The Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Chams Plc, Mr. Femi Williams, in this interview speaks on how electronic voting can be used to address electoral challenges in Nigeria. He also shares the story of the company’s recovery from loss to profitability. Goddy Egene presents the excerpts:
Recently, you informed the investing public that Chams Plc’s restructuring has put the company on the path of sustainable profitability. Can you shed more light on this?
Through the restructuring, Chams Plc was able to write off its accumulated losses using our share premium as seen in our year 2018 audited financial statement. We now have a profit of N380 million against the losses of previous years.
What informed the restructuring?
The need to remove recurring losses in our books, grow shareholders’ funds and lay a foundation for better performance and improve Chams Plc’s competitiveness in its industry. It will also improve the company’s potential to pay dividends to its shareholders and access other funding options available in the future.
What are the components of this restructuring?
We had earlier restructured our operations for global competitiveness, including a change in business model. We now place premium on identity management and we have introduced a good number of innovative products and services. The repositioning exercise that we carried out, through the injection of seasoned human capital has begun to pay off despite the harsh operating environment in Nigeria. The company’s financial fortune has been turned around to put smiles on the faces of our stakeholders. This can be seen from the result. We recorded a growth of 54 per cent in revenue year-on-year, while we grew profit before tax by 124 per cent. I would like to assure all our investors and shareholders that we would not rest, but shall continue to work assiduously to surpass this performance by the end of the fiscal year 2019. A court approval as well as approval of relevant regulatory bodies were received to achieve our restructuring exercise.
Chams Plc is believed to have blazed the trail as the first home grown information technology (ICT) company to develop some unique products for ease of doing business. Can you explain them?
Chams Plc is a brand to reckon with in identity management and identity solutions provider. As a result of our experience and expertise garnered over the years, we have built robust, secure and adaptable platforms to further drive the provision of intelligent business solutions to private and public sector. Incorporated on September 19, 1985, Chams started as a computer hardware and maintenance service provider in Nigeria. Between 1987 and 1991, the company pioneered major computer networking in Nigeria with laying of LAN and WAN network connections for various public and private organisations. Over the years, we have evolved into an innovative company providing intelligent business solutions. Chams started smart cards, identity(ID) managment and e-payment systems and solutions in Nigeria.
This later gave way for other ID management and e-payment solutions company to come into the industry. In 2011 to 2017, the country witnessed a major surge in Identity related solutions and Chams was a key player to this. During this period, we singlehandedly produced and delivered 70m voters’ card within a very short period for the Federal Government of Nigeria. In fact, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in power at that time, asked the “Committee of Former Heads of State” to visit our Abuja card plant.
It will interest you to know that among the delegates was our General Muhammadu Buhari who is now President of Nigeria and General Yakubu Gowon to mention a few. The project was formerly contracted to a foreign organisation who at the last minute could not meet up, hence, the invitation of Chams to carry out the production and delivery of the cards. The successful commencement of the JAMB Computer-Based Test(CBT) cannot be written without mentioning Chams. We pioneered the first ever CBT for JAMB in Nigeria. At that time, the then head of JAMB, Prof. Adedibu visited each of our centres in Lagos and Abuja and gave satisfactory nod to the professionalism and excellent delivery of the project.
The Bank Verification Number (BVN) project is among others, a highly successful project implemented by Chams across all the bank branches in the 36 States of the Federation. Chams Plc delivered successfully within the timeline stipulated by the Bankers Committee. The BVN project was reported to be a huge success and as you can see, it has transformed financial accountability in Nigeria.
Chams Plc is fast becoming a company to watch after it successfully conducted electronic voting for some reputable organisations, using a new solution. How far is this true?
Chams Plc has successfully deployed its e-voting solution (VOTA) for over seven years now to various organisations of national and international repute with commendable results. This has been tested, can now be trusted at the national level. We have successfully deployed our VOTA for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) among others. We have the technical know-how, professional competence, skills and track records to handle electronic voting in Nigeria.
What is your appraisal of the e-voting in those organisations in terms of the cost-benefit analysis?
VOTA has been proven to reduce organisational cost of election by at
least 50 per cent, because it completely eliminates the travel, accommodation, feeding costs of delegates, stationeries expenses (prints and press), as well as excessive cost on election venue and other logistics .
Does Chams have technical and operational capacity to deploy the solution for Nigeria’s electoral system, especially, with the general complaints that Nigeria’s electoral system is not only expensive and time consuming but highly vulnerable to controversy?
Chams Plc deploys state of the art modern technology to ensure performance and cost is optimised with the most secure technology available, constantly reviewed by standardised processes in conformity to our ISO quality management guidelines. One of such processes put in place to avoid controversies identified over our years of experience is role separation, which clearly defines every stage, tasks and responsibilities to ensure transparency among all the stakeholders. Electronic voting automatically avoids duplicate and invalid votes by design, these have been proven to be also major sources of election controversies.
