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COVID-19: Arise, O Compatriots

I commend the statesmanship of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State for his weekend status disclosure as a COVID-19 case in Nigeria. His honest and audacious disclosure was timely in removing remaining ignorance among some citizens. It is a wake up call for all that this rampaging virus scourge is  real.

By this singular act, Gov. El-Rufai and other statesmen who were open about their status, have offered necessary leadership to convince  those  still in unhelpful denial.  COVID-19 is a reality. It is  a rampaging classless, gender and race-blind, faith-blind virus.

Coronavirus  is indeed indiscriminate, but it can still be damned,  controlled through non-denial and respect for the rules of global public resistance against it.

Gov. El-Rufai rightly  submitted to a COVID-19 test, and in line with the protocol of managing COVID-19, self-isolated as requested by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

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It is time for all compatriots to heed the advise by the governor and public health authorities in general to observe preventive measures: “Stay home and stay alive”.

The point cannot be overstated that the cases are still increasing. The historic battle is not for governments alone. The organised  labour, civil societies and organised businesses must complement. Employers must invest in particular on the protection of essential health workers and control of the disease.

The Federal Government must urgently revive the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) made up of workers, employers  and government with proactive coordinated and strategic interventions to minimise the impact of the virus. All labour market institutions such as negotiating councils must be reactivated in both private and private sectors for  innovative, problem-solving agreements to ensure that workers do not suffer loss of lives and earnings, wages and pensions during the ongoing lockdown.

The tripartite NLAC should urgently establish a SITUATION ROOM/ PLATFORM/ FORUM.

Nigeria reportedly had  only 300 tested cases compared to South Africa which had reportedly carried out over 20,000 tests. We can only pray that the cases at hand are not huge. There is certainly a considerable room for a robust bipartisan collaboration in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole to prevent the worsening virus  against the background of the existing daunting health challenges of ever persisting malaria, ebola and Lassa fever, which had killed more than coronavirus.

It is commendable that the Governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, initiated a proactive six-point new measure to ameliorate the impact of the disease on the economy: cuts rates from nine to five per cent per annum for one year effective March 1, 2020; grants extension of moratorium on all CBN intervention facilities effective March 1, 2020, and  N50bn targeted credit facility through NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) hard hit by COVID-19.

It is also significant and commendable that President Muhammadu Buhari promptly approved a N10bn grant (about $27m) to fight the spread of COVID-19, and  already released to Lagos State which is still counting the highest number of cases.

The current crisis has exposed the underbelly of poor governance characterised by endemic complacency, delays, sheer indifference and unnecessary competition among government agencies.

It is great that the House of Representatives  passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill 2020 to complement the plans of the executive arm. We must operate collectively and make sure that COVID-19 as an opportunistic disease does  not defeat us separately. This is NOT the time for uncritical cut in public spending. Already, Nigeria has the lowest budget per capital in the world. Additional reduction in the size of the 2020 budget by about N1.5tn as part of measures to address the impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian economy will only undermine economic recovery and employment creation.

CBN has rightly directed that all Deposit Money Banks (DMB) should increase their support to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries and support for funding intensive care, as well as in training, laboratory testing, equipment and R&D.

The apex bank has increased financial intervention by N100bn in loans this year to support health authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators work with global scientists to patent and or produce vaccines and test kits.  Nigeria needs a radical departure from the age-long unhelpful neoliberal economics of wholesale liberalisation, cuts in public spending, factories closure and export orientation.

It is time for urgent diversification, import substitution, re-industrialisation and beneficiation. This is the time to re-inflate the economy as commendably being done by the CBN. At $30 per barrels Nigeria is far from being broke. On the contrary it’s time to move from export of crude to refining, save scarce Foreign Exchange (Forex) and create sustainable decent jobs.

The CBN has promised to increase intervention in boosting local manufacturing and import substitution by another N1tn across all critical sectors of the economy.

The 2020 budget proposed as much as N2.45tn (almost a quarter of the budget) for debt servicing.

With the COVID-19 crisis, the  debt service allocations are simply unsustainable. N2.45tn into debt servicing is more than N2.14tn of capital expenditure. It is time to review downward N125bn statutory allocation scandalously allocated  to the  National Assembly.   Indeed, the budget per capital of the National Assembly at N266,524,520.30 per legislator dwarfs the national budget per capital of about N57,388.88.

The  total allocation to the National Assembly almost equals the total sum of N44.5bn for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) and N111.79bn for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) expected to impact on millions of citizens.

Nigeria needs a pandemic-sensitive budget. The lockdown must be complemented with direct and targeted social transfer to the poor in formal and informal sectors whose per day incomes are engendered.

With the spirited national efforts, this singular pandemic will come to pass, but the poverty and underdevelopment challenges would persist.

COVID-19 is  another costly opportunity to reinvent an economy like China’s,  with   remarkable resilience that has in record time tamed the virus; restoring growth and development.

Meanwhile, as we are under lock and key against an invisible virus, ask about your neighbors and send relief materials to neighbours in need.

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