By Tim Akano
These are times when knowledge is agony, a weariness to the spirit, soul and body. And ignorance is bliss.
But first, let me congratulate the people of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun: the freedom day as announced by President Buhari tonight in his national broadcast is now May 4th. (04052020).
Freedom at last! But is it?
Addressing the health pandemic is 50% of the job. Fixing the HUNGER PANDEMIC as we resume in May will be more challenging than we can imagine. Most Nigerians are currently at GROUND ZERO! There is an urgent need from tonight for a National Dialogue: how do we jump-start the economy from May?
Researching into what I call the ‘’New Future’’ of everything in the COVID-TECH KINGDOM is an overwhelming experience. The potential long-term impacts of the watershed event is unimaginable. The liquefied nature of everything presently makes it harder to ascertain the shape which Technology, Economy, Education, Future of Work, Medicine, and Geopolitics will take after the end of this horror movie called C-19.
Perusing current macroeconomic statistics as an entrepreneur is like writing a love letter to heart failure or what they call ’sudden death’ in football. They are all in red, I mean Nigeria key economic indicators, pointing dangerously southwards. Nonetheless, the time to discuss what happens when Nigeria returns from the self-induced coma is now. The economy has suffered partial strokes due to lockdown, its full recovery requires sound economic packages, and not palliatives that we have currently. Most MSMEs have eaten up their profit and capital during the lockdown, how do we reflate the economy to minimise job loss and business bankruptcy? Where will government get money to finance economic recovery, so that it will meet its tax revenue target by year end? What type of stimulus package does business need? Nigerians need to prioritise debates on the survival and prosperity of the 99 sheep rather than focusing 100% of their energy on the one sheep that has fallen victim of C-19 which may or may not survive. National conversations around these issues are critical, urgent, necessary and important- now.
To find ‘’X’’ in Nigeria’s post C-19 Economy: let us have a quick peek at the official figures from NNPC, DMO, OPEC+ and CBN.
(1A), Nigeria debt is $85 billion+, (1B) 90% : percentage of foreign exchange derived from oil (1C) Foreign reserves dropped to $35.52 billion in March, (1D) 1.4 million barrels /day: Nigeria’s OPEC quota as against about 2.0 million earlier planned ,(1E) $65: benchmark price per barrel of oil used in planning the 2020 Federal budget (1F) $30: production cost per barrel in Nigeria,(1G) $15-$25: selling price /barrel of oil, (1h) Sagging oil Sales: supply more than demand (Ii) As America Shale oil prices reached historic $-0, negative pricing, Trump and his kitchen Cabinet are cooking up another Executive Order that will place embargo on foreign oil purchases, (1J) Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two biggest elephants in a fight-to-finish supremacy battle, (1K) only about 2% of bank accounts in Nigerians has N500K and above in their accounts before C-19 lockdown (1L) IMF warns Africa to prepare for its worst economic recession in 30 years, (1M) CNN has also warned Nigeria of the possibility of social disorder.
Albert Einstein mathematical prowess is unnecessary to Find ‘’X’’, where X is the likely economic and social consequences of the above scenario in the months ahead if other variables remain unchanged: (2A) ZERO stimulus packages for companies to offset workers’ salaries, (2B) Stoppage of booking of fresh loan facilities by commercial banks even at 27%, before the lockdown, (2C) None implementation of CBN C-19 stimulus palliatives by commercial banks (the one of 5% interest rate and one year moratorium for all companies), (2D) unending circle of crisis in the North East which is sucking all the oxygen inside the CBN Vault, (2E) Juvenile non-oil sector. (2F) N501: $1.00 Exchange rate as at 27/04/2020 at Ikeja Lagos.
With the above 18 known variables, you don’t need to be prophetically gifted to find ’X’.
‘X’= POTENTIAL STATE- BANKRUPTCY, ceteris paribus.
Venezuela, another oil rich nation facing similar ailments like Nigeria is already playing host to ARMAGEDDON. Venezuela realised $750 billion from oil revenue (2004-2015) and like Nigeria, nothing is on the ground to justify it ever made such money.
