The need for every individual and corporate organisations to embrace and run alongside the speed of digitalisation and technological disruption for optimum performance has been heralded over time. The indispensability of the digital tools is becoming more evident now especially in the post-COVID-19 workplace era. In this interview with Daily Sun, the president /chairman of the governing council of Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), Bode Ayeku, he explored the cost implications of failure to invest and domesticate digitalisation in both private and public sector. He stressed that the cost of failing to digitised operations is more than what it would cost the government or private sector to fully operate digitally. (That is, what government lost in monetary terms as a result of not digitalising it operations and not making the environment digital-friendly is far higher than what it would have spent or invested in digitalisation.
What is the cost implications on the economy for the government’s delay in implementing digital operations at this time of the digital world?
It’s so obvious. The cost is colossal. It is innumerable. first, what is the total amount of salaries of workers from level 1 to 12 who stayed at home during the pandemic in the public sector because they were asked to stay at home but no facilities were provided for them to work with at home? Secondly, a lot of operations that would have generated revenue for the government were lost because I am talking from an opportunity cost point of view. For instance, for the government, if they were able to render services they would be able to make money because they charge fees on those services the personnel render. Let’s take the corporate Affairs Commission, for instance, if officers of grade 1 to 12 were asked to stay at home for about six months and they were being paid and we have a lot of customers of CAC who filed documents and comes around for other services but they could not receive such services, it then means that apart from the salaries and emolument paid to those people who are were forced to stay at home but couldn’t work because government failed to provide tools for them to work, now the revenue lot is another cost to the government, and it’s an ongoing thing. Apart from that, take a look at seaports operations, it has to do with digitalisation and technologically-enabled, but unfortunately, most operations are still done manually. The question now should be, can you quantity the revenue the government has lost owing to outdated and manual operations at the ports? it’s unthinkable, had it been they digitalised their operations where businessmen and women and other stakeholders do not need to interface with anybody, government would have earned a substantial amount of money but because personnel were not on ground, no digital platform to operate, you need to interface with the system as well as other shortcomings, the government has lost a lot of revenue, so when you are looking at the cost, it would be actual cost and opportunity cost. The actual cost in the sense that, what are those expenses that you incurred which ordinarily should have generated services that would have enabled you to earn more money which you have lost, that is one. Two, what are those revenue that you would have earned if you were able to render those services, so the cost is massive. But let me say this, the government must not consider the cost implications for the internet and digitalisation because of that they Will now say we need to take time. Digitalisation is the minimum platform that government must put in place for it to have a seamless operation. This disruption, nobody knows another one, we’re talking about the global pandemic – COVID-19, we don’t know which one is coming after this, even the #EndSARS protest, nobody knew it would be more disastrous, than COVID-19 because it the same …COVID-19 did not destroy or burn down properties or schools, COVID did not go to prison to release any prisoners, but #EndSARS, we saw what happened. What are we hearing? The government is rhetorically asking, “How do we know the exact number of persons who escaped from the prison during the protest, how during we get so so and so documents that were burnt down?” You see it becomes a very big problem but if they had digitalised the whole system, they would just rebuild the physical structure and retrieve their data and information digital archive and reprint. Very simple. Now you see the cost of not digitalising.
Recently, Kaduna State governor raised the alarm that Nigeria has reached the maximum limit on borrowing even with the collapse of crude oil prices, now what do you think the federal government can do proactively to avoid external shock?
Personally, I don’t see anything bad in borrowing. If it is properly utilised. In fact, the best time for the government to borrow is now. The interest rate is less than one per cent. Bonds were issued by government at 12 per cent, 14 per cent as at the beginning of the year, those bonds the government is issuing it at two per cent. Treasury bill that used to be 18 per cent in the past, the last treasury bill was less than one per cent, so this is the right time to borrow however it must not be borrowed for consumption, it must not be borrowed to maintain this our bloated structure, it must not be borrowing for personnel, neither should we borrow to serve the personal interest of those in authority. The structure of the institutions must align with the current reality that thins are difficult. So we must spend prudently if we must get out of the wood. For instance, if the government want to borrow to invest in technology, it’s a right investment if the government is borrowing to invest in infrastructure, it’s a welcome development because they are borrowing at lose your one per cent. So it is the right thing to but it must be spent most prudently.
What do you suggest that must be done urgently to move the country forward?
The way for us very simple, the government must be very prudent the way and manner they spend the meagre resources. They can’t continue with this bloated governance structure where we have too many personnel with outdated structures if they are discreet in the management of every resource, they Will try as much as possible to reduce their expenses where the stakeholders will benefit from whatever that us left on the system but you cannot spend the bulk of that money in serving these bloated structures and systems we have, it won’t work because it has no major impact on the people.
Many organisations are finding it difficult to weather the storm of COVID-19, what are those corporate governance principles that they must apply now?
We must understand that the challenges are not peculiar to Nigeria only. COVID-19 is a common denominator all over the world. So its impact is massive across spectra. But the good thing is the same corporate governance principles Will still be required to stabilise and take off on a very sound note to keep the business thriving. The principles are simple. It’s all about transparency. The truth is that before the COVID, during the COVID and after the COVID-19 l, the stakeholders remain the same however the expectations have changed but they should be informed in a timely manner of relevant Changes in operations and the impact, so Communication is key in times like this so that everyone will be in the same page. More so, corporate leaders must show fairness in decisions, policy design and planning in troubled time like this. Aside from that, there must equity, understanding and empathy.
COVID-19 has drastically affected everyone, many have learnt their lessons, so how do we prepare for such unforeseen and unexpected eruptions going forward?
Well, both the private and public sector had their lessons. Most companies have contingency plans while some don’t. Now COVID has wakened sleeping ones, we now all have contingency plans. For instance, Nigerian Stock Exchange since March have been operating from home, and surprisingly, if you Call any of their officers at any time of the day, you will get a response, if the officer does not pick your call, he will call you back, even if you send them mail they Will respond. Now ask yourself, if the Exchange house has been operating in the manual and outdated manner as it was 10 years ago, that means the stock market would have collapsed as COVID manifested. But they are so confident that even when there was a gradual rest on the lockdown, they said no, let’s continue to work from home, so to them, it’s no longer a regular PCP, but a normal way of working. This a very big lesson for those who couldn’t stand the ugly wave of COVID-19. Those who prepared themselves for any eventuality has nothing to fear or lose. So let both private and public sector invest in technology and digitalisation especially the government because COVID is a digital rapture for all.
ICSAN will be holding its 2020 annual conference next week, how is that going to impact on Nigeria especially now the country is grappling with socio-economic and political unrest?
The conference Will address so many issues affecting Nigerians. The theme for 2020 is, “Entrenching The Right Governance Framework For Economic Development and Sustainability”. We still have other sub-themes. A breed of professionals across the board are coming to dish out practical panacea to our multilayered challenges as a country. For instance, we know that the cost of governance is becoming unbecoming as well as other misdirected priorities. The government do not know it all, they need to be guided by experts, if you have observed, all discussions over time are directed to the government on what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, all are geared towards getting Nigeria out economic morass. We remain auspicious that the conference Will yield positive results, we believe the government will heed to sound advise from those who know their onions.