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COVID-19: Building Skilled Digital Capacities as Recovery Strategy

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By: Engr. Prof. Mohammed Ajiya

The entire world is currently in the throes of a deadly pandemic. So far, there have been over 2.5 millionconfirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, resulting in more than 170,000 deaths, many of whom, incidentally, were critical human resources whose knowledge and expertise the world may initially struggle to replace.

COVID-19: Building Skilled Digital Capacities as Recovery Strategy

Prof. Mohammed Ajiya

As a result, an unprecedented global lockdown is in place, with restrictions imposed by majority of governments on both international and local travel as well as on intra-city movement by their citizens.

This has led to the temporary closure of all but essential businesses and services, forcing many of those businesses, as well as the governments that imposed the lockdowns, to embrace the new reality of having their staff work from home for an extended and indeterminable period of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting economic repercussions long after it has been vanquished, with a global recession certain to follow. According to the Asian Development Bank, the pandemic is projected to cause a global loss in GDP of up to $4.1 Trillion before it is over.

One critical factor in this is the fact that the pandemic descended upon a world that was essentially unprepared for it.

Whether or not there was adequate medical planning globally for a pandemic of this scale is up for debate, and many points can be made both for and against.

What is indisputable, however, is that most businesses, governments and other organisations were largely unprepared for the prospect of their entire workforce suddenly unable to show up for work, and their customers no longer able to come physically to them – for the foreseeable future.

One of the legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, should be that we are never caught unawares again, at least in terms of preparedness for necessary social distancing. ICT planning is the optimal way to ensure this, with special focus on the concepts of e-commerce, e-government, remote work, and e-Learning.

E-commerce:  E-commerce refers to the buying and selling of goods and services electronically (over the Internet). E-commerce is thriving under the conditions of the current pandemic as consumers are forced to shop mainly from home.

According to Forbes, the wealthiest person in the world is currently Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of e-commerce behemoth Amazon.

While the pandemic has resulted in several of his fellow billionaires losing large chunks of their net worth, Bezos’ net worth is actually increasing due to the pandemic. His company Amazon is currently hiring 100,000 new full and part-time workers to help meet increased demand from consumers staying home and shopping online.

Locally, e-commerce giants Konga and Jumia are also poised to benefit from the lockdown imposed by the Federal Government, as traditional shopping outlets are largely unavailable to consumers or, when available, may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing.

Konga has already confirmed “a significant increase in shopping activity, especially for groceries and other essentials” during the ongoing pandemic.

Both Konga and Jumia carry their own products in addition to providing a platform for business owners to sell their goods online without having to set up their own e-commerce sites.

So, what has the COVID-19 pandemic taught us about commerce? Traditional retailers without the option of conducting their commercial activities online will lose business at times like this, while businesses that engage in both traditional and e-commerce will continue to thrive.

Post COVID-19, businesses not wanting to be caught out again in similar situations will need to plan for including e-commerce capabilities in their business model as a matter of urgency.

E-government: E-government is defined as government’s use of technology, particularly web-based Internet applications to enhance the access to and delivery of government information and services to citizens, business partners, employees, other agencies, and government entities.

The deployment of e-Government solutions has been known to accelerate government decision-making processes, provide additional employment, aid youth empowerment, and even spur gender inclusiveness. E-Government is also a key factor for sustainable development and wealth creation.

With the current lockdown, all but essential government offices in Nigeria are shut down, meaning that many government services are currently unavailable to citizens and other stakeholders. While this is unavoidable due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity for social distancing, it highlights the urgent need for alternate means of work and productivity in our government.

For example, Estonia, a small country in Northern Europe, possesses by far the most digitally advanced government in the world. In addition to the fact that all government activity is entirely paperless, 99% of government public services are also available online 24/7. This includes voting, ID issuance, e-signature (all documents can be signed electronically), taxes, police services, healthcare, notary services, census, education, company registration, the justice system, immigration, public transport ticketing, and much more. The only government services not currently available online are marriage, divorce, and real estate transactions.

Even with a lockdown in place, Estonia’s citizens and residents will clearly still be able to access public services seamlessly from their government.

Estonia, by the way, is not a particularly wealthy country. Its estimated GDP for 2020 is $32.742 Billion; for comparison, Nigeria’s is $504.57Billion. Estonia shows what is achievable with proper digital capacity building, planning and execution. Public services do not have to become unavailable to Nigerians in the event of a similar situation reoccurring. Citizens should not have to wait for a lockdown to be over if they have urgent government transactions to conclude. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, Nigeria needs to urgently re-examine its strategies for work and productivity, and its attitude to e-government.

