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NITDA, GOOGLE, AND DIGITAL SKILLS FOR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

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Nigeria is endowed with a population of about 200 million people, with nearly 50 million using the internet. This has positioned the country as Africa’s most promising and suitable destination for foreign investors to participate in its economic development.

By Zeenat Sambo

It is no surprise that global tech giants like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, and others chose Nigeria as a base to flag their technological investment. Such investments are helping the continent’s most populous nation to promote digital entrepreneurship and grow its thriving startup ecosystem.

Google as a multinational technology company that focuses on artificial intelligence, search engine, online advertising, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, and consumer electronics has overtime channeled its innovative projects to help African countries develop their digital sphere.

With the launch of its first Product Development Centre in Africa sited in Lagos, Google announced that its mission is to make the Internet helpful to Africans, while also partnering with governments, policymakers, educators, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shape the next wave of innovation in the continent.

Before this initiative, Google has over time created innovative programmes to streamline Nigeria’s economic sectors into its technological terrain. For instance, it outlined its readiness to help the country’s media companies to achieve milestones by improving users’ experience regarding news delivery.

In 2021, three Nigerian media organisations were among 22 successful recipients of the Google News Initiative’s second Middle East, Turkey, and Africa Innovation Challenge. Priority was given to projects that reflect and demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the news industry.

The media outlets were given the responsibility to tell news across the region and to cover topics ranging from audience development to virtual reality storytelling. The project was not only to the reader’s advantage. It built an easy-to-use subscription management service that enables African publishers to monetise their audiences without technical expertise.

Being an eco-friendly tech company, it anticipated the inclusion of Eco-Nai+ by Ripples Nigeria in its projects. Eco-Nai+ is the first Nigeria digital geo-journalism platform that combats climate change through media innovation.

Through its 2019 Google for Nigeria Projects themed, “Making our products more helpful to more”, Google opened up new opportunities for Nigerians to venture into the world of digital technologies.

For the first time, it introduced a dedicated travel mode (Google map) to provide directions and navigation for motorcycles in Nigeria. Also, it launched navigation instructions in a Nigerian voice for both motorcycle and car driving modes, so that local names and places get pronounced as they should be.

This was like a magical guide for many tourists, motorists, and traders to efficiently deliver their services without any geographical hindrance.

To encourage women in digital marketing, Google again extended its philanthropy by committing $1million to support programs, helping Nigerian women entrepreneurs under its new initiatives aimed at supporting women-owned businesses.

In the effort to sustain development, Google West Africa announced plans to strengthen the contribution of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to the nation’s Gross National Product (GDP). These plans are being consolidated through collaboration with industry regulator, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to achieve the Digital Nigeria Agenda.

The partnership between Google and NITDA offers easy access to accurate data representation, prevents data duplications, and brings to an end the recurring chaos of mismanagement of information due to poor infrastructure.

The recent laying of the Equiano cable across West Africa, and its landing in Nigeria, reaffirms tremendous progress in improving Nigeria’s internet operations and connectivity. In the next five years, it is expected that there would be additional 300 million internet users in Africa, thereby increasing the demand for more online activities.

The cable which connects Nigeria, Namibia, St. Helena, and South Africa, would exponentially improve network capacity compared to the last cable built for Africa, reduce internet pricing by 21 percent and increase Google’s global internet infrastructure.

According to Google Managing Director for Africa, Nitin Gajria, the tech giant’s business plan for Africa includes a $10million fund for low-interest loans to small businesses across Africa. He reaffirmed Google’s commitment to create about 1.6 million jobs in Nigeria, build capacity, harness potential and streamline digital inclusion.

These innovations by Google will assist NITDA to facilitate a central database system in Nigeria to solve problems for stakeholders. Errors due to the multiplying database have made it difficult for many Nigerians to access or retrieve their data for verification.

The cooperation between NITDA and Google also will help to improve the performance of micro, small and medium enterprises in the digital market, and facilitate a broader platform to ease grassroots participation in digital entrepreneurship.

Such steady investment will help empower Nigerian business enterprises, support local trade initiatives, boost commerce/sales, and encourage numerous stakeholders to connect with local and international business/trade networks.

It is important for the Nigerian government stakeholders to collectively focus on harnessing the opportunities offered by liasing with the global tech giant to engender sustainable prosperity in the digital economy.

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UGWUANYI SENDS 260 ENUGU YOUTHS TO KEFFI FOR AGRIC TRAINING

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Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s administration has sent another batch of 260 youths selected from the 17 Local Government Areas of Enugu State, who have a passion for farming, including Reverend Sisters, to Keffi, Nasarawa State, for a two-week agricultural training at CSS Global Farms.

The first batch of 260 youths was successfully trained recently at CSS Global Farms, Keffi, under the sponsorship of Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration. 

Addressing the new participants before their departure for Nasarawa State, yesterday, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Agriculture, Engr. Michael Ogbuekwe, said that Gov. Ugwuanyi was committed to his mission of producing “the next generation of agriculture businessmen and women in Enugu State”.

