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THE MAKING OF A CSR MASTERSTROKE: AN X-RAY OF FIRSTBANK’S YEOMAN EFFORT TO MOVE ONE MILLION CHILDREN TO E-LEARNING

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The rabbit hole of uncertainty, confusion and fear that pupils and their parents fell into in the dying days of March when the country was in lockdown was best captured in a Saturday Sun feature of May 16, titled, “COVID-19: Troubles of e-Learning.”

 

The story catalogues the challenges that erupted out of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the fears and frustrations brewed by the new abnormality foisted on the world, the pessimism that pervaded the globe from developed to underdeveloped countries and the possibilities that blew up in the aftermath in the education stratosphere.

With the new order of social distancing, self-isolation, government-enforced quarantine and the ubiquitous lockdown, the prospect of indefinite stay at home until at least an elusive vaccine is found, loomed. This precipitated a distress as never seen before in the education space.

Yet, a panacea was at hand: Digital learning, though hitherto given scant attention. But crossing into that nirvana was an uphill task, especially, in this part of the world. Why: The existence of a huge digital deficit both in infrastructure and the requisite skill.

The dilemma confronting parents, pupils and tutors are multi-dimensional as illustrated by these three vignettes from the story:

  • Oko Odinakachi, a student of Abia State University, faced frustration on two fronts: her institutions dillydallying about adopting the e-learning strategy on the one hand; her little faith in digital learning, on the other hand. “I was on the verge of writing my first-semester examination. How possible can we do that digitally when there are issues with even JAMB CBT here in our country?”
  • A father whose daughter, a student of Federal Government College Shagamu preparing for her Senior School Certificate Exam, was compelled to seek a suitable e-learning portal because WAEC advised students to be studious during the lockdown as they’d be going straight into the exam hall at short notice as soon as the pandemic is over. The search led him to an online WAEC Preparatory Class that demanded payment for requisite online resources. “One subject is N1, 500, four subjects N4, 500 and six subjects cost at N6, 500. I didn’t go further because of the fee, which I think is exorbitant, given the current state of the country,” he complained. He joined the rank of other parents who raised concerns over exploitation by mercenaries masquerading as e-learning groups.
  • Abolade Kunle, a JSS3 student was aware of the government-sponsored tutorial on the radio but he was unable to enjoy the benefits: “We don’t have a radio set in the house. I use my dad’s phone once in a while but he doesn’t allow me to use it all the time,” he railed. A related drawback was cited by one of his teachers at the public school in Mushin: “In the past five weeks, we have had barely three days of electricity supply. It is not every parent that can afford a generator. Is it not when you have electricity supply that the children can watch [government educational programme on] the television?”

The absence of curative or prophylactic breakthrough against the virus meant that academic activities would remain in limbo, while pupils and their parents are faced with the undaunted possibility of a long spell at home. The prospect of a long lull of academic inactivity struck a palpable fear that fueled the scramble unto digital learning platforms as educationists and institutions across the country experimented with remote learning, albeit on a trial-and-error basis. The efforts were at best tangled; the process muddled; the result ineffective. Even, for students of tertiary institutions, the online class was to many a Lala-land.

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With the option inevitably narrowed down to digital learning, a Catch-22 situation evolved. Who’s going to make it happen? How? When?

Best foot forward

Eventually, the first foot forward––and indeed the best one––came and it was from First Bank of Nigeria Limited.

The bank, a leading financial inclusion services provider, announced its intention to roll out an innovative e-learning initiative on the heels of its philanthropic contribution of the sum of one billion naira to the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), a private-sector task force that partners the Federal Government, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the coronavirus in Nigeria.

In the months to come, the bank’s effort would resonate forcefully in the education space. The reason for this was not farfetched. Since responsiveness remains a cornerstone of Corporate Social Responsibility, when it is timely, it becomes a major coup. The severity of the pandemic required “uncomfortable, transformative responsiveness,” not the usual CSR response where organisations choose and design responsiveness on their own terms, described by Wayne Visser in Evolution and Revolution of Corporate Social Responsibility, as “when giving is easy and cheque-writing does nothing to upset their commercial applecart.”

