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Casualties And Lessons From PH Collapsed Building

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Friday, November 23, 2018 is one date that will linger in the minds of Rivers people, particularly residents of Port Harcourt, as well as those living and doing business there for a long time. It may be described as the most tragic news of building collapse in the annals of the oil and gas-rich city.
Lately, just when the usual crowd that trooped daily to the site of the unfortunate incident such as families of trapped victims, sympathizers and passers-by have reduced as hopes of finding more bodies dimmed, the unexpected happened. Rescuers pulled out two more decomposing bodies from the rubbles, precisely on Friday, December 7, 2018.
This brings the number of deaths, so far, to 12 while more than 31 persons were rescued alive since that ill-fated incident which affected the mood of the state.
According to Monday Kalio, coordinator of the volunteer works at the site, who confirmed the recovery, the decomposing body of a middle-aged man was found about 3 am, last Friday and deposited at a mortuary in Port Harcourt.
Kalio said, “We have recovered 41 bodies. Ten are dead and 31 are alive,” even as he asked that more hand gloves and nose masks should be provided for the rescuers. But a day after Kalio spoke to newsmen, two more decomposing bodies were found same day, one in the wee hours of the morning, the other in the night.
Rescuers who have been having a hectic time searching for remains of victims complained that some of the equipment used for the rescue operation have gone bad, in addition to not having access to food and water which they said was hindering rescue efforts.
However, about nine heavy-duty equipment remain at the scene where rescue operations are still on-going with workers digging two large holes to the collapsed building in order to gain access into the underground area where some trapped workers are expected to be.
Two of the workers who did not want their names mentioned appealed to the state government and companies to provide more equipment to enhance the rescue operations.
Families of workers still trapped in the collapsed building remained hopeful as some of them who spoke to The Tide commended the rescue work done so far, saying the work attitude of the rescue workers have improved. Although 12 lifeless bodies have been removed from the rubbles, more persons may still be trapped inside the wreckage. But at this stage it might take more than a miracle or another world wonder to find more survivors as rescuers and volunteers are still undaunted in their task of clear, search and hopefully find….
Members of the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Gateway have been on hand providing social services like food and water for rescue workers and volunteers, assuring that it would continue to give necessary aid to rescuers at the scene of the collapse building.
President-elect of Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Gateway, Arinze Akupue, while speaking to newsmen urged the rescuers to double their efforts in ensuring that more trapped workers, including one of its members, Rotarian Morgan Ekene Ihionu, are rescued.
Akupue said it was disheartening that some family members of those trapped in the rubble were yet to leave the scene several days after the 7-storey building caved in.
The state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said recently that initial investigations had shown that the building permit obtained by the owner of the structure in 2014 was for a 5-storey building, but that in September 2018, a permit for a 7-storey building was issued by a government official. Already, the state Commissioner for Urban Development and Physical Planning, Dr Reason Onya, had stepped aside to allow for unimpeded investigation into the cause(s) of the incident.
Despite digging two large holes, rescue workers have not been able to gain access to the underground parts of the collapsed building, though most of the rubbles have been cleared by the worker, even as the perimeter created at the scene have been reduced to allow business owners within the area to have access to their shops and stalls.
Chairman, Port Harcourt Division of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Mr. Yibotemeka Kalio, said rescuers have two more floors to crack in order to gain access to the underground parts of the failed building believed to be housing more trapped workers.
Kalio said, “The site has been divided into three. The first site we have cleared and we have done searches. On the second side they are cutting off the iron rods. What we have left here now are two floors. That is why they (workers) are cutting off the iron rods so that they can crack and we can go in and do our search and rescue.
Asked about the possibility of finding more victims alive, he retorted, “Honestly and sincerely we are still hopeful. The possibility is still there that we may see some living cases to rescue and then possibly some other cases to recover.”
