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Gains, pains as modern technologies take root in Nigeria

By Adeyemi Adepetun
07 December 2019   |   4:28 am
There is no gainsaying the fact that any job that follows a consistent routine and has a set of rules is vulnerable to automation.

An entrepreneur, Ezekwem at his shop

There is no gainsaying the fact that any job that follows a consistent routine and has a set of rules is vulnerable to automation. Roughly speaking, jobs that fit this description would be most office workers, factory workers and middle class workers.

The thing is computers are great at doing things that require rules or have a set routine. However, anything that requires flexibility, thinking, caring, nursing and being creative is still quite hard for a computer to do. There are too many uncertainties involved.

Indeed, computers don’t get sick. You don’t need to give them a holiday. You don’t pay them a salary and can stick them in a dark room with no light. You just pay hosting costs of your servers and maintain everything, which is a lot cheaper than employing a whole workforce.

Increased digitisation and automation is expected to significantly affect both the quality and quantity of jobs. New types of jobs and employment are changing the nature and conditions of work by altering skills requirements and replacing traditional patterns of work and sources of income. They open opportunities especially for developing countries to enter new, fast-growing sectors and catch up with more advanced economies. At the same time, new technologies are affecting the functioning of labour markets and challenging the effectiveness of existing labour market institutions, with far-reaching consequences for the number of jobs, their quality and the diversity of opportunities they offer.

Globally today, technology has not only advanced, it has enabled so many things. The disruption it has brought cannot be over-emphasised. But as much as there are positive disruptions, it has also brought so many things down to their knees.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, the advent of digital technologies would have an impact on jobs, and up to 45 million jobs can get displaced or transformed by 2025. It also informed that productivity gains through digital technologies would help create up to 65 million new jobs during the same timeframe.

“Retraining and redeployment will be essential to help some 10-45 million workers whose jobs could be displaced or transformed,” the report said.

Today, with the world moving towards the fourth industrial revolution, technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality, drones, 5G and lately 6G are fast dictating the pace of development.

Countries that are not ready to embrace these new world orders in terms of technology advancement will definitely be left behind.

Speaking with The Guardian, Chief Executive Officer, Masters Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Ade Olasogba, said every advanced civilisation is powered by technology.

But he also noted that as new technologies render some jobs obsolete, the human imagination is limitless, and so is people’s ability to create a beehive of activities, powered by the very products of our ingenuity – technology. “Thinking otherwise would be underestimating the greatness inherent within us,” he stated.

Also, from the perspective of the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHuB), Chris Uwaje, it is really stupid to assume that technology cuts jobs. He noted that the planet Earth and her people are undergoing transformation of work processes, which is the advent of upgrading the human thought process of work and development from “Muscle to Machine” society.

According to him, this machine-base thinking and work process has greatly enabled the creation of multi-dimensional work than formally possible.

Telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko added: “That is why warnings about the impact of advanced technology on job prospects is not an apocalyptic message meant to shock, but a clarion call to a new awakening, that new skills will need to be acquired by the new generation, or the study of certain disciplines will need to be shelved by the old generation, or better still, certain interests will have to be cultivated at an early age by the incoming generation. Yes, like it or not, who adapts with ease and who gets left behind is more or less a generational question. Advanced technology would create a platform where anyone can make, create and innovate right from their garages. The corporate world would thus see more entrepreneurs.’’

Like Uwaje, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the use of technology and its advancements has meant that jobs that are menial, repetitive in nature and at times highly dangerous have seen a reduction or elimination of human involvement all together and this not only saves lives but also provides an opportunity for upskilling and demand for the creation of high knowledge jobs and the pursuit of creative skills that are not easily reproducible by technology.

The reports below depict Nigerians changing lifestyles and business patterns amid obtrusive tech innovations.

How ‘Technology Is Usurping Real Estate Agents’ Role’
By Victor Gbonegun
The disruptive innovations brought by technology has already crept into the real estate market to give the tech savvy and prospective homebuyer/seller ease of access to available facilities, detailed information on choice of property such as finishing and locations from the comfort of their rooms.

