John Tani Obaro, Founder/MD, SystemSpecs Limited, developers of the Remita says:
“Nigeria must promote and reward indigenous entrepreneurs”
The Chairman and Distinguished Senators of the Joint Committee on Finance, Banks and Other Financial Institutions, members of the 4th realm – The Press, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Please permit me to start my presentation with some basic introduction to this distinguished Senate.
- Who we are at SystemSpecs
We are an Indigenous Professional Software Company founded by my humble self, 24 years ago after about 10years in Information Technology departments of the banking industry.
We currently have a staff strength of almost 200 with a good number of them involved with the TSA project.
We have 3 products – SunSystems which we market and support in Nigeria on behalf of the Infor Group of the United States and two homegrown products named after what they do:
- Human Manager for Managing Human Resources, and
- Remita for the Remittance of Funds.
- What is Remita?
Remita provides a shared services technology platform for Companies, Individuals, Government Agencies and Banks to make and receive payments with ease. Remita is integrated with all Commercial Banks in Nigeria, over 500 OFIs and ERP systems and Portals of several organisations.
We are licensed by CBN as a PSP to provide Remita e-Payment and e-Collection platform in Nigeria. This pre dates the adoption of Remita to serve as the Payment Gateway for TSA.
- Selection of Remita for TSA
In October 2011, after a rigorous evaluation process by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) and support from their foreign Consultants, Remita was selected ahead of local and foreign options to provide the electronic payment technology to power the Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) initiative.
We immediately set to work and we have proven that Remita, the indigenously developed flagship product of the Nigerian Software Industry works.
By January 2012, the foreign core accounting software of Government was not ready and 3 months behind schedule. The foreign developed RTGS that was initially expected to drive the payment leg was not ready and running about one year late. Ironically, when the RTGS was ready, it was observed that it was not appropriate for retail payments.
Remita to the Rescue: Mr. Chairman Sir, I am extremely delighted that come January 2012, the indigenously developed Remita empowered the FGN to commence the TSA project despite the challenges above. We further went ahead to integrate with GIFMIS when It became ready in April 2012 for a full end-to-end processing that we have today. Nigeria must not forget that.
Remita started to process outward payments in January 2012 with a pilot of 116 MDAs which has increased to over 900 MDAs as at today.
- Collection and Monitoring of Revenue
The second phase of the TSA; Revenue Collections and monitoring commenced with a Stakeholders meeting in May 2013 where fees were agreed by all the stakeholders. A committee comprising of CBN, OAGF, the Banks and SystemSpecs agreed a fee of 2.5%. This was however rejected and reduced to 1% by the AGF. CBN thereafter by a letter dated December 17, 2013 notified all the Banks of the 1% rate to be shared by all parties and subsequently updated the contract with SystemSpecs accordingly.
The full implementation kicked off in March 2015 and gained traction when President Muhammadu Buhari mandated the closure of all FGN accounts held in Commercial Banks by September 15, 2015. This led to a massive one time surge especially for September and October as MDAs sought to comply.
- Some Remita Benefits to Government
We have today sir, among several deliverables, delivered:
- Increasing Transparency: Remita has empowered relevant Government officials to electronically track and monitor ALL Government inflows and disbursements thereby enhancing Transparency in use of Government funds.
- Online Account Balances: Remita has empowered designated persons in Government AT ANY TIME to see on a single screen, individual balances of all MDAs and the celebrated TSA balance.
- Outflows Monitoring: We have delivered a platform that keeps and readily presents a comprehensive log of all officers who approve payment amounts, to who was payment made and for what purpose.
- Inflows Monitoring: Government can centrally monitor all inflows and outflows. Individual MDAs can monitor who is paying what amount, from where, how payment is being made and for what purpose.\
- Online Validation of Receipts: Designated officers can readily confirm any presented receipt online thereby laying the foundation to eliminate forged receipts in the transaction of Government business.
I like to specially thank some MDAs that were initially reluctant to join the TSA but having tasted the platform, have today become strong Remita apostles. I salute NNPC that has a most complex multilayer structure but have found solace in the depth, yet ease of use of Remita.
I salute the early adopters such as FRSC who could not hide their delight at the unexpected comprehensive reports they now have on all traffic offenders in Nigeria. I salute the Nigerian Law School, NIPOST, NIWA, CAC, DPR and NTA for being believers and early supporters of TSA. I salute NIMASA who despite some initial on boarding challenges boldly came out in the press recently to say they are most delighted with TSA and the platform.
