By Jerome-Mario Utomi
As a response to a recent intervention entitled Historical Perspectives on Nigeria’s Tertiary Education which among other things chronicled how Nigeria’s tertiary education originally got into trouble and with solutions on ways out of the debacle, I got several reactions/emails from esteemed readers.
Indeed, all contributions were well appreciated, but two qualified as outstanding.
The first queried; why can’t we as people forget the past and face the present/future? Why are you always in the habit of making reference to history?
In my response, I started by quoting EH Carr’s observation that history is an unending dialogue between the present and the past that assists the anxious inquirer in improving the present and the future based on a clearer understanding of the mistakes and achievements of the past. I submitted that it is only a society that has lost belief in its capacity to progress in the future will quickly cease to concern itself with the progress (or retrogress) in the past.
While the above query added a sidelight to the conversation, the second, though a mixture of private and public concerns was not only thought-provoking but strategic as it opened a vista that stemmed from new intervention.
It was an email from Professor Felix N.C Oragwu, Former Head of R&D Planning Division/Coordinator of Technological Services of the Technological Aspects of the Industrial War Machine that operated in the defunct State of Biafra, 1967-1970, Director in Charge of Industrial Research and Technology Innovation in NSTDA, Federal Government Cabinet Office, Lagos, 1977-1979.
It reads; Hello,/Dear Jerome-Mario, Thank you and congratulations on your masterpiece on Historical Perspectives on Nigeria’s Tertiary Education now characterised by Certificate Acquisition without the relevant knowledge needed for its use/application in national development. This is well illustrated by the over 120 existing universities each with Faculties of Science, Engineering and Technology, and we cannot make a pin or produce/manufacture any technology/globally competitive industrial goods in our economy, both for domestic use and for export to the global market for foreign revenue. This is the consequence of our poverty, insecurity and criminality now ravaging Nigeria and nobody is asking questions. I hope Nigeria’s leadership, in particular those in politics and in government, will find time to read your wonderful writings and internalise their message. Congratulations again and my best wishes. Felix Oragwu, FSAN.
He did one more thing.
In his real zest to establish how Nigeria’s economy can move away from near-total dependence on imported technologies and imported industrial goods, to become a technology exporting nation, as the status of the economy of any nation is a function of the agricultural/mineral commodity endowment and the endogenous domestic capacity to produce modern technologies and industrial goods in the economy, he forwarded some materials to me out of which, his address titled: The Challenges of Science and Technology in Nigeria’s Economy: The Way Forward, delivered in March 2018 at Eagle Square, Abuja, the nation’s capital, during an event organised by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), has emerged the focal point of this intervention.
At this point, critics may ask; what is spectacular about a keynote address? Haven’t we seen in the past more superlatively written, and creatively delivered addresses?
Indeed, these questions are all deserving but there are, however, many reasons that characterise the address as a vital road map. Aside from the public good consideration, others include the fact that it laid out how technological activities could be used as a key instrument for realizing Nigeria’s proposed Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) points out how the nation has paid little attention to history, and lip service to science and technology, failed to learn from the highly successful technological innovations experience that took place in the defunct state of Biafra, 1967-1970: It more than anything else visibly spread out challenges posed by the inherited Lord Fredrick Lugard’s policy for S&T, Industrial/Economic Development in Nigeria.
Against this backdrop, as a demand by the intellectual property law which creates propriety rights over intangible assets, before further dissection of the address, this writer directs every credit to Oragwu as the greater paragraphs/plot of this writing is chiefly from the aforementioned keynote address.
However, with this alighted, it needs to be underlined also that sharing this priced information is predicated on informing those in the position of authority to such an existing road map which is part of my obligation as a citizen.
Beginning with the historical perspective of what set the groundwork for the present predicament science and technology suffers in the country, the keynote address pointed out how Lord Fredrick Lugard, first Nigeria’s Governor-General, 1914-1918, in his book titled The Dual Mandate of Europe in Tropical Africa, 4th Edition, London, 1929, enunciated the S&T policy for economic development in Nigeria on what he called a mutual agreement said to be existing between Britain and the colonised Nigeria.
In this so-called “agreement”, Nigeria is to export or supply Britain with primary agricultural commodities such as cocoa, palm oil/palm kernel, rubber, cotton, livestock hides and skins which Britain required for her once-famous textile industry and her leather and leather products industry, and to supply Britain with unprocessed natural minerals (solid, liquid and gaseous), which Nigeria has in abundance and which are of interest to Britain for the production and manufacture of technologies and industrial goods in the British economy.
