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COVID-19: Building skilled digital capacities as recovery strategy

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Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Carl Michael Grans (right), Swedish Ambassador to ECOWAS Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria; during the Ambassador’s courtesy visit to the commission’s head office in Abuja recently.

The entire world is currently in the throes of a deadly pandemic. So far, there have been over 2.5 million confirmed 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.
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.

And 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 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.

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.

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.

Also, 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.

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.

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

Currently in our nation, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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