Nigerian economy: Multifaceted wounds of COVID-19

Group Politics Editor, Kunle Oderemi, examines the various damages done to the nation’s economy by the coronavirus pandemic.

BY now, no Nigerian should be living under any form of illusion on the coronavirus pandemic. The myth that it was a white man’s disease has been blown off. COVID-19 has claimed almost 5, 000 lives so far on the continent of Africa alone and infected thousands. The fable that the scourge could not penetrate and survive in the tropical region is better told to the marines, as Nigeria currently ranks among the top four in Africa on the virus infection and fatalities.

The enormous price the citizens have continued to pay since the incursion of the pandemic into Nigeria in February is indicative of the attendant degree of socio-economic and political disruption and distortion. Economic lockdown and deliberate policy of business transaction running at the lowest ebb, coupled with other measures to curb the spread of the scourge has redefined virtually all facets of human endeavours.

Quasi-austerity measures, including review of approved budgets of federal and states for the current financial year, salary cut and possibility of job losses in the seemingly bloated bureaucracy have raised the temperature in labour circles. There are threats from workers of industrial unrest in the aviation sector, among other departments and agencies of the Federal Government over discrepancies in salaries and allowances paid so far. Where the organised labour has not unequivocally declared wage disputes, it is embroiled in bottled anger in some states where feelers indicate the implementation or sustenance of the national minimum wage of N30, 000.

The number one labour leader in the country, Ayuba Wabba, has warned the government not to dare labour over the issue. Yet, COVID-19 has brought about a paradigm shift in at both micro and macro levels.

Huge job losses are being recorded in the private sector, as corporate organisations are forced to embark on very tough and stringent measures to remain afloat.  Industrialists have either the option to operate at a minimal capacity or reduce workforce drastically to overcome the challenges occasioned by pandemic. This is largely because the response of government to the virus-induced shocks appears not salutary and not far-reaching. With huge deficit in power, infrastructure and other critical needs to sustain the real sector of the economy, the government palliatives to manufacturers seems not to constitute much antidote to insecurity in the labour market.

 

Health care

With COVID-19 came the stark reality about the nation’s healthcare. Medical tourism is far more the fad among the elite, be it economic or political. Perennial promise of transforming the health sector through provision of modern facilities and technologies for the purpose of raising standard so as to end an era of capital flight through medical tourism flew is a fluke. The pandemic has kept virtually all of them at home for the first time in decades. They had consistently travelled abroad for medical treatment or checkup with the concomitant capital flight. Though the ongoing drive championed by the corporate Nigeria for funds is meant to fix the health sector, observers noted that the effort cannot go far, given the enormity of the multifaceted demand, requirement and challenges of the sector.

 

Social interaction

The gradual change in status quo ante in other vital areas such as social, cultural and traditional settings is reflective of COVID-19. The dynamics in relation to interactions, physical relationship and contact have been redefined by ‘ankle shaking,’ as oppose to traditional handshaking, as well as social and physical distancing to void the spread of the virus.

 

Palliatives

To cushion the likely devastating effect of the scourge, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had announced a stimulus package that comprised N50 billion credit facility to households and small and medium enterprises most affected by the pandemic, N100 billion loan to the health sector, and N1 trillion to the manufacturing sector. In addition, the interest rates on all CBN interventions were revised downwards from nine to five per cent, and a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities introduced from March 1, while the official exchange rate was adjusted from N306 to N360 to the United States dollar.

Those efforts amounted to a drop of water into the ocean. The effects of the pandemic have led to seething anger among the distressed citizens. Apart from hunger, weeks of economic lockdown and restriction of movement or curfew have crippled the purchasing power of the people and near collapse of the informal economy, where the majority of Nigerian ply their individual trades.

However, the government sees a lot of opportunities that Nigeria can harness to achieve a positive leap to the next level. Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinabajo says it requires is for synergy among the major stakeholders in the country to tackle the menace of COVID-19. Nigeria’s Vice President, Osinbajo, says although the pandemic affected Nigerians in different ways, it offered an opportunity for the people and the government to reset the critical sectors of the economy and social services.

Professor Osinbajo stated at a virtual launch of the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF), initiated by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), the Global Citizen and other partners. That the NSSF was designed to support “the creation of a stronger, more resilient, more inclusive political economy and healthcare system. We need not belabour the point that the COVID-19 challenge is also an unprecedented opportunity for us as a nation and people to reset in critical sectors of the economy and social services.” Osinbajo adding, “…the deep plunge in oil earnings, the disruptions to business and commerce on account of lockdowns, have meant that we must develop a comprehensive economic response.”