Britain on her part is to “provide or export at costs to Nigeria, all the modern technologies and industrial goods that Nigeria needs to sustain her own economic growth and development”. Lord Lugard further stated in his book that that was the prime objective of the British colonization of Nigeria.
‘With this dual policy, a balance of trade between Nigeria and Britain was established. This policy means in effect that Nigeria should not develop any domestic capacity to produce and manufacture modern technologies and globally competitive industrial goods in Nigeria’s economy during the British colonial rule as that could undermine or compromise the mutual agreement.
This is when the rain of underdevelopment in science and technology began to beat Nigeria, apologies to Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s internationally acknowledged novelist of Things Fall Apart.
This Lugard’s policy, he added, is recently alluded to in an article discussing Infrastructure and Africa’s Development and Prosperity: The Imperative of Public-Private Partnership (PPP), held in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 15-16, 2017, by one Engr. Chidi K. C. Ijuwa, of the Presidency, Abuja, Nigeria, made the following interesting observations, namely, (a) “the price of cocoa is declining in the world market but never the price of chocolates, (b) “the price of cotton may fall but never the price of clothes and garments, and (c) “the coffee farmers may face declining prices in the world market, but the coffee grinders and Starbucks will smile all the way to the banks”.
To make assurance doubly sure that the dual mandate was fully implemented, Britain, he noted, established only one University College, at Ibadan in 1948, coupled it with the Senate of the University of London. The University College was not allowed to offer courses in Engineering, Technology and professional courses but allowed full complement of courses in Latin and Greek (Classics), English History, Zoology, Botany, Geography, Organic Chemistry (initially no Physical Chemistry), Classical Physics, Agricultural Commodity Sciences, Mathematics (of 19th Century, G. Hardy of Cambridge University School of Mathematics who swore never to be alive to see his Mathematics applied), and Divinity respectively from 1948-1960.
Britain also made sure that during the British colonial rule, there were no Polytechnics, no Colleges of Technology and no Technical Colleges to train and develop skilled technical and professional manpower for technology and industrial goods production in Nigeria’s economy as that may breach the dual mandate.
There were also no Research and Development (R&D) institutions for technology production and industrial goods manufacture in Nigeria’s colonial economy. Has Nigeria’s leadership elite ever asked questions on these developments since 1960?
However, primary Agricultural Scientific Research Institutions, the address submitted were established for British West Africa including Nigeria such as West Africa Cocoa Research Institute with headquarters in Accra, Ghana, West Africa Oil Palm Research Institute with headquarters in Benin Nigeria, West Africa Trypanosomiasis Research Institute to address tsetse fly menace against cattle livestock, the source of raw hides and skins for leather and leather products industries in Britain,
Earlier in 1899, Britain established an Agricultural Experimental Scientific Research Station at Moor Station in Ibadan to experiment on primary cotton production in Southern Nigeria. Kano in Northern Nigeria produced abundant primary cotton but there were no roads and no railways then for use in transporting the raw cotton produce to Lagos seaport for onward shipment to Britain and Europe.
To be continued.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com/08032725374.
Usman Alkali Baba and the Nigeria Police of Our Dreams
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
The first duty of a police officer is to secure his/herself-Anonymous
According to the sage, people frequently rewrite history to increase self-esteem and to clear their consciences of guilt for historical misdeeds. Historical revision can also go the other way, as historian’s attempts to discredit figures from the past.
Yet, despite the validity of the claim, the latest history made by Usman Alkali Baba, who was on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, appointed as Nigeria’s acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), cannot be likened to any of the above considerations.
Aside from demonstrating that ordinary calculation can be upturned by extra-ordinary personalities, Usman Alkali Baba’s appointment more than anything else stands as an emblematic attestation that history in any field of endeavours is reserved for those that are interested in breaking new grounds to increase their wealth and well-being and that of their followers.
Without a doubt, the feat is currently acknowledged with torrents of applaud,
But oddly, this opinion piece, for all intents and purposes, is not congratulatory message-focused. Rather, it dispatches a message geared towards achieving the following objective; namely, reminds the new IGP of existing odds against the force that will demand new policies, reforms and strategies to correct; develop significant ground to tackling the job of building a police force of our dreams and assist Usman Alkali Baba to recognize that it takes a prolonged effort to administer a group like the Nigeria Police Force, well and change their backward habits.
