Nigeria’s Democracy, More Questions than Answers
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
I believe that when plundering and debilitating hands of the military are removed from governance and the country’s infrastructure, educational and health systems are reconstructed, Nigeria will enjoy a boom of creativity and productivity, Mr Ola Vincent, former CBN Governor.
Prior to May 1999, when democracy re-emerged on the political surface called Nigeria, there existed so many reasons why Nigerians yearned for and preferred a democratic system of government to the military regime.
First, many believed that in democratic governments, political leaders will be elected as against military regimes where members of the administration are not elected.
To others, in a democratic government, fundamental human rights are guaranteed and respected while in military regimes, they are curtailed and violated with impunity. The actions of democratic governments are open to public scrutiny and criticism while military regimes are intolerant and undemocratic.
The rest argued back then (before 1999) that political instability in the country is the handiwork of the military and exacerbated by their reputation of intolerance, immature, corrupt, unserious, unpatriotic and tribalistic.
Today, aside from committing the same offence that the military was accused of, our present crop of leaders has added non-performance to the lists.
More painfully, looking at the indicators universally recognized as democratic pillars, it will elicit the question as to how far have Nigeria and Nigerians fared under the democratic era, ideas and ideals? Have we truly as a nation enjoyed a boom of creativity and productivity in the past two decades when plundering and debilitating hands of the military were removed from governance? Has the nation’s infrastructure made any appreciable progress? What about the nation’s educational sector where strike actions have become the order of the day? And the health sector which has become the easiest gateway to the ‘great beyond’? Why has it taken democracy a long time to have these systems reconstructed?
Why has democracy not curbed the alarming insecurity in the country (terrorism, banditry and kidnapping among others)? Why has democracy not solved the problem of galloping youth unemployment in the country or saving the Niger Deltans from environmental degradation and socioeconomic squalor?
Viewed differently, it is believed that in a democracy, the value of individual personality is restored which implies the need to respect the other man, to listen to his arguments and to take into account his point of view. Also, in a democracy, Independent it amounts to a standing rule the electoral commission must be independent and impartial so as to be able to conduct and organize all elections. But how well have as a nation practising democracy kept to this dictate?
This question becomes even more well-appreciated when one remembers that the global community, especially development-based groups and elections observers, do not think that what Nigeria is doing is the best way to organize elections be it at the federal, state or local government levels as government’s actions often fail to meet the four basic conditions necessary to create an enabling environment for holding of free and fair elections.
These conditions they noted include; an honest, competent and non-partisan body to administer the election, the knowledge and willingness of the political community to accept basic rules and regulations governing the contest for power, a developed system of political parties and teams of candidates presented to the electorates as alternative choices. And an independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws and settle election disputes.
Without a doubt, these worries, failures and failings partly explain the inertia, and damning/reports that trail every election in the country monitored by international observers; local, state and federal government.
While the above remains a lamentable development, the piece signposts yet another ugly development inherent in the nation’s democratic practice.
A recent report noted that periodic elections, which of course are an essential feature of modern democracies, help to establish, nurture and sustain democracy and democratic political culture while providing the electorate with the power to freely participate in choosing their leaders and in providing the much-needed support and legitimacy to the state. But when you cast a glance at the nation’s democratic that has spanned for two decades, is it possible to truly say that the nation’s electoral experience meets the said responsibility? Or visibly and curiously derogates the sanctity of elections as an institutional mechanism for conferring political power on citizens in a democratic dispensation?
That is not the only worry about our democracy.
Let’s take another illustration. In a democracy, the law is said to be the ‘king’. It has also been established that in a democracy, the ‘rule of law ‘makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power. As whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. And in the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded’.
Despite the validity of this expression, what daily flies on the faces of Nigerians is but a direct opposite.
Before this piece catalyses answers to the above questions, it is very important to first add context to why our leaders behave the way they do.
Acting on his research result carried out to unravel why leaders make bad decisions, Sydney Finkelstein, a Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, United States of America, underlined; the presence of inappropriate self-interest, distorting attachments and the presence of misleading memories act as factors/red flags that fuels deformed decisions.