The recent report on rate of unemployment in the country unveiled by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked Nigeria 21st among 181 countries with an unemployment rate of about 23.1 per cent. It also stated that the country had about 87 million people living on less than $2 a day threshold. With the distortion arising from the incursion of the pandemic into the country, coupled with the seeming defeatist posture of the authorities, those statistics might have become completely outdated and utterly useless.

 

Education

The impact of COVID-19 on the education sector is a major worry to many because of the danger it posed to the child and the future. With all institution and schools forced to shut down, the operators in the sector are of necessity in search of solutions to breach the gap between learning and the child just staying at home. So, the stakeholders have embrace technologies to further raise the bar of educating the child at a relative higher cost. After all, the he reality now is that stakeholders in the education sector must contend with the new ways to interface with students outside the confines of lecture and classrooms in a seamless trend. It has to be through effective deployment of social platforms like Instant Messenger and WhatsApp, which can be monitored by parents for the purposeful of making useful inputs into the learning curve of their children.

According to experts, the concept of teachers “bring the knowledge-holders, who impart wisdom to their pupils is no longer fit for the purpose of a 21st-century education. With students being able to gain access to knowledge, and even learn a technical skill, through a few clicks on their phones, tablets and computers, we will need to redefine the role of the educator in the classroom and lecture theatre. This may mean that the role of educators will need to move towards facilitating young people’s development as contributing members of society.”

 

Political institutions

At the verge of by-elections in nine states, the nation was locked down by the Federal Government because of COVID-19. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to put the elections on hold and placed a partial ban on activities at the commission’s office across the country. All the stakeholders in those planned elections incurred losses in terms of resources that had been deployed to logistics ahead the polls. Coupled with this is that the pandemic has redefined part of the rules of engagements of the INEC, political parties and a few of their leaders with ambition to seek elective offices. It was in that context that the INEC came up with a template for the conduct of elections at period of COVID-19, while parties and aspirants jostling for the tickets of parties in the fast-approaching governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states have adopted steps in  tandem with the INEC template in the buildup to party primaries and thereafter.

 

Spiritual impact

The effect of the pandemic in the spiritual life of the citizen is a peer review among religious leaders that led to the gradual lifting of lockdown clamped on congregation. There will be greater collaboration to avert sanctions over possible disregard for not adhering to the rule of engagement that is fast being ingrained into the subconscious of the people. Religious bodies are bound to find a way of incorporating rules and regulations meant to avert the community spread of the disease. With signs that the human race might have to live with the disease, the way to strike a balance between staying alive and allowing the scourge to pose grave danger to the lives of religious leaders and the congregants might be institutionalised with time. But the mostly change that might be witnessed is improved adoption of digital technologies by the religious leaders to interact, disseminate and bond with the congregants.

An author and ace commentator, Mr Shehu Hameed-Bankole, believed the pandemic inflicted much havoc on the educational and economic sectors. “The educational sector has been badly affected, largely because we lack e-learning capabilities. It provides the incentive to connect the web for instructional purposes. I don’t know if COVID- 19 has permanently redefined human relationships but in the meantime, we have had frustrations on two ends; those who are directly impacted heath wise and their families, in the other side those who think it’s a hoax.”

In his opinion, “Corporate organisations have not fared any better than the rest of the business world, even as I believe that they are counting their loss hours, betting on the goodwill of government by those who donated to the palliative programme. It will take a while to adjust for the disruption for us to make reasonable submission on ways of doing business or even the response to it by governments.  The medical profession is always ready to deliver, this pandemic will only enhance the health care system overall.”

On its part, the leadership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), expressed its determination to partner with the government in redefining national values, economic priorities, and resource utilisation strategies such that Nigerians would be saved from the shackles of poverty.

ICAN head, Mrs. Onome Joy Adewuyi said the body would leverage its professional expertise to support players in the informal sector, whose unsung value-creating activities will define the position of the nation on the ladder of sustainable development. Adewuyi lamented the 2019 World Bank Human Development Report, in which 53.5 per cent of Nigerians were identified to live below poverty line of $1.9 a day, which she noted was even worse considering the high rate of crime and criminality all over the country and the imminent negative impact of COVID-19.

She said among other things, “The lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged ICAN to redefine the values it shares, the way it relates and account for its actions and inactions. Evidently, the proactive deployment and proficiency in the use of technology will continue to define corporate and individual success. This emerging paradigm has implications for how we relate and bond as professionals who share a common vision of working together to build a great nation with a sustainable economy driven by strong institutions.”

 

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