In view of the above demands, the question may be asked; who is Usman Alkali Baba? How clear are his goals? Is he laced with sharp visions needed to achieve these prime objectives?
Available information in the public domain reveals that he was born on March 1, 1963, in Geidam Local Government Area of Yobe State. He enlisted into the Nigeria Police on March 15, 1988. He holds a Teachers’ Grade II Certificate from Teachers College, Potiskum.
Mr Baba obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Maiduguri and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Bayero University, Kano. Until his appointment as the acting IGP, he had held several positions in various commands of the force.
Except for peripheral reason(s), it will be hard not to describe someone with the above achievements as a hero. More particularly when one remembers that with sharp vision and clear goals, he rose but steadily from grass (a Teachers’ Grade II Certificate from Teachers College) to grace (a Masters in Public Administration (MPA)).
That notwithstanding, it is important to draw the new IGP’s attention to two realities. First, that the inherent challenge with the Nigeria Police Force is more of perspective. The grouse against Nigeria Police Force by Nigerians is predicated on not what the force intends to or capable of doing but what they are doing presently and whether it is in the best interest of Nigerians.
The second and very fundamental is to remind the new force helmsman that the credibility of leadership can only be established through action and not words.
As argued elsewhere, such action refers to deeds that distinguish a leader who considers his followers a foremost asset and not one who looks at them as a burden.
There is a world of difference between a leadership that is based on love and respect, and one that is based on fear. All that is needed in order to reach this goal is to show our people the right direction and nurture their potentials, for innovation, creativity, self-confidence, determination and leadership, hose who leads from the top of the pyramid ends up leading only those on top, which is not how an exclusive development exercise should be carried out.
There are more specific and worrying concerns.
Going by commentaries, Nigerians and of course the global community are particularly unhappy that Nigeria Police Force with so many outstanding personnel and hitherto, among the best across the world when it comes to providing security, combating terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping, cybercrimes and several other insecurities, have suddenly for yet to identified reason(s), allowed the high standard the British left them to be lowered.
From the raging wave of kidnapping, banditry and terrorism resonating in the North-East to North-Central, South-West to South-South and finally to South-East geopolitical zone, where police stations/formations have been sacked or torched by hoodlums and arms and ammunition carted away and some killed, innocent Nigerians are apprehensive that if such aggression by hoodlums/bandits could be visited on different police formations, it simply means that the lives of the ordinary citizens are no longer secured.
There is another image challenge that urgently needs to be addressed in order to build a police force of our dreams.
Over the years, the Nigeria Police Force has sustained a public enlightenment campaign designed to assure Nigerians that the policeman or woman is his or her friend, but in reality, Nigerians are in disagreement with such a position.
As captured by a Nigerian-based news magazine, ‘whoever have had one thing or the other to do with the police will readily tell you that a policeman or a policewoman is not a friend but also patently devilish and incorrigibly corrupts’.
Such fears cannot be described as unfounded as every threatening situation feed mistrust and lead people to withdraw into their own safety zones. Mistrust and fear weaken relationships and increases the risks of violence, creating a vicious circle that can never lead to a relationship of peace.
While this is being internalized, there is yet, another concern, this time around from a global platform that will help create the credibility of leadership.
It is a report dated Monday, October 19, 2020, published by the Chatham House, England. It among other worries noted that the federally controlled Nigeria Police Force with about 371,800 officers, is endemically corrupt, underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained and being outpaced by the manifold internal security challenges of a country with an estimated population of more than 200 million.
The report particularly lamented that some personnel appear to operate free of accountability and has become notorious for operating in the same clandestine and violent manner as the criminal groups it was created to combat.
Restoring the confidence that the Nigerian Police Force has the capacity to protect its personnel and all Nigerians should be your utmost responsibility.
However, it is equally obvious that such will be difficult and more doubtful of success if you present yourself as all-knowing, more intelligent or good looking than other stakeholders. But any leader that applies the virtues of humility and prudence will come out powerful, secured, respected and happy.
Therefore, as a flood of congratulatory messages continue to flow into your home; two lessons need to be committed to mind. The moment portrays you as lucky.
But like every success which comes with new challenges, the appointment has thrust yet another responsibility on you- an extremely important destiny; to complete a process of rebuilding the Nigeria Police to its former/enviable position which we have spent far too long a time to do.