Taking on the e-learning challenge head-on was an self-assigned project for which the bank was not under any compulsion to undertake. That it volunteered to tackle the challenge is an indication of the largeness of its CSR aorta.

Suffice to say that a handful of digital learning initiatives exist before the advent of the Covid-19 lockdown; the First Bank effort, however, resonates louder because it has a measurable stated goal: Moving one million pupils into e-learning platform.

A response apt and adequate 

Lagos State’s prompt response to the pandemic included the immediate shutdown of schools. By March 25 (four days before Lagos State went into total lockdown on the order of the President), the First Bank initiative was rolled out, and it inalienably took the optics of “the” response to the glitch caused to the education system by the coronavirus pandemic.

First Bank went into collaboration with Lagos State Government and an indigenous mobile learning platform, Robert and John Limited, whose trademark Roducate e-solution, a comprehensive curriculum-based education, is a cornucopia for a broad spectrum of students.

Having powered similar projects in the past, Robert and John was an obvious best in the e-learning business, a fact reinforced by First Bank CEO, Adesola Adeduntan: “In searching for the best fit solution, several options were considered by educators and teachers from the state and First Bank over the last couple of weeks before adjudging Roducate the offering from Robert and John, an innovative technology firm, to be the best of all reviewed.”

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Is Roducate the Rosette stone of online learning? The facts were in its favour. Its claim of being the “most comprehensive e-learning platform in Nigeria and indeed Africa” is justified on its curriculum-based education for primary, secondary, and tertiary students. Moreover, ;it has been active in the e-learning space as far back as 2014 and has perfected the mechanics of effective digital learning, winning endorsements along the way from NUC, NERDC, JAMB and Lagos State Ministry of Education.

And by tweaking its blueprint, it came up with an e-learning mother lode––lecture notes, assignments, mock exams, videos, podcasts, and educational games––a rich vein of contents for primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, structured in consonance with the government-accredited curriculum. From the interactive tutorial videos to the innovative feature that enables the learner to take notes for quick reference, it was a whole new experience and an enjoyable learning process.

Suffice to reiterate that the First Bank/LASG Roducate is not the first of its kind; before it, there was Glo Mobile Tutor (since 2014) and UBA LEARN (unveiled in 2018) amongst others. However, certain factors gave it an edge.

The comparative advantage

The CSR takeaways from the initiative are writ large in what makes it different from others––in other words, its comparative advantages.

On the first count, the effort surfaced at a time of need, a time when there was an urgent need to close the gap caused by the disruption in children education due to schools closure following the Covid-19 lockdown. In one fell swoop, a solution materialised that provided succour for all, from kindergartens kids to grad-year students of tertiary institutions.

Secondly, while it is indeed a rolling scheme, it nevertheless came with specific number goal of one million pupils to be empowered with digital learning; this calibrated objective makes the intervention easy to evaluate, compared to other similar initiatives.

Thirdly, the biggest boon: subscription-free.

Consider what this means to parents such as the one cited in Sun story who had to shell out approximately N6, 000 for his daughter to access the needed resources. With the First Bank initiative, students simply get on the platform by registering free at https://www.firstbanknigeria.com/e-learning/.

And then the masterstroke: the enhanced offline feature of the initiative. It means students can study offline without having to bear the burden of buying data. What’s more, First Bank gave further impetus by providing 20, 000 devices that came preloaded with the curriculum.

Elaborating on the low-end devices preloaded with Roducate offline content, Adeduntan disclosed that “the phones have SIMs and limited data tied, only, to the Roducate learning product.”

Kayode Abayomi, the spokesperson for Lagos State Ministry of Education, further hit the nail on the head.

“The devices are efficient and fit for purposes for all students especially indigent students given the fact that data consumption of most e-learning solutions has been a major stumbling block for the majority of students and teachers alike,” he said.

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Its fourth edge is from its collaborative nature. One of First Bank’s collaborators on the project is a partner with leverage in the education space: the Lagos State Government. That made a big difference, as it gave the initiative authority and legitimacy that immediately gained traction.

