It is now a cliché to say COVID-19 has changed the way governments and businesses are run in the world today. Many governments are now leveraging technologies to conduct the affairs of their nations.
Although the use of virtual meetings, like video conferencing and webinars, are not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has made these internet-based platforms more imperative more than ever before. The need to observe the social distancing protocol stipulated by the World Health Organization, (WHO) to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus necessitated the adoption of technology in conducting government affairs.
It is in recognition of this that Nigeria, like many other countries, closed their air, sea and land borders in order to curb further spread of the virus. Even within countries, the boundaries of sub-national entities have also been closed, while travels from one part of a country to another have been restricted.
However, the Nigerian government realizes the need for the continued running of government despite the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is against this background that the Nigerian government is deploying technology through virtual meetings to keep the system running in the face of COVID-19 lockdown.
One of such meetings was the Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on April 23, which took place via video conferencing. At the virtual meeting where President Muhammadu Buhari was chosen as the Champion of the ECOWAS response to COVID-19, West African leaders deliberated on the pandemic and what to do in the post-COVID-19 era.
President Buhari also participated in the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group meeting on COVID-19 held online on May 4 from his Presidential Villa, in Abuja.
The meeting presided over by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and current Chair of the NAM, Mr IIham Aliyev, while the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres; the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prof. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria joined the video conferencing.
Also recently, President Buhari began teleconference sessions with members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 from his office at the statehouse, Abuja during which the President receives updates on the daily activities of the task force.
Other engagements of the Nigerian government that have leveraged technology include the teleconference on April 21 between Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and teams from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. At the virtual meeting, discussions focused on options for meeting economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice President Osinbajo also participated in a virtual conference held on April 29 on COVID-19, which had in attendance President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and Teresa Clarke, CEO of Africa.com, who moderated the discussions with the participation of several thousand who signed-in across the world.
The Nigerian judiciary has also embraced technology in conducting its activities. The National Judicial Council (NJC) recently began the use of teleconference in compliance with the presidential directive on social distancing.
The council’s 91st meeting presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammed was held via virtual means. All the 10 members of the NJC from across Nigeria linked up to deliberate on affairs of the judiciary as documents were circulated and reviewed online during the two-day meeting.
Last week, the Council announced guidelines for the use of technology for the speedy dispensation of justice for the period of COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, the NJC approved virtual sittings for all heads of court, using collaborative platforms such as MS365, Zoom, Google Meetings and other tools with electronic recording functionalities.
In the guideline, the NJC also said social media channels would be used to live stream court proceedings to the public while the court shall publish, on a weekly basis, the matters that would be heard remotely for that week.
State Governors in the country are not left out as they have also taken the opportunities provided by technology to conduct government business. Last month, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) held its 6th COVID-19 meeting via teleconference where the governors agreed on a two-week interstate lockdown in the country in order to contain the spread of the virus.
The National Assembly is making plans to also deploy technology in the conduct of its plenary and committee meetings. But at the moment, the two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives still hold their sessions in their chambers with strict observance of physical distancing.
It is, however, pertinent to state that the National Assembly needs to accelerate the process of employing technology in conducting its affairs as done, not only by other arms of government in the country but also as obtained in the parliaments of other countries.
According to a special report by the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) on how parliaments are functioning in this period of the pandemic, many countries are adopting distancing and technology to discharge their functions. The reports listed South Africa, Tanzania, Cape, Tunisia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and many other developing countries whose parliaments have deployed technology in carrying out their duties. The parliament in Nigeria should join the league without further delay.
The advantages of the deployment of technology to governance at these trying times cannot be overemphasized. Technology now enables country leaders to engage with each other and contribute to global issues in a world now torn apart by COVID-19. With technology, meetings can be held with participants not having to incur travel costs, hotel bills and associated expenses in order to participate in meetings. They do not have to physically gather at a location to hold meetings. Therefore, the current situation presents governments with the opportunity to cut the cost of governance.
The lockdown and restriction triggered by COVID-19 have brought people to recognize digital channels as alternative ways of performing various tasks and operations. After surviving the pandemic, these realizations may endure and give a boost to the digital economy drive in Nigeria.