Flawed decisions start with errors of judgment from individuals, he concluded.
Although corporate organizations were Finkelstein’s focal point in that research, one could not agree more that the fruit of his findings has since transcended to,/found a home in the public office sphere particularly here in Nigeria- where those underlined factors have become not just a challenge but a crisis.
Specifically, examples of such acts on our political space essentially consist of the denial/non-recognition of the supremacy of, and optional adherence to the nation’s 1999 constitution (as amended) and its provisions. And its ‘works/consequences are principally manifest in actions such as; non-consideration of the human rights approach to governance that will guarantee education/infusion of the human rights principle of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination, as well as foster the attainment of equity and justice.
Without a doubt, this piece admits that leading a person into the future, preparing others for what lies ahead whether in the concrete terms of actual or conceptual scenarios requires prolonged efforts and certain administrative pressure.
That notwithstanding, performing this duty as a leader is made complex not because of leadership encumbrances, ambiguity or lacuna in the nation’s constitution but because of the leader’s asymmetrical culture of promoting democracy only when it is in line with their state of mind and favourable to their personal interests.
To further underscore this position, history taught us that ‘democracy works where the people have the culture of accommodation and tolerance which makes a minority accept the majority to have its way until the next election and wait patiently and peacefully for its turn to become the government by persuading more voters to support its views.
Instead of keeping to this rule, particularly when considered unfavourable, those in positions of authority fracture the nation’s geography into ‘ethnosyncrasies’ and idiosyncrasies and turn the country into an entity where tribal loyalty becomes stronger than the sense of common nationhood.
Under this arrangement, they neither consider the feelings of the masses nor work towards gaining the people’s confidence that the government will not cheat or harm them. This fact, coupled with the prevailing ignorance, democratized poverty and backwardness in the country, make these leaders the primary reality that Nigerians worry about.
Certainly, why this development should not be a surprise is that globally, any country that allows or enthrones leadership without ‘disciplined thoughts and actions, such a nation must not expect a disciplined political and socioeconomic culture.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and can be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374
Mitigating Unemployment and Labour Migration in Nigeria
Nigeria has seen a sharp increase in unemployment over time, with a current estimate of 33%. All age categories in Nigeria are affected by a serious unemployment problem, with young people bearing a disproportionately high share of the burden. When people don’t have work, it makes life difficult for them and their households. Note that this causes labour migration, as people leave the country in quest of better opportunities and income sources abroad. Unemployment is one of the key reasons why its citizens migrate their labour to other countries.
Nigeria’s economy has struggled to produce enough jobs to accommodate this expanding workforce due to the country’s high population growth rate, which causes a large number of job seekers to enter the labour market each year. SMEs could be essential in reversing this trend and creating jobs, but they face challenges such as restricted access to capital, inadequate business support services, and a challenging business climate. Additionally, highly qualified individuals leave Nigeria in quest of better opportunities abroad, depleting the country’s talent pool and widening the skills gap in critical industries.
It is important to emphasize that because of the interdependence of these factors, a multidimensional and all-encompassing approach is required to address labour migration and unemployment. To mitigate unemployment and labour migration in Nigeria, a variety of actions can be taken. A few of these include:
➢ Job Creation and Economic Diversification: Nigeria is extremely vulnerable to variations in the price of oil because of its dependency on fuel. Through the promotion of companies and sectors other than oil, economic diversification can boost job chances and reduce dependency on a single industry. In Nigeria, it is crucial to increase the variety of employment options. The establishment and growth of various businesses and sectors can also encourage the emergence of new occupations and positions. There is a higher chance of employment for people when there are more businesses.
➢ Provision of Adequate Infrastructure: Infrastructure improvements have the potential to boost economic growth and draw in industries that can employ workers. For businesses to invest in and create jobs, they need a strong infrastructure that includes a dependable power supply, efficient transportation systems, and digital connections.