In return, the initiative was well-appreciated by Lagos State Governor Sanwo-Olu: “It is not out of place that we are witnessing more infusion of technology in learning and this intervention by First Bank could not have come at a better time.”

Lastly, the First Bank e-learning project took care of both the short-term and the long-term interest of Nigeria in the digital race. Beyond the exigency of the moment, which was to get the children into learning mode, the intervention took on the imperative of helping young Nigerians develop relevant skills in emerging technologies, thereby enhancing their competitiveness in the interconnected world of today.

How? Via two other initiatives, both partnerships with IBM (that schooled youths in coding Artificial Intelligence, cloud, internet of things, blockchain, data science, analytics and cybersecurity) and Curious Learning (which offers academic contents for pre-learning and early-stage children aged 3-8 through self-guided learning apps). These two threw open the door of digital technology and made available for free the opportunities to transform them into tech geeks.

Taking responsibilities

For organisations with a sense of CSR, Covid-19 was an opportunity that was too good to miss. Where and how they responded depend on their preexisting corporate responsibility culture, their focus, the heft of their commitment.

Adeduntan said of the First Bank initiative: “We are warmed by the fact that different organisations have risen to the various challenges and are supporting in areas such as health and welfare, and we feel the peculiar needs of our children and youth must not be left out and have therefore elected to focus on contributing to solving the current education challenge.”

He said further: “It is a responsible approach to empower them, given that they are our future and the foundation to build our country to greatness. By partnering on this, we are solving a problem for families and our future.”

In September, schools re-opened, and education activity, deflated for months, gradually regains shape and gathers momentum. The number of students enrolled on the platform has increased significantly. The big question: is it going to be one of those projects that got abandoned after the ovation died down? Or is it likely to be sustained?

The cue is in the stated goal of the initiative. FirstBank has placed on itself the onus to continue to build on the effort and to give the needed impetus that will accelerate the achievement of the set goal of 1,000, 000 registered children in record time. It is expected that FirstBank will sustain the race to the finishing line.

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Why FG Lacks The Gut To check Bandits, Farooq Kperogi Exposes Malami

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Allocation

Naming and shaming of sponsors of terrorism is unconstitutional but the naming and shaming of the “sponsors” of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho isn’t.

 

 

On July 18, 2021, so-called bandits shot down an Alpha Jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force on the boundary between Zamfara and Kaduna states. Then on October 7, 2021, the Wall Street Journal, whose news section is adjudged one of America’s most credible, got a scoop that the Nigerian Air Force paid N20 million to bandits to buy back “an antiaircraft gun” that the bandits had seized from the Nigerian military in a clash.

 

The antiaircraft gun, the paper said, “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown….”

 

On October 20, 2021, the bandits, whom the Wall Street Journal says have “collaborators inside the army” and who are “better equipped with larger-capacity advanced weaponry than national security agencies,” detonated explosives on the Abuja-Kaduna rail tracks and caused the indefinite suspension of rail transportation between Abuja and Kaduna.

 

What has become transparently apparent in the last few months is that the plague of so-called Fulani herdsmen banditry is way deeper and more complex than we have persuaded ourselves to believe. The menace we self-deceptively and simplistically attenuate as mere “banditry” is nothing short of well-oiled, deep-rooted, well-practiced, and well-organised mercenary terrorism whose tentacles have spread to unthought-of social territories of the Nigerian society.

 

Early this month, I had a lengthy conversation with a well-placed Nigerian government official on a whole host of issues, including the escalating, never-ending scourge of mass abductions for ransom in vast swathes of the country. In the course of our conversation, he casually shared with me a disturbing story that, for me, strikes at the core of why terroristic banditry won’t go away anytime soon.

 

He was involved in negotiations for the release of abductees some months back. The multi-million-naira ransom paid to the “abductors,” he said, went through a tortuous chain of command that finally ended up with some armed, well-nourished, out-of-state individuals. In other words, although the kidnappers were bucolic Fulani, the people who finally received the ransom weren’t.