Engr. Ogbuekwe added that the participants are “the people that will go, acquire the skills, technology transfer, come back to Enugu State and become influencers, innovators and people that will change the narratives in the agriculture sector of Enugu State”.

According to him, “The first set went and came back successfully and what we have seen is that there is a need to keep training more and more people.

“Consequently, our dear Governor, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, decided to send our 260 youths for the second batch of training, to learn about food production, processing, packaging, and marketing of agricultural products. 

“They will see agriculture economics in place. They will see how agriculture businesses are set up from the scratch so that when they come back they will utilize and maximize every opportunity around both in the urban and rural areas to earn a living and contribute to the GDP of Enugu State”.

Engr. Ogbuekwe, therefore, commended Gov. Ugwuanyi for his steadfastness and visionary approach to empowering the youth of the state through agricultural ventures and other lucrative endeavours. 

“Gov. Ugwuanyi has made a mark in achieving food sufficiency and food production in Enugu State. And the way we can achieve this in fullest is by training people to acquire experience in agricultural farming in line with international best practices, to increase our production capacity.

“I, therefore, urge you, the beneficiaries, to show dedication to the training programme, make Enugu State proud and acquire knowledge that would help you enhance and rebrand your skills in the modern agricultural value chain, in your interest and overall interest of the state”.    

In his goodwill message, the State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Emmanuel Ede, expressed gratitude to Gov. Ugwuanyi for his vision, benevolence, forthrightness, peace, and good governance initiatives, and driving principles in empowering the people of Enugu State. 

Rev. Ede, who doubles as the Chairman of Enugu State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, prayed to God to grant the participants the protection, good health, and wisdom to accomplish the task ahead, saying: “I wish you a safe journey as you are going and coming back”. 

Reacting, one of the participants, Rev. Sister Amarachukwu Nwaka of Daughters of Divine Love Congregation, Enugu, described the training as “God’s design”, stressing that it is a worthy step towards the fulfillment of her passion for agriculture.

The participants who spoke on behalf of others, Kingsley Sunday Odo and Joy Nneoma Ojile, thanked Gov. Ugwuanyi for the rare opportunity he gave them to expand and enhance their skills in modern agriculture and promised to make him and the state proud. 

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FRESH WORRIES FOR OIL, GAS PROJECTS OVER ESG STANDARDS

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• ARDA Seeks Options For Nigeria, Africa Downstream Oil Sector • Stakeholders Raise Alarm Over Protection Of Energy Infrastructure

Oil and gas experts are worried over the impacts of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues on financing for oil and gas projects, insisting that unless borrowers like Nigeria and other African oil producers quickly adapt, securing necessary funding for the sector may remain very difficult.

In the face of huge refining, storage and supply deficits, over $15.7 billion (+/- 50%) is reportedly needed to upgrade the existing refineries on the African continent alone to produce cleaner, AFRI-6 fuels (10 ppm sulphur content), and a clear focus on the ESG contributions of such projects is imperative.

Indeed, over $160 billion projects are currently under financial threat in Nigeria’s upstream oil sector even as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said oil nations might find it difficult to raise over $12.6 trillion needed for oil and gas investment before 2045.

Speaking on the ‘Implications of ESG Standards on Global Oil & Gas Project Financing,’ Executive Secretary of African Refiners and Distributors Association (ARDA), Anibor Kragha said attracting funding into Nigeria and other African oil producing countries may become tougher without strong consideration for emissions reduction, social development and governance.

Kragha reiterated that financing of oil and gas sector is in a state of transition, a development which is forcing closure of traditional sources of capital, especially from the World Bank and other national and international development finance institutions (DFIs).

The impacts of the ESG, according to him, mean that projects seeking funding must account for enhanced health, safety and environment standards with due diligence and reporting requirements, as well as updated Equator Principles (EP4), which all combine to impact financing costs.

Speaking virtually at ARDA Work Group Workshop Series on HSE & Quality on May 31, Kragha insisted that investors must now demonstrate how their HSE and Corporate Social Responbility (CSR) practices contribute to return on investment and business performance.

Disclosing that green projects have increasingly attracted more funding than fossil fuel projects since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, he urged professionals, especially in the HSE segment, to assist the sector in complying with global ESG best practices, particularly in the area of environmental issues.

“COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have more than ever highlighted the need for refining of petroleum products in Africa. We can’t expand our capacity without finance. For us to get sustainable finance, we must prioritise HSE,” Kragha noted.

The Executive Secretary said HSE operational excellence remained fundamental to success in downstream oil industry and inextricably linked to productivity, risk and cost, adding that all employees, including boardroom members and frontline operators must understand how their decisions impact the business.

Also speaking at the event, Executive Chairman of Energy & Natural Resource Security, Inc. (ENRS), Derek Campbell said Nigeria and other countries have more to worry about on the security of energy infrastructure.

While speaking on “Energy Security: The Protection of Critical Energy Infrastructure and Natural Resource Assets,” Campbell decried persistent vandalism of infrastructure in the Niger Delta.

