UBA Group Chairman’s Forum 2022 At Trancorp, Abuja On 11/02/2022
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE UBA GROUP CHAIRMAN’S FORUM 2022, AT TRANSCORP HILTON, ABUJA. ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH, 2022
Let me first say a very big thank you to my dear brother Tony, for your kind invitation, it’s always a pleasure to be at the UBA Group Chairman’s forum 2022.
Speaking on the topic: Digitization, COP26 and African Development, we recognize that those are two important topics that would shape the future of our continent.
A good start of digitization – there is no question at all that digitization and climate change will determine to a large extent Africa’s growth trajectory in the next few decades.
Digital technology for one offers the most effective way for Africa’s to leapfrog on development. Already the basic indicators are there and they look quite good. Africa’s total inbound international internet bandwidth capacity increased by more than 50 times; the operational fibre-optic network extended by almost four times; mobile telephony, mobile cellular subscriptions more than doubled; and about 58% of the population now live in areas covered by 4G networks.
Africa has over 480 million mobile money accounts, more than all other developing regions taken together. And more than 500 African companies provide technology-enabled innovation in financial services, the so-called FinTech companies. The valuation of some African start-ups exceeds several US billion dollars. In Nigeria, we have six unicorns, FinTech companies, most of which are valued at over a billion dollars. We have over 640 tech hubs active across the continent. Here in Nigeria, we are leveraging digital technology in various ways, especially to deliver public goods and social services.
To implement our social investment programme, for example, we have the N-Power programme where we engaged 500,000 young graduates. A digital company of very young Nigerians built the entire platform robust enough to take and vet applications from millions and conduct tests, and make monthly payments in every local government in the country. Developed by young Nigerians entirely.
Barely two weeks ago we commissioned BOI “Growth Platform” this is a digital platform had won international awards for delivering the largest microcredit scheme in Africa, that is called the Government Empowerment and Enterprise Programme (GEEP), which has the TraderMoni scheme, which involved giving microcredit to about 2.4 million informal traders. Now that platform engages 22,000 agents, living across all LGAs in Nigeria, equipped with its proprietary mobile technologies, they receive mandates to capture and digitize businesses eligible for its growing suite of different programmes.
In some cases, these agents (or “human banks” as they are sometimes called) open the first-ever bank account or mobile wallet used by many of the micro-enterprises. Every detail of each business is trackable centrally – down to biodata, images, spatial locations, geolocation, images and facial IDs of every micro, small and medium entrepreneur where applicable.
So, we have been able to use technology for the first time in so many ways. In the past, it would have been impossible to reach all these people in different places quickly and efficiently, but that is being done today.
In our Food for Jobs Programme under the Economic Sustainability Plan, we have reached digitally mapped over 4m farmers and geotagged them to their farms. This enables us to reach them more easily with government services, and also makes it easier to give loans and ensure repayment. Repayment has been a major problem with giving agric loans especially to small farmers. Part of the reason is that it is difficult to locate them. But now we have 4million of them geotagged to their land.
Digital companies also are opening up opportunities in every line of business. I’m sure that sometimes you bankers are getting a bit uncomfortable with some of these companies. KiaKia, for example, uses artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms to process loan requests in minutes and grant credit without the hassles of regular banks. Or Kuda Bank, for example, is a bank without a single physical branch, with all its features built into a mobile app.
We also have InvestBamboo, for example, which was started by two 26-year-olds, which offers new ways for you to save money and invest in stocks, all from a single app. Others have developed technologies that make it possible for us to invest in farms without ever seeing the farm. ThrivAagric and FarmCrowdy are two companies that do exactly that. They have a crowdfunding platform. So, you can actually invest in farming and agriculture without ever seeing the farm and get dividends at the end of every cycle.
There is so much that is going on and you find that the space is widening. But the challenge for us in the next few years is how to effectively use digital technology for mass education and for healthcare – that is a major challenge.
Beyond all of the successes that we are seeing, we need to educate a large number of people, train teachers – that’s going to be a major issue in all of these, especially in states where we have a large number of out-of-school children. Those challenges are also the challenges we are sitting down to look at. How do you train large numbers of teachers? And you cannot be able to train them in colleges of education, they are no spaces to be able to do so. But we’ve got to do it online and technology-driven.
And that also brings us to public healthcare. COVID-19 showed us that we have a robust public healthcare system, this is because we have a lot of experience with Ebola, Lassa fever etc. So mass vaccination and all of that are things that we’ve done very well. So, we have a robust health system, but the issue is that there are just millions and millions of people out there in the nook and crannies. So technology must play a role, technology must play an increasing part in our abilities to be able to reach our populations everywhere they may be.
So, the future, especially for digital technology for us, is one that we just have to take on at once from the very beginning, and we’ve got to look at it and see what we need to do. A lot of thinking is going on, imagine when we convened a major conference to look at all of these issues, especially as it relates to technology, it is something that we have done in tandem within the public service, to imagine as it were the future of digital technology and what we need to do, and there are so many different aspects of that. I’m not going to bore you or take your time so much with that this evening.
We’ll just go on to the other issue and that is the question of COP 26 and climate change. Of course, we all know that COP 26 is that conference that was celebrated all over the world, where we expected that the world will come to some conclusions as to how to ensure net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, most people seem to agree that by 2050, we should have net-zero carbon emissions.