Unlike before, whereby the print and electronic media were the only platforms for reaching buyers of real estate products, online platforms as well as the social media have become tools that offer robust opportunities for marketing and sales of houses.

The ability to reach many buyers and sellers while simultaneously offering more to a consumer or client than the traditional practice has enabled technology to disrupt the real estate market in the country. Depending on personal choice, a customer doesn’t necessarily need to have a personal interface with a realtor or an agent anymore.

This has further changed the old ways of advertising, providing market data quickly and upping the customer service game.

Statistics show that over 60 per cent of those looking for homes now use the internet to search for properties against the age-long culture of first looking for an estate agent to perform that role.

Real estate homebuyers and sellers do more than just searching Google. They also use related hashtags and social media feeds for property searches and transactions. Consequently, platforms such as FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat, among others, now serve as channels for property advertisement far more than the conventional media.

Experts say technology in real estate has become a blessing rather than a curse as people with a smartphone can now have access to and acquire property through social media platforms and property listing sites where homeowners advertise homes and offices for rent or outright sale instead of going through the personal interface.

While real estate agents are already adopting some of the technological platforms to remain relevant, some properties are deliberately kept offline to preserve agent relevancy.

Speaking on the development, the chairman, Faculty of Estate Agency and Marketing, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Sam Eboigbe, explained that contrary to the popularly held view that technology has disrupted the role of real estate agents in the sector, it has been a blessing to real estate practice and has made agency work easier for practitioners to locate clients without stress.

“Where real estate agents couldn’t access in the time past by virtue of logistics or human obstacles, technology has made it possible to discuss with people all over the world without any form of barrier. It has empowered practitioners and made the profession more interesting,” he said.

On issues of landlords that now post homes’ vacancies directly online without the intervention of real estate agents, he said: “We are aware of such practice but there are still some part of sales transactions that will require professionals to assist in the deal for a smooth sale devoid of hiccups. If the attempt is to avoid payment of agency fees, at the end of the day, the sellers will pay more. Certain things like legal documentation of transactions and professional services require the intervention of real estate agents to scale through.”

Faced with this reality, some technological firms are developing platforms almost every day to pave way for a seamless transition from traditional into technology-enabled real estate market. Property sites for homes listing, home selling or buying at an agency represented price are being developed.

The Chief Executive Officer, Zama, a property technology concern based in Lagos, Abdulhakeem Sadiq, said technology has created more jobs especially for programmers, developers, Customer Relationship Managers (CRM) and digital marketers who design friendly virtual platforms for property transaction and reduce the time of transaction which are now faster and instantaneous.

Sadiq affirmed that modern real estate agency is thus a subject of technology interface.

“I actually believe that technology has created more jobs in the industry for real estate agents and other professionals. A lot of the products that are being introduced will help agents to be better organised and give them opportunity and the need to assist them to mange their schedule, viewings and people making reservations online to view properties.

“To do that, you need somebody to manage agents accounts on a daily basis and to ensure that you are doing the inspection well and satisfy customers’ needs as against the old ways of doing things, which was a bit disorganised. An agent has to be in one place at a go but with CRM you are able to move from one place to another. A lot of landlords have to deal with unprofessional agents that do a lot of unprofessional things but now the landlords have the power to market the property directly on platforms and still be able to transact directly with buyers,” he said.

Sadiq, however, said property transaction still remains a complex business, adding that it was important for landlords to work with professional agents that understand the market and can advise them on how to set property price and the kind of quality finishing people are looking for as well as additional services they require.

Many industry analysts believe that quality customer service paired with the technological advancements in the real estate market would make a huge difference in the sector while online property buying and selling has to be done with a great deal of transparency to get a wider buy-in from Nigerians.