Unarguably, in a buffet-service, self-help economy, where majority depends for its survival on remittance from the minority monthly pay check, in a society bereft of social safety- net for the economically vulnerable (90 million, $1.00-per-day- people) and C-19 wounded survivors- social unrest seems inevitable. All is unwell.
How do we turn ‘’X’’ (potential State Bankruptcy) to ‘’V’’ (Victory curve)? Put differently, how do we flip this crisis into opportunity?
Nigeria needs 3Gs: GOD, GLOBE, and GOOD Judgement.
God’s help, Global support and Good judgement from the Nigeria Ruling class are imperative to prevent the country from falling-off the cliff. Otherwise, heavens will feel the congestions arising from the massive number of new arrivals from Nigeria at its Gate, which may lead to another pandemic in the Great Beyond. Similarly, the global community will be choked up with another novel uncontrollable pandemic: Nigerian refugees. Hunger is a great unifier. Absolute hunger, unifies absolutely.
Size of our population makes the mere thought of social disorder scary, stupid. Besides, in a season of social distancing, the concept of countries becoming their neighbour’s keeper is obsolete. Recall how grieved the world was when each of the following countries: Venezuela, (28.87 million people), Zimbabwe (14.44 million), Liberia (5million), Sierra Leone (7.65). Egypt (98.4 million), Syria (17m), Libya (6.7m), Somalia (15million), Tunisia (11.5million) imploded in the past. How will the world feel if all of them are to implode at once? Yet, those nine war-torn countries combined represent one Nigeria in population.
Nigeria’s implosion is tantamount to those nine countries exploding at the same time. The international community that cannot fix the 4 million Syrian refugees cannot be useful to Nigeria, if the House tilts.
I strongly believe it is possible for Nigeria to emerge stronger from this experience, if Common Sense and Good Judgement prevail. The Economic Team should call for a national debate and be humble enough to listen to and review both wise and stupid suggestions.
What has been unveiled so far by CBN are mere palliatives they are inadequate to stop the looming mass business failure.
The 13 suggestions below should be looked into by the government.
(1) Nigeria businesses that are 5 years old and above should be allowed to draw up to a maximum of 20% of their 3 year-average yearly Turnovers as loan at 5% interest rate with one year moratorium within 7 days after the lockdown is lifted, using their businesses as collateral. When China became serious on transformation, Chinese businesses get cheap loans (5%) within 72 hours of submitting their loan applications.
(2) 50% salary-subvention for 3 months: April, May June 2020 from the government for all Nigerians working in corporate organisations.
3 CBN to mandate Commercial banks to *extend moratorium on the existing business loans* that have fallen due by additional one more year without penalties.
4 Raise $50 billion from what I call: *Africa Diaspora Investment Fund* (*ADIF*). Interest on savings on fixed deposit has evaporated in some developed economies, indeed, negative interest in some countries like Switzerland. Therefore, Interest rate of 3% for the Diaspora investors will be sweet music to their ears. *$50billion can be raised from 10 million Africans in the diaspora investing an average of $5k*. *This is better than China or IMF money with their impossible conditionality*. *AfDB can be called upon to play the midwifery role*.
5 *Reduce salaries*, *allowances and perks of all politicians by 50*% with effect from April 2020, starting from Mr President and his Vice.
6 Give *ONE-OFF STUDENT-BURSARY of N50, 000 each to all students* in secondary and Tertiary institutions across Nigeria in both Public and Private institutions. This will bring instant stability to the society especially the Education sector which is one of the biggest employers of labour.
7 *NNPC must reduce its cost structure by 30% and save about $5billion yearly* for government to spend. If some OPEC+ best-in-class—cost-efficient-countries can achieve a production cost of about $12- $15/barrel, why not NNPC? NNPC’s current $30 production cost is unjustified. Cost reduction is possible by cutting-off all the slab, and eliminate sundry wastes in purchasing, travelling, hotel, and entertainment expenses. *NNPC should engage a consultant to achieve this*, *if need be*.