But who are the casualties of this hapless incident. Like prominent Nigerian author, John Pepper Clark, wrote in one of his celebrated poems ‘The Casualties’ were he made reference to the many casualties (victims, if you like) of the Nigerian Civil war. Indeed the casualties are not only those who died. Neither is it only families of diseased persons nor their loved ones. Though the circumstances seems dissimilar, but war, like accident, the latter been the case of that Port Harcourt collapsed building, usually results in ‘weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth’ if the scale of a 7-storey building collapse with many workers on site is anything to go by.
Some of the lines of that classic poem in no particular order read thus: ‘The casualties are not only those who are dead. ‘They are well out of it. ‘Though they await burial by installment.
‘The casualties are not only those who have lost  Persons or property, hard as it is  To grope for a touch that some
May not know is not there.
‘The casualties are many, and a good member as well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck.
We are all casualties!”
Indeed, the casualties are many! For nothing else, the serenity of Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s Garden City was shattered by news of the collapsed building under construction with many workers trapped in it. People made distress and frantic calls depending on which side of the divide. One needed to have seen how many a resident of the metropolis trooped there from far and near to ascertain if what they heard was true. Indeed, the casualties are many.
Without a doubt, Dr. Onya should be commended for rising to the occasion by stepping down to ensure an unimpeded investigation into the incident. Like the rest of us, he too is a casualty.
Governor Wike himself is a casualty, having cut short his trip abroad in response to a call of duty in his immediate vicinity as the chief security officer of the state, not minding that he has able hands such as his deputy, Dr Ipalibo Harry-Banigo, who in the governor’s absence led relevant members of the state executive council daily to the scene with strong assurances that the state government would institute a probe into the cause of the tragedy.
The state Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. John Basia, his Environment counterpart, Dr Roselyn Konya, as well as the Commissioner for Health, Prof. Princewill Chike, temporarily relocated to the site of the collapsed building as they were seen there daily attending and responding to issues.
It was gathered that when the governor returned from his trip, he immediately dashed to the scene of the incident with his wife, Justice Eberechi Suzzette Nyesom-Wike, where upon he commiserated with the families of those who lost their loved ones, who, according to him, had gone there to work in order to provide for their families.
Wike described the building collapse as a sad development, saying, “I feel so pained that we have to face this kind of calamity at this time. I commiserate with the families that have lost their loved ones who came to seek their daily bread. Government will do all it can to give them the necessary support.
“I have directed the Attorney-General of Rivers State to ensure that all legal steps are taken to do what is right within the ambit of the law,” the governor stated, even as he ordered the immediate arrest of the owner of the collapsed building, saying that the State Government will bring all culprits to book.
“Whoever is involved, from the owner or the contractor to the officials of the state, they will face the full weight of the law.  Government will take steps to acquire this property. We cannot allow this illegality. If you look at the master plan of this area, a 7-storey building is not allowed here,” he said, and commended the construction giants, security agencies and non-governmental organizations for working with the Rivers State Government in carrying out rescue operations at the site of the incident.
Some 24 hours after the governor’s arrest order, spokesman of the State Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, confirmed the arrest of the owner of the structure, adding that any official of the state government found to have been involved in the incident, one way or the other, would be invited for interrogation and possible arrest.
In the same vein, leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Martins Amaehule, who led other lawmakers to the site of the incident, stated that the state legislature will resume plenary immediately to look into the matter and enact laws that will monitor construction of buildings in the state.
“Investigations need to be carried out and I can assure you that the Rivers State House of Assembly will reconvene to carry out proper investigation to ascertain what happened here. Be assured that in the coming days we will sit and review the situation,” the House leader said.
Already, the governor on Tuesday, December 4, made good his promise of instituting a commission of inquiry led by Justice Adolphus Enebeli to investigate the collapsed 7-storey building during a brief ceremony in Government House, Port Harcourt, with a charge to identify the owner of the building and the holder of the certificate of occupancy, according to a statement issued by the Special Assistant to the Governor on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu.
To be cont’d.