Secondly, you must study history, study the actions of your predecessors, to see how they conducted themselves and to discover the reasons for their victories or their defeats so that you can avoid the latter and imitate the former. If you are able to correct the above challenge; it will be your most powerful accomplishment for earning new respect and emulation and if you are not, it will equally go down the anal of history.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.
Saving Alapere/Ketu, Lagos Residents from Acute Potable Water Scarcity
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
As noted by Peter Drucker in his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Harper Business 1985), the greatest business breakthroughs take place as the result of “either the unexpected success or the unexpected failure.”
He explained that when something unusual or unexpected happens in any field, the average person dismisses it as a random event or as an accident.
The superior person, however, studies each unexpected result as if it were a sign of an underlying trend or an indication of a fundamental change in the nature of things.
Likewise, Lagosians with critical minds are taking mental notes of the creative provision of people-focused leadership by the Babajide Sanwoolu administration. More pronounced of such efforts are in the areas of infrastructural deployment, security among others.
They are studying each of these unexpected but positive results that have dotted the present administration in the state.
One such example is the recent inauguration of a 1.4 km dual carriageway Flyover Bridge in Pen Cinema Junction, Agege.
Lagosians are in agreement that the presence of the flyover will reduce travel time and save man-hour that would have been otherwise lost to traffic on the road; provide better riding surface, leading to reduced maintenance cost; boost interconnectivity and generally make life more meaningful to commuters in the state.
There is progress in the state and Sanwoolu’s scorecard looks healthy.
However, despite this achievement and related virtues and attributes that characterise the present administration in the state, there exists a dangerous oversight that is laced with the capacity to make non-sense of the current effort to better the life chances of Lagosians, if not given the urgency of attention that it deserves,
This concern has to do with and focuses on months of prostrated inability by the Lagos State Water Corporation to provide portable water for the resident of the Alapere/Ketu areas of the state.
For the sake of clarity, Alapere Ketu is a densely populated Lagos suburb, Abgoyi Ketu Local Council Development Area. It falls with the federally approved/recognized Kosofe Local Government Area with an area of about 81 km². The Local Council houses the largest food/fruit Market in the state called Mile 12 Market. And its population is arguably well above a million residents.
Making the situation a reality to worry about is that the water scarcity which started one morning has suddenly strolled into months. And have exposed residents to daily search for Water in sources that their level of hygiene could neither be ascertained nor guaranteed.
This is not the only apprehension.
Qualifying the situation as a predicament is an awareness that residents of the area with private boreholes who would have helped ameliorate this suffering are daily frustrated by the poor electricity supply in the area needed to operate the borehole. No thanks to the electricity distribution company operating in the location.
Admittedly, Lagosians know that government can’t solve all their problems and they don’t want. But they (Lagosians) know that there are things they cannot do on their own but must require government support. A very good example of such responsibilities includes but not limited to the supply of clean water to the citizenry, electricity and the provision of schools in an environment that works.
In view of the above realities, it becomes sophistry the argument by some that there is nothing ‘criminal’ about the government’s inability to service an area with public water sources.
Now let’s cast a glance at the consequences of such failures.
First, apart from the fact that Lagos state with its megacity status ought to have outgrown a city where the resident will in this 21st century, rely on private water vendors for their daily water needs while those that have no resources to engage these vendors are forced to the derogatory level of scooping water from gutters.
And, as we know, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks.
Away from health considerations to other consequences that are international/global in outlook.
Going by the Resolution A/RES/64/292, United Nations General Assembly, July 2010 and General Comment No. 15, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002, the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is a principle that acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to every person’s life. It was recognized as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010.
To further add a background, the Resolution calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources to help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
Again, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment; Article I.1 states that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.
Beginning with sufficiency, the water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.
On safety, the water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking water.
Talking about acceptability, Water should be of acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. [All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle and privacy requirements.
Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
Most importantly, Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income
Finally, while the present water scarcity in the areas remains a sin that the Lagos State Water Corporation, must share from its guilt; it will be necessary as a genius, for Mr Sanwoolu to among other things ask the people in charge; ‘Why does this situation exist? How did it happen? What caused it? When did it first occur? What holds them back from achieving such a solution? What are the different ways that we could solve this problem? Of all the different ways, which solution seems to be the most acceptable, all things considered?’
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com/08032725374.
Christianity: Death, Denial, Life, Existence, Prince and Longevity
By Nneka Okumazie
Death is the ultimate denial. All go away regarding life. This for some, suddenly, or gradually, rips off everything.
