By Everest Ezihe
High Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, the Chairman of Zinox group of companies and a digital entrepreneur says Nigeria can turn the poor, nomadic children popularly called Almajiris into millionaires, employers of labour or even employable citizens if a digital solution is applied to address their peculiar plights.
Ekeh,who delivered an impassioned and workable solutions to the age-long Almajiri issue which government appears yet to find a fitting solution to, spoke on Saturday as one of the panellists at the Africa Independent Television (AIT) Virtual Town Hall Forum monitored in Owerri, with the theme: The Economic Implications of the New Normal Post-Covid-19 – Anticipated Revolution in Digital Economy, Business Re-Engineering, Government, Trade and Effects on Global Economic Recovery.
Speakingon the impact of COVID-19, Ekeh said one of the major classes of Nigeriansnegatively affected by the pandemic were the Almajiri’s group who have been tossed fromstate to states like articles of trade nobody wanted to buy.
It’s pertinent to recall that a 2014 UNICEF report estimated that there are over 9.5 million Almajiri children inNigeria, which accounted for 72 per cent of the nation’s out-of-school children.
The global organization is currently of the view that Nigeria as the most populous black nation is estimated to currently harbour between 13.2 million and 15million out-of-school children, most of them are from the Northern region of the country.
However,Ekeh held that with a digital approach, the potentials in these Almajiris that nobody wanted to have anything to do with now can be converted to treasures ofgold in the vastly growing digital economy because they are young, brilliant with huge doses of untapped energy.
According to him ‘‘Ihad the privilege of engaging with some of them in Lagos and Abuja. They sound like glorious messengers and have enhanced psychology of begging which, if retrained, could make them best sales persons of the second quarter of this century. We must not abandon them.
Among these Almajiris, there are smart people whom we can turn to coders (software Application developers) if they are fast tracked under conducive environment with quality welfare programmes that could influence them psychologically to anticipate a wealthy future.
‘‘Theyare Nigerians on the street and they feel the power of wealth around them but are handicapped because of their circumstances and place of birth. We cannot abandon them. The world needs about one million coders yearly and through coding, they can become millionaires and employers of labour. They don’t need to go to the university or secondary school” the digital icon assured
The Zinox boss insisted that ‘‘Allthey need is a special finishing school for about six years where they would beturned to nerds and that will mark the end of poverty in their lives and intheir families,”
Ekeh further pointed out that ‘The nation and their states must provide forthem, else they shall provide for themselves to survive like others, and itcould negatively impact on the society from generation to generation. If we canturn waste to productive use why not human beings created by God?’’
He also likened the COVID-19 pandemic to a war, affirmed that the best way to win awar is to anticipate it, stressing that in life, “you must be prepared to win awar before the war begins.”
The multi billionaire reiterated that Nigeria was not prepared for the COVID-19 war, hence theseemingly difficult struggle to deal with it.
Further,he explained that the sudden rush for e-learning in the country was what he hadanticipated 15 years ago but added that the Nigerian government did not buy theproposal to make e-learning a life style among the people, noting that COVID-19has validated his assertion that without digital technology as a way of lifeand doing business, a nation cannot be truly independent or sovereign in the21st century.
Eke advised companies and organisations including those in the public sector thatfailed to take advantage of COVID-19 realities to scale up their technologiesas necessary tools in the workplace will either suffer huge loss or go intoextinction.
He predicted that under Post COVID-19, “a lot will change; a lot of companies will die. We are witnessinghuge disruption with digital solutions which have taken the form oftechnologies worth millions of naira invested to provide teleconferencing as weused to know it. Today, it’s Zoom. That’s disruption and such incidents willcontinue to define mankind.”
TheZinox boss, who is credited with pioneering a series of innovative firsts inthe Nigerian technology sector, insisted that Nigeria must see opportunitiesinherent in the post COVID-19 economy and take advantage of them.
Accordingly to him “Isee infinite possibilities and opportunities arising from the COVID-19pandemic. One of such was that, instead of importing face masks from China oranywhere, the government ought to have deliberately engaged Nigerians tailors,put them in school halls, give them electricity. They already have theirmachines. By the time we create such clusters in different states, we wouldhave locally produced face masks that would serve 200 million people and thatwould translate to millions of naira for the tailors and indirectly for thegovernment. The same tailors can transit to making school uniforms, underwears, ties, bed sheets and pillow cases, designer dresses etc., after thepandemic rather than having some schools import their uniforms from Asia andEurope,” he said.
Ekeh,a global advisor to renowned technology giants, Microsoft and the first topioneer e-commerce in Africa when he launched BuyRight Africa.com, regrettedthat the Federal Government lost an opportunity to help grow e-commerce when itfailed to initially clearly delineate e-commerce workers as persons onessential duty and e-commerce as essential service during the lockdown. Hecited the example of Amazon which, through the support of the United Statesgovernment went a long way in helping Americans observe social distancing andkeeping many employed even during the lockdown.
Theserial digital entrepreneur added that e-commerce is a very cost-intensiveventure, noting that e-commerce companies in Nigeria such as Konga are bearinghuge losses in view of the complicated and exorbitant applications which drivethe business and their status as heavy employers of labour.
Nevertheless, Ekeh insists that despite the lost opportunity, e-commerce remains the future of Nigeria and Africa in terms of jobs and wealth creation. The only difference between the success recorded here and in other climes, he disclosed, was the institutional support received by players in the sector.