The governor’s charge reads, “To ascertain/identify the owner, developer and/or holder of the certificate of occupancy over and in respect of all that piece or parcel of land situate and lying at 119 Woji Road, (Plot 80), GRA Phase 2, Port Harcourt.
“Ascertain whether the construction of the 7—storey building on the said 119 Woji Road is covered by any valid or approved building plan and/or whether requisite approvals were issued by the appropriate ministry or agency of the Rivers State Government prior to the commencement of construction “.
The governor also charged the Commission of Inquiry to ascertain whether the architectural, engineering and structural designs of the said building were undertaken by competent and licensed experts in relevant fields.
He further charged the commission to ascertain whether appropriate/necessary tests, including soil tests, were carried out to ascertain the suitability of the site for construction of a building of that size.
Responding, Justice Adolphus Enebeli assured the governor that the commission will execute its assignment with the needed timeliness and in line with the law; adding that they will not disappoint the Government and people of Rivers State because the assignment touches the essence of humanity.
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the built industry all supported the governor’s decision to probe the incident, even as they have gone a step further to give expert advice to forestall future occurrences; in addition to commending the state government for its quick response to the incident which according to them saved many lives.
One of such is the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) in a nine-point statement jointly signed by Tete Inameti and Emmanuel Ikechukwu, chairman and secretary of the body in Rivers State respectively and obtained by The Tide, as they called for regular audit of building structures in the state to authenticate their integrity.
While noting that though building approval agencies have always been the immediate targets of blame, the NITP said it that the public should realise that approval of building plan is a joint responsibility of all the relevant professionals in the built environment. You see, they too, like other relevant professionals bodies, are casualties.
The statement reads, “We (NITP) have been inundated with distress calls as a result of the collapse of a 7-storey building under construction along Woji Road in GRA, phase 2, Port Harcourt.
“While appreciating the calls from the public and the print and electronic media, the institute commiserates with the Governor of Rivers State, the people of the state and the families of victims of the collapse building.”
The institute noted that the tragic incident is a wake-up call to all professionals in the built environment to demonstrate the requisite professional standards and commitment to put a stop to quackery in the state, even as it called for strict penalties for those responsible for the sad incident no matter how highly placed to deter future occurrences.
The statement reads, “That town planners should be adequately staffed and equipped with professionals in the construction industry for effective routine supervision and monitoring of project sites during and after construction.
“Government should implement the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law No 6 of 2003 by establishing Local Planning Authorities in all 23 local government areas of the state, as well as a physical planning board at the state levels of plan approval so as to reduce the workload on the Ministry of Urban Development.
“Construction work should only be carried out by registered contractors and supervised by registered architects, engineers and builders rather than engaging unskilled contractors, while clients should obtain approvals before they begin construction and should not develop at variance with the approved plan,” the state NITP said.
On their part, the Nigerian Institute of Builders called on the State Government to set up a building control agency that will oversee building constructions in the state.
Rivers State Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Builders, Akinola Bammeke in his reaction to the November 23, 2018 tragedy further said, “What has happened is very unfortunate. One of the ways to check this kind of incidents is for the state government to set up a building control agency that will monitor building projects all through the various stages of construction,”
Bammeke also said the State House of Assembly needs to review ‘existing’ obsolete building laws to ensure that only professionals engage in construction of houses in state to avert such incidents.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Institution of Architects (NIA) led by the Rivers State Chairman, Egbuonu Asomba said only a proper probe can unravel the circumstance behind the incident.
Asomba said, “When a building collapses there are so many possible reasons for building collapse. You have to start looking at whether a proper soil test was conducted from the outset.
“Then you should also ensure that the proper design by professionals are involved at the design process. From the design of the building up to sending it for approval.
“I expect a lot more diligence, a lot more participation by every section of the brick environment. The professional architect, the professional structural engineer and every other professional must be involved to ensure that the right thing is done,” the State NIA boss said.