Death is denial complete. Nothing matters to the body, all are denied. One contrast of life with death is the level of denial. It is impossible to have complete self-denial while alive because life goes on with air, water, food, ventilation, etc.
However, the immutability of death is the knowledge that more self-denial begins the process of death, earlier than a disease.
There are musts in life that would involve measured deprivation, and in some cases, extended denial of certain coveted choices.
To align with self-denial that plays away from the reward system – becomes a measure to possibly achieve life’s meaningfulness.
Yes, some people self-deny towards negative causes, or some do, as show or in pretence but in positive purposefulness is self-denial a powerful instrument.
Self-denial is not addiction to coping mechanisms or bringing death upon self, but to go through life’s mud, persevering towards one’s positive purpose.
Dust is coming – denial is the preparation. In the story of the future about the present, denial for good change would be markers of inspiration to cause others to live for more.
There are situations some die, and some escape and the latter may feel so fortunate, true, but an assessment at that stage is if all had been preparing for death.
The afterlife debate consumes many – forgetting that a world pursing comfort and quick, keeps denial away, a necessity for real progress.
The people of the past who had it all and did it all, are hardly an example – except maybe to show how they wasted or were lost, but those who gave it all – by work, war on the right side, courage that brought progress, etc. lifts minds and spirits, extending their existence as they remain a positive force.
Entertainment – of all forms, from all media of current trends, are amnesic tools of denial that is necessary for the existence of meaning.
Christianity talks more about self-denial, as well as about heaven and hell. Everyone has a choice.
[Ecclesiastes 6:12, For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?]
Why Development in Sub-Saharan Africa is Lagging
By Tolu Oyekan
I was born in Nigeria in the early 1980s. Based on forecasts at the time, I should be starting the final decade of my life now.
But my odds have improved quite a bit. Indeed, it is a testament to the advances over these past 40 years in healthcare and standards of living – in the overall quality of life for at least some people – that the average life expectancy for a person born today in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has increased by 10 years.
In some countries, like Rwanda, which was beset by a devastating civil war in the 1990s, the life expectancy gains are even more dramatic.
Part of the reasons for the rise in average life expectancy is the fall in early childhood mortality. Death rates among SSA children under five have declined to fewer than 80 per 1000 live births in 2018 from more than double that figure in 1990. This progress is laudable.
But despite these gains, there is much further to go. Even with the advances in life expectancy, sub-Saharan Africa lags behind most of the rest of the world in this regard.
In fact, the life expectancy in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, is only 55 years. And perhaps more disconcerting is the region’s alarming poverty rate.
About 40% of sub-Saharan Africa, or over 400 million people, live on less than $1.90 a day, defined as the extreme poverty line. That is more than double the poverty rate in South Asia, another region struggling with widespread destitution.
Moreover, the COVID-19 disease may set the region back even more. Recent separate reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank estimate that globally, the number of preventable child deaths and poverty rates will regress to previous high levels before the pandemic is over, particularly in countries already struggling the most. We already had a long journey ahead of us and now the distance has been stretched.
Clearly, the emergence of sub-Saharan Africa as an economic success offering a decent quality of life and a better future for its population is at best in its very infantile stages.
In virtually every category of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – covering healthcare, hunger, education, jobs, fair wages, economic growth and the environment, among other critical dimensions – sub-Saharan Africa trails well behind the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most problematic issue is that while we have a long distance to travel, we have to get there at a record pace. The UN has set a target of 2030 to reach the SDG’s goals and in effect, eliminate the developmental obstacles to growth and minimum livelihoods that hold back SSA and other countries around the world. For SSA, that is an ambitious deadline.
To just take one example, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa dropped from around 50% a decade ago to today’s 40%.
Going from 40 per cent to zero in the next nine years would require a development campaign far exceeding anything tried before in these countries.
Yet, as difficult as that sounds, we can at least make significant progress if we avoid wasted efforts and inefficiencies. We must optimize our development efforts for faster impact. We must optimize for speed.
Over a series of articles, I will explore the critical facets of development activities in the region that must be emphasized and improved upon to achieve quicker and more permanent progress.
Initially, I will focus on three areas that can be addressed immediately and produce results in a relatively short time: We must gather more and better data and utilize it more effectively; we must increasingly adjust the developmental techniques we employ to ensure they sufficiently address local concerns and issues while taking advantage of existing best practices, even from other disciplines; and we must enlarge the tent to bring a wider and more diverse group of people into the design and implementation process.
