Covid-19 as politicians’ escape route

KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the spiraling negative effects of the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) on governance and politics as the world grapples with the scourge.

 

The year, 2020, was initially planned to be another period of miracle for Nigeria. In their usual wisdom and disposition, the elite came up with the Nigeria Vision 20:2020, a supposed transformation economic blueprint. According to the initiators, Vision 20:2020 was designed as a strategic intervention “to launch Nigeria onto the path of sustained social and economic progress and accelerate the emergence of a truly prosperous and united Nigeria.” In other words, it was a template to make Nigeria one of the top 20 economies in the world.  “By 2020, Nigeria will have a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy that effectively harnesses the talents and energies of its people and responsibly exploits its natural endowments to guarantee a high standard of living and quality of its citizens,” it was stated.

Whereas the blueprint has since joined the elongating list of pipe dreams, renewed promises by the elite to end the monolithic nature of the national economy have been more of mere rhetoric, precept than action. A mono-economy subsists despite the perennial singsong in official circle about a diversification agenda. And because of what United States President Donald Trump described as an “onslaught of the Chinese virus” globally, Nigeria is currently caught in the web of trepidation and dilemma. The ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, otherwise called COVID-19, has put real governance on edge, shattered major social, economic, financial plans and forced state actors to go back to the drawing board. The implications on local politics and governance cannot be overemphasized because of the interdependence of forces in public administration.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

Nigerians, like many other citizens across the world are startled by the rate and speed at which COVID-19 has continued to spread, with increasing death tolls and, hundreds of thousands are under intense medical observation. The scourge has necessitated travel bans and lockdowns, just as it has redefined social relations while local and international sports engagements have either been cancelled or put on hold. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report claimed that more than 290 million children have been forced out of school.

The general financial implications are awesome, going by the report of the WHO on the pandemic. It is estimated that the scourge could cost the world economy whooping US$2 trillion. According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who described COVID-19 as “the defining global health crisis of our time,” it will required the highest level of political commitment to contain the pandemic. Therefore, WHO has asked the international community for US$675million to fight the virus, while the United Nations has dedicated US$15 million to fund essential activities such as monitoring the spread of the virus, investigating cases and supporting national laboratories?

According to experts, the epidemic could have far-reaching economic consequences, which would widen existing inequalities and further hobble the world’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), if not properly tackled and checked. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has said the virus could cause recession in some countries and depress annual growth by 2.5 per cent. The World Bank has announced an initial economic package of US$12 billion to countries coping with the health and economic impacts of the outbreak.

 

A nation’s underbelly

The initial scenario concerning the disease was more about mostly politically-exposed individuals as being the major casualties of Covid-19.  Thus, the list of the victims made major headlines in the media across the world, with advanced countries like China, Italy, France, United States, United Kingdom and Spain, as the most victims. But, in Nigeria, Covid-19 has exposed the nation’s underbelly, deceit, hypocrisy and propaganda about diversification. It has unraveled the rhetoric and lip-service being paid to diversification under the guise of delivery of the dividends of democracy and good governance.

The slippery pricing of crude oil in the global market has threw spanner into the works of politicians, especially governors with huge bills to pick, coupled with pre-election promises to the electorate. Government at all levels have gone back to the drawing board on their budget to streamline in tandem with contemporary socio-economic, financial and political realities, exigencies and projections.

Some states have joined the centre in adopting a few belt-tightening measures in the face of shrinking allocation from the Federation Account. The new national minimum wage has hiked recurrent expenditure of states, even as state actors sustain bloated workforce.  Budget for security, including security votes, remain high, causing uncontrollable haemorrhage in the body polity and governance.

 

Social safety net

Apart from bailout for businesses, countries like Australia, US, France, Italy, UK and others have enunciated different forms of assistance under their social safety net to cushion the effect of the pandemic on their citizens. This is because of the serious negative impacts of the economic distortion and pains arising from the shutdown occasioned by the ravaging pandemic. But with a huge percentage of the population of Nigeria falling below poverty line, the economy cannot afford such luxury for the poor and other vulnerable categories of citizens, including women and children. Social safety net is in short supply as COVID-19 outbreak can only broaden economic inequalities even though the virus infects people regardless of wealth.

 

INEC and off-season polls

As the disease spreads, the sanctity of the ongoing preparations for the governorship elections in both Ondo and Edo states appears uncertain. The Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed September 19, 2020 and October, 10 2020 for Edo and Ondo states respectively. The conduct of primary election and resolution of disputes arising from primaries for Edo was scheduled for between June 2 and 27, with campaign meant to begin on June 21 and end on September 17. For Ondo State, July 2 to 25 was announced for the conduct of primary election and resolution of disputes arising from primaries “to enable political parties democratically nominate candidates for the election as required by Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010.” The IN fixed October 8 for the end of the campaign with the election proper scheduled for October 10. Already, the INEC has put in abeyance the conduct of by-elections to fill some seats in the National Assembly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This means an additional financial burden for both the commission and the political gladiators who may have deployed enormous logistics as part of preparations as the polls drew nearer.

With the emerging scene, conduct of primaries to determine the candidate for the governorship polls in Edo and Ondo states might be devoid of the usual cantankerous traits and other tendencies of political immaturity by most gladiators. The question about a level playing field, money, incumbency syndrome, politics of godfather and other sharp practices could take premium over free, fair and credible contest within the parties.

One-year after elections

With just three months to the first year anniversary after the 2019 general election, majority of the Nigerian voters are expectant about what the state actors about them giving account of their stewardship. They will be curious to know what meaningful impact and difference the political class has made after securing the sacred mandate given to them by voters. The people look forward to the extent those elected into public offices in trust with the mandate to deliver their pre-election promises lived by their words.

Will the fallout of the COVID-19 form an alibi by the political elite on May 29, 2020 for their inaction, ineptitude, failed promises and dashed hope when they will be required to give their stewardship to the electorate? Before then, to what extent will they demonstrate the advice of Lena Simet, senior poverty and inequality researcher at Human Rights Watch, to the US government that, “The government should target its economic stimulus packages to the low-income communities that will be hit first and hardest, and ensure an adequate standard of living for all.”

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