How Nigeria is using Virtual Reality to curb corruption

Many people think that Virtual Reality was created for gaming and entertainment but Nigerians have found a more valuable use of the technology.

Nigerian civil servants are now experiencing the consequences of corruption in education through the eyes of a Lagos schoolgirl, thanks to ‘Sherifat’s School’, a new virtual reality experience that drops the audience into the life of a girl called Sherifat.

Sherifat aspires to grow up be a top lawyer but her dreams are dealt a severe blow by corrupt officials and the decisions they take on the renovation of her school.

This leaves her in a poor learning environment and at risk of dropping out. Those experiencing the VR film can see what could have happened if the government officials had instead chosen to take a stand against corruption, and the difference that would have made for Sherifat and her friends.

The VR experience draws on a growing body of evidence that shows how VR can increase empathy in participants towards different subjects. It is being tested to see if it can help positively shape attitudes and behaviours towards corrupt activities within the education sector and lead to better outcomes.

Created by Step Up for Social Development and Empowerment in Nigeria (Step Up Nigeria) in partnership with VR 360 stories and supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the VR experience was rolled-out on March 10, 2021 with key government officials in the education sector.

“It’s important to draw a direct line between corruption and the impact it has on society, but we were keen to give a hopeful message too,” expounds executive director for Step Up Nigeria, Onyinye Ough.

“The worst outcome is for people to see the problem as beyond their influence and just give up. We want Nigerians in every role in society to see the importance of taking a stand against corruption and understand that they can make a difference. That’s what we want to see from these government officials too,” he notes.

Founder and Creative Director of VR360 Stories Joel Benson says that making Sherifat’s School VR story was a challenging and exciting experience for him and his team.

“It was important that the viewers were literally put in the shoes of a young child, experiencing the painful impact of corruption. Technically, we had to figure out how to achieve this – making the viewer the lead character. We were able to construct a special rig for the shoot which makes it possible for viewers to take the drivers’ seat and experience this film in the first person.”

Nigeria’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has slid to 149th from 136th, placing it among the bottom 20% of countries.

Step Up Nigeria started work in 2018  to improve citizen engagement in tackling corruption and in the delivery of public goods and services in Nigeria.

It builds on emerging evidence on how virtual reality can increase empathy including a Stanford University Study on homelessness from 2018 and broader work done by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.

MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. 

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