Looking at these three areas more closely, there are significant gaps between how we view them today and how we should both enhance our understanding of them and improve how we use them to make real developmental gains:
Data: Good data about the SSA region is essential. It would allow us to fully understand current conditions and livelihood challenges, compare ourselves against other regions that are attempting to be innovative in solving the same problems, and measure our progress in granular intervals against goals – including the UN SDGs – so that we can take corrective action quickly was needed to keep ourselves on track. Unfortunately, sub-Saharan Africa is data challenged and has been so for a while. But if we try to build our data aggregation capabilities slowly, following the path that regions with inherently more data have taken, we will not be able to move as fast as we must. Therefore, we must identify and implement pragmatic approaches to dramatically improve our data gathering procedures and methods.
Techniques: In attempting to solve specific development challenges, we often make the mistake of adopting tried and tested technical approaches that perhaps have worked in other places but are insufficiently tailored to the specific needs of the sub-Saharan region. As a result, we forfeit the opportunity to consider methods and strategies that are aligned with unique regional needs. For instance, behavioural techniques can encourage desirable actions by sub-Saharan individuals and groups, which in turn can help in local development. Or digital solutions can leverage software to make a development programme more cost-effective. For instance, advancing the use of telemedicine so physicians from outside SSA can efficiently and inexpensively supplement local medical services. These are just two possibilities and the more we think about innovative techniques well suited to the region, the better we will get at designing and implementing them.
People: Although there appears to be a push to increasingly widen the participation of African people in the campaigns to solve Africa’s problems, I believe that we are still ignoring many potential beneficiaries. In other words, even in our attempts to enlarge the tent, we still fail to address the needs of key stakeholders that are pivotal for the success of SSA development efforts; among them, women, young people, the bottom of the economic pyramid, the private sector and small businesses. Perhaps a more provocative perspective on this is that we must expand the tent of people taking part in designing developmental solutions and overcome our challenges with the help of beneficiaries – rather than trying to provide answers to or for the beneficiaries.
So, how should we approach development in sub-Saharan Africa during this decade? Africans favour the expression, ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I would add that we must actually go further than we had thought pre-COVID, and we must also go fast.
Over the coming weeks, I will share my thoughts about some of the things we can do to address the three areas I mentioned that must be immediately analysed, improved upon and tailored for a sub-Saharan solution. I hope we can debate these issues and that collectively, we can produce an exhaustive and workable series of steps to begin a viable developmental journey for SSA.
So, what do you think? Do you agree that we have a long way to go despite the progress? Is there a case for maintaining the status quo and continuing to attempt development across the region as we have before? In addition to Data, Techniques, and People, are there other aspects of development designs that we should be considering and fixing?
In my view, the gap between where we are today and where we must get to by 2030 is far. I look forward to exploring together how we achieve these bold goals quickly.
Tolu Oyekan is a Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
COVID-19, Technology and the New Face of Small Businesses
By Akeem Lawal
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has had a devastating impact that the world is still dealing with.
Apart from the negative health implications, the COVID-19 pandemic has also crippled economies and businesses across the globe.
Suffice to say that, the resultant effect of the pandemic has led to job losses, pay cuts, travel restrictions and consequently fall in foreign trade and general business activities. The businesses most hit are the Micro Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
A recent survey by the International Trade Centre (ITC) revealed that the pandemic has strongly affected nearly two-thirds of micro and small businesses – compared to about 40% of large companies – with 20% of MSMEs feared to shut down permanently at some points soon.
Interestingly, the survey revealed that 40% of the companies that came out strong from the pandemic were mainly technology-driven businesses. In the financial services industry, fintech companies including Interswitch, Flutterwave, Paystack have fared very well.
For instance, the National Bureau of Statistics report shows that digital payment transaction grew from N10.3 trillion in January 2020 to N20 trillion in December 2020.
The SME sector remains a potential game-changer for economic growth globally, including Nigeria. This is why it is important for stakeholders in the economy to provide simple solutions that will enhance their ability to generate economic activities that will boost the community and national economy.
Knowing the importance of small businesses to national economies, many governments implemented support programmes to assist MSMEs following the pandemic. In Nigeria, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) earmarked $136.6 million as credit relief for MSMEs businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the frailties of many SMEs in terms of little or no digital infusion. However, the pandemic has not been all gloom as it has opened up vistas of opportunities inherent in technology and its application.
