The Lagos State government has pledged to support the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka in any way it can on its innovation challenge, named after the immediate past vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe.
The Innovation Challenge, which is domiciled in the Faculty of Science of the university and debuted in 2019, is organised for students in both public and private universities across the country.
The competition is to encourage students to be creative and innovative and come up with business ideas that can help bring meaningful solutions to the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria and its people.
Speaking at the grand finale of this year’s edition, which was the second in the series and held on Thursday at the main auditorium of the university, the Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, commended UNILAG and Prof Ogundipe in particular for coming up with the initiative, saying it is an investment in a right direction.
Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by the state’s Commissioner for Tertiary Education, Mr Tolani Sule, acknowledged that there are so many challenges currently bedevilling the country and that tackling them required problem-solved innovations and research activities.
He said he was particularly impressed that the competition is not only in tandem with pillar three of the state’s government THEMES agenda, which is education and technology but also rekindling hope and strength and promoting collaborations among youths.
“So, Lagos State government will continue to support this vision in any way possible,” Sanwo-Olu emphasised.
In their own separate remarks at the event, Group Managing Director of Sahara Group, Mr Kola Adesina, who was represented by the CEO of Ikeja Electric, Mrs Folake Soetan, as well as an 81-year-old Professor Ayodele Ogunye, who was the Father of the Day, said Prof Ogundipe Innovative Challenge, is really a fertile platform to produce many future leaders in various fields of endeavours.
They said they would continue to support the initiative both in cash and kind while urging the university and Prof Ogundipe not to rest on their oars.
In her own remark, the Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, Prof Folasade Ogunsola, said since up to 70 per cent of about 223 million Nigeria’s population are youths and with no government job anywhere, it requires that universities produce graduates who can create jobs and also be employers of Labour.
She said that was why UNILAG is passionate about research and innovation, and entrepreneurial skills acquisition for its students irrespective of their disciplines.
She, however, urged the students to think outside the box, noting that they would need to strive to create jobs as nobody would do that for them.
Giving insight into the competition, the immediate past vice-chancellor of UNILAG, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, declared that the concept wasn’t his own idea but that of the students and some lecturers in the Faculty of Science but named after him as an honour for his exemplary contribution to the Faculty and the university at large.
He said they even went ahead to register with the CAC, a foundation in his name as a platform to drive the initiative and become a great legacy, noting that the competition started five years ago but halted temporarily due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the university workers’ strike.
Ogundipe, who is a multiple-award winning researcher and professor of botany, said up to a total of 947 applications from 199 teams and 50 proposals from students across many Nigerian universities were received this year.
He noted that only 10 teams were able to make it to the finals while half of the number scaled through to the finals.
According to him, three of the teams are from UNILAG and two others are from the University of Nigeria( UNN) and the Lagos State University(LASU) Ojo.
He pointed out that with this second edition, the competition would certainly be sustained and improved upon each year.
He thanked the panel of judges, who are a mixture of academics and entrepreneurs and also the companies and institutions for their support and commitment to the project, saying their contributions are unquantifiable.
Delivering a lecture at the event on the topic, ‘Empowering Tomorrow: Unleashing the Potentials of Gen Z for Disruptive Innovation’, the guest lecturer, Dr Victor Odumuyiwa, pointed out that Nigerian youths are not only resilenced and great thinkers who always want to break barrier but that lack of systemic support hindering their efforts.
He said that was why many economically active Nigerians rush to foreign lands for greener pastures whereas there are lots of untapped opportunities at home, urging government at all levels to provide an enabling environment for local investors to thrive.
He said many youths, especially within the Gen Z group(people born between the years 1997 and 2010) have great ideas they can turn to wealth as they love practical things more than theories but their impatience because they are in haste to escape poverty usually makes them to abandon their great ideas for immediate benefits.
He said certainly technology had revolutionalised economic activities globally and with the evolvement of artificial intelligence, only people who refuse to upgrade themselves with requisite knowledge and skills will be replaced by AI.
According to him, AI is a machine and will only complement and not replace somebody who is technology savvy.
The don, however, argued that there is nothing wrong if the university curriculum is designed to give room for flexibility whereby students, who can cope with their course load may not need to wait for four or five years before graduation.
Odumuyiwa, who is an acting Director, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) IT Hub (NITHub), UNILAG, commended the five finalists in the competition, urging them to remain focused on their ideas.
At the event, Team Neptune from UNILAG with a project on bioengineering emerged winner of the competition while Team Horizon from Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo and Team Ilucens, also from UNILAG, came second and third respectively and Tfree Team from UNN came fourth.
While the top prize winner received N1 million and will also go for free training at Opolo Global Innovation, the second, third and fourth positions got N750,000, N500, 000 and N100,000 respectively and all will also enjoy free training at the same Opolo Global Innovation, a talent promotion hub.