There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a serious challenge to the global economy, Nigeria inclusive. However, I seriously think that within this challenge, there are opportunities for Nigeria to scale as a nation. The opportunities abound. Such growth will only happen if Nigerian companies and innovators are encouraged to make use of the window of opportunity presented by the crises orchestrated by the pandemic.
Nigeria indeed has the population and human capital capabilities. Beyond population, Nigeria needs a critical ingredient to make use of the chance to succeed presented by this pandemic. Nations like the US, China, and India give us a gleam of what such an ingredient should be. These nations are not just known for their huge populations, but for their innovative ideas. Therein lies the answer to Nigeria’s quest to defeating the pandemic and turning it to a thing of blessing in disguise: innovation that is readily supported by the Federal Government.
Instead of looking inward to explore the natural and human resources available to fight the pandemic, the Federal Government seems to be more interested in promoting other countries’ ideas and innovations.
Let us take the issue of face masks, for example. Nigerians were shocked when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Nigeria was exploring the option to import one million face masks from China. I find such a plan as preposterous in this era when the government should be creating workable strategies to rescue the Nigerian economy from being asphyxiated. It is said that this is happening at a time when Nigeria is seriously seeking an alternative to crude oil to live on. Worse still, it is happening at a time when millions of Nigerians are set to lose their jobs and other means of livelihood as a result of the harsh economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. By relying on imported face masks from China, Nigeria is inadvertently creating a huge number of jobs in the Chinese economy at the detriment of poor Nigerians.
Simply put, Nigerian policymakers can use face masks as a serious tool to turn around the Nigeria economy for the better. What does it take to produce a face mask? Nothing serious. Believe me when I tell you nothing serious. Nigeria has both the human and natural resources to produce face masks fit enough for local consumption and the export market.
In Ibadan where I live with my children and grandchildren, I can count at least 300 tailors. One sad thing about these tailors is that there is no business for them because COVID-19 has killed the business of tailoring. Nigerians are more concerned about feeding right now than about wearing clothes.
But the government can turn things around for these tailors in particular and the economy in general. How? The government can organize these tailors into groups, and make them operate in school halls where they will be supplied with constant electricity to enable them to produce these face masks. I am very sure with such a conducive environment, each tailor can make nothing less than N3, 000 on a daily basis from producing face masks.
This arrangement will not benefit these tailors alone. A lot of other Nigerians are going to gain from this simple innovation. Textile and logistics companies to be engaged in supplying the textiles and transporting the finished products will benefit from this innovation, just as the average Nigerian on the street will gain from this, in the form of affordable, locally produced face masks.
If need be, the government can also derive taxes from these locally made products. This simple innovation in the long run may help to grow the nation’s GDP and reduce unemployment rates. If Nigeria replicates such a set up in every state, the benefits will be too great to imagine.
I know some people may be concerned about the efficiency of such face masks at preventing COVID-19. This concern is not out of place. After all, NAFDAC said a few days ago that face masks made from cloths are not capable of preventing the virus. This is my problem with every Nigerian agency: they know how to criticize without proffering solution. What is wrong with NAFDAC collaborating with other relevant agencies to train a number of tailors on how to produce an internationally certified face mask against COVID-19? I do not think anything is stopping the agency, except lack of creativity.
Every country is searching for a cure for COVID-19. But look at how many Nigerian professors and research agencies are wasting away. If I can recall very well, Nigeria has agencies and institutes capable of producing globally acceptable herbs or drugs for COVID-19. Certainly, the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA), the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID), Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Nigerian Council of Physicians of Natural Medicine (NCPNM) and various pharmacognosy departments in our universities exist for a reason, such as the one presented by COVID-19.
One would have expected the Federal Government to borrow a leaf from the European Commission (EC) and collaborate with the Private Sector Coalition Against Coronavirus (CACOVID) to fund these research agencies and institutes to formulate curative or preventive drugs or herbs for COVID-19. Madagascar, which has looked inward in proffering solutions to her COVID-19 challenge, has shown that it will be easier to get a quicker solutions to the pandemic in Africa than elsewhere. Nigeria, like many African countries, is blessed with herbs and human resources capable of solving the COVID-19 pandemic.
How shocked I was to see the Chairman of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, a decent and very professional man reportedly saying that the Nigerian government was making plans to import the Madagascar herbs to fight the pandemic in Nigeria! It calls for serious concerns because Madagascar has never hidden the name of the plants used in preparing the herbs from the world. Nigeria surely has such plants in abundance. What is preventing the government to organize researchers of herbal medicines into groups to develop a cure from the herb?