Remote Work: On 23rd March 2020, one week before the Federal Government declared a full lockdown in FCT, Lagos, and Ogun State in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, a circular was passed ordering all non-essential public servants on grade level 12 and below to work from home until further notice. While a small percentage of workers have managed to discharge some of their duties from home starting from then and during the subsequent lockdown, the unfortunate reality is that majority of staff supposedly “working from home” have not been properly equipped with the required digital skills and tools, and are therefore, unable to accomplish any meaningful work during this time.

This loss in productivity has affected both the public and private sectors and looks set to continue for as long as lockdown measures remain in place. The economic consequences of this are yet to be quantified but will continue to be felt nationwide long after things return to a semblance of normality. Could it have been different if the tools, capacity, and infrastructure for effective remote working were in place and pervasive? The answer is a definite yes.

Majority of today’s work tasks can be performed using information and communications technology in addition to the more traditional methods. There are technology solutions for tasks ranging from meetings and collaborative work to data analysis, marketing, and customer relationship management. Remote working software solutions can be deployed by employer organisations to enable their employees remotely and securely connect to the organisations’ servers, edge-computing or cloud via Virtual Private Networks, and access documents, files, services and tools pertaining to their job roles just as if they were sitting in their offices within the organisations’ premises. These are the tools required for modern work tasks, both on-site and remotely.

However, for a workforce to be effective at using these tools, they need to possess a certain level of digital literacy as well as proficiencies specific to their job roles and tools required for those roles. This is where capacity comes in. The final piece of the puzzle is infrastructure. This encompasses widespread availability, reliability, and affordability of broadband Internet resources across the country, reliable voice communications networks, and reliable power supply. With these three factors securely in place, any organisation can theoretically continue to function at close to full productivity regardless of any lockdowns or similar situations. Any required meetings would be conducted using video and web conferencing solutions, staff would continue to deliver on their assigned tasks, and collaboration among teams would be seamless regardless of the geographical locations of team members.

Capacity building in post-pandemic Nigeria: In recognition of the fact that majority of organisations (both public and private) were largely unprepared for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have explored avenues for better preparedness going forward, via e-commerce, e-government, and remote work.There is, however, an underlying capacity building requirement to all three concepts, the absence of which would make it impossible to attain the level of future preparedness sought.

SMEs engaged in commercial activities (buying and selling) who do not currently have digital skills and e-commerce capabilities may simply have no idea where to begin.

Coordinated and comprehensive capacity building on e-commerce should be made available to SMEs post-COVID-19 to provide them with the required knowledge and available options for adding e-commerce to their current business model.

E-government is another core area where massive capacity building is required, in the light of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Decision makers in MDAs need to understand how e-government solutions can be applied to the delivery of their organisations’ mandates; their IT departments need to learn how to implement, deploy and maintain those solutions; while their key staff need capacity building on the operation and administration of the platforms.

Finally, for remote work to be viable and sustainable, a certain level of digital literacy is required in staff of both public and private organisations, with additional digital proficiencies required according to their specific job functions. This is essential if the staff are to effectively complete their job functions mainly using digital tools from remote locations. Also, due to the highly dynamic nature of information and communications technology, regular retraining and upskilling is necessary even for directors, management and staff that are already digitally literate. In addition, digital security matters. It has now become mandatory for organisations to design and deploy their own ICT Security Policy. IT departments in these organisations must learn how to select, deploy, integrate and maintain secure remote working platforms that are suitable for their organisations’ specific needs. These organisations must seek the capacity building that is required for their staff, if they are to be immunised from loss of productivity during any subsequent lockdowns or similar situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that nothing is beyond the realms of possibility. Scientists, as well as various works of fiction, have long predicted a scenario like the one we currently face, but the truth is that most of us never thought it would actually happen.

Now that we know otherwise, it is imperative that we ensure that the loss in productivity and economic effect of this pandemic is mitigated for any similar future events. The current pandemic has shone a spotlight on the ways in which we were unprepared for the situation and provides us with the opportunity to plug those gaps in case of any future reoccurrences. We must seize that opportunity with both hands and run with it.

Digitally retooling the workforce and enthroning the mastery of digital knowledge and capability is the ultimate roadmap and gateway to national development and survivability for Nigeria and Africa.

Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), established by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), is Nigeria’s foremost Centre of Excellence in Information & Communications Technology training and education with campuses in Abuja, Lagos and Kano, and three further campuses upcoming in Yola, Enugu, and Asaba.

DBI’s mandate is to build skilled digital capacities for Nigeria at all levels, making it uniquely placed to help the nation tackle the issues discussed above. DBI offers digital capacity building in areas ranging from Digital Literacy to Cybersecurity, Networking, Network Security, Office and Productivity Tools, Software Development, AI, IoT, Robotics, 3D, VR, Blockchain, etc. In addition to traditional learning methods, DBI offers comprehensive e-learning capabilities, enabling the Institute to deliver world-class capacity building programmes both on-site and remotely.