While the various steps taken by the state government so far in getting to the root of the matter are noble, the myriad of professional advise given by stakeholders in the built industry are very important lessons and instructions to the relevant authorities. For now, everyone should hold their horses and heave a sigh of relief, while awaiting the findings/report of the Justice led panel of inquiry; for we are all casualties of Friday, November 23, 2018, one way or the other.
By: Dennis Naku

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Limiting Varsity Admissions Through Age

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Authorities of some
Nigerian universities have been remarkably consistent in denying admission to candidates on the basis of age despite their exceptional performances in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
For some candidates, the initial euphoria of being admitted to study their choice of discipline for an academic session is short-lived as they fail to meet one of the many admission requirements of higher institutions, which is a minimum age of 16.
The action of some universities has generated squabbles in the education sector, and indeed, in the larger society, with a call on the Federal Government to set a minimum age benchmark for would-be admission seekers to institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.
Before the continuing controversy, the government made failed attempts to fix a minimum age limit of 18 years for admission into tertiary institutions and reintroduce the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in the school system. Again, the idea failed. It was jettisoned by some Nigerians on the basis that every child should express their ingenuity.
In recent times, some universities specifically maintained that no person under the age of 16 years would be admitted to the universities as a student. But many children below 16, assisted by their parents, beat the rules, and apply for admission to the universities because they think that the 16-year minimum age has no legal backing.
Nigerians seem to be divided on the direction the country should go on the minimum age limit for admission into the country’s universities, considering the fact that admitting students below the age of 16 has its merits and demerits.
Some stakeholders in the education sector have always argued that students in other climes, such as America, Europe and Canada could enter the university at any time they meet the requisite academic qualifications to enrol. If that is the case, why is it different in Nigeria? Why is there an age limit for admission to higher institutions in the country? What is such limit designed to achieve?
As the issue lingers some experts have called on the Federal Government to wade in to avert the looming disaster of wasting the brains of young, vibrant and scholarly youngsters. A few years ago, education stakeholders had engaged in spirited arguments – for and against – the age-limit admission policy by the universities. The age limit has become a norm with the exception of few universities admitting candidates as young as 14 and 15 years old.
Baring his thoughts on the issue, an educationist and retired principal, Mr Ignatius Lawson-Jack, spoke in favour of a “free age range” being canvassed in some quarters. According to him, globalisation and innovative learning devices, such as the Internet, computer, among others, have made students smart in acquiring knowledge and learning.
“Globalisation has made students very smart in learning because of the introduction of advanced learning devices, as well as the Internet. It is always advisable to allow students below the age of 16 into the universities owing to the fact that most of them possess high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and can meet up with the demands of the society,” he stated.
A legal practitioner, Prince Nyekweru, said 16 years as the minimum age for anyone to gain admission to the university in the country is statutorily provided. According to him, the Joint Admissions And Matriculation Board (JAMB) Act makes a provision for it. He said age limitation for university admission in Nigeria was not a policy of any university or tertiary institution.
“There is a legal angle to the age limitation of university admission in Nigeria. It is not a university policy. The law establishing JAMB makes a provision for it. The act makes a provision that for one to be qualified to get into the university the person must have reached the age of 16. It is not a university policy.
“You see the challenge we have now is because of the exposure and everything; you can see somebody who is 16 years and the person is matured to be in the university even less than 16. And you can see somebody who is 16 years but behaving like someone of 12 years. I think they should find a meeting point. Age is not necessarily the determinant of maturity of a person. Maturity these days depends on foundation and exposure”, he said.
A journalist and publisher, Mr Owuje Park Harry, said admission to a Nigerian university should be based on performance not age. For him, maturity varies from person to person depending on the development of the brain. Some persons, he said, with high Intelligence Quotient are usually more intelligent and mature than those older than them.
“University admission should be based on the performance of the candidate, not the age. Because some persons, based on the development of their brain, their IQ is far higher than those far older than them. Just recently the child that had the highest score in JAMB was a 15-year-old candidate. But because of the law he was denied admission by the university of his first choice. Though some private universities cut corners and admit candidates below 16, the law cuts across every university in the country”, he stated.
But for a Port Harcourt-based educationist, Mrs Igbikinime Robinson, the present age limitation is all right. In other words, she said the age limit of university admission should not be left open considering the developmental factors of the child. According to her, if anything, the age should be increased to withstand pressures such as the things the child will face.
“Admission age to the university shouldn’t be left open considering the developmental factors such as the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domain of the child. I think it should have been 17 or 18 years of age so that by that time the child is matured enough to bear some responsibilities that might come their way. This period the child will be able to know their right from their left.
“Such a child will not be intimidated while in school. But those of them that enter at 14, 15 or 16 years still behave like kids. At that age they are still looking for people to take care of them. And then their mental level too is low emotionally and physically. At the present admission age they still need parental guidance. I think 17 or 18 should be ideal and that is what is obtainable in some Western countries.
“But before the university admission age can be extended, the current age children begin nursery and primary schools should be increased. For example, a child needs to be three years old to start nursery programme. No school should admit less than three years.
“At this point, the child has started talking. But we find out that these days because parents are looking for money and may be no one is to stay with the child, they are being forced to take such child to school at an early age of two or a year plus.
“I think it is wrong. There is a developmental process in every human being and at that age that child needs enough sleep. But waking up the child at 5 or 6 am because you want to look for money is wrong because it affects the child’s health or their developmental processes. So, children should start from age three for kindergarten. By the time the child gets to the primary level that child has attained six years.
“So, if the progression continues that child will finish secondary school at 17. At this age the child has attained maturity. That child will be able to bear some responsibilities because the understanding level has increased. Intellectually the child will be sound. There is no point rushing the child”, she emphasised.
As the debate on age limit for admission seekers to Nigerian universities continues, some stakeholders have asked for an exception particularly for exceptionally brilliant students? They have, therefore, called on the relevant authorities to amend the Act to accommodate such cases.

