By Chiwetalu Onuoha
Recently, the digital media space was inundated with comments surrounding the efficacy of facial recognition technology in some cyber videos produced in China.
It was indeed astonishing seeing how people performed mundane tasks such as electronic payments and facility access with relative ease. Simply put, technology simplifies seemingly arduous tasks, therefore it is no surprise that the most technologically advanced countries lead the global socio-economic progress charts.
In 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo doubled down on the administration’s resolve to improving the ease of doing business in the country by signing Executive Order 1 to catalyse transparency and improve the general business landscape. The plan was largely successful as the country moved 24 spots in the 2017 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. Nevertheless, the gains proved fleeting as the nation dropped one spot in the 2018 version of the report thereby losing 1ts 145th position to Mali.
Notwithstanding the challenges the government has faced in this regard, there are visible successes in regard to improving the business landscape and transparency. The Word Bank, in its 2018 report, observed that the government assuaged the burden of registering new businesses by mandating the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to open an online platform for payment of stamp duty using Remita. Ever since the enactment of the order, more Nigerians have taken the liberty to register their businesses as the bottlenecks associated with the erstwhile process have been eliminated.
The decision to digitise the process is in consonance with the technological drive that has become synonymous with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Upon assuming power in 2015, President Buhari directed all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to comply with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy. With technology from SystemSpecs, through its Remita application, the FG introduced a sizeable degree of probity in the public financial management system which has culminated in the saving of over N8 trillion from 2015 till date through TSA.
Understandably, the average Nigerian sees the gains of TSA as nothing more than phantasmagoria but a closer inspection of MDAs since the enactment of the policy brings its impact to view. Hitherto, the Joint Matriculation and Admission Board (JAMB) was notorious for its ceaseless act of generating revenue through the sale of forms and scratch cards but remitting a miniscule fraction to the federal government’s coffers. The rot reached a crescendo in 2018 when a sales clerk in Benue State alleged that a mysterious snake made its way to the agency’s vault and gulped down N36 million. Her claims were still topical in the public domain whereupon a co-ordinator in the same state confessed to flames engulfed scratch cards worth N23 million in an auto accident he was involved in.
The exceptional inanity of these revelations engendered a major uproar in the Nigerian social media space with many struggling to grasp why the body charged such sizeable fee for its form overlooked the diversion of public funds into private pockets. However, the agency ameliorated the situation by remitting a whooping N7.8 billion to the government, dwarfing the N50 million remitted between 2010 and 2016. The achievement of this feat undoubtedly boils down to its compliance to TSA using Remita, thereby discontinuing the reprehensible regime of fiscal opacity.
In the same way has the weight of obtaining Yellow Card been lifted from the shoulders of international travellers. Frequent travellers can attest to the strain of securing a Yellow Card due to the illegal activities of racketeers. The racketeers perpetuate their heinous acts by deliberately obfuscating the process and convincing travellers to pay more. Not long ago, an online newspaper broke the news of the arrest of four officials of the Port Health Service of the Federal Ministry of Health in Edo state who swindled travellers out of their money, tricking them into paying as much as 500% more than the official fee of N2,000.
Just as you rightly imagined, FG turned to technology to address this problem. Earlier this month, news broke that the old Yellow Card will be phased out and replaced with a new technologically driven one. The new document, it stated, will be verifiable via the Nigeria Yellow Card Portal, and the barcode technology will enable seamless verification from any location in the world. It is strongly believed that these steps will eradicate the corrupt practices perpetuated by the card issuers while harnessing the full potentials of the sector. This step is an undoubtedly win-win situation for all as it becomes easier for the public to obtain the document while the FG’s revenue stream expands.
In the final analysis, the gains of the concerted e-governance drive embarked on by FG has yielded astronomical gains for the nation. Beyond the examples previously cited, Remita has contributed vastly to the economic stability of the country in many ways such as the discovery and elimination of thousands of ghost workers and efficient disbursal of salaries via its payroll component. With these remarkable achievements and more, FG now needs to pull its weight behind indigenous technologies by implementing more favourable policies and prioritising them when awarding contracts.
*Onuoha, an entrepreneur, lives in Enugu