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Deconstructing Malice Campaign Accusation Preferred Against Okowa

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By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

In the words of Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America (USA), the experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself—always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested in adversity.

In like manner, evidence abounds, if only sought for, that in every democratic setting, there are clear thinkers, muddled thinkers and people that fall in between. Clear thinkers are the ones that can cull everything down into the right points-are very hard to find. But if you get yourself a team of clear thinkers, the possibilities are endless. These are men who see tomorrow, trailblazers and high-level executives, but most often misunderstood by some fellow countrymen still stuck in the old normal of yesterday.

Ifeanyi Okowa, the incumbent Governor of Delta State, without any shadow of the doubt, fittingly falls into the bracket of a clear thinker. But like the case of every clear thinker, he is currently misunderstood by some fellow countrymen still stuck in the old normal of yesterday.

A typical instance to support this assertion is the recent drama and accusations in the ruling party in Delta State, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by some councillors of the party from Delta Central Senatorial District that he is trying to push them to vote for his choice in the forthcoming governorship primary to choose the party’s flag bearer.

According to the post, the Governor is using the instruments of government and instructed them to support his supposed preferred candidate, the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevworio.

On the first thought, the above narrative seems like a reality. It looks alluring to believe particularly as the nation braces up for the general elections; a period where like war, all is considered fair; where and when political players welcome every opportunity to continually dig the mud in search of political gold.

At this level, there is no single cause of conflict. Rather, conflict becomes context-specific, multi-causal and multidimensional and can result from a combination of the following factors which include but are not limited to the issues of mutual distrust, suspicion, prejudice and name-calling.

In Delta State, such development/occurrence is exacerbated by the feudalistic and oligarch nature of a power bloc/section of the state and collaborated by this power-hungry gladiators’ incapacity, sincerity and lack of trustworthiness to negotiate and resolve contentious issues without resorting to the present political gimmicks.

But beyond this peripheral prism, there exists something deeply troubling with this latest slant, scant and calculated accusation paddled against the person of the Governor.

Aside from wilful refusal to entertain alternative opinions through a number of credible sources of information openly and freely available in the public domain that might help produce a deeper understanding of the governor’s position on the matter, and their choice to focus on convenient untruth presented with a superficial, emotional and manipulative approach that is not worthy of our democracy, making the current development in the state a reality to worry about is that these accusers exploited a mixture of fear and propaganda among gullible Deltans and postured themselves as bold defenders of our state while weakening the foundation of our unity.

But for reasons that come in double folds, this piece is not surprised.

First and very fundamental, it is globally believed that when human beings develop a higher order of thinking, they gain the ability to conceptualize threats instead of just perceiving them. But they also gained the ability to conceptualize imaginary threats. And when groups of people are persuaded to conceptualize these imaginary threats, they activate the fear response as powerfully as would real threats.

This is the foundation of the present challenge.

For yet-to-be-identified reason(s), the Governor’s accusers appear to have activated a fear response as powerful as would real threats across the lengths of the state.

Qualifying the present attack as a crisis is an awareness that it is coming at a time when Okowa as a creative leader daily professes that the PDP, of which he is the leader in the state, has a policy of rotating the governorship among the three Senatorial Districts of the state for the purposes of equity and inclusiveness through equitable distribution of appointments and projects without influencing/interference with the process that throws up such beneficiaries.

In the same light, if there is any other reason as to why Governor Okowa will not indulge in the shenanigan as alleged, it is the fact that at no time in the history of our beloved Delta State have we been as united as we are today or witnessed such magnitude of trust of ourselves and of our state under the leadership of Okowa.

As we know, the state, to use the Governor’s words, is a microcosm of Nigeria because she is peopled by different ethnic nationalities. She has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions. She has had high unemployment and poverty rates. Luckily, successive governments of the state have tackled the issues in different ways, and I am building on the foundation they laid.

Looking at the above words coming from the Governor himself, it becomes obvious that there is no way he will join in destroying a house he assisted to build or take actions that will be inimical to the sustained peace in the state.

Instead of the present attack, name-calling and campaign of calumny against the governor, this piece holds the opinion that what the Governor needs is support and not vilification.

There are so many reasons that informed this decision; it ranges from Governor’s disposition to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the state to his superlative performance in infrastructural development of the state particularly in the areas of road networks.

