By Henry Uche, Lagos
Taking stock of the year 2020 requires a painstaking effort. So many people have analysed the year under review and concluded in a positive note while others rapped it up in the negative. Reviewing the year in terms of productivity to Gross Domestic Products (GDP), National Income, Personal Income and the economy at large, not a few people maintained that the government and other employers of labour lose fortunes in the long run after the termination of appointments/employment, the nine months strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union oF Universities (ASUU), insecurity and other unfortunate Incidents and events during the pandemic that led to idling on the side of employees as a result of economic disruptions.
In this interview, the President/Chairman of Council, Institute Of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), Bode Ayeku, enumerated how the government and other employers become the loser when they fail to do the needful leading to the idling of personnel for months or more.
So many things happen in 2020, the global pandemic, insecurity, the nine (9) months ASUU Strike, retrenchment of workers, some companies down tools while others wind up, does this in any way help anyone?
It doesn’t! That’s the truth. However, we have learnt a lot of lessons. So many persons and corporate bodies braced up during the pandemic. Businesses went on, though not as usual because Life matters first before any other thing. Hence the need to save life first by observing the COVID-19 protocols. So, many persons and corporates had to adjust their operations. Even now it’s not yet over. But we are striving to keep our head straight. Thus, we are in process and progress to get there in preparation where such like this kind would not affect us heavily going forward. With the eruption of the pandemic, we do not need a prophet to remind us that proactive investment in ICT (digitalisation) and Human capital development is the way out.
So how did COVID-19, insecurity and recession affect the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN)?
The year 2020 is unique in many ways. At ICSAN, we look at the positive side of any unexpected developments like COVID-19 which has shown the advantages of digital operations: flexibility, cost-effective, convenience, good participation of stakeholders irrespective of distance, etc.
Fortunately, we migrated our operations to the digital platform in late 2019 before COVID-19 case was recorded in Nigeria. Consequently, when the lockdown was declared by the government in late March 2020, we thereafter started online lectures for our students and able to have our two regular examinations in August and December 2020. We successfully held all our programmes in hybrid mode: Public Lecture, Governance Professional Day, Induction, Annual Conference, Roundtable on Corporate Governance, etc.
For me, COVID-19 is the digital rapture of the workplace and the means of interaction with stakeholders. We have adapted to the new Normal.
Attendance at each programme was good as participants were given the opportunity to participate in the programmes either in-person or virtually. There was better interaction between participants and resource persons in each programme as more questions in the chatbox were answered by resource persons which were difficult when the programmes were held only physically due to limited time.
However, the recession affected the ability of stakeholders to participate in our programmes and for us to have the usual number of corporate sponsors. The high rate of inflation increased our expenses beyond the budgeted figures. To limit the impact of insecurity, we held all our programmes in the day time in order not to expose our participants to security risk.
What is your outlook for 2021?
We are praying for the best but strategising to overcome possible challenges in 2021. It is obvious that COVID-19 will still be an issue in early 2021 based on the second wave just declared by the government and the uncertainty relating to the period of availability of the vaccine to limit its spread.
As usual, our programmes will be hybrid to give every stakeholder the opportunity to participate whether there are restrictions on movement or not. Consequently, we will continue with our corporate governance evangelism in 2021 in hybrid mode.
What advice would you offer the government at the centre?
In view of the adverse effects of COVID-19 and the fact that there is no certainty of when the pandemic will be eradicated, I advise the federal and state governments to ensure efficient utilisation of their employees in 2021 and beyond. They urgently need to make massive investments in information technology which would assist their employees to work from home.
It is neither productive nor in the interest of the economy for governments to just request their employees from Grade Levels below 12 or 14 to stay at home to limit the spread of COVID-19. These employees constitute more than 80% of the workforce of these governments and such decisions have the effect of substantially shutting down of the various government agencies that are required to render vital services/grant approvals to the private sector that has embraced digital operations. The effect is that the private sector is seriously impacted and this is not good for an economy that is struggling to get out of recession. Consequently, it is recommended that laptops and data should be provided to government officers charged with the responsibility of interfacing with the private sector so that they can work from home, provide services and grant approvals during the period of restrictions.
In addition, records of government agencies must be archived digitally to facilitate easy retrieval by their employees when they work from home.
Furthermore, federal and state governments should make it mandatory that meetings of government agencies with the private sector must be held digitally (except where inevitable) for convenience and to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Also, it should be mandatory for government agencies to have an electronic portal where returns and documents can be submitted so that they can be reviewed by government officials online from home and take appropriate action.
A critical area for better utilisation of the services of the employees of the federal and state governments is the management of strikes embarked upon by the employees in various sectors. For example, lecturers in the government-owned universities were on strike for nine months (March to December 2020) and at the end, their salaries would be paid for the period of the strike. It is a fact that most strikes can be avoided with sincere and transparent discussions. Government should only promise during negotiations what it can deliver and deliver what it has promised in order to avert future strikes based on breach of promise.
In the education sector, we are likely to have missed more than three calendar years in the last few years to strikes which were avoidable in the interest of the students.
In order to ensure value for money, government should proactively present to any union all feasible concessions before they embark on strike so that the employees can do the work they are paid to do. The current practice of presenting concessions to unions during strikes is not beneficial to the government and stakeholders. Unfortunately, it gives the unions the impression that strike is the only way to get the best concessions from the government and still earn salaries during the period of the strike. Both ways, the government is the looser as they grant the concessions and pay them for the period of the strike. No organisation in the private sector would allow its employees to be on strike for a month when they know that they would pay them for the period of the strike. They always struggle to conclude negotiations during the warning strike by presenting all possible concessions in order to have a win-win for the parties and avert the strike. Government should henceforth adopt the strategy of the private sector in averting strikes and fulfil its agreements with the unions to avoid future strikes.