➢ Support for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): Encouragement of entrepreneurship and assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can promote innovation, generate job opportunities, and boost economic growth. Agriculture is a sector with a lot of SMEs. It has a great deal of potential to boost food security, minimize rural-urban migration, and create jobs. By giving farmers access to funding, cutting-edge farming techniques, and market connections, production can be increased and jobs created throughout the value chain of agriculture. Programs for training, mentoring, and access to financing and business development services also support these businesses.
➢ Changes in Business Policy: The development of many successful firms, especially SMEs, has been hampered by culpable policies and deregulation laws. Business owners, producers, and other market participants take advantage of policy gaps to perform arbitrary functions. Therefore, reviewing and updating corporate policies, regulatory frameworks, and labour laws can help to foster a climate that encourages investment and job growth. In addition, employment prospects may increase as a result of streamlining administrative procedures, lowering corruption, and guaranteeing fair competition for all enterprises.
Although it is a difficult problem to solve, mitigating unemployment and labour migration is crucial for Nigeria’s economic progress. Another strategy for this development is to strengthen the institutions of the labour market, lower company costs by streamlining regulations and lowering taxes, improve the business environment, and improve education, safety, job accountability, and security. By doing this, employment opportunities will be generated, and the general public’s professional development will be encouraged. Lastly, the government’s main priorities for sustainable solutions should address societal issues, attract investment, enhancing skill development and business climate.
Emmanuel Otori has over 10 years of experience working with 100 start-ups and SMEs across Nigeria. He has worked on the Growth and Employment (GEM) Project of the World Bank, GiZ, and Consulted for businesses at the Abuja Enterprise Agency, Novustack, Splitspot and NITDA. He is the Chief Executive Officer at Abuja Data School.
Improving Business Growth With Data Analytics: Why it’s a Priority
By Kehinde Ogundare
Running a business in Nigeria can be an arduous task. Business owners face fierce competition as they strive to secure market share, acquire new customers, and enhance their productivity and profitability.
The business environment is getting more competitive. According to World Bank data, 97,988 new businesses were registered in Nigeria in 2020 (the last year for which numbers are available). The country’s rapidly accelerating tech sector provides further evidence of that increased competitiveness.
A report from McKinsey found that the number of startups in Nigeria and other African companies grew threefold between 2020 and 2021.
The growth of a business, whether it offers a product or service, is closely linked to its customer base. In order to remain competitive and retain these customers, it is crucial to use data-driven insights to inform business decisions and facilitate a successful customer experience.
Understanding data analytics
In the simplest terms, data analytics is about making sense of all the data that a business gathers and using it to help the business improve its decision-making or to gain insights into a particular subject or problem.
It enables entrepreneurs to make profitable decisions, drive innovation, anticipate market trends, and manage budgets. However, a report by KPMG that analyzed the usage of data and analytics in Nigeria’s business environment reveals that 56% of organizations in Nigeria base their decision-making on intuition rather than data. This shows that businesses are yet to grasp the true potential that data can bring to decision-making.
Another report highlights that, on average, organizations plan to spend at least N50 million annually to develop data and analytics capabilities, indicating the potential for businesses seeking to integrate these practices. However, just 16% of organizations have a defined role for their Chief Data Officer, and many merge data analytics responsibilities with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), highlighting a talent gap.
Finding the right solution
A strong BI platform can gather data from across different software used by different departments, such as sales, marketing, finance, and inventory, to help the user make sense of the data through simple-to-understand charts, graphs, and other visual tools. This, in turn, facilitates strategic decision-making.
Zoho, for example, provides a robust BI solution that comes with self-service data preparation and augmented analytics. It has strong AI/ML capabilities, enabling users to use natural language commands such as “show me our revenue growth last quarter” to get charts showing just that. Zoho Analytics can also be embedded in any third-party software, so users do not have to log into a new app just to view reports.
In today’s world, where there is high competition for customer attention among businesses along with organizational operations driven by technology, data analytics enables a business to optimize performance and make data-driven decisions. Having real-time insights into how their business is performing and the current market trends can help business owners adapt to the fast-changing landscape and stay relevant.
