[OPINION] Post COVID-19 burdens on Nigerians

​Governance according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the words of Dye and Staphenhurst(1998) is the “exercise of economic, political-administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels”. Governance is the machinery, procedures and institutions through which the people/masses articulate their welfares, rights and meet their aspirations, obligations and arbitrate differences. Good governance is “central to creating and sustaining an enabling environment for development” (World Bank, 1992).

Government is mandated to promote sustainable economic and social development for the citizenry. Hence, the welfare of the people should be the supreme law.

​Government is saddled with the responsibility of delivery of services. For effectiveness, efficiency, to reduce the burden of governance and to make delivery of service active, privatisation and commercialisation was advocated. If privatisation and commercialisation fail to capture the whole essence of their creation, then, the government should be more proactive and move to action in order to rescue the situation. Private individuals are given the task of providing essential services, these individuals are businessmen and are ready not to make an only profit but also, to maximise (exploit) it if not monitored and properly regulated by the machinery of government.

​Electricity distribution was privatised in Nigeria with the assumption that it will afford effectiveness in the sector. An increment in electricity tariff at this point when people are just managing to recover from the global pandemic (COVID’19) is just anti-people. The timing compounded the problem. In the world over, governments are trying to put in place coping strategies, palliatives to relief the economic effect of the pandemic. It was an increment in VAT, introduction of stamp duty, DSTV/GOTV subscription increment, later, electricity and petrol pump price at the same time. The snowball effect of the increment in the electricity tariff and the petrol pump price are so enormous. Prices of commodities will skyrocket.

​Entrepreneurship has been identified as a catalyst for development via provision of employments, encouragement and sustenance of economic vitality. These entrepreneurs will directly feel the impact of the increment in electricity tariff and petrol pump price which in-turn will be shifted to the consumers. Some of these entrepreneurs make use of electricity and in the absence of electricity supply, they rely on alternative sources of power generation (generator), so, the effect of these two increments is too direct on them and they will definitely transfer the burden to the consumers (the masses). One of the pitfalls of entrepreneurship is the inability to plan, how will an entrepreneur plan with an incessant change in the petrol pump price in a country like Nigeria where electricity supply is not constant? In the space of a few months, the petrol pump price has been changed three times.

​If our plan is to move Nigeria to the next level, one of the major ingredients of national development is to create a conducive business environment for small and medium scale enterprises. Small and medium scale enterprises are requisites for national development as they are catalysts for technological development; safeguard foreign exchange; reduce rural/urban migration; provide job opportunities; improve the standard of living; among others. We cannot be doing something the same way and expect a different result. The main argument for privatisation is to enhance productivity and effectiveness. If there are elements of monopoly in privatisation, then, the whole essence has been defeated.

​Privatisation of the electricity distribution should be re-structured to afford competition, the distribution companies should be in every state of the federation. Let us take a cue from the telecommunication sector. For example, if the tariff of MTN is high, consumers have the opportunity to change to Glo and vice-versa. Competition forces the price to the barest minimum. A SIM card was sold for, as high as N30,000 but with the competition, it goes for, as low as N100 with free airtime.

No matter the policy of IBEDC for instance, there is nothing one can do in Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Kwara and part of Ekiti State. No alternative except one wants to disconnect from electricity supply from IBEDC and rely on other means of electricity supply (of which the closest that is available is generator [a dilemma]). Monopoly should be tackled and this problem will be resolved. The policy of the government on the generation of electricity should be reviewed. Some states of the federation or organisations would have pulled out of the national grid but they are incapacitated by the policy.

If one generates more than 10 megawatts, I think, it must be sent to the national grid for redistribution. What then happens if a state, for instance, is ready to generate its electricity and it needs more than 10 megawatts? This part of the policy should be flexible and negotiable to encourage states and organisations that might wish to generate their electricity. As a matter of fact, higher institutions with functional Departments of Electricity and Electronic should be encouraged to generate for at least, their faculty or college if not for the entire institution.