Stating that cases of security attacks, including drone attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, METCALF Power Station sniper attack, ransomware attack on Sonangol in 2019 cost the sector huge loses, Campbell said there is lack of domain awareness in the sector,

According to him, the energy must now prioritise physical and cyber risk mitigation solutions for critical energy infrastructure and natural resource assets.

Campbell sees Energy Security Risk & Resiliency Assessments (ESRRAs) as a practice that countries must now prioritise to avert growing dangers to critical energy infrastructure.

Offering Manager for Honeywell UOP’s thermal oxidizers business, Janet Ruettiger, stated that UOP’s new nViro technology would provide solutions to help the refining sector achieve emission specifications more efficiently and more economically with less environmental impact.

With the approach, Ruettiger said organisations could rethink the way waste management is approached across refineries, stressing that it enables waste management to be integrated with the design of the Process Units, thereby providing opportunity for optimization and improvements.

THE GUARDIAN

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DIESEL PRICE MAY HIT N1,500/LITRE, 75% FILLING STATIONS CLOSED – MARKETERS

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About 75 per cent of filling stations across the country are currently out of business due to their inability to purchase diesel required to power their tankers and transport Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, to their various outlets, oil marketers stated on Tuesday.

Marketers also stated that the cost of diesel would keep increasing and might hit N1,500/litre in the next two weeks if nothing drastic was done to curtail the current challenge faced by importers of the deregulated commodity.

Dealers under the aegis of the Natural Oil and Gas Suppliers Association told journalists in Abuja that this was also the reason why petrol scarcity had failed to abate in Abuja and neighbouring Nasarawa and Niger states, among others.

Speaking on behalf of the marketers, the National President, NOGASA, Bennett Korie, explained that the only solution to the current challenge was for the Federal Government to raise the pump price of petrol a little in order to reduce the huge foreign exchange used in PMS imports.

This, he said, would eventually free up some forex for diesel imports, a development that would impact positively on the rising cost of diesel, stressing that the product was currently sold at N850/litre.

He said, “If you go round now you will see that about 75 per cent of filling stations in Nigeria have gone out of business. There is no diesel to take fuel to their stations. All of them are going down.

“And it is not that the fuel is not there, but the cost of bringing it to the stations is too high. We know that the crisis between Ukraine and Russia has contributed badly, but the government has to do something fast, otherwise we are going to buy diesel in the next two weeks at N1000 to N1500/litre.”

Asked whether anything was being done to address the challenge, Korie replied, “As far as I am concerned nothing for now. The only way out, if you want to know, is that they (the government) should increase the price of fuel a little to reduce the money spent on PMS subsidy.

“I know Nigerians will not be happy to hear this, but this is the only solution. They should increase the price of fuel a little so that the savings will enable the Central Bank of Nigeria to have enough foreign exchange.

“You and I know that we import everything now in Nigeria. Diesel is an imported product and it is fully deregulated. So the importers are not getting dollars at the official CBN rate to import diesel. Everybody is going to the black market to get dollars to import their products and so you expect the price of diesel to be high.”

Korie states that if the government could bring down the rate at which it spends foreign exchange on PMS imports, this would will help other businessmen who import diesel to bring in products at low prices.

“So you need to increase fuel price a little in order to ensure that the dollars spent in importing petrol is reduced and there will be enough forex for importers of diesel and this will cut down the price of diesel.”

He also stated that this was the major reason why fuel queues had failed to clear in Abuja, as many filling stations lacked the funds to buy diesel at a high cost to run their trucks, transport petrol to the capital city and would still be made to sell PMS at N165/litre.

He explained that Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri and other states closer to these areas had no queues because the three named cities had seaports and large depots for loading and distributing petroleum products.

Korie said, “The reason why you are having scarcity of petroleum products particularly in Abuja is as a result of the high cost of diesel. The price of diesel today in the market is N850/litre. You will also agree with me that the money being paid as bridging claims to transporters is not enough.

“The price is N850/litre and you are giving your driver 1,200 litres from Lagos to Abuja, if you do the calculation you will find out that the landing cost (for transporting the fuel) is about N40/litre.

“So if you add that to PMS, buying at the depot price and selling here, it is too high. So if your cost of bringing it in is at N40/litre and you bought it at N155/litre, when you add this you will get N195/litre. But you are to sell at N165/litre. So who will do that kind of business? It is already a loss-making business.”

Economic experts and operators in the oil sector had repeatedly called on the Federal Government to stop subsidising petrol in order to halt the humungous foreign exchange spent on its imports.

A former President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr. Sam Nzekwe, told our correspondent that petrol subsidy was eating deep into the finances of Nigeria.

“Petrol subsidy is eating deep into our national treasury. It is affecting almost every aspect of the economy, because so much forex is used for its imports. It has to be stopped, but we must get our refineries working,” Nzekwe said.

Also, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr. Muda Yusuf, has also told our correspondent that subsidy in petrol should be cautiously and gradually removed based on its depleting effects on both federal and state governments’ revenues.

PUNCH

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