It is obvious that lack of creativity and patriotism is the only cog on the wheel of Nigeria’s fight against COVID-19. As a commentator once said, Nigerians are interested in promoting other nation’s innovations because of kickbacks and returns. It is abhorring to see how we have allowed our quest for self-gratification to overrule that of our national interest.
If you look beyond the public sector, you will see that Nigeria is also blessed with innovative brains doing well in the private sector. There was a time Nigeria used to import bottled water until someone deemed it feet to produce bottled water locally. Today, I have lost count of how many locally produced bottled water companies we have in Nigeria. You will be marveled by the number of jobs bottled water companies have generated in Nigeria.
At the early stages of Nigeria’s telephony history, Nigerians were fraudulently billed per minute in the telecommunication industry, until Mike Adenuga came in to change the phenomenon in early 2000. He introduced per-second billing method to save Nigerians from such unnecessary billings orchestrated by foreign-owned firms in Nigeria. Like Adenuga, Aliko Dangote has gone ahead to show Nigerians how creativity can propel Nigeria to be self-sufficient with basic things of life: salt and sugar, just to name a few.
There are many more of such innovative Nigerians doing great things whom the Federal Government can partner with. If I may use a typical homegrown Nigerian group in this technology age as an example of the power of sustained innovation, it will further elucidate my points.
I have been following the innovative ideas of Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, Nigerian’s biggest digital serial entrepreneur and innovator of our time. I have been following his moves because of the interest of my wife, children, and grandchildren in anything that has to do with technology. I must mention here that my second and brilliant son worked for Zinox for few years before he moved with his family to the UK. Also, my stepdaughter worked for his e-commerce company, Konga before she left New York last year to further her studies.
Ekeh led Zinox Group to create and domesticate the first African indigenous computer brand. It seems easy now. But I can recall that when Ekeh started the African indigenous computer project decades ago, many Africans had only seen computers on the television. The Obasanjo administration was smart enough to recognize the Zinox project and encouraged it to scale.
We know the benefit of that smart move by both Ekeh and the Obasanjo administration today. Many Nigerian homes now have access to computers and other auxiliary technologies. Being the first ICT company from Nigeria to be internationally recognized as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Zinox has been at the forefront of supplying to the Nigerian market affordable technological solutions, including high-end personal computers (PCs), laptops, power solutions, workstations and now it has even diversified into lifestyle products such as television sets, Home & Kitchen Appliances and other similar products.
Within the Zinox Group, I am told, is a number of tech-driven companies such as TD Africa which has redefined the face of tech distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa, TDiLife which is presently doing the same in the FMCG segment and many others. The Zinox Group is a product of serious innovative thinking which has the capacity to represent Nigeria equitably well anywhere in the world, I must tell you.
As a real successful African father, Ekeh has gone ahead to transfer his innovative acumen to his son, Prince Nnamdi Ekeh – the Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Konga and his colleagues now driving their new-age vision. I am pleased to see that Prince Ekeh and his colleagues have not taken for granted the opportunity given to them by Mr. Ekeh. They have simply become the leader of the Nigerian e-commerce space today. Konga, after its acquisition by Zinox, has in less than three years, emerged as the company to beat in the Nigerian e-commerce business. It is heartwarming to see this indigenous brand is winning the war of owning the Nigerian e-commerce market against multinationals. Like Mr. Ekeh would always say – “No nation can claim to be truly independent until it has technology independence.’’ This resonates more now that our educational system is shut down because of lack of technology while other smaller countries are using e-learning to educate their children.
Since it was founded, Konga has never relaxed on its oars. Last week, I was thrilled when my grandson, Tobi, told me that Konga was hosting the first virtual live auction in Africa. It looked simple. However, one thing is to have an idea and another is to make it happen. Konga has shown itself to be a company that thinks and actualizes its thinking.
When others in the private sector were making donations whose outcome were difficult to account for, we saw how Zinox and Konga came up with the innovative idea to directly feed over 7,000 vulnerable Nigerian families every day for two weeks during the heat of the lockdown experienced in Lagos, Ogun and FCT.
This is the theme behind this article.
For Nigeria to overcome the COVID challenge and turn it to a blessing, the Federal Government needs to support innovative companies and individuals ready to give it all to fight the war against the pandemic.
In conclusion, Nigeria is blessed with both human and natural resources. The Federal Government needs to tap into these resources to ensure that Nigeria is not only able to fight the pandemic but also it is able to turn the pandemic into a blessing in disguise for Nigerians with the new normal. It is only then, post-CONVID-19, that Nigeria can remain relevant in the committee of nations again.