Most of the world, especially the wealthier countries of the world, of course, accept that by 2050, we should be able to achieve the target set in Paris at the climate change conference earlier on.
Now, the question for us in Africa is slightly different from those of wealthier countries. The question for us is not just about climate change, we know that we have an existential crisis, the climate crisis, we know that this is something we have to look out for. But for us in Africa, it goes beyond that. We have a different type of crisis, and that is the crisis of extreme poverty. For us, it is climate change as well as extreme poverty. And the issue of extreme poverty is important, especially the way it relates to climate change, and that is tied to access to energy.
So, for an African country, and for Nigeria, for example, it is important for us to take into account the fact that, yes, we want net zero emissions by 2050, but in transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050, we have to take into account that even today we don’t have enough energy, we don’t have enough power. Most of our population do not have access to power.
Now, the rest of the world, in transiting to net-zero by 2050, want to ban fossil fuels. In other words, they are saying, we are no longer going to use charcoal – which is understandable, we are also not going to use oil and gas, we are not going to fund oil and gas projects anymore because obviously, these are pollutants, but they are not the worst, especially gas, which is much cleaner than most fossil fuels.
But for most of the wealthier countries of the world, would rather see a situation where at least public investments in fossil fuels are no longer made available. So, the African countries have a dilemma. Yes, we want climate change, we want net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, our case, 2060. But how are we going to transit from where we are and at the same time be able to provide power for our people? Our country, for example, has huge gas reserves, we know that the transition fuel for us is gas. The only way by which you can power industries is to use gas for power.
So, if you say you’re not going to invest in oil and gas anymore, it means that we are going to rely on renewable energy. Now no country in the world so far has been able to industrialise using renewable energy. So, what the rest of the world is telling us, perhaps, is that we should be the experimental continent, that will industrialise using renewable energy. But that obviously is a pathway to tragedy. We simply cannot do so, and we know that is not possible.
The point that we have been making and those of us from African countries and the developing world is that we refer to gas as a transition fuel. This is important for us not just for industries, but also to ensure that we are able to move from firewood and all sorts of pollutants in cooking.
We want to move also to clean cooking. Clean cooking can only be done with LPG, which is gas. If we are going to transit from firewood and others, then we need LPG -gas- to be able to do so. For us, it is not just gas for industrialization, it is also gas for clean cooking. Because cooking for us is one of the major pollutants and is a major cause of death especially in rural areas of our own country Nigeria, where we have the facts and figures. I’m sure it could be in some other African countries.
The whole energy transition issue for us in Nigeria and many African countries is a nuanced one, and we have to approach it in a nuanced way. We can’t accept a situation where it is the same pathway for the wealthier countries as for African countries. We have to have a different pathway. So, if the wealthier countries are prepared to ban fossil fuels investments, they’ve got to give us room to be able to continue to use our own fossil fuels, obviously for a much longer period, to allow energy access for our people and also to allow us to transit to cleaner fuel. So, there is that issue.
But sometimes what you find is that in making that point, we are also asking, because some pledges have been made by some of the wealthier nations of the world, that in order for us to have the smooth transition, some money would be made available. This was at the Paris Climate Change Conference where a $100 Billion annually was the pledge made by many of the wealthier countries, but we haven’t really come across the $100billion in the shape or form that we would like to see. It hasn’t really shown up. But we are expecting that that would be a part of it because we need to have it.
If the whole world is saying, “let’s move quickly,” there are parts of the world that may not be able to do so as quickly as the others, including many in the developing world, which is why these sums of money are required and would be helpful in that transition to net zero emissions by 2050, in our case, by 2060.
We in Nigeria, have developed an Energy Transition Plan, and we are possibly the first African country to do so, where we looked very closely at how to transit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2060.
That Energy Transition Plan is a very detailed one where we looked at how long it would take us to transit from, especially with respect to cooking fuels. We are going to be converting cars from combustion engines to gas-run engines and all of that, and how long that would take and how much it would cost. Obviously, we are also hoping that we would be able to get some of that cost, it is about – outside of business and usual spending – $400billion over the period up until 2060. So, we are looking at how to ensure that we are able to make those resources.
Just to conclude, I think that by and large, for those of us in Africa, what it would take for us to make the kind of progress that we need obviously requires us to be as nimble as possible, to be as forward-looking as possible, and also to pay attention to the various things, various developments that are going on over the world.
I think we already have a huge population that is way ahead just in terms of being able to use what is available, both in digital technology as well as in finance, for example, they are raising capital here and there.
We think that the future is certainly extremely bright, and my view is that unlike those who think that the African century has come to an end, especially after COVID-19 and some of the bad figures that we are looking at, I think that we’ve just come into our own. I think that we are going to take advantage of a lot of what we’ve seen, especially coming from the recovery from COVID-19.
I think that we are going to see a lot; we are going to see greater growth. I’ve seen some of the statistics, some of the macroeconomic figures that are coming from the IMF, but we always beat those figures. I think that we are going to do much better.
Let me thank you once again for the opportunity to come and join you. And I hope that I’ve not spoilt your appetite for dinner and dessert! I’m always anxious when trying to give a lecture to people who have just had dinner and wine.
I think that you have been a very good audience!
Thank you very much.