Expanding the frontiers of Covid-19 fight
By Paul Jatau
At the moment, the COVID-19 fight seems to have taken a dire and different dimension. The economic situation in the country has made it even moreso. Because people’s means of sustenance have been disrupted, they have become even more susceptible to the threat. And in trying to navigate the scourge, they expose themselves to the disease by flaunting the ‘lockdown’ order in the course of food hunting and foraging for water for sustenance. Indeed, the social distancing and hand washing efforts would come to naught if something is not done fast and quick enough to put in place palliative measures to ensure people obey the ‘stay at home’ restriction order.
It is with an eye on the vulnerable and in an effort to mitigate and find solutions to their teething problems that President Buhari in his second address to the nation on Monday 13th, April, 2020 dwelt on the need for the poorest of the poor to be helped. “No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement of its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day workers, artisans and manual workers. For this group, their sustenance depends on their ability to go out. Their livelihoods depend on them mingling with others and about seeking work. But despite these realities, we must not change the restrictions”.
He went on to add that “In the past two weeks, we announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers, loan waivers to ease the pains of our restrictive policies during this difficult time. These palliatives will be sustained.”
Buhari stated further that “I have directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our Social Investment Programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week”.
Stating further that “To ensure our economy adapts to this new reality, I am directing the Ministers of Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian Economy functioning with COVID-19.
“The Ministers will be supported by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and Economic sustainability committee in executing this mandate”.
The President also directed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimized.
As if in response to the President’s call to find ways of mitigating the effect of the COVID-19 on the poor, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) came up with palliatives of its own. It reduced interest rates applicable on all CBN facilities from 9 to 5 percent per annum for 1 year effective March 1, 2020.
The CBN has also created a targeted credit facility through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households and Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, including health care merchants etc.
To meet potential increase in demands for healthcare services and products, the CBN opened intervention facilities, loans to pharmaceutical companies to help expand and open their drug manufacturing plants in Nigeria as well as to hospitals and healthcare practitioners who intend to expand and build the health facilities to first class centres. This is in addition to growing the size of existing intervention to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in Nigeria.
The CBN also granted all Deposit Money Banks, (DMBs) leave to consider temporary and time limited restructuring of the tenor and loan terms for businesses and households most affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 particularly oil and gas; agriculture and manufacturing. The CBN would work closely with DMBs to ensure the use of this forbearance is targeted, transparent and temporary whilst maintaining individuals DMB’s financial strength and overall financial stability of the system.
The CBN governor made it clear that “The bank stands ready to provide liquidity backstops as and when required in view of its role as banker to the Federal Government and lender of last resort.” Saying the CBN shall continue to monitor developments and will issue further updates as may be appropriate.
As a means of further providing palliatives to cushion the effects of the ‘lockdown’, the leadership of the House of Representatives met with top government officials to help fashion out means of providing free electricity for Nigerians. The meetings did achieve some milestones but was yet to come to an agreement as to who would bear the burden of the cost and likes. It was, however made clear that when they finally reach an agreement, not all Nigerians would benefit from the palliatives but that it would be the poorest of the poor that would be considered.
According to Hajia Jummai of Rikkos, COVID-19 has succeeded in making the poor poorer “It has exposed those who earn their livelihood on a daily basis. They cannot feed their families because they are not able to go out and make a living for themselves. Government must ensure that the palliatives reach this set of people.
“A situation where the process of giving out the palliatives is selective, means there will be problems. Let the process be transparent, fair and just. That is the only way we would come out of this period without stress.”
Pastor Salis Ibrahim said that the distribution of the palliatives in the area he lives is not being properly done. That those who benefit from the palliatives are being selected based on primordial sentiments. If you do not belong to the dominant tribe in the area you would not benefit. And that if you cannot speak their language, you do not benefit either.
For Danladi Abok, “What is happening is not fair. government is saying one thing and is doing another. How can they say that we will be taking palliatives when we are already suffering. What we need now is for them to ensure that we do not slide further down the ladder of poverty. Let us work out enduring policies that would help the poor not wait until a pandemic like COVID-19 strikes to start putting up some fire brigade measures which will not endure”.
He went further to state that “COVID 19 has further laid bare the need for Nigeria to have an alternative source of income not depend on oil which is susceptible to international oil politics. We cannot afford to allow our economy to be toyed with especially in crisis situations. We can also see why we need to save for the rainy day. If the present crop of politicians had agreed to continue to save in the National Sovereign Wealth Account the pandemic would not have been as tough as it is. So Nigeria as a country must have a deliberate culture of saving as we work at diversifying the economy and paying attention to our strong points such as agricultural, solid minerals and tourism”.
Steve Aluko Daniels of the CLO is of the opinion that, “Our people need more water and food. Government should make adequate provision for more water and complement their efforts because access to affordable water is right to life and healthy living. It is needed for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing etc. All these will enhance further compliance to staying at home.
The Plateau State government took the provision of palliatives a notch further. Having relaxed ‘the lockdown’ to enable its citizens to restock, it heeded to the call by the CLO to allow pure water dealers to sell their wares during the lockdown to help mitigate the water needs of the people even as it is continuing the supply in tankers to areas that are not covered by government Water Board.
The governor’s broadcast also made it clear that farmers were allowed to go to their farms so long as they observe social distancing and ensure that they wash their hands regularly and observe all that health professionals ask us to observe.
Taking into cognizance that the informal sector in Nigeria contributes 41 per cent to the economy, shock absorbers must be built to ensure that our economy does not slide into recession as a result of the global pandemic. The economic minders of the country must take a lot into consideration as they find ways of bringing the country out of the guagmire.
This is no time for politicking. All must come together, contribute in whatever ways they can to bring the country back on its feet. A situation where political parties lambast each other or pass the blame is unacceptable and should not be Nigeria’s lot now. What is needed is for our eggheads to come together, fashion means and ways of getting around the problem. Those saddled with responsibilities must also note that posterity will not reckon with them if they fail to carry out their responsibilities to the best of their abilities.
From all indications, the global economy is slipping into a recession but there are ways that our experts can help mitigate the effects on the people. We are endowed with a lot of potentials, what is left is for us to explore them, make use of them for the betterment of our country and our people.
Indeed, everything has a good side to it. As devastating as COVID-19 is, it has served to prove some points. The foremost being the ill state of our health facilities. Total lockdown of entry and exit points of most nations meant an end to medical tourism for Nigeria’s top officials and the wealthy. Some of them who had not given our hospitals a second look since they joined the exclusive class of the rich and powerful, must have been shocked at the deplorable state of our medical facilities due to lack of governments presence of donkey years.
In this case, even if they were paid to travel to their favourite destinations USA, UK, France for medical tourism, they would have absconded. Why not? Because these nations are some of the most hit by COVID-19 and people are dying in their hundreds every day. Their medical personnel are overwhelmed by cases of COVID-19. And unfortunately, our ruling class is made up of people most vulnerable to COVID-19 those in the age bracket of 60 and above.
For the first time after swearing –in, all those at the helm of affairs are on ground to man their offices even if it is from home. What a privilege. Government affairs have been moving smoothly in spite of