Ademola Ekun is a public affairs analyst who writes from Benue on the occasion of his 72nd Birthday
African Development Bank to launch African Economic Outlook 2020 Supplement
The African Economic Outlook 2020 Supplement would be launched on Tuesday, July 7 through a live Zoom event.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) announced on Tuesday that it will launch its African Economic Outlook 2020 Supplement on Tuesday, July 7 through a live Zoom event holding from 13:30 to 15:00 (Nigerian time).
The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the economic outlook of African economies and made disruptions to the earlier reported growth projections like the AfDB’s 2020 African Economic Outlook reported in January.
“The supplement revises the growth projections and outlook for Africa for 2020 and 2021 and highlights the impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s socioeconomic landscape. It recommends workable policy responses to safely reopen economies and accelerate growth recovery,” the bank said.
AfDB says that the supplement will be the first-ever published in the Bank’s 19-year history of the African Economic Outlook.
It will be presented by Dr. Hanan Morsy, AfDB’s Director of Macroeconomic Policy, forecasting and research, and a panel made up of private sector practitioners and senior policymakers will discuss it.
The African Economic Outlook is the Bank’s flagship tool for policy dialogue, economic intelligence, and operational effectiveness, widely read by policymakers, investors, academics and many others.
Zenith Bank ranks Nigeria’s Number One Bank according to Tier-1 Capital
Zenith Bank extended its lead over the second-placed bank in Nigeria.
Zenith Bank Plc has ranked in the position of the Number One Bank in Nigeria.
The ranking was done by Tier-1 Capital in the 2020 Top 1000 World Banks Ranking published by The Banker Magazine.
The ranking which was published in the July 2020 edition of The Banker Magazine of the Financial Times Group, United Kingdom, was based on the 2019 year-end Tier-1 capital of banks globally. Climbing a whopping 29 spots from 415 in 2019 to 386 in the 2020 global ranking of banks, Zenith Bank retained its position as the number one Tier-1 bank in Nigeria with Tier-1 Capital of $2.79 billion, an increase of 16.1% on the $2.40 billion recorded in the 2019 rankings.
According to the Ranking Report, Zenith Bank extended its lead over the second-placed bank in Nigeria. Zenith’s financial performance for the year was underpinned by a 29% increase in non-interest income, with an improved market share in both retail and corporate sectors.
Speaking on the latest rankings, the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive, Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu said: “this ranking, which further attests to our market leadership, is the outcome of a well-thought-out strategy of always delighting and creating value for our teeming customers through a broad range of superior product offerings, best-in-class service and top-of-the-range technology.”
Recent awards received by the bank include; The Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2019 by the World Finance and the Best Digital Bank in Nigeria 2019 by Agusto & Co. It was voted as Bank of the Year and Best Bank in Retail Banking at the 2019 BusinessDay Banks and other Financial Institutions (BAFI) Awards.
Most recently, the bank was recognized as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria, for the third consecutive year, in the Banker Magazine “Top 500 Banking Brands 2020”, Best Bank in Nigeria in the Global Finance “World’s Best Banks Awards 2020” and the Bank of the Decade (People’s Choice) at the ThisDay Awards 2020.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine shows positive results
The results encouraged moving to a larger clinical trial to test if the vaccine is actually safe.
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine being created by America’s pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, and the German firm, BioNTech, activated immune responses in receivers more than individuals naturally recovering from an infection, according to a small journal published online yesterday.
However, the research work has not yet been certified by other medical experts and it is still unknown what degree of immune response will protect an individual from falling sick. Still, medical experts praised Pfizer for publishing the data on 45 people and said the results encouraged moving to a larger clinical trial to test if the COVID-19 vaccine is actually safe and effective for humans.
“It’s the first positive data I’ve seen coming out of Operation Warp Speed,” Peter Jay Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine said to Washington Post, referring to the U.S. government effort to speed up the development, testing, and production of multiple coronavirus vaccines. “I’m really happy Pfizer took the initiative to publish it, whereas the others haven’t. I think we need to see more of this.”
Quick fact about COVID-19: Although for some individuals, the COVID-19 virus causes only mild illness, it can make other individuals seriously ill. The disease can be very fatal, especially among older individuals, and those with compromised immunities (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart problems) appear to be more susceptible.
The 45 individuals were randomly selected in receiving injections of one of three different dose levels of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine. 21 days later, after the initial dose, they got a second one.
Ugur Sahin, co-founder, and chief executive of BioNTech, told the Financial Times that his firm was going for a higher level of neutralizing antibody responses in order to increase the probability that those individuals vaccinated are prevented from spreading COVID-19 or being infected again.
“If you don’t know the level required to control this virus if you don’t know the power of the enemy, you don’t want the response to be too weak,” Sahin said.