To underscore this position, let’s listen to Okowa as he captured it during a recent function in Lagos; We have erected structures for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. They include the Office of the Special Adviser on Conflict Resolution and Peace Building and the Delta State Advisory and Peace Building Council with a membership of 42 (forty-two) respected men and women in various fields drawn from every local government area of the State. These structures have proactively prevented crises by promptly and effectively resolving disputes.

Continuing, he added that; We also have a deliberate policy to tackle youth unemployment through skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes. I believe that the way out of the unemployment quagmire is to equip the youth with the technical know-how, vocational skills, values and resources to become self-employed, as distinct from one-off empowerment.

This is what my administration has done by instituting various skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes, which include: Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP); Rural Youth Skills Acquisition Programme (RYSA);  Girls Entrepreneurship Skills Training (GEST); and  Women Entrepreneurship Skills Acquisition Programme (WESAP).

These programmes are trainee-centred and service-oriented. The sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises and cottage enterprises. Furthermore, the training and mentoring processes aim beyond raising entrepreneurs to produce leaders and managers that have high levels of personal responsibility and effectiveness. I am pleased to let you know that after six years of faithful implementation of these programmes, we have trained and given business support packages to several thousands of youths.

Following the success of these interventions and other efforts in promoting technical education, Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. Also in 2020, Delta was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The above efforts can only come from a Governor that is willing to save and serve his people.

On a final note, as the commentary continues, there are two striking attributes that stand Okowa out; first, well-meaning Nigerians are in agreement that he is a national leader that is well respected by all.

Secondly, he is among the few public office holders in the country that have played politics using global rules and dictates.

He is in the opinion of this piece exposed to the present attack not because there is an established link with the said allegation, but primarily because, the accusers feel that he occupies a public office and therefore, lacks the right to private living.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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How Standard of Living in Africa is Making Start-Ups Innovate Around Disposable Income

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By Otori Emmanuel

An organisation in its early phase of existence is referred to as a start-up. Entrepreneurs that desire to create a product or service think there is a market for launching start-ups. Because start-ups often have high startup costs and low revenue, founders frequently look for money from a variety of internal and external sources, including personal savings, loans from family and friends, business venture capitalists, and crowdsourcing. There are start-ups in different industries like Information Technology, agriculture, communication, health and other sectors.

Start-ups and Innovation

Establishing a start-up takes careful planning, including consideration of factors like business location, cost of goods or services, product packaging, and supply efficiency. Start-ups frequently run the risk of failing because of unfavourable environmental and industry conditions. Embracing new opportunities and focusing on innovation, among other methods, are accelerators for a business’ survival and growth.

Although, it is true that established businesses also frequently collapse. Technology has advanced throughout time, and many start-ups are combining the cutting-edge idea of tech into their respective fields.

For example, tech is now being used to improve education as in edtech, finance as in fintech, and more use cases are being introduced to daily activities. Statistics show that start-ups are expanding most quickly globally in the technology sector. Over the past few decades, Africa has seen an exceptional number of start-up generations.

The State of Start-ups in Africa

The phrase “start-up” became more common in the 1990s as the number of enterprises centred on technology and the internet rapidly increased.

According to an analysis, African start-up marketplaces hit historic heights in 2021 at over $4 billion, representing a nearly 20x rise since 2015. Start-ups have been increasingly popular in Africa due to various factors, including drawing on previous success stories from the west, attempting to address grassroots challenges, adapting global content to local quirks, and adhering to supportive policies. In terms of current economic events and cultural developments, numerous different facts are at play here.

In terms of living standards, the rate of extreme poverty in rural areas in Africa was close to 50%, which was far higher than the rate in urban areas, which was about 11%. According to the conference board’s Global Economic Outlook, the pace of global GDP growth will reach a recessionary level in 2023 after starting to decline from 3.1% in 2018 to 2.7% in 2022.

Africa has clearly also been impacted by the global economic downturn, which has resulted in a sharp decline in living standards, lower-quality goods, higher costs, and inflation. When prices increase generally, yet fewer goods are available for the same amount of money in an economy, this is called inflation.

When there is inflation, sources and forms of income are affected, from passive income to investment income to disposable income. Our focus here is the disposable income which is the money left to take home after tax and other deductions. Most households depend on disposable income for survival, and the trending inflation gradually steals from this income of an individual in the form of increased grocery prices and the cost of feeding. This has led to the term “sachetization”.