Call Centres, Cyber Cafes, Airtime Vendors Most Hit As Lagosians Embrace Mobile Apps
By Kelechi Okoye, Okusanya Adedayo, Adetayo Adeowo and Angela Opara

In Lagos, business centres are mostly known for offering typing, printing, lamination, binding and Internet services. Years back, owners of such centres used to make fortunes from them, but the story has been different of late due to technological innovations that enable people to enjoy such services without necessarily visiting a business centre.

Speaking on how technology has affected the operations of business centres in the state, some proprietors acknowledged that there have been some adverse affects but also noted that the challenge has helped them to improve their offerings.

To the chief executive officer of Reward Management Services, a business centre located in Ilasamaja area of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Shoetan, the demands of modern technology on the business has helped him to expand his business.

“Not many people come for typing these days, instead they type through their phones and other apps. This made us to include the design and printing of business cards in our services. We also load data for 9jabet shops that uses Spectranet, Smile and MTN. Before now, we typed a lot but with WhatsApp and other applications, the volume has reduced. People now do a lot from their phones.”

A computer operator, Anne Chisom, stated that in the business centre where she works, they offer internet, typing, printing, business card designing and binding services, among others. She, however, said the café arm of the business was no longer as lucrative as it were because of the advent of smartphones.

She said: “People rarely come to the café to buy time for browsing. People now have android phones to search for anything they want instead of going to a café to buy time for browsing. This has forced us to include some other businesses like Digital Image printing, designing of identity cards, flyers, bulk SMS and bulk printing. We also design and print wedding cards, birthday invitations etc. We even sell stationeries and also do online payments like electricity bills, Dstv, Gotv, Startimes and online transfers.

“Technology has really affected a lot of things but we thank God it also helped us to discover other business ideas which have helped the business to improve.”

Promise Ene, a former call centre operator, said she stopped her business because of lack of patronage. “I stopped my business because I did not have much customers like before. In a day I could only have two customers. You know that almost everyone has a phone now. So, there is really no need for many people to pay to make a call.”

Aminu Kazeem also had the same challenge but explained that he has moved his business to the international airport because that is the only place he could make profit.

“People that are coming into the country sometimes need to make phone calls to family members or friends to announce their arrival or pinpoint their location,” he explained.

For Goodluck Obinna, “Call centre business had long gone in this part of the world. Almost everyone has access to a mobile phone. I used to have a very big call centre six years ago but because of technology, the business crashed. You hardly see any call centre anywhere.

“Phones are very cheap and accessible now. Who would want to pay N30 for a call of one minute now? Even when people would want to keep their numbers anonymous by patronising call centres, now it is possible to remain anonymous with your mobile phone by making your phone number private.”

Airtime Dealers Bemoan Poor Patronage
In a related development, few years back, selling of airtime was one of the hottest businesses in Lagos. It served as a means of livelihood to a lot of people. But the introduction of E-Top-Up platforms for airtime recharge has made things easier for customers to the disadvantage of roadside vendors and call centres.

Speaking with The Guardian, an airtime vendor, Rofiat, said: “The rate at which people buy recharge cards has dropped. I asked a costumer who used to buy at least N4,000 worth of recharge card from me weekly why she no longer patronises me. She told me that she now recharges her mobile through her banking app.”

Another vendor who pleaded anonymity lamented that, “many of them just do it on their phones or computers these days and have forgotten about me.”

For Mrs. Olamide, another airtime vendor, despite the low patronage airtime dealers experience nowadays, the profit margin was too small.

“I now sell soft drinks and other perishable items in order to support my family. This card business is now more of a burden. Gone are the days of profit making,” she said.

The Guardian findings showed that not only petty sellers of airtime are complaining; big time dealers are also affected.

Mrs. Tope Olabajo is an airtime dealer who has been in the business since 2008 and also had a lot of costumers. She explained that before now, she used to sell at least N20,000 worth of airtime per day as a lot of people patronised her because she sold at a fixed rate. But she lamented that her costumers keep reducing daily.

“Nowadays, I find it difficult to sell N5,000 worth of cards in two days,” she lamented.