Engr. Prof. Mohammed Ajiya is President/CEO Digital Bridge Institute – DBI


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FG Launches Central Database for Stolen Asset Tracing

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Federal government has launched a Central Database under the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations (ARTM), 2019 and the Central Criminal Justice Information System (CCJIS) under the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) 2017 – 2011 to assist in the fight against corruption.

FG Launches Central Database for Stolen Asset Tracing

Mr Abubakar Malami, AGF

Mr Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation (AGF) and minister of Justice, at the launch in Abuja, said the database will ensure uniformity of process, access and information feeding to deepen transparency and accountability in the management of recovered assets.

To ensure compliance, he said his office is developing legislation for the full implementation and operation of the CCJIS.

“We will work together to establish and re-enact transparency and accountability in governance and management of our resources which we have committed to do by way of strengthening International Cooperation of our membership of Open Government Partnership,” he said.

In his speech, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives, represented by Mrs Ugonna Ozurigbo, chairman, House Committee on Justice, said the regulation on Asset Tracing, Recovery and proper management of proceeds of crime was signed on October 24, 2019, and took effect from November 1, 2019, replaced the proceeds of Crime Regulation of 2012.

The new regulation titled Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations 2019 empowers the AGF to take charge of the custody and management of all final forfeited assets, approval and appointment of asset managers and operating and maintaining a database for the records of all recovered assets within and outside Nigeria.

He said, the AGF’s office, under the new regulation, is also required to coordinate inter-agency investigations into recovery matters within and outside Nigeria from all law enforcement agencies whose law empowers them to undertake recoveries and maintaining a depository for all forfeiture orders issued by the Nigeria courts and courts outside Nigeria.

Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management, according to the Speaker, is a core value of good governance and its effective management will serve as a deterrent to would-be fraudulent minded individuals who may find themselves in public offices.

According to him, states resources must not be allowed to be stolen but if that happened by fraudulent individuals, efforts must be taken to trace the proceed, recover same and manage for the interest of the generality of the people.

“When the proceeds of crime are traced and recovered but again looted by government officials, I dare to say such act amounts to the crime of tertiary capacity and must be avoided.

“Assets not accounted for are assets lost; loss of assets undervalues the economic potential of a country and will negatively impact on the net worth of a country. Accordingly, Asset Tracing Recovery and Management is a panacea to rekindling of the value system of a nation,” the Speaker noted.

 


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Konga Bulk Debuts Monday

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Konga, Nigeria’s foremost ethical and innovative composite e-Commerce brand is set to unveil a revolutionary new solution – Konga Bulk – which the company says will represent the new normal for forward-thinking businesses and consumers in the Nigerian corporate space.

Equally important, Konga Bulk, the latest innovation from the e-Commerce giant, is set to go live on Monday, September 21, 2020.

Through this initiative, Konga is rolling out a mega platform which has been touted a potential game-changer, offering manufacturers, distributors, resellers as well as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) an opportunity to take advantage of Konga’s world class assets including its secure regional warehouses, smart offices, cutting-edge technology, advanced logistics capabilities through an internally-owned subsidiary, Kxpress and its Central Bank of Nigeria-licensed payment platform known as KongaPay.

This is in addition to leveraging Konga’s e-Commerce engine and extensive marketing expertise in bringing their products and services to the consciousness of millions of Nigerians nationwide.

In other words, Konga is taking a huge burden off the shoulders of manufacturers and other business owners in Nigeria through this ambitious project.

By allocating physical office and warehouse spaces to partner businesses and placing its many other cutting-edge assets at their disposal, Konga is ushering many into the new normal by bringing succour to corporate entities, many of whom have been encumbered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, Konga Bulk will play a very important role, bridging the gap to genuine products and services between manufacturers, distributors, resellers, bulk buyers and consumers.

Resellers and other bulk buyers can also take advantage of best prices available for genuine products exclusively through Konga Bulk.

Kalu Johnson, vice president, Strategic Business, said businesses who sign up on Konga Bulk have a lot to gain.

‘‘Konga Bulk is a very ambitious project which we have positioned as the new normal.

“It is a unique opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of the huge assets and real estate, both physical and virtual, available at Konga.

‘‘We have invested significantly and strategically in various areas of our operations.

“Today, Konga owns arguably the largest single warehouse space in Lagos in addition to other similar massive infrastructure in other parts of the country such as Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Abuja, Owerri and other locations.

