Hi Onyekachi, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?
I am a 37-year-old documentary and mainstream filmmaker, Network Professional, Participatory Program developer, and campaigner who has been working with local communities in rural and urban Nigeria. Over my 10-year career, I have trained over 500 people from rural and urban communities to use low-cost innovative ICT tools to produce community-oriented audio-visual content and data which focuses on building capacity, creating awareness, improving advocacy, and sustaining nonviolent interactions. I can function effectively in a team, and I am proficient in the use and management of MS Windows operating systems, Macintosh Operating systems, data collecting tools, statistical analysis, and identifying project outcomes and indicators. I am also proficient in the use of Final cut Pro X Editing suites and GIS online mapping tools.
What is the landscape like for VR content creators in Nigeria?
The VR landscape in Nigeria is relatively untapped and underused. At first glance, it is primarily used for entertainment (cinema) in Nigeria, and even that is not common. In the developmental sector, NGOs and CSOs have barely scratched the surface of the true potential of VR for human rights campaigning and advocacy.
What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the VR industry.
I have been working with video for close to 10 years now. I was inspired to go into VR when I was approached by Al Jazeera to be part of the film crew for the development of the VR video “Oil in Our Creeks.” The VR potential I was exposed to got me thinking, particularly about trying to use it to further increase community voice, advocacy, and campaigns for a better, more inclusive society.
You’ve been training students on how to make VR, can you tell us a bit more about that?
We have been training young people living in slum communities in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. These trainings look to stir up innovations and ideas from these young people on the many ways they can use VR, such as developing market-ready tools for their economic empowerment and protecting their homes from forced eviction by the state government. The trainees are very enthusiastic and come together periodically to share ideas on possible projects to engage in.
What projects are you currently working on?
We look forward to developing videos on the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the informal sector and slum communities in Port Harcourt. We, however, have not been able to progress on this production due to the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown and the subsequent economic effects on not-for-profit organizations such as our Media Awareness and Justice Initiative.
What advice do you have for people interested in breaking into the VR industry?
My advice is simple: “think like there is no box.”
The VR industry creates great opportunities for programmers, filmmakers, and development workers to engage with their audience in a more realistic and engaging way. However, it is important that they look at video viewing options to ensure that their video reaches out to more people, considering the ‘not so widespread’ use of VR viewing tech in Nigeria.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?
The VR industry needs to create simple tools that can be used by people in rural and urban communities. The funds needed to buy VR cameras, editing tools, and viewing headsets makes them difficult to be used by people from poor backgrounds and homes. This expensive baseline makes it a bit unattractive to the rural and urban poor, thereby resulting in its low use ratio in Nigeria.
What were some of the largest challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?
The major challenge we face as an organization is the high cost of purchasing needed equipment for the development of VR videos. The price of a Nokia OZO is within the region of $5,000, which, coupled with the cost of a VR stitching and editing machine, makes it a real challenge. We also need funds to pay running costs to ensure that we are able to continue to engage and train young people.
As an organization, we try to use available tools such as the Samsung 360 camera and our computers to give young people a feel of what it is like to work and edit VR content. We know this is grossly inadequate, but we are trying to use our scarce resources to the best of our ability.
What’s your vision for the future of VR?
My vision is to see the use of VR in the development of key areas such as the communication, advocacy, and campaign sectors. For example, using VR tools for educational purposes, awareness creation, and business development. I also look forward to a future where VR tools are cheaper and more available to poor and marginalised groups. This will exponentially open up the technology to more innovative use.
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
My most important mentor has been the late Mr. Patrick Naagbanton. He had the opportunity to be a very wealthy man, yet he chose to work for the poor. His passion to use available resources to protect and campaign for people’s rights and inclusive development has continually been a source of inspiration to me. After my training in computer science at the University of Port Harcourt, I was at a crossroads. What was I going to do with myself? He approached and asked me if I would like to start using my love for visuals to work for marginalised groups and communities. The sound of that was a bit odd, as it took me away from the programming component. However, I gave it a try, and I have been doing it ever since.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I developed the Media Awareness and Justice Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organization that builds the capacity of young people to use innovative technologies for empowerment, development, and increasing community voice of marginalised groups and communities. Since we’ve set up the project, we’ve trained over 400 people. Some students have moved, been able to go abroad to learn, and then come back and employ their new skills. Even while working for profit, they’re also giving back to society. We are currently working with about 120 young people pulled from 30 communities across Rivers State, Nigeria. We hope that this will provide us with potential partners that will be able to supply us with equipment or fiscal support to ensure that we are able to use VR to impact Nigeria in a positive way. We are primarily dependent on donor support.
Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
“Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.”
If you have decided to do something, then it is imperative that you do that thing to the best of your ability. Who knows what positive effects will come out of it to change the world for the better?
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