 

In any case, as most people know, most of the cattle that the Fulani herders rear don’t belong to them; they belong to wealthy city dwellers (and some prosperous rural folks) from all over Nigeria.

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Well, the anecdote that the government official shared with me recalls a viral video of a “bandit” in one of the northwestern states swearing in Hausa that “bandits” aren’t independent actors, that they are armed and financed by well-placed people in the society who take advantage of their poverty and disaffiliation from mainstream society to recruit them.

 

To be clear, I am not by any means absolving Fulani herders from responsibility for kidnapping. I just want to transcend the surface on which we have dwelled for far too long.

 

I also connected the dots between what the government official told me and a message that trended in Nigerian social media circles in May 2019 about a woman who was threatened with abduction but given the option to pay N5 million into a bank account to avert her kidnap.

 

A portion of the narration is worth reproducing without authorial intervention: “She took it up. Went to the bank with some assistance from influential friends. They asked that the account be flagged…. Bank did checks. Bank said the account cannot be flagged else they will lose influential clients How so? The names attached to the account are powerful names. That the kidnap ring pays some top persons percentage from the ransome [sic] paid. She was advised to jejely goan [sic] pay her POTENTIAL KIDNAPPERS. I was speechless for over 5 minutes.”

 

If you think this is a made-up story, read Daily Trust’s July 28, 2021 story titled “Kidnappers in FCT Begin Collection Of Ransom Through Banks.” When a Mrs. Aminat Adewuyi was kidnapped in Niger State, the kidnappers threatened to slaughter her if her relatives didn’t deposit N5 million naira into an Access Bank account.

 

The amount was later scaled back. “The ransom payment slip, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Trust showed that Adewuyi’s husband paid N500,000 into an Access Bank account with number 1403762272 and the name Badawi Abba Enterprise,” the paper reported.

 

Also recall that late last month even the National Youth Service Corps advised youth corps members posted to abduction-prone roads like “Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Lokoja-Okene, or Aba-Port Harcourt” to let “family members, friends and colleagues to have someone on hand to pay off the ransom that could be demanded” in the event of their abduction. This piece of advice was frozen in a handbook distributed to corps members.

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It’s easy to explain away the NYSC advice as merely an organisation being pragmatic and making peace with the ever-present reality of mass abductions in the country. But the listless capitulation to mercenary terroristic bandits by almost all segments of the Nigerian government, including security outfits, points to high-profile complicity, in my opinion.

 

The Daily Nigerian reported on October 21 that security agencies had intercepted communication between “a notorious bandit” and his “associate.” “The report, dated October 19, 2021 and entitled ‘PLANNED ATTACK ON TRAIN AROUND RIJANA, KADUNA STATE,’ said the terrorists were heard discussing about the planned attack by Darul Salam terrorists in concert with two bandit kingpins, Danlami and Lawan (not real names),” the news site reported.

 

It quoted the security report to have said, “Baffa informed Bala that members of Darussalam (Boko Haram) in collaboration with bandits led by Danlami and Lawan are currently on their way to plant a bomb at a bridge on the railway in Rijana to hijack a moving train and kidnap the passengers. Baffa said he decided not to participate in the operation because it is risky but believed that DANLAMI and LAWAN will blow up the bridge.”

 

 

 

Why was the report, which the paper said was “circulated across security agencies,” ignored? Was this complicity, incompetence, or indifference? I am inclined to think it’s complicity, especially in light of the Wall Street Journal’s not-surprising revelation that mercenary terrorist bandits have “collaborators inside the army.”

 

 

 

Here are my own extrapolations based on the facts I’ve encountered these past few months. While uneducated, pastoral, semi-nomadic Fulani herders are the public face of mass abductions for ransom in the country, they are just branches of a tree whose roots are buried deep beneath the surface. The herders are mere expendable foot soldiers of people who have privileged connections to the government and the private sector.