‘‘As a manufacturer, distributor or business owner signed up on Konga Bulk, you no longer have to worry about owning your own office or warehouse space. Nor do you have to bother about the heavy investment in logistics, delivery, payment solution, technology, marketing or activations.
“You can rely on Konga’s world class competencies and assets in these areas.

‘‘Businesses must find a way to rebound from the difficulties occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Konga Bulk, which is focused on ushering in the new normal, is one of the innovations we have come up with to provide a way out,’’ he concluded.

Konga Bulk goes live online at www.konga.com and offline in every Konga retail store nationwide on Monday, September 21, 2020.


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Access Bank Reaffirms Support for An Innovative, Smart Lagos State

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Mr. Herbert Wigwe, managing director and chief executive officer of Access Bank Plc, has said that Access Bank Plc will not relent in supporting innovative programmes aimed at transforming Lagos into a 21st century State driven by technology innovations.

Wigwe spoke yesterday during the finals of the Lagos State Smart Meter Hackathon design held at the Bank’s Corporate Headquarters in Lagos.

An initiative of the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Hackathon is aimed at providing affordable electricity meters to the populace by facilitating the design and production of meters that will accelerate efforts towards achieving improvement in energy distribution, monitoring and prevention of revenue leakage.

Wigwe who was represented by Mr Ade Bajomo, executive director, IT & Operations at Access Bank, said that supporting the Hackathon once more reinforces the Bank’s commitment to leveraging technology for the betterment of the society.

“Having Hackathon and innovative programmes like this, has always been part and parcel of our DNA in Access Bank. We are forever looking for new things to do to solve real problems in Africa and beyond; new things that would move the life of our people forward.

“We are always looking forward to doing things that would make more people financially independent, driving and enhancing the well-being of the entire society,” he said.

He noted that now the world is witnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and there are Africans working with the rest of the world and using technology to solve the problems of the people.

Wigwe stressed that Access Bank does not exclude the rest of the world when it comes to using technology innovations to address the problems of the people.

“That is why this Hackathon is very important because it’s our people solving our problems and leveraging global solutions to finding our answers to our own problems.

“And that is why at the Africa Fintech Foundry (AFF), which Access Bank is promoting, we want to have more innovators and innovations that will help in transforming our society for the better,” he said.

The Access Bank boss stated that to see this Hackathon come to light shows the commitment of the Lagos State Government to not only the project, but to the actualization of a smart Lagos, where electricity is accessible and affordable.

He pledged Access Bank’s continued support to the Lagos State Government’s efforts at building a smart state.

Mr. Olalere Odusote, convener of the Lagos Smart Meter Hackathon and the State’s Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, said that there were very many talented people who applied for the Hackathon, noting that there were 65 submissions in all, out of which its panel of experts reduced the number to the five finalists that participated at the finals of the Hackathon.

“We had the hardware yesterday and we were very impressed with what we saw. We are expecting no less from the software side. We are going to get engaged, look at what they have to offer and then integrate it into our future.

“We are trying to solve our own problems by ourselves. This is just the start; it is not a one-off project. At the end of the event, we will take the product to our prototype mode; we will take the product to a commercial development process,” he said.

The Commissioner said they were not just doing the Hackathon for the sake of it but are looking for solutions that will contribute to making Lagos a 21st Century economy.

He thanked Access Bank for its generosity, support and partnership with the State government. He also thanked other partners for joining in the journey of making Lagos a great state.

Five contenders each emerged from both categories of the competition, and the two winners are expected to share the prize money of seven million naira.

Finalists were shortlisted after a transparent, rigorous and competitive process.

The Hackathon attracted 274 registrations or entries, 127 of which bid in hardware category, while 147 competed in software group.

The five software finalists for the Hackathon on Thursday were Magnitronics, Vectorians, Zeena Platform, Chosen Soft Tech and Gideon. 

It would be recall that during the launch of the programme on July 30th, 2020, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu noted that the Smart Metre Hackathon Initiative marked a significant milestone in the implementation of the State Government’s plan towards improving access to electricity.

He said it aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal 7 of the United Nations, targeted at achieving universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.

The Lagos Smart Meter Hackathon 2020 was convened by the Lagos State Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources, curated by Eko Innovation Centre, and sponsored by Access Bank Plc, Egbin Power, and Ikeja Electric Distribution Company.

Other sponsors include Mojec International, Eko Electric Distribution Company, MOMAS Electricity Meters Manufacturing Company, ElSewedy Electric, Royal Power & Energy, Venture Garden Group, InfraCredit, and Axxela Limited.

They were supported by the Lagos State Office of Innovation and Technology, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), Africa Fintech Foundry (AFF), Oracle, IBM, General Electric, Business Day and Accelerate TV.

The Grand Finale of the Hackathon holds on Friday, September 18, 2020 at Eko Innovation Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos.


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