 

Arnold Alalibo

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Environmental Safety: Here Come Smarter Plastics

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A frenzy of scientific research is going on around the world to find lasting and contributory solution to the negative impact of plastic materials (which cause litter, choking of drainage system and marine life) on the environment. A lot of technologies are being developed for recycling of plastics while other efforts are being made on other areas including how to make plastics to be bio-degradable.
The United Nations World Environment Day celebration in 2018 was on the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”.
For many stakeholders around the world, including United Nations agencies, plastics manufacturers, environmental protection agencies, concerned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the general public, who have been worried about the negative impact of non-degradable plastic materials on the environment, solution seems to have come.
The contributory solution, according to recent discovery, is using just 1% Ozone-Biodegradable (OBD) additive in the manufacture of plastic materials. This additive (OBD) is said to make any various plastic materials biodegrade after a short period of time.
A number of countries in Europe, Latin America, South Asia, Middle East and Africa are already using OBD in tackling the menace of plastics that have escaped collection and, therefore, polluting the environment.
According to the Ozone-biodegradable Plastics Associations (OPA), UK, the use of OBD in plastic manufacturing can actually be a contributory solution to the global menace.
The OPA said that the problems caused by plastic litter in the environment has compelled governments, manufacturers and brand owners to rethink the way plastic is produced, used and their end of life.
“Many are now looking for products and technologies that are inexpensive, non-disruptive to manufacture, and can   be   re-used and re-cycled at the end of their useful life.
The need for OBD plastics is indeed obvious. Thousands of tons of plastic waste is escaping collection, getting into the world’s environment every day, and unless treated with just a 1% inclusion of Ozone-biodegradable Additive will remain there for decades.
Ozone-biodegradable plastics have been independently tested and found ultimately bio-degradable on land or in the sea.
Perry Higgs, a senior scientist at Symphony Environmental Limited, UK, the leading producer of Ozone-biodegradable additives branded d2w, says the use of Ozone-biodegradable additive creates a faster and more complete degradation which leads to bio-degradation.
He was speaking at a one-day symposium on the menace of plastic waste, recently held in Accra, Ghana, attended by the Ghana Plastics Manufacturers Association (GPMA), the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Environmental Services Providers Association (ESPA), etc.
The President of GMPA, Mr. Ebbo Botwe was said to have advocated for the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives in Ghana to help reduce the menace of plastic waste in the Ghana environment – at least to serve as a mitigation measure to the concerns to many stakeholders in the country.
In fact, he was said to have disclosed that the association has provided about 7,000 special plastic waste bins to help curb the indiscriminate dumping of waste in the environment.
Information available, (https://www.symphony environmental.com/solutions/oxo-biodegradable-plastic/solutions/oxo-biodegradable-plastic/) shows that UK-based Symphony Environmental is a world leader in the development of additives to make ordinary plastic biodegradable and also has a range branded d2p which are protective technologies which enhance plastic products.
Symphony’s technologies are sold into nearly 100 countries around the world, with applications in retail, medical and manufacturing industries with a focus on the protection of both the environmental and human health.
Symphony is a member of OPA (www.biodeg.org) the Society for the Chemical Industry (UK), and the Pacific Basin Environmental Council.
There are four main features of the d2w Ozone-biodegradable technology:
*Ozone-biodegradable Plastic facilitates the ultimate biodegradation of plastics on land or in seawater by bacteria, fungi or algae, within a reasonable time, so as to cause the plastic to cease to exist as such, far sooner than ordinary plastics, without causing any toxicity;
*Meets a number of relevant international standards;
*Has same characteristics in terms of appearance, strength flexibility and functionality as normal plastic;
* Does not just fragment and create micro-plastics, as the treated material becomes a biodegradable food source for the microbes found in these environments.
So far, 23 countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, Brazil, Argentina, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Togo, Benin, Mauritius and Pakistan have taken regulatory actions to make the production and/or importation and the use of Bio-Degradable Plastics mandatory.
Indeed many countries around the world have realized that they cannot realistically collect all the plastic or indeed impose the restriction and or ban plastic, considering its usefulness in terms of cost, durability and economic impacts on economies.
Furthermore legislating in favour of the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives helps to support the local plastics manufacturing industry, thus securing the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people employed in this sector worldwide.
Ozone-biodegradable technology would certainly be an excellent solution for Nigeria, especially for the significant plastics industry we have and those government agencies, including the Federal Ministry of Environment, which has scheduled a national workshop in Abuja on 12th September, 2019 on the need to develop a National Plastics Life Cycle Management Policy for the country.
During the tenure of the Nigerian 8th National Assembly, a bill was introduced in the two houses on how to address the concerns of Nigerians on the issue of plastic wastes – and the best ways to handle the issue. The Plastics Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) had advocated for a win-win solution in tackling the issue.
The Ozone-biodegradable plastics technology is an additional and very attractive option which will be proposed and recommend in Nigeria. Giving consideration to the significant importance of plastics in socio-economic life of the people, especially as over 600 plastics firms in Nigeria have 350,000 employees on their payroll, it will be difficult to dispense of such jobs.
The best and most pragmatic option remains to increase the infrastructure for the collection and recycling of plastics and at the same time make it mandatory for the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives, which will then help to mitigate the menace of plastic waste that escapes collection and ends up polluting the country.
MAN, being a representative body of all manufacturers in Nigeria and a custodian of making Nigeria an industrialized nation in the face of lean resources, should lead the discussions with the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry & Investments (FMTII) and Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv) to enact laws or regulations in line with other countries that have adopted the Ozone-degradable technology.
Phillips, an environmentalist, writes from PH.