I salute some of our competitors for their contributions to the development of the e-space in Nigeria. While we were holding fort getting Nigeria ready for TSA, they kept creating very exciting products for the private sector, individuals, cards and mobile payments space. Together, our efforts are lifting up convenience for Nigerians of all walks.
Today with our collaboration with other industry players:
- Payers can walk into any Bank Branch and an increasing number of Micro Finance Banks in Nigeria, pay cash and the TSA at CBN is credited.
- Payers can opt to log into the Internet Banking Platform of their Bank, or use their Visa, Verve, Union or MasterCard to pay online.
- Pay through their Mobile Wallets
- Or Pay at netor the website of participating MDAs who have opted to integrate their website.
Mr. Chairman Sir, these are some of the benefits we have delivered to Government.
- The 1% Charge
Mr. Chairman Sir, as you would have seen among the documents earlier sent to you, SystemSpecs has a valid contract with CBN for the provision of the Payment Gateway that supports payment and collections of Government revenue.
The fees were discussed by all stakeholders, set by CBN and OAGF, communicated to all by the CBN and included in our contract. We did not charge above the agreed rates.
On September 14, 2015, the OAGF had expressed concern at a project review meeting about the fees considering the enlarged scope of the project. SystemSpecs was not averse to price renegotiation. We wrote to the CBN that we are open to renegotiation and that an all stakeholders meeting be convened.
Three weeks later on October 7, we wrote again that an all stakeholders meeting should be convened to review processing fees.
Two weeks later on October 27, we were instructed by the CBN to refund all fees that have accrued to us in accordance with the contract. We strategically chose to comply within 24 hours of receipt of their letter as we did not want to allow the issue of fees in the heat of the moment to becloud the work we have done in the delivery of TSA for Nigeria. While refunding our own portion of the fees as demanded by the CBN however, we accompanied the refund with a fairly worded letter stating why the fees legitimately earned in line with our contract should be refunded to us.
How much more could we have demonstrated good faith? On November 11, two weeks after refunding all fees and operating zero fees at the risk of a legal battle with other stakeholders, without hearing our own side of the story, we were erroneously accused of fraud, abuse and mismanagement of the TSA on the hallowed chambers of this highly respected Senate.
To say the least sir, we feel used, abused, unappreciated and abandoned by the country for which we stuck out our necks and faith to deliver the platform that made the TSA possible, which in other climes, all citizens would be proud of, acclaimed, encouraged and motivated to further the frontiers of greater technological breakthroughs and innovation.
In any case, pray, how could enforcing the terms of a validly signed and subsisting contract amount to fraud while discussions were already ongoing on whether the terms of the valid contract may need to be reviewed to recognize emerging realities? How can discussions on the need to re-negotiate contractual terms due to increased volumes form the basis to seek to throw the baby away with the bath water?
- Syndicated Attack
In the unfortunate syndicated attempt to discredit Remita, the Senate was misled into believing that a whopping sum of N25b was paid out to one company in one day for doing nothing. Mr Chairman Sir, nothing can be further from the truth and by now it is obvious to the world that the Senate was misled.
Two days later, a major newspaper had a blazing headline that indicated CBN had “recovered N8.6bn from SystemSpecs, owners of Remita”. Even while the quoted figure was wrong, the writer forgot to mention that fee charges had suspended since October 23, 2015, almost 3 weeks before the Senate motion.
The article which sought to give the impression that all fees belonged to SystemSpecs never mentioned fees earned by the Banks and CBN. The objective was clear, Call Remita a bad name! Paint Remita black! All towards a set goal -Disrupt the technology platform and Government will be forced to drop TSA.
For those familiar with the social media, the well synchronized attack on Remita and TSA was very fierce but with some simple giveaways. It can be no strange coincidence that over 30 Twitter handles were repeatedly rebroadcasting the same messages AT THE SAME TIME! Looks very much that they were all from a single noisy computer!
Our consolation is that despite this barrage of syndicated attack, Many Nigerians and international observers believe that this TSA way is the way to go. We are proud that our indigenous Remita kick started this project at a time when CBN had written to OAGF in 2011 to delay commencement of the project because the technology was not yet in place.
- Respect for Contracts
Four years ago Mr. Chairman Sir, we saw tomorrow and prepared for today. Now that we have shown that our technology can deliver on TSA, it has suddenly become “very easy” and even those who did not know which direction to face 4 years ago now believe they can “develop” a replacement solution for Remita within a few months!