 

 

Peasant, seminomadic Fulani herders who have lost their cattle have historically served as an inexhaustible pool of lumpen proletariat to conscript into all kinds of conflicts. In the early 1800s, for instance, they constituted a huge percentage of Afonja’s army in his fight against the Alaafin of Oyo. In “A Little New Light: Selected Historical Writings of Professor Abdullahi Smith,” the late Abdullahi Smith wrote that Fulani pastoralists who lost their cattle to tsetse fly bites in Yoruba land and “had nothing to lose” became Afonja’s mercenaries.

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The domination of abduction for ransom by Fulani pastoralists who have lost their cattle seems to me like the recrudescence of what happened in the 1800s—and at other historical epochs. Killing the abductors will do nothing to stop the problem because they are merely the branches of a tree. You don’t kill a tree by cutting off its branches because new branches will sprout in time.

 

 

 

You kill a tree by uprooting it. That means identifying the funders and real beneficiaries of mass abductions in the country. From the information I am privy to, they are elites who are not necessarily Fulani. They are a pan-Nigerian gang of ruthless buccaneers who are united by rapaciousness and vileness.

 

 

 

But instead of confronting this grave existential threat to Nigeria, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, is obsessed with blabbering about who the “sponsors” of Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu are.

 

 

This is the same guy who refused to name and identify people who have been exposed by the United Arab Emirates as sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists because, according to him, “Naming and shaming of suspects is not embarked upon as a policy by the federal Government out of sheer respect [for] the constitutional rights of Nigerians relating to presumption of innocence.”

 

 

 

Naming and shaming of sponsors of terrorism is unconstitutional but the naming and shaming of the “sponsors” of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho isn’t. That is all you need to know for why mercenary terroristic banditry will endure for as long as incompetent hypocrites like Malami hold and control the levers of government.

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Anambra Guber: IPOB Declares Sit-At-Home On Election Day

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Anambra state governorship election may suffer serious setback as the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has declared total lockdown in all states in south East from November 5 to November 10, to compel the federal government to release its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.

The Independent National Electoral Commission INEC has fixed the Anambra gubernatorial election for November 6, 2021.

But in a statement issued by its media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, IPOB said, “Following the adjournment of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s court case to 10th of November 2021, by the Federal High Court Abuja, it demanded all lovers of Biafra and Biafrans to sit at home from 5 to 10 November to ensure that their leader is released.

“We the great movement and family of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), wish to inform Biafrans, friends of Biafra and lovers of freedom that IPOB will lock down Biafra land from 5th of November to 10th of November except Sunday, November 7th, a day our people worship the Almighty God, if the Nigeria Government fails to release our leader unconditionally before 4th of November 2021” he stated.

IPOB said its leader Nnamdi Kanu must be released unconditionally on or before November 4, 2021 “because he has not committed any offense known to any law.

According to the group, “failure to release Nnamdi KANU on or before November 4, 2021 there will be one week Sit-At-Home beginning on November 5, 2021 till November 10.”

Kanu was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja on treasonable felony and terrorism charges.

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The fresh seven-count charges against Kanu followed his arrest and extradition from Kenya after he jumped bail.

Kanu, however, pleaded not guilty to the allegations.

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Ghana Nollywood Boss, Others, Mobilise Nigerians against Black Queens In Accra Sunday World Cup Tie

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There is serious mobilisation of Nigerians living in Ghana to support the Super Falcons in their match against the Black Queens of Ghana today.

The supporters have agreed to troop out in numbers to the Accra Sports Stadium to support the Super Falcons in a World Cup qualifier encounter.

The mobilisation of Nigerians is spearheaded, among many others calling for massive turn out of Nigerians for the match is Mr. Destiny Omoh, Chairman of Nollywood Ghana Chapter, Chief Bayo Asaolu, former Acting President of All Nigerian Community in Ghana who is also the current 2nd Vice President of of the same Association.

Chief Asaolu disclosed that the match is a do or die for the Black Queen as they need outstanding win to qualify to the female World Football fiesta.

It would be recalled that at various occasions, Nigerians in Ghana have always come out to support the national teams.

Ghana will need to beat Nigeria by 2 goals to qualify. The Super Falcon beat their rival by two goals at the first leg in Nigeria.

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