The spread of Covid 19 pandemic has placed the country in a major emergency and Catch 22 situation since the civil war. Not the threat of Ebola epidemic, which had more life-threatening potency, constituted and presented the type of the present danger to the country. Unlike most other nations facing the same challenge, Nigeria is embattled on more one front; and fighting two enemies simultaneously could be a herculean task.
Confronting the health challenges presented by the virus goes beyond health and medical services. It has severe economic implications as well. But besides its inherent economic fallouts, the country was already saddled with its economic issues that further compound the strangulating situations generally associated with responses to the pandemic.
Nigeria was facing low revenue inflow, high debt service rate, a huge deficit, and a growing poverty rate before the advent of the scourge. GDP Growth was put at 2.5 per cent; with this situation, most optimistic forecasts suggest recession.
Nigeria was also the first major victim of the effects of the virus. Coming from China, which is the major buyer of our oil, Nigeria’s oil export took an immediate and direct hit, with the unsold stock of over 50 cargoes within the first month and prices plunging in response. But to make a bad situation worse, Russia refused entreaties from OPEC to cut supply to boost price thus precipitating a supply war that has practically created a glut and price tumble.
For instance, Nigeria’s 2020 budget based on oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel has almost been halved by this development. The budget has been cut by a cumulative ratio of 20 per cent as a consequence. However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg as the country now faces the dire prospect of a complete lockdown, especially in Lagos and Abuja, its two major capitals – economic and political capitals – and epicentres of the outbreak.
We commend the efforts of the Lagos state government is being proactive in some of the measures being put in place to tackle this problem. However, we are concerned by the initial delay and lackadaisical approach of the government by not closing the borders and airports when it was most appropriate. But having risen to the challenge, we are reassured of its capacity to weather the storm. In any case, there will be tremendous cost in this battle for survival.
As we move toward a total lockdown, the attention should be directed on how to reduce the likely costs on the people. Unlike other societies and economies, Nigeria is largely an informal economy where most of the actively productive economic agents survive on daily wages of one kind or the other, who must go out daily to be able to sustain their families, which presents a serious logistic and humanitarian dilemma.
Most countries imposing total lockdowns have some economic and financial palliatives to alleviates, albeit temporarily, the hardship of the people. Asking Nigerians, especially those in urban cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt etc, to stay at home would be difficult because the majority of the people who are in the informal sector cannot afford to be indoors for a few days without some relief from the government, which already in deep financial strait itself.
Since a palliative from government seems improbable, suggesting a total lockdown may also appear inconceivable, which not only limits the government’s options to tackle the problem but leaves the country at its mercy. Given the nation’s huge population, which is largely poor and illiterate, coupled with our unhygienic health practices and chaotic housing, we are constrained to be hopeful and optimistic by the prospect ahead. The current management of the crisis has been positive and effective but it only scratches the surface of the issue.
Nigeria was lucky to have inherited the structures already established during the Ebola threat, but we have allowed the initiative to slip, and we are now chasing the game. Even with a complete lockdown, the country still faces a major health threat as a result of the transportation, housing, markets and urban development structures. In places such as Ajegunle, Mushin, Makoko etc, with their poor housing situation, a lockdown may prove disastrous.
However, we are reassured by the prompt and positive action of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in providing a whopping N2.5 trillion in emergency palliative to businesses especially small and medium scale enterprises, SMEs, and other critical companies, such as pharmaceutical firms, to remain open, retain their workers and continue to produce and operate. Already it is reported that the country will be short of critical prescription drugs by August 2020.
We appeal to the government to do the needful by adopting measures that will end the threat as soon as possible because its prolongation has serious economic implications. Both the federal and Lagos state governments, as the two major epicentres of this disease, should come together to determine the best approach proceed. They should raise an emergency fund for a lockdown of these cities for two weeks to nip the crisis in the bud; it is the only way to limit the cost to the country.
We believe in the Nigerian spirit, that as daunting as the situation may look, we still see the light at the end of the tunnel – the resilience often associated with us. Although this may be more complicated than its previous battles of nationhood, this too will pass if we do the right things with all hands on deck. The outrage of churches opening on Sunday for services should not be tolerated; nobody is above the law.
The government must expect full observance of all measures put in place to tackle this challenge; we demand full implementation without minding whose ox is gored. This is a matter of public safety of life; nothing should be more sacrosanct.