Abbas Maina, who also sells airtime, explained that he started the business two years ago, saying her experience showed a drop in patronage, especially on big denominations like N500 and N1000.

“People still buy the small denominations like N200 and N100. As for calls, I get customers once in a blue moon and it only happens when someone has a low battery and needs to make an urgent call, or the person wants his/her identity hidden while making the call,” he said.

Wisdom Edet confirmed Maina’s claim, as she said she still buys airtime either ways. “Sometimes I buy through my bank; sometimes I buy from the vendors. I usually buy from my bank when I want to send it to someone,” she said.

On her part, Chinmeri Chidiebere said she still patronises vendors, saying she doesn’t want to activate her bank short code on her phone to avoid being defrauded when she loses her phone.

This is as Blessing Amadi said she stopped using her bank’s short code to buy airtime when her phone was stolen and fraudsters withdrew all her money.

“Since I had that experience, I have deactivated my bank’s short code service on my phone. Once beaten, twice shy,” she enthused.

Christiana Akpan on the other hand said she prefers to buy from the vendors because using the short code is addictive. She explained: “If I’m on a call and exhaust my airtime, if the call isn’t important then that’s the end of it as the stress of walking to the place where I will get the card is enough to discourage me from recharging. If I activate the short code, I will spend all my money on airtime because I just don’t know how to discipline myself when it comes to recharging and making calls. That way, my money is used for more pressing needs.”

Dennis Kalu said the VTU recharge puts a drain on his pocket as he recharges with reckless abandon.

“Since the inception of short codes for airtime recharge, I have never lacked airtime. In fact, I make calls that are just not important simply because of the ease of recharging. While this is good, it makes me a spendthrift and that is not a good one at all,” he said.

To skeptics of the place of technology in moden day Nigeria, a financial expert, Mr. Samuel Chinedu, urged Nigerians, especially traders, to embrace new technologies that are connected to their businesses.

“Businesses must be structured to accommodate modern day changes and technological advancements. VTU and the rest of them are here to stay. The earlier business people realise it and figure a way to stay relevant in business, the better for them.”

Our Fate Is Unknown In the Coming Years, Photographers Lament
By Victoria Nwosu
Another trade that technology is disrupting in the country presently is photography. Photographers in Ago Palace Way, Okota, Lagos, told The Guardian that advancements in technology, especially the advent of high tech smartphones, was frustrating their businesses.

During a visit to a photo studio in the area, a photographer, who identified himself simply as Dare, said the advent of smartphones has caused a lot of disruptions in the industry.

“Photography is a very lucrative business; there are so many opportunities in it too. However, with the recent dawn of newer trends in technology, for instance, mobile phones with high megapixels and resolution, a lot of tension is being created in the industry. People who have Apple phones hardly contact us for a shoot now. I cannot count how many customers we have lost as a result of acquiring a mobile phone with a good camera quality,” he lamented.

Another photographer, John, spoke in similar vein. He claimed that photography was gradually fading away with the introduction of modern technologies. He also stated that people no longer patronise photo studios for coverage of events as in the past years due to high-resolution cameras in their mobile phones. He argued that their fate in the coming years is unknown, saying technology might eventually kick photography out of the scene.

“Who knows what might happen? Technology might probably take over and no one would be talking about photo studios or cameras anymore. Why not? There are so many handy devices that are not as big as a camera and yet deliver well, sometimes even better,” he noted.

On his part, Remi Brown, who is also known as RB the cameraman, said: “Nowadays, people do not even want hardcopies of their photos anymore. In the last six months, I can say that in all the shoot sessions I have done, 95 per cent did not want hardcopies. All they requested for is soft copies. So automatically, there is no gain from that area of the business anymore.

“Gone are the days when we needed hard copies of photos to keep memories of events we attended. Now, a selfie does it all,” he added.

Also speaking, Ayomide Adedeji, a photographer with over 10 years experience, lamented that technology has impacted the industry greatly.