Is Nigeria actually ripe for electronic voting against the challenges associated with ICT in the country, notably in the power sector?
There is no better time for Nigeria to cross over to the electronic voting than now, Nigeria has indigenous tier 3 cloud service providers to host the e-voting application successfully with 99.9 per cent availability comparable only to the likes of AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google. Your question reminds of when we completed our ChamsCities with Guinness Book of records certification and engaged Prof. Dibu Ojerinde on CBT testing for JAMB. We pioneered it, today it is history.
As a good corporate citizen, is there any plan by Chams’ management to contact the government on the option of electronic voting as an antidote to electoral cost, stress, violence and credibility in the nearest future?
Currently, we are putting together our proposition to the Presidency. And we are very ready to carry out a demo of the platform when invited.
What are the benefits and challenges of electronic voting?
Electronic voting has a huge benefit of convenience which in turn increases voters’ participation by huge margins. We have had a testimony of voters’ participation increased by 35 per cent while providing e-voting service for some majority of our client using VOTA. Avoidable deaths by election violence, road travel hazards, excessive costs of stationeries and other logistics are eliminated by electronic voting system. Collation of results is instantaneous with electronic voting. In a similar vein, the issues, suspicion associated with Manual collation will be a thing of the past. One major challenge observed generally is user acceptance and migration. A solution is only as good as how widely accepted. However, awareness programme is required to inspire the public on its benefits. The public has come to accept the Card readers. This is just a way of saying let us digitize the voting papers and collation processes.
Nigerian youths are generations of ICT. Can the old people who are not computer literate vote seamlessly under electronic voting model?
Chams Plc has variants of VOTA available for ease of usage. The web version to meet general internet user demands that the mobile version should meet up with the younger generations enthusiasm on android and mobile devices. Also, the kiosk version which concerns older generation and functions like regular ATM machine are variants of our e-voting solution poised to serve all and sundry.
What should be the first step in the event that the government is ready for e-voting?
Electronic voting requires a valid database of eligible voters which incidentally can be obtained from INEC Voters Register, NCC Database, Nigeria’s BVN and NIMC database among other sources of digitised data in the country. This database will be leveraged on.
Government is the biggest spender in Nigeria and ICT is capital intensive. But it appears Chams Plc places premium on the private sector clients rather than government in its service delivery. Why?
Well, the experience we had in the past with dealing with government actually brought us to where we are today. The popular ChamsCity was a large digital mall that brought Nigeria into the Guinness Book of Record as a place where the largest digital mall in the world was established. Though Chams still retains that record, the centres had to be closed down as it brought huge losses to the company due to the cancellation of the NIMC project for which we built the ChamsCities as centres where people can walk in and perform their registration for the national ID. This was why we have had to refocus our business on building Intelligent Business Systems that resolves industry issues like we did with the BVN.
Are there other things you will to comment about?
Aside our e-voting solution, Chams has also built robust, innovative and intelligent solutions suite that can be integrated into various facets of government’s administrative systems and processes as well as usable for private organisations.
ConfirmMe is a verification solution platform that allows the government to easily verify beneficiaries, – for grants, pensions, bursary, subsidies, for fraud prevention, ghost worker elimination etc. The verification service allows you to check your enrolled wards against the data that has been provided. Payroll Solution – a complete financial solution for managing and engaging your diverse workforce.
Residency & Citizenship Solution – an automated enrolment solution that allows government of a state or a nation have an overview of number of residents for appropriate allocation of funds and resources. Time and Attendance Solution – time and attendance solution allows organisations to effectively manage their employee’s day to day activities for office productivity and efficiency.
CEEDS is a robust solution for automation of school administration for identity verification, time and attendance and management. Integrated School Register – Identity management portal for all public and private primary and secondary schools with performance evaluations for both pupils and teachers. A platform for all forms of computer aided testing. Central dashboard for statistics of students’
distribution across the state. Pension Verification Solutions – This is an automated pension solution that provides ease of access to verification of pensioners in their
respective geographical locations. It provides headcount convenience to all pensioners for payments and benefits.
IGRH is an Integrated Tax Management System customised to the State
Board of Internal Revenue for effective collection, management and consolidation of revenue. Nairaplus is Nigeria’s secure digital financial services ecosystem that enables authorised organisations to provide a wide range of financial
and value added services to large numbers verified individuals, businesses and groups through a network of professionally trained and well equipped agents. PharmT is an electronic data interchange platform where manufacturing, importation, distribution and sales of drugs in Nigeria will be made seamless through the platform accessible to all Pharmacists in Nigeria.