten interview offers,” he says, “I now translate what I learned to my workplace and earn a significant side income via the [international] internship. This is just the beginning.”
Software tech in Nigeria is experiencing phenomenal growth regardless of the setbacks. Justice believes that young people must find a way to solve societal problems despite government’s bothersome indifference to the educational and tech sector. “Tech [must be] at the forefront of [every] thing good in Nigeria,” he enthuses.
“Startups by Nigerian techies will continue to surmount the odds, right, left and center and there will be more funding, no matter what. Enye is building engineers and giving them skills to level up to international standards. Enye will be a household name very soon and I am certain of it.”