On how he has been coping with the situation, Ayomide said: “The only thing we do now is to make sure our photos are extremely topnotch. With the rate at which high tech gadgets are emerging, we strive to certify that our photo quality is still discernibly better. That is where editing comes in. That is the major thing we do now to remain relevant in the industry.”

In Anambra, Small Businesses Cope With Tech Disruptions
From Osiberoha Osibe and Uzoma Nzeagwu, Awka
Anambra State is a well-known hub of commerce. The Guardian observations however revealed that many businesses like photography, call centres and cybercafé are gradually phasing out due to the advent of modern technologies.

In an interview, a call centre operator who has leveraged on modern technology to diversify his trade, Oliver Emeka Ezekwem, said he was among those who bought into the pay-as-you-call messages of the 1960s and 1970s at the time the defunct NITEL came up with its technological advancement in call making by establishing a call centre.

According to him, in early 2000 when the GSM technology came into the country, only few people operated call centres. He stated that he then had a kiosk where people came to call their loved ones and paid for the duration of the phone call, adding that he also sold airtime.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu. Photo: TWITTER/FMSTNG

Ezekwem explained that he later turned to buying and selling bulk airtime and phone accessories when patronage for call centres began to wane.

He noted that amid technological advancements, he has also continued to innovate through his Emmy Dot Communications Nigeria Limited where he is the chief executive officer.

“I didn’t fold my hands when the call centre business was losing patronage. I adapted to the technology and started using Virtual Top Up (VTU) to recharge credit for customers. When people started surfing the internet with their smartphones, we started selling modem. So, we continue to cope with technological developments.

“Today, we do welcome back and SIM Card registration. We sell GSM products and accessories. We also register UTME candidates and provide some services to online job applicants. I never knew that the horizon of communications was so enormous. It makes life simple and easier,” he noted.

A photographer and videographer, Emmanuel Nweke Nwokolo from Amasea in Awka North local council area of Anambra State is one of the oldest and experienced hands in the trade in the area. He has survived the threat of modern technology.

Nwokolo said he has resorted to producing instant pictures instead of going to the photo laboratory due to the avalanche of people who use smartphones at events.

In his remarks, Donatus Nwagbara of Centre of Basic Space Science, said more communication businesses were coming up with the advent of smartphones.

“With your smartphone, you buy cards, transfer money, pay your bills, book flights and pay school fees where the application is provided. The era of fighting or arguing at phone call centres over 59 seconds, 61 seconds etc is over while queuing at banks, electricity distribution company offices and public phone units, among others, is fast coming to an end due to technology,” he noted.

Also speaking, the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr Isa Hamza, said: “In photography, there is no need for washing and it enhances the business and makes it easier. In terms of business, technology has taken some lovers of photography out of business, but many others with technological ability have become self reliant and getting the dividends in the business.”

“For cyber café, not much adverse effect is being felt because some activities must be carried out with advanced technology.”

He argued that smartphones could only give access to internet, adding that there are other activities which could only be accessed at the cyber café.

“Technology is getting deserved attention, but it has not reached the stage of apprehensible level because it deals with knowledge, training; either through school or some technology retraining. People are not loosing out as such because we must move forward to catch up with the digital era,” he noted.

Edo Post Office Moves Only Big Parcels Now
From Michael Egbejule, Benin City.
In Edo State, one of the major sectors that have suffered serious setback as a result of technological advancement is the Nigeria Postal Service. Before the advent of modern technology, which has made communication faster and easier, the various postal service outfits, particularly the Nigeria Postal Service, was thriving with several business offices across the state.

But the postal offices located across the 18 local council areas of the state, which used to be a beehive of activities, have all become decrepit, with their premises either abandoned or under utilised.

An artist, John Ogbeide, who spoke with The Guardian at the Post Office in Benin City, said technology has provided many new outlets for amateur writers and artists to share their work with a global audience, through the use of smartphones and other digital gadgets such as computer tablets.

He said the post office was one of the most visited places by residents who came to send mails and parcels to their loved ones or business partners, adding that there used to be other small businesses operating in the premises because of the large turnout of customers.