This will boost electricity generation in the country; serve as a training ground for students; and also serve as internally generated revenue for the institution that can generate more than what it needs in terms of megawatts. It can then be supplied to neighbouring communities.

​Post COVID-19 effect is not only economical but also felt in the health sector. The precautionary measures put in place in the hospitals by the health workers is creating other problems. Some of these health workers do not want to interact with any patient one on one as a result of the pandemic, even in a case of emergency. As much as I will want to share their sentiment of nobody wants to die when it is evident that a case cannot be linked to COVID, the health workers should treat as one. Cases of negligence by these health workers which has led to death were reported.

A case of a serious car accident that the casualty ought to have been admitted and monitored for some time, carry out necessary tests and diagnosis and so on was discharged hastily and was asked to visit the hospital from home. The person involved later died of internal bleeding which could have been discovered if not for the premature discharge.

The government should provide COVID test kits at the emergency wards so that the health workers will be able to determine COVID status on arrival as the health workers cannot also be unnecessary vulnerable. Hazard allowance of the health workers should be sorted out as a matter of urgency and a special insurance policy on COVID’19 and other related diseases should be put in place for the front-liners as a way of encouraging them.

​Moreover, parents are back at work and the children are at home because schools are closed. How do we reconcile this? Especially children that cannot take care of themselves. A few days ago, the Presidential Committee on COVID’19 announced that schools will be re-opened soon. And that the schools should comply with COVID protocols. Some questions that come to mind are: Who is to provide these preventive measures? How soon will it be provided? Who takes responsibility for the cost? In the case of government schools, it is expected that the government will be responsible for the provision. Hence, schools should be getting the supply of this equipment sooner, if schools are going to resume soon. And for private schools, the management of the schools will have to provide the equipment as mandated by the government (some of them are calling for the re-opening of schools). These owners of private schools will not bear the cost without shifting it to the parents, therefore, if they (school owners) will have to provide the equipment, it can only mean one thing, increment in school fees. As for the public schools, except this equipment are not supplied one-off, how will the schools sustain it?

Public tertiary institutions before now have been asked to look-inward to raise money in order to augment their subvention. How else will they look-inward to raise money, if not increasing school fees? Especially with the way we think in this part of the world (one-way). Tertiary institutions in the other parts of the country are active in the economic development of their countries.

In Nigeria, we use products from tertiary institutions in China, Japan, India and so on. The implication of looking-inward is that it will bounce back on the parents that are struggling to battle the effect of COVID. Hands-on measures should be on the ground to address this issue. Private organisations, NGOs, Philanthropists can be encouraged to assist in using corporate social responsibility.

​Let me also quickly mention this. The reversal of education policy in Osun State is also another burden on the parents. Students are asked to return to their old uniform and names of the schools are to return. Therefore, as parents are struggling to prepare (COVID-19 protocols) for resumption, they will also add the burden of getting new set of uniform for their children (which might not be necessary, if not for the policy fluctuations). This issue of the regime to regime plan should be abolished in Nigeria. We should jettison a short term plan and see government as continuous. The end of a regime should not mean the end of a policy. Personal conviction should not be forced on the people, instead, consultation should be wide.

The government should be interactive and decisions should be made amongst actors involved. Participatory governance is the involvement of citizens in the process of governance with the state to deepen democratic engagement. Citizens should be allowed to play an active role in the process of governance to entrench democratic engagement. This policy lacked public contribution ab-initio, this is evident in its reversal by the successive government, even from the same political orientation. The government of Osun State should provide a soft landing for the parents by providing or subsidising the cost of the uniform or give good time (say a term) to face-out the new turned old uniform. We should work against a deficient plan in Nigeria to put a stop to policy summersault.

Alao, Olaleke M. (PhD),

Secretary, Center for Convention on Democratic Integrity Inc,

Maryland, USA.

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