8 FederalGovernment, CBN and Lagos State to prioritise Dangote Refinery as a ‘’*Critical National Security Asset*’’ *backed up by Executive Order* the same way President Trump and XI prioritised Rare Earths minerals in America and China. The refinery should be accorded 101% support to ensure it is commissioned by year end. Why? Dangote’s Refinery is to Nigeria what Huawei is to China, or Samsung is to South Korea or Toyota is to Japan. About 70% of our foreign exchange is used in importation of petroleum products. If we can begin to save even 50% of that from the first quarter of 2021, Naira will smile again and swell in value while Nigeria foreign reserves will stand erect.
9 Nigeria should *apply for $20 billion GRANT from the EU*, *USA and UK as stimulus package*. This is a far cheaper ‘’vaccine’’ to give Nigeria today out of their combined $3.5 Trillion stimulus package than having to deal with 200 million refugees later on their shores. The Nigeria middle class with dual citizenship will overrun and overwhelm Europe and America if the pot boils over. It is in the self-enlightened interest of those countries to support us in this trying times. The $20billion can be disbursed directly to Nigeria businesses (MSMEs) as special grants to be administered by a purpose-built EU Vehicle for transparency purposes.
10 If number 9 request is turned down, then Nigeria should demand that all monies kept in their banks by dead Nigerian politicians should be turned over to the Nigeria government. Over 70% of Nigeria stolen wealth are kept in Europe, London and the US banks by politicians in coded accounts which makes it impossible for their families to have access after death. These monies are in billions of USD.
11 In desperate times like this, some well thought out radical solutions are required. I know currency printing is a CATCH 22 due to its negative effect on galloping inflation, but government needs to challenge its Economic Team to come up with audacious, hairy, out-of-box- fresh ideas that will bring back Nigeria from the brink.
12 Federal government to direct all banks in Nigeria to do a comprehensive audit of their customer base in the last 50 years and come up with a comprehensive list of the total amount of *money belonging to their customers who are dead without next of kin and those un claimed billions of* *naira whose owners have refused to supply their BVN for fear of EFCC*. The money can be used as part of stimulus package for MSMEs.
13 *90-DAY AMNESTY FOR PAST TREASURY LOOTERS* (*OCTOBER 1st1960- APRIL 30TH 2020*): Nigerians who have money in Switzerland , Dubai, China and other countries including those tiny Islands or inside mattresses or water tanks in their respective homes in Nigeria to bring the money out as fixed deposit in Nigerian banks within the next 90 days. Zero probe. Zero explanation on the source of the money. 100% confidentiality. The money is washed ready for national development. Just deposit and go home and sin no more. I have a hunch Nigeria will raise more than $100 billion from this exercise. The owner gets 1% interest on fixed deposit, the MSMEs borrow the money at 5% interest rate. This is a win-win game between Nigeria and the ‘’owners’’ of the money. Right now it is a lose-lose game as the owners cannot access the money for fear of EFCC and it is equally not useful for Nigeria economic development. Who gains? No one. If Nigeria can grant Amnesty to Boko-Haram despite their atrocities, why can’t we extend amnesty to those who have ‘’helped’’ Nigeria to ‘’keep’’ the money for a season of famine like this? Thereafter, anyone who is caught looting the national treasure after April 2020 can face life imprisonment or CAPITAL PUNISHMENT.
14 The 3rd G is GOD: If the first 2Gs fail to act wisely, only the intervention of the 3rd G (GOD) can make the CUP PASS OVER Nigeria.
Nigeria, probably, is God’s most impossible child.Honest.
Finding Technology’s X, i.e. the ‘’New Future’’ of Technology is another intimidating task. The question on the mind of every inventor today is ‘’ will my invention be C-19 compliant’’? The new philosophies driving technology today are: things are cheap, people are expensive, touchless, contactless interactions, social distancing, privacy dilemma and move fast and change everything syndrome etc. etc.
Where do we see massive disruptions due to C-19 experience?
One, Ai-powered Robots will go mainstream.