He recalled that before the advent of GSM technology, residents from all over the state used to come to the Benin post office to either use the defunct NITEL landline telephone or send mails/parcels using the Post Office Box or Private Mail Box (PMB).

According to him, all the activities in the post office disappeared in the last decade. “What is left at the Benin postal office on the Airport Road is the large expanse of land belonging to NIPOST, which is now used as parking lot for customers of other small private businesses operating inside the post office complex,” he stated.

Another resident, Paul Osawaru, said electronic mail (email) message system has adversely affected operations of postal service. “Technology has had negative impact on the postal service industry as residents send mails and receive mails from the comfort of their homes and offices without having to visit any of the post offices closest to them,” he said.

He, however, said the movement of heavy parcels was still thriving but not in the magnitude it used to.

“We have low turnout of customers here on a daily basis. The people you find here most of the times are here to send parcels and get other information on our services. The postal service business was mainly affected nationwide by the GSM technology, which makes phone calls, sending SMS, sending and receiving mails very easy and convenient as long as you have network coverage in the area.”Osawaru said.

Airtime Card Sellers Disappearing On Owerri Streets
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

Modern technological breakthroughs have changed many analogue ways of doing things in Imo State to more digital ways. As a result, some businesses have completely shut down or are operating skeletally.

In Owerri, the state capital, airtime sellers for various telecoms network are gradually getting off the streets because of low patronage. People stay in the comfort of their homes and offices to buy airtime direct from their bank accounts via VTU without minding the charges they incur.

Apart from the VTU, individuals now hook up to card manufacturers that work like an online network link. An example of such is ‘Recharge and Get Paid.’

Chiemena, a card seller at the Imo State University junction by Okigwe Road, said he barely sold airtime to her customers.

“A lot of my customers now buy from the bank. I want to look for money and start another business. I just delivered of a child and I am due to start another business,” she said.

Similarly, commercial photographers are hardly seen nowadays in Owerri. Around Ama JK and Douglas/Post Office axis of Owerri, there used to be scores of mobile commercial photographers, but only few of them are seen there of late.

‘In Cross River, Small Businesses Have Folded Up’
From Agosi Todo, Calabar
In Cross River State, some businesses have folded because of new technologies. For instance, the use of smartphones has made so many cybercafés go bankrupt and close shops.

When The Guardian visited one of the popular cafés in Calabar, HITECPRO, last Wednesday, it was empty without any customer. Only the operator, Samuel Bassey, was there.

Bassey said the advent of smart phones has limited people’s patronage of cafés, noting that the development has affected the business negatively.

He said: “Basically, the invention of smartphones have really affected the café business in the sense that some persons find it more comfortable and more easy to access what they want with their phones, thereby limiting their access to the café.

“For someone who is printing, he could easily download a PDF from the printer and use on his or her mobile phone and do that right at home rather than coming to the café.

“And also, if you want to send mails, you can access them right from your phone. So, the café is not like it was years back when if you want to do something serious, you have to come down to this place.

“For example, HITECPRO, back then, used to have cars queuing up to come inside to use the café, make foreign calls and all that. But now, you can just add the country code to the phone number and you can call outside the country. So, the café is no more relevant as it used to be.

“In fact, smartphones or technological advancements as a whole have affected the café business negatively. It can’t be positive. See, I have been here since 11a.m. I have not had a single customer. But definitely, there are persons that have need to use the café on a daily basis; there is always job. But he only time they remember the café is when they don’t have resources. Maybe they don’t have light or they have issues with data or they are in a tight corner. But overall, people no longer see the café as their number one choice for certain works,” he said.

Bassey said HITECPRO has been in existence for 21 years now, stressing that it won’t fold up easily despite the adverse effects of modern technology on the business.

“Some persons still recognise the café and our prizes defer from road side business centres. We might not have business now but hopefully one day, we might have influx of customers that will cover up for lost time,” he added.