Startup business owners use this approach to satisfy declining demand and maintain operations. Sachetization is the idea of distributing products, which are typically sold in greater amounts, in smaller quantities using sachets in an effort to increase sales. Sachetization helps consumers purchase what they can afford. When only a small amount is required, consumers do not need to buy big quantities of the commodity. So far, this has appeared to be sustainable, with the exception of its drawbacks, where it has been observed that sachet items are of low quality, contain fewer items than is indicated, and even defraud the consumer into purchasing smaller packages when, in reality, a larger package would have been more appropriate.

Reduced disposable income has also affected start-ups in maintaining production costs, purchasing raw materials, increased interest rates on loans, market instability and declined demand.

Therefore, to get through the process of inflation, individuals, households, and businesses seek sustainable measures to meet their needs. A few include:

  • Cost efficient purchases
  • Budgeting
  • Opportunity cost methods
  • Valuable investments etc.
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Upskilling Young People to be Entrepreneurial in Digital Age is Critical

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Africa’s young people are undoubtedly one of the continent’s greatest resources. As other regions battle with ageing populations and declining birth rates, Sub-Saharan Africa can lay claim to a median age of 19.7 with around 70% of the population under the age of 30. Those young people are increasingly well-educated and connected. 

But all that potential means nothing if they aren’t getting the opportunities needed to fulfil it. And in many countries, it’s clear that they aren’t. In South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, the unemployment rate sits at  63.9% for those aged 15-24 and 42.1% for those aged 25-34 years. In Nigeria, meanwhile, the rate among people aged 15-34 is around 42.5%. And in Kenya, the lobby group, The Youth Congress, claims that seven out of every 10 unemployed people are aged 35 and under. 

While there are a number of interventions that could, and should, be made to help reverse those figures, perhaps the most important is to ensure that young people have the skills they need to be entrepreneurial. Indeed, research has shown that innovators can create significant wealth and have considerable developmental influences on society.  

It’s even more critical at a time when technology is accelerating so fast that jobs can quickly become redundant.    

“Fostering entrepreneurship among young people not only enables them to create their own opportunities and employment for other young people,” says Didi Onwu, Managing Editor at The Anzisha Prize, an organisation born out of a partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs fundamentally and significantly in Africa. “It can also help them recognise and pursue employment opportunities that they might not have been able to otherwise.” 

Yes, entrepreneurship  really is a skill 

Before digging into exactly what kind of skills can help foster entrepreneurship among a whole continent’s worth of young people, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a pervasive myth that needs to be busted. Over the years, glowing profiles of entrepreneurs (particularly in the tech space) have convinced many that entrepreneurs are born rather than made. 

But, as Onwu points out, that’s simply not true. 

“The idea of the brilliant innovator turned billionaire makes for a good story,” she says. “But dig a bit further and you’ll see that most successful entrepreneurs were given the tools they needed to succeed from a very young age.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for example, was given extensive time with his high school’s computer at a time when having one was still a rarity. His mother also sat on the board of a non-profit with then IBM chairman John Opel, and helped the then fledgling company score a contract with the computing giant which ultimately proved crucial to its future success.   

“While we can’t give every prospective young African entrepreneur a family connection, we can help them develop critical entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well in the future,” says Onwu. 

The right skills matter most  

While there are obviously a number of hard skills, such as those that concern technological proficiency, which are important to being an entrepreneur, the really valuable ones are a little more intangible. And equipping young people with those skills requires more than a straightforward curriculum. 

Take network building, for example. While you could teach the basics in a course, establishing real networks takes time and consistent effort. The same is true for pitching to investors for funding. Other skills, such as mastering the fear of failure, can only be learned through practice. 

“It’s something that we thought hard about when we redesigned the fellowship programme from the ground up a few years ago,” says Onwu. “We wanted to ensure that our fellows were holistically building a broad range of entrepreneurial skills throughout their fellowships and beyond.”

Fellows are, for example, given access to communities of fellow entrepreneurs, introduced to a wide network of stakeholders and business experts, and provided with the opportunity to shadow successful entrepreneurs in their sector. It’s an approach which makes a great deal of sense when you consider that research has shown that exposure to innovation has a significant positive impact not just on the kind of innovation that young people produce, but also on their overall ability to be innovators.    

Upskilling, now and forever

It should be absolutely clear that Africa needs its young people to be equipped with entrepreneurial skills if they are to meet their full potential in an age of accelerated technology. And, as Onwu points out, efforts to ensure that this is the case need to be made at every level of society. 

“While we’re incredibly proud of the work we do at the Anzisha Prize, along with our partners, no single organisation can provide all of Africa’s young people with the skills they need to thrive as entrepreneurs,” she says. “It needs buy-in from governments, NGOs, the private sector, and a variety of other stakeholders.”