Today, we have seen an upsurge in the adoption of technology across several sectors. Businesses have digitized their operations, adopted remote work models and moved their services online as physical interactions have reduced.
The adoption of technology is not only sustaining businesses; it is opening up new opportunities and even markets. Basically, what technology has done is to throw up insight into possible solutions as well as provide the roadmap to navigate these possibilities.
For businesses to bounce back from the pandemic, it is important that they define their community (market) as it relates to the business – and how and where to meet them. This is where technology comes to play as many of its solutions will help boost lead generation, seamless payment, effective management, visibility and increased revenue. So, a business must transit onto the digital divide.
In order to assist more businesses, especially the MSMEs achieve this transition seamlessly, Interswitch has reformed its Webpay platform to Quickteller Business. The new platform enables businesses of all sizes; small, medium, large to take their businesses online without owning a website or having prior technology.
The Quickteller Business platform is intuitive and robust. It provides seamless payment solutions for businesses and their customers. Business owners are able to manage their processes more efficiently like generating invoices to track sales and payments, customized storefront to display products and brand image, backend access to manage inventory, dispute management options to settle chargebacks and refunds.
Beyond the obvious solution, the Quickteller Business portends, the platform also exposes the users to a ready market of over five million potential customers. The Quickteller platform boast over 5 million subscribers from Nigeria and East Africa and all Quickteller Business users are automatically exposed to this community.
With all of these issues taken care of by a single platform, business owners on the platform can focus on other aspects of their businesses such as production, capacity building etc. Surviving the challenging business environment is enough task for business owners these days. Providing simple solutions that make their processes more effective, allow them time to increase productivity and provide the possibility to scale are the objectives of the Quickteller Business.
In summary, business owners can take full control of their businesses by digitizing their operations now. With the pandemic changing the dynamics of business operations, it is imperative for SMEs to embrace technology in every form – and the Quickteller Business platform is a good place to start!
Akeem Lawal is the deputy CEO of Payment Processing at Interswitch
What is Good for the Goose May Not be Good for the Gander
By Christie Obiaruko Ndukwe
Governor Nyesom Wike sacked his Commissioner for Environment, Mr Tamuno Igbiks, in the middle of a summit on the hazardous soot in Rivers State.
It’s not a problem since he has the power to hire and fire. But the reason he gave for the sack is what I find amusing.
Dr Tamuno Igbiks had allegedly written a letter asking Julius Berger to stop work all over their construction sites in the state.
According to Governor Wike, the young man exhibited undue power not available to him as a Commissioner, and worse still, he failed to inform his Works counterpart.
That to me is a raw exhibition of executive recklessness, arrogance and an inordinate quest for power to subdue, without considerations that Julius Berger had already been paid ahead of the completion of the said contracts.
On the surface, the Governor was right to punish the erring aide in order to serve as a deterrent to others who may also be ignorant of the limits of the power and privileges they enjoy while serving as aides to a Governor.
But a little peep into Mr Wike’s six years of governance would reveal that he has also severally halted work by Federal Government through its agencies, in the state and sometimes, threatened lawsuits or outright blockage of access to buildings occupied by some of these agencies.
The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, NPA and others are not left out.
Just recently, the Governor threatened to shut down access roads leading to the newly commissioned headquarters of the NDDC on the pretence that the state government was about to commenced earthworks for the road. This is without recourse to the fate of those who live within the said axis and would be blocked from having vehicular access to their homes.
Need I bore readers with more examples of this same act of executive misapplication of power which the Commissioner in question may have unconsciously imbibed from the Governor.
It is pertinent to ask who then can punish Governor Wike for similar acts of gross misconduct and acts of the bully pulpit? Does a Governor’s immunity confer on him an unlimited display of impunity, simply because we are under a faulty democracy with a chequered and controversial Constitution?
If the Commissioner erred this once, is it enough to sack him without a query on why he embarked on such a rudderless voyage of power?
Let me stop with this popular Eastern Nigerian proverb, which says when the mother goat is chewing its cud, the baby goat is closely watching and learning the ropes.
The blockchain brings new financing options to the business market. For example, Bitcoin Cash casino has adapted to only using cryptocurrency. This way, it makes it easier for their customers to deposit and withdraw in a BCH casino. Entrepreneurs have taken note of this and are looking to invest more in crypto than in fiat markets.
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