 

Amaka Phillips

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Leveraging E-Payments, Digital Innovation For Trade

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There is no doubt that technology has revolutionised the banking industry, particularly mobile and the Internet, as bank customers continue to embrace electronic payment for financial transactions.
Indeed, individuals and businesses now crave e-payment platforms mainly due to the immense economic benefits they derive from them, which include convenience, affordability, availability and customer retention.
For instance, a recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on “Selected Banking Sector Data: Sectoral Breakdown of Credit, ePayment Channels and Staff Strength” for first quarter, shows that a total of 557,083,712 electronic payment transactions valued at N34.02 trillion were recorded in selected banks across the country.
The e-payment channels include: the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Instant Payments (NIP), Automated Teller Machine (ATM), Point of Sale (PoS), electronic cheque truncation, mobile cash, electronic bills pay, web and mobile payment, among others.
Statistics indicate that cash and cheque use are declining as the world is swiftly becoming the age of digital payments, push payments and instant payments.
Analysts say the rise of different e-payment channels continues to have a direct impact on local economies, especially Nigeria.
In 2016, a report by Moody’s Analytics commissioned by Visa Incorporated showed that increased use of electronic payment products, including credit, debit and prepaid cards, added 296 billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while raising household consumption of goods and services by an average of 0.18 per cent per year.
The report: “The Impact of Electronic Payments on Economic Growth” was conducted in 70 countries between 2011 and 2015.
The report also showed that e-payments added 640 million dollars to Nigeria’s GDP and an average of 16,880 jobs per year within the review period.
The benefits of e-payment to Nigeria’s economy are unquantifiable as it is evolving into a cashless society, deepening financial inclusion, reducing poverty and contributing to the effectiveness and stability of the financial system.
Director, Payments System Management, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sam Okojere, said the Nigerian Payments System had evolved over the years from primitive barter system to the use of cowries, metals, notes and to the present electronic payments system.
Okojere disclosed that CBN, as the regulator of the payments system, had been implementing various policies and initiatives towards the development of the Nigerian Payments System.
According to him, the strategic objective of the payments system is to migrate Nigeria from cash-based economy to an electronic payments inclined market. Thus, the bank’s strategic priorities have been to achieve a credible, reliable and efficient payments system.
Okojere disclosed this during a recent Joint Seminar for Banking and Telecom Regulators from the Sub-Saharan Africa Locations on Digital Products and Payment Systems in Lagos.
The seminar which had the theme: “Advancing ePayment and digital innovations in Africa – Evolution of Nigeria’s payment systems” was to promote financial inclusion through digital innovations in sub-Saharan Africa.
The seminar was organised to provide key officers of regulatory authorities in African Markets – notably locations with FirstBank subsidiaries; Ghana, Senegal, DRC, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – a platform to get familiar with developments in the Nigerian Payment Systems and Digital Products Industry.
Thereon replicating and adopting the knowledge from the seminar with a view to bolster the finance industry in their respective countries.
Speaking on how other countries can learn from the Nigerian experience, Okojere emphasised the need for strong collaboration, especially in the areas of intelligence gathering and information exchange to fight fraud.
“The Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum is working on extending its partnership to other African countries.
“Also, periodic exchange of staff to learn on the job is very crucial to the development of competence,” Okojere said.
