COVID-19 and governance: The rest of the world will not wait for Nigeria to wake-up [Pulse Contributor's Opinion]
The realities of a digital revolution have come front and centre as a global stay-at-home ensued in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, shared in an emotional speech the decision to lay-off 25% of the company's employees and change strategy. All over the world, there was suddenly a scramble for survival as businesses, industries and skills went on a compulsory vacation with threats of being obsolete soon enough. Notably, people's threshold for unethical processes, poor service delivery and crappy governance took a rapid nosedive.
Young people all over Nigeria have had to rely even more on external solutions for their survival. It is apparent that government and business leaders must be prepared to match up with global best practices or go home.
Ana Navarro once said that it is crucial to democracy and good government to scrutinize our public officials. In "COVID-19" retrospect, scrutinizing or advocating better systems have only led to incarcerations, abductions and political bullying in countries like Nigeria.
According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, "the first Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The second used electric power to fuel mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century."
With this revolution comes a massive opportunity to compete and outsource services. Better service providers quickly replace businesses that trample on their consumers’ faith. Just like business, governance might be losing its place as a local entity as citizens look to the foreign community for much needed leadership. As the vacuum in quality leadership continues to breed widespread dissatisfaction, a lot more Nigerians are looking outwards. We are seeing many petitions to United States Leaders, the AU and several other bodies like the Amnesty International and Change dot org.
One might wonder why suddenly there seems to be a bigger demand for democratic and efficient systems. "One of the key characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the uncomfortable pace of change being experienced by organisations and individuals, as emerging technologies create ways of developing, exchanging and distributing value across society.
"These changes are particularly challenging for governments which, as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has observed, are tasked with understanding and responding to a range of 21st-century challenges, armed with 20th-century mindsets and 19th-century institutions," - World Economic Forum.
The fourth industrial revolution is one that "threatens" the world and Nigerians with opportunities. As much as it promises us a world with more open borders, it also threatens us with racism, discrimination and xenophobia, problems that only responsive governance can tackle. On one hand, it offers us digital marketplaces but on the other hand, we have the proliferation of fraud and identity theft.
Nigerian youths are still at present excluded from popular international payment gateway, PayPal. Innocent Chizaram Ilodianya, the 2020 African Regional Winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Literature wrote for the Guardian, "It took me 15 trips to withdraw money. Banking is a maze for ordinary Nigerians". He also refers to the scourge of financial exclusion that the Nigerian millennial must accept as a "dividend" of democracy.
Meanwhile according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the digital economy forms 4.5 to 15.5 per cent of world GDP. In addition, in Nigeria, there is widespread phobia towards technological advancements like the 5G Network conspiracy, the fear of unauthorized government surveillance and infringement of privacy.
There are pastors and religious leaders who prefer that technology be held responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Some believe that the lockdown directives are a tool for destroying their beliefs. How does a government tackle the paranoia and panic that this kind of ideas motivate? It is not an overstatement to expect this revolution to come with a whirlwind and a storm. Citizens are ripe for sudden outbursts and panic.
Access to information, social media and platforms has given voice to many causes. There is little room to hide the injustice meted out to the Nigerian populace by the rich, the famous and the powerful. Every other day, there is a protest, there is a hashtag, and there are people demanding action now.
The opportunities to express dissatisfaction is in its abundance. We are quick to cancel businesses and people on twitter for the littlest infractions. Crippling an organization's visibility on digital spaces has become a weapon for redress and advocacy. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown businesses, governments and leaders even more, why they need to consolidate public opinion for decision-making.
These times, for many Nigerian leaders, present an unprecedented level of exposure and awareness. In the past, governance in Nigeria had typically been an affair perpetuated in the shadows of political rallies and under the dingy lights of beer parlours. Being part of government was not a position that came with a clean ballot box and bloodless voting.
It has been a case of blind leaders foisting their regurgitated idea of the people's needs – more roads and pipe-borne water, down their throats. No one wants to know what it would cost Tunji in Lagos to start a business or how Chike would manage to pay his office rent.
The Nigerian government is crawling on its knees, bleeding through the third industrial revolution and unable to stand. It might take an even bigger beating in the fourth. This revolution is one that relies critically on information and dialogue. It is hard for a lot of African leaders and most importantly Nigerian leaders, to come to terms with how much they must know and explain to the ordinary man.
As the challenges of food, security, unemployment, energy, and housing continue to rise, the need for data and dialogue will grow. Decision-making is swiftly moving towards a data revolution and people want to have a say in their own future. In Nigeria, for example, the lockdown directives created a situation where farmers funded by platforms like Crowdyvest & Thrive Agric could not get to their farms.
This report from Agritech solutions is just a minuscule representation of the impact the pandemic may have had on the Nigerian Agricultural value chain. The lockdown altered the cycle of harvesting or planting for many farmers and it is unclear how prepared the government is to handle the food crisis and shortage this might create.
The snowball effect of this situation on the food security is still to be felt several months into the year 2020 and even 2021. The government response to this was plagued with reports of unhealthy food distribution and mismanaged funds across several states. We witnessed an upsurge of civil rights abuse where military and police meted out violence on farmers and essential workers without repercussions.
Again, another case of bad service delivery and, bad governance. Closely related to this is how the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) recently filed a lawsuit against Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health and Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), over their alleged failure to account for the public funds and other resources donated or provided to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
A tweet from the official handle of the Nigerian Ministry of Finance begging Elon Musk for ventilators met with the searing heat of social media outrage. That was bad service delivery in the "honest opinion" of a good number of Nigerians. It is a situation where the government itself is willing to be outsourced.
In response to widespread outrage, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) withdrew an invitation to Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State as a speaker at her Annual General Conference in 2020. The argument by the majority of those who called for this withdrawal on social media was that, the NBA should not give its platform to "someone who has a penchant for promoting impunity" as Femi Falana, SAN described the governor.
All over the world, economies are engaging experts and industry leaders in dialogue so that they can probably adjust to the emerging realities of the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown. The need to retain and sustain citizen and investor confidence in the economy is one that relies a lot on perception.
Across the continents, experts in Agriculture, Real Estate, Health Care and several other industries continue to drive conversation on the role government must play in these dire times. One of the biggest jobs of governance is keeping people satisfied and confident. This is no menial task. The worst thing that can happen to any economy is panic.
Unfortunately, the access and information overload has made sure that Nigeria's public perception continues to take a battering. If we are working with the official figures of about 180 million resident Nigerians, then the quality of governance must hurriedly improve to meetup with the world. Governance as service is a concept that is practically foreign to most Nigerian politicians.
What we have produced is a grossly arrogant and ignorant leadership style and a vengefully obstinate citizenry. Nigerians are tired of cooperating or doing what is right. People have come to believe that giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar is no longer the best way forward.
When governance becomes a tool for oppression, dictatorship and in some cases muffling independent press, then we can hardly expect better from the populace. However, the world is not going to wait for Nigeria to wake up to the new realities.
The digital revolution will not take a pause. When it comes to ethics, service delivery and accountability, someone must do the right thing. The question is whether the government will bell the cat regardless of the masses or whether the masses will continue to outsource governance and accountability to social media and the internet.
Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.
About the author: Oladeji Jonathan Damilola is a Nigerian living in South Africa, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Real Estate at the University of Pretoria. He is co-author of Life's Chrysalis, a past winner of the Biopage International Essay Contest and founder of Creative Freelance Writerz-Africa. He has written for platforms like The Guardian News Nigeria, Sahara Reporters, Tuck Magazine and others. He plays the saxophone.
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