The path always becomes easier after someone else has blazed the trail!
Mr. Chairman Sir, I need to reiterate the fact that we have a valid contract to provide the Payment Gateway for TSA.
Many are beginning to question the worth of any agreement with Government if the rules can simply be changed in the middle of the game without warning or reason.
Mr. Chairman Sir, if such assault on entrepreneurship, hard work and creative technology is not addressed, we stand the risk of discouraging the younger ones who look up to mentor organizations like SystemSpecs, a multi award winning indigenous software company and clearly one of the best technology firms out of Nigeria and indeed Africa, founded and managed by my humble self who has been voted by my colleagues in the Nigerian IT industry several times as the IT personality of the year.
I am however consoled at the overwhelming support from my colleagues in the knowledge industry the Nigerian Computer Society who are well represented here today and in particular, my colleagues in the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) who certainly do know and understand software and chose to honor me as the Software entrepreneur of the year on account of our flagship product Remita about two weeks ago
Double honours in 2011: West Africa Top 50 Tech-Biz Recognition Award for Systemspecs and IT Personality of the Year for John Obaro by the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS).Obaro with Segun Oruame, Knowhow Media Int’l and Prof David Adewunmi, immediate past president of the NCS.
- Reward Entrepreneurship: Grow Non-Oil Revenue
If as a nation we are committed to growing our non-oil revenue Mr. Chairman Sir, development of indigenous software is one of the areas we should be looking to. We should be prepared to adequately and fairly reward those who spend years designing solutions that add value to society.We must be careful not to scare intellectuals and core professionals from wanting to do any business with Government.
Mr. Chairman Sir, SystemSpecs has delivered on her mandate. We expect this to be acknowledged. Mr. Chairman Sir, Information Technology is playing an important role in India today and has transformed India’s image from a slow moving bureaucratic economy to a land of innovative entrepreneurs.
According to NASSCOM, The National Association of Software and Services Companies of India, the IT sector aggregated revenues of US$147 billion in 2015, where export revenue stood at US$99 billion and domestic at US$48 billion.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started ‘Digital India‘ project to give IT a secured position inside and outside India.
The IT sector in India is generating 2.5 million direct employment. That Mr. Chairman Sir, is my vision for my country Nigeria and SystemSpecs is happy to contribute in our own little way to the actualization of same.
Today, Several Nigerians are already leveraging on the design model of Remita and internet penetration via telecommunications to offer the Nigerian public support services in the generation of payment codes for Government revenue collections. The Remita design model can easily provide thousands of Nigerians employment as they will bring payments nearer to the people under the financial inclusion framework.
- The Future of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Mr. Chairman Sir, permit me to further draw the attention of your Committee to the fact that about 15 years ago, in order to attract telecom companies to Nigeria, these mainly foreign firms were granted Pioneer status which enabled them to operate tax free for 5 years.
On the other hand, the indigenous IT industry on the other hand has not enjoyed such strong support from Government. I opted to remain in Nigeria even as I watched scores of my ex staff who have been well groomed in SystemSpecs, move to the western world where software development is readily appreciated and could never have been described as “doing nothing”. I opted to remain in Nigeria to lead a seasoned team that developed Remita that continues to help pay the salaries of millions of Nigerian workers in the private and public sectors on a monthly basis.
SystemSpecs has laboured, Remita has delivered and should be fairly rewarded.
Mr. Chairman Sir, SystemSpecs represents one of the best technology firms to come out of Nigeria, and indeed Africa. It has taken 24 years of sweat, sacrifice, toil and hard work to build and nurture this company to get to this point. We must be careful that we do not destroy same in 24 minutes.
This is an incredible opportunity for us to rise as a nation and stand on the side of justice, fairness and equity. This is an opportunity to celebrate and not vilify the indigenously developed payment technology that has made Nigeria’s TSA journey a success story within a short time.
We must promote and reward indigenous entrepreneurs. We must empower them at home in order to make it easier for them to export their trade to other countries.
Except our nation begins to respect Intellectual Property Rights; Except our nation begins to reward innovation; We kill innovation. May this not be our portion as a nation.Thank You Sir!
This Presentation was by John Tani Obaro, Founder/MD, SystemSpecs Limited, developers of the Remita Electronic Payment Platform to Nigeria’s Senate Joint Committee on Finance, Banks and Other Financial Institutions on December 9, 2015.