Notably, he stressed the need to start organising Intra-African Conferences with themes that reflected local challenges.
Specifically, he said the CBN continued to demonstrate its resolve to shape a more trusted and efficient payments landscape in Nigeria through its strong commitment to collaboration and stakeholder engagement.
Speaking on FirstBank’s leading role in promoting digital banking and financial inclusion across the country, Adesola Adeduntan, CEO, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd., said the bank had been a success story as far as digital banking was concerned.
He restated that economic growth and development of host communities was important to the bank, and that assisting Nigeria and the continent at large address poverty was imperative and reason for financial inclusion being at the core of its business strategy.
Adeduntan said First Bank was also committed to financial inclusion and would continue to improve the lives of Nigerians through the provision of innovative financial services.
Also, Mr Chuma Ezirim, Group Executive, e-Business & Retail Products, First Bank, noted that the bank was pursuing sustainable financial inclusion by leveraging its unparalleled experience in serving the low income segments.
“Our agent banking offering with focus on serving financially excluded individuals and small businesses in rural areas is experiencing exponential growth with significant revenue and social impact,” he said.
Ezirim disclosed that First Bank had over 28, 000 agent banking network located in 754 local government areas, processing N240 billion worth of transactions monthly.
“The agent banking asides creating employment has made banking easier and closer to people, and the testimony of the people is that their communities has been turned to city,” he said.
He highlighted the challenges faced by the agents as poor infrastructure, trust, lack of awareness, low income/literacy level and identity management, among others.
Corroborating the First Bank boss, Mr Mike Ogbalu, Chief Executive Officer, Verve International, said Nigeria’s payments system had evolved over the last 20 years with amazing impact on the economy, industries and the lives of Nigerians.
Ogbalu said the August 2005 banking sector recapitalisation redefined competition within the industry and set off a technology ‘arms race,’ which positively impacted the growth of the industry.
Also, Managing Director, Nigeria InterBank Settlement System (NIBSS), Premier Oiwoh, disclosed that Nigeria was one of the few countries in Africa and the world to have deployed an Instant Payment platform solution.
According to Oiwoh, the NIBSS Instant Payment (NIP) is the first and only point-to-point funds transfer service that guarantees instant value to the beneficiary.
He disclosed that the NIP experienced exponential growth value from N3.9 trillion in 2012 to N39.9 trillion as at June 2018.
Oiwoh noted that benefits of improved payment system would facilitate the entry of new players into the financial industry, faster turnaround time with inter-bank transactions, convenient banking and improved innovations from mobile and internet banking.
Others include: next day settlement of merchants for Point of Sale (POS) transactions, availability and uniform functionality of the terminals and uniformed card acceptability across the network.
However, he itemised fear of fraud and security issues, infrastructural challenges and low level of card usage on POS as some of the impediments to Nigeria’s electronic payment system.
Furthermore, Mr Agada Apochi, Managing Director, Unified Payment Services Ltd., urged operators in the payment system to evolve a scheme whereby various African currencies would be acceptable both as transaction, settlement and billing currencies.
“Otherwise, we would continue to depend on the dollars or pounds; because there is no national currency in African today that is allowed as a global currency for settlements or billing,” he said.
He also advised telecoms companies to reduce their roaming rates in Africa to deepen digitalisation, thus allow more businesses utilise their USSD for transactions during trips. He added that present roaming rates of telecoms companies in Africa was prohibitive.
Ishola writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Oluwafunke Ishola

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