Moreover, these efforts cannot simply be short-term and instead need to be sustained over a prolonged period.

“The factors that make upskilling Africa’s young people to be entrepreneurial so important now aren’t going away anytime soon,” she concludes. “It’s therefore critical that all efforts are made to ensure that any initiatives aimed at building entrepreneurship are sustainable and capable of adapting to a constantly shifting business and technology environment.”

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Why Collaboration Tools are Critical for Organisations in the Age of the Hybrid Workplace

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By Hyther Nizam

The workplace today is vastly different than it was a few years ago. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by businesses, both for their customers and employees.

Today, the majority of businesses operate on a hybrid model, and as a result, internal collaboration—both digital and in-person, has become critical for business success.

When it comes to creating an environment that supports online and offline employee collaboration, many businesses continue to fall short and work in restricted silos.

In today’s age, companies need to think about implementing effective collaboration platforms that facilitate team communication regardless of whether employees work in-office or remotely. With the necessary tools in hand, developing a strong digital collaboration culture becomes significantly easier.

The importance of collaboration

Before diving into what businesses should look for in collaborative online tools, it’s important to understand why collaboration is so effective. Research shows that high levels of collaboration result in more engaged employees, who communicate openly and don’t fall prey to bottlenecks (such as managers taking overly long to sign off on projects). That, in turn, results in better service delivery and improved customer experience.

Besides the increased employee engagement mentioned above, effective collaboration also improves the flow of information across the organisation and fosters better communication. That, in turn, results in faster problem-solving. Employees recognise this too. According to a study, 86% of employees pin workplace failures on a lack of collaboration and ineffective communication. When people collaborate, they’re more likely to see a project through to the end. In other words, collaboration is important for any organisation seeking long-term success.

Finding the right tools to digitally recreate organizational cultures and improve collaboration

As many organisations have learned over the past couple of years, the general assortment of tools that they previously relied on simply won’t cut it anymore. Hopping between different instant messaging services, meeting platforms, and productivity solutions means that vital information is bound to get lost at some point. Context carry-over, informational continuity, and service uniformity become challenges for employees when they are forced to use a bunch of non-integrated tools for their everyday work. When digital employee experience drops, it has a direct effect on customer experience.

As the virtual world increasingly infiltrates the workplace and becomes a permanent fixture, organisations should consider implementing a company-wide collaboration and connectivity platform that enables inter- and intra-team communication, eliminates silos, and assists employees in maintaining productivity levels. Especially, productivity platforms or suites that leverage tight integrations and consistent interfaces to combine essential office productivity needs such as email, instant messaging, internal forums, A/V conferencing, and word processors with live-collaboration features, for example, enable these applications to become even more powerful and contextually relevant across services.

For instance, when email and instant messaging applications work together, employees have an easier time converting email conversations that warrant live discussions into chat threads and porting relevant information into the chatbox. Based on chat discussions, employees can also add final deliverables as personal tasks directly from the chatbox. And online word processors that facilitate live collaboration, allowing multiple people to contribute and comment simultaneously, can be convenient and life-changing for remote workers. Not to mention the version control issues that can be averted by freeing employees from having to email documents back and forth.

Another aspect to look for in collaboration suites is the ability to fold this internal collaboration into business applications like CRMs. For instance, the capability of an instant messaging tool to contextually integrate with an organisation’s CRM platform will enable executives to discuss a certain ticket via chat or a quick audio call before responding to the customer. Collaboration-conducive elements like these can further elevate productivity levels and get work done faster as well as make the experience of working across multiple services a smooth-sailing experience for employees.

A change in mindset

To help fuel the mindset shift needed to ensure that digital collaboration becomes ingrained in a company’s organisational culture, it’s equally critical that managers adopt, and are seen to adopt, the platform. If they’re getting full use out of it, their team members will also be spurred to. At the same time, employees all over the world are also experiencing digital burnout and virtual fatigue as their entire work schedules shift online. So it’s vital that managers balance empathy and humaneness with the usage of such tools in a non-intrusive way.

A virtual world of work

Businesses must adapt to the new virtual working environment. This requires re-evaluating processes and prioritising online solutions that facilitate collaboration, all while maintaining a focus on company culture. The customer experience begins with employees, and businesses will ultimately benefit from improved teamwork and communication.

Hyther Nizam is the President in charge of MEA at Zoho Corporation

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