The world should get ready to ride autonomous passenger buses in 2021, as robots take over the most dangerous or mundane, repetitive tasks at the Construction sites, trucking, warehouse management, hotels and restaurants. The autonomous security will change the dynamics in the Fight against terrorism. Robots Priests who can bless you, advise you and even perform your funeral is upon us now. Japaneses are already worshipping Ai. We are in a season of neuro- digital computing where Ai-powered robots can see, hear and tell.
Walmart is currently deploying Ai to scrub its floors, South Korea is using Ai robots to measure body temperature and distribute hands sanitizer, MacDonalds is about to launch Robot Cooks and Waitresses, Amazons is deploying Ai in its warehouses to sort, pack and ship, a new Ai that will replace School Instructors. Fitness coaches, and Financial Advisors will hit the market before December 2020. Ai-enabled robot is used now in drug development, creating and deploying effective and safe drugs.
Another sector that will witness huge disruption is Mobile commerce and Banking. With decentralisation of data, customers will no longer be able to distinguish between online and off line world. Banking has huge potential for transforming its customer service, loan applications and billing with the assistance of Ai and natural language processing.
And in the supremacy battle between Software and Hardware, C-19 has announced the winner: Software.
Digital Concierge will go mainstream. Remote Managed services, Intelligence Augmentation (IA), Virtual Assistant (VA)- which translates your commands into personalised program, Personal Location sensor, (PLS), Visual Speech Recognition (VSR) the technology that deciphers speech from lip movement and knows what you are thinking and feeling among others are all coming to mainstream faster than expected.
Edge Computing is another winner, top six on the league table. Edge computing allows data from internet of things (Iot) devices to be analysed at the edge of your network before being sent to a data centre or cloud.
Another winner is HOLOGRAPHIC SMART GLASS plus Augmented Reality (AR). It will revolutionize the way we see and experience information and the way we collaborate from anywhere in the age of social distancing. This may be Zoom 2.0.
For the first time, C-19 moved the world closer to the real 24/7 economy. It is a new dawn for Containerized remote windows-desktops powering the shift from office to home? The home-workforce will utilise Phablet i.e. 10’’ tablets and desktops more than smaller screen telephone handset and Laptops. Also, Telemedicine- i.e. virtual consultation, to reduce hospital traffic, will become mainstream.
Some issues are left at the car park to be resolved later. One is 5G. Will 5G remain in the ‘’neutral gear’’ or ‘’drive gear’’? Two, will the world remain on one technology pathway or will China technology disrupts the: one world, one technology flow?? If China is prevented by the US from having full access to some particular Western technology (semiconductor, especially) – then China will be forced to create Chinese technology for the world, which will have huge implication on you and your business.
When McKinsey in 2017 predicted that by 2030 over 30% of the workforce in developed world will be replaced by robots, it obviously didn’t see C-19 on the horizons. The world is ten years faster.
Whichever side of the divide you find yourself from May 4th: 30% whose jobs and business models will go into extinction or 70% whose jobs and business models will be modified, we all need to re-invent to live.
Those who will thrive in this chaos will not necessarily be the brightest or smartest or strongest amongst us, but they are the ones most adaptable- to change.
In conclusion, COVID-TECH KINGDOM will be ruled by a Collegiate Executive consisting of SEVEN SISTERS: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Edge Computing, Cyber Security, Internet of Things, Cloud Architect and Blockchain.
Fortunately for African youths, these seven sisters are yet to get permanent Suitors.
This is a moment of choice and opportunity for African youths, it could be the best 30 years ahead for us in Africa that we have ever had in human history as we have the rare opportunity to leapfrog into digital Africa and reap bountifully from the global humongous Digital Wealth.
African youths should rise, with self-confidence and seize the moment.
Therein lies the pathway to their survival and prosperity and also, I believe, the pathway to Africa renaissance.
In the COVID-TECH KINGDOM: what you see is what you get and profit from, but what you don’t see is what gets you and relegates you to the Boy’s quarter (BQ) in the Global Geopolitics.
*Every cloud has a silver lining*…… *including C-19*.
*LET’S GET SERIOUS OR LET’S STOP PLAYING*.