Kehinde Ogundare is the Country Manager for Zoho Nigeria
6 Ways Google is Working With AI in Africa
Lounging on Labadi Beach, browsing the shops on Osu’s Oxford Street, ending the day with a meal in a local chop bar: This is Accra, Ghana’s bustling capital city. It’s also where, in 2018, we opened our first AI research centre in Africa.
The centre houses research labs that explore how we can use AI to help solve pressing problems affecting millions of people both locally and globally, like mapping buildings in remote locations to provide better electricity. Our local researchers collaborate with research teams across the globe to work on AI-based tools to create change for communities worldwide, including in various countries across Africa.
Here are six AI projects we’re working on in our Accra research centre and beyond and how we’re hoping they’ll make a difference.
Even with satellite imagery, it can be difficult to map buildings in remote locations. When these buildings go unmapped, it can make things like planning infrastructure difficult. Our Open Buildings dataset project, launched by a team in the Accra research centre, combines AI with satellite imagery to pinpoint the location of buildings. That helps governments and nonprofit organizations understand the needs of residents and offer assistance. In Uganda, for example, the nonprofit Sunbird AI is using the dataset and working with the Ministry of Energy in Lamwo district to study villages’ electrification needs and plan potential solutions, such as prioritizing electricity in important areas like commercial centres. And we’re continuing to expand our Open Buildings dataset to see how it can help communities in more areas. In addition to various countries in Africa, the dataset now covers 16 countries in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh and Thailand.
The United Nations has reported that half of the world’s least-developed countries lack adequate early warning systems for disasters, including floods. In West and Central Africa specifically, where flooding can be severe, early warning systems could enable better preparation and potential evacuation. Lifesaving technology, like our Flood Forecasting Initiative, can help residents stay safe and give governments time to prepare. We’re using AI models to predict when and where riverine floods will occur in 80 countries worldwide, including 23 in Africa. Our Flood Hub platform displays the forecasts up to seven days in advance, with detailed inundation maps — showing different water levels predicted in different areas — so people know what to expect where they live.
Locust infestations can have a devastating effect on food crops. Through collaborations with AI-product-focused company InstaDeep and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, our team at the Google AI Center in Ghana is helping to better detect locust outbreaks and enable farmers to implement control measures. The AI Center team is working on building a model that forecasts locust breeding grounds using historical data from the FAO and environmental variables like rainfall and temperature.
Improving maternal health outcomes with ultrasound
Ultrasounds can be crucial for identifying potential complications during pregnancy. In recent years, sensor technology has evolved to make ultrasound devices significantly more portable and affordable. Globally, we have been working on building AI models that can read ultrasound images and provide important information to healthcare workers. In Kenya, for instance, we are partnering with Jacaranda Health to help improve our ultrasound AI technology, with a focus on using handheld ultrasound devices that don’t need to be attached to larger machines. This can help people who aren’t trained to operate traditional ultrasound machines to acquire and interpret ultrasound images and triage high-risk patients simply by sweeping the handheld probe across the mother’s belly.
Helping people with non-standard speech make their voices heard
We built Project Relate, an Android app that uses AI research, to help people with non-standard speech communicate more easily. After recording 500 phrases, users receive a personalized speech recognition model. Now available for user testing in Ghana, it can transcribe speech into the text; use a synthesized voice to repeat what the speaker has said; and engage Google Assistant to complete tasks, such as asking for directions, playing a song or turning on the lights.
Teaching reading to children worldwide
Due in part to the effects of COVID-19, it’s estimated that about two-thirds of 10-year-olds globally are unable to read and understand a simple story. Read Along, Google’s AI-based reading tutor app and website is helping to increase child literacy. Diya, the in-app reading buddy, listens to the speaker reading aloud, offering support when they struggle and rewarding them when they do well.
Over the past three years, more than 30 million kids have read more than 120 million stories on Read Along. That progress helps the children, but it also affects their families. For example, one of our Lagos users, William, began using the app when he was 10 years old. He went from being able to read for three minutes at a stretch to reading for 90 minutes at a time. “I am more confident about William’s future because he can read well,” said William’s mom, Martha, “Not just reading well — he now loves to read.”
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