What is the way forward for Nigeria, post-COVID-19?
The global pandemic from COVID-19 was declared by the World Health Organisation in February 2020. It has profoundly impacted and exposed every part of our world to disruptive paralysis as a result of the failure of every government, business and organisation to plan for the greatest known threat to socioeconomic continuity since 2006. The pandemic has also reconfirmed how strongly interconnected and integrated we are as a world – a truly international community with many inherent moving parts. For some it has highlighted that irrespective of the level of development across the nations of the world, whether emerging, developed or industrial, we live in an intricate, symbiotic ecosystem where everyone and every part matter. Everyone can and must learn from each other.
What is vividly clear is that the failure to plan for future pandemics cannot occur again. Sustaining the momentum of what has come to be tolerated, as the COVID-19 normality must continue. However, not as a tolerance but as an ability to embrace a better new normality, including our learning and the leapfrogging in digitisation to drive innovation for a resilient future. In the past weeks, and as the economy and society emerges out of full lockdown including Nigeria, we cannot continue to think and act the same way we were doing before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. We just cannot afford that mistake. The opportunity to really embrace mind shift, affords conversion of the ‘disruption shock’ into a wave of powerful change that can reshape learning, government infrastructure, the way we work and the way we engage in the global economy.
We have debated in an earlier article in this series that data is the new gold. Never so evident has this been during the pandemic with a constant cry of a lack of reliable globally connected high quality data. It must be recognised and stated that heightened cyberhacking and cybersecurity activity is rampart during any crisis not just a pandemic. It is critical to plan against known risks to protect data and systems. How we all can collaboratively capture and safely use data through the technology ecosystem available to us is a game-changer going forward for planning in government, business and social economies. Opportunities to be transparent, trustless, seamless and efficient across the multiple sectors of the Nigerian economy are opening up. Many of these are not new, they existed before COVID-19. What has changed is appetite for change. Solutions that include blockchain, distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and design thinking were viewed entirely as fringe or chancy risks three months ago. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during this COVID-19 pandemic became the first fully blockchain empowered government who overnight eliminated waste of 100 million pieces of paper and USD$1.5B – quite apart from pivoting to immediately facilitate digital corporate and trading infrastructure. Similarly in April 2020 right in the heart of the full lockdown, China announced the official launch of the new blockchain initiative called the Blockchain-based Services Network (BSN).
This goes live on June 25 and includes their digital Yuan. Make no mistake, these are not overnight developments. They have taken years of planning and out of COVID-19 opportunity has knocked on the door.
What readily comes to your mind is ‘what exactly is this blockchain and technology dialogue about?’ You may also be asking of what value is this to Nigeria, since blockchain is associated with cryptocurrency and bitcoins? There is also a perception that this is associated with money laundering and crime. The reality is far from that. Indeed, the myths surrounding blockchain are plentiful, in part because of its status as a true agent of change. The tide has changed though with Deloitte’s 2020 Blockchain Survey recognising that over 55% of leaders have placed the relevance of blockchain as the top strategic priority for their organisations over the next two years. What might really surprise you is that Kenya is the country that dominates the most interest in cryptocurrency in the world with Nigeria and South Africa running closely behind in the top 10 Bitcoin maximalist list produced by the Blockchaincenter.net. Again, you might ask yourself why? People and organisations are seeking a better, more inclusive and equitable way to live and work. Digital identity, fraud and cybersecurity feature as one of the most significant issues that contribute to blockchain strategy. The quantum leaps forward in supply chain, asset management, education, financial transactions, tax and fiscal considerations, logistics and social impact are incredibly relevant to Nigeria. We can make the same claim for Africa as a whole, given our already strong acceptance of digital money and mobile subscription.
You don’t need to know how to code blockchain, the same, as you don’t need to know how your smart phone works. However, you do need to know about the type of systemic changes it will affect. You do need to know the industries it will disrupt. If you want the systems of the future in Nigeria to work for you, include yourself in blockchain. Irrespective of the information and or misinformation that you have about blockchain, there are no excuses for you not to be educated about it. It is about to impact almost everything in our world, including Nigeria. The possibilities it offers for the private and public sectors are so huge that when adopted, corruption would totally be a thing of the past in Nigeria.
The access to creating value across all sectors of the economy has the potential to change the way we engage the informal sector in Nigeria and Africa. This sector is about 70 per cent of our total economic activities. Blockchain has the ability to transform small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as agribusiness in Nigeria to be an engine of growth beyond the current obscurity surrounding them. Currently the lack of opportunity to digital infrastructure ecosystems, disproportionate power, lack of trust, manual process and unrealistic barriers to entry for global trade hold the Nigerian economy back. This can change.
Blockchain is not a magic pill that fixes dysfunction. It is the tool that enables a desire for business and society to be better and do things in a different way. It includes storage and exchange of value such as assets that include data and digital identity, both personal and business. In many ways it is a risk-management vehicle to eliminate unwanted outcomes that can be applied in the private and public sectors, formal and informal systems of the Nigerian economy. It is the tool that can provide inclusion for the un-included, the unbanked and the invisible. Let’s be honest, without a safe, secure and verified identity you can’t have financial inclusion and without that you cannot be educated. It comes as no surprise that the majority of respondents in the global survey by Deloitte say identity and data security will be important for all blockchain strategy. Verified identities can filter down to deployment of solutions that can go a long way to eliminating fake news, fraudulent advertisers, manipulative social media and propaganda, corrupt decision making and elections, and positively affording new revenue streams for protected intellectual property (IP) and physical property.
For Nigeria, overcoming reputational damage from years of entrenched corruption and poor governance is possible through blockchain-empowered solutions. In addition, this will build increased trust in the civil service systems. It will allow a more efficient way to manage accountability, share data, value and move digital assets in a completely transparent and trusted way between anyone who wants to be a node on the network. This includes shifting the legacy and pain points of unfair distribution of taxation responsibility away from the vulnerable to those who currently easily avoid it. It allows the ability to immutably record and verify land and corporate registrations, deliver transparency in voting and provide hyperconnected health services access.
Blockchain technology, nor the disruption that comes with it, is an exogenous force over which people, business and government have no control. Every one of us is responsible for having the hunger and wisdom to guide in its evolution. Nigerians must grasp these opportunities to shape our future, post COVID-19. Through embracing it, we will be able to direct it towards a future that reflects our common objectives and values.
*Lisa Short, Founder: Mind Shifting & Areté Business Performance, Australia (@lisagshort)
Emmanuel Ojo, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (@Emmanuel_Ojo)
Gbenga Falana, Partner: MTouch Professional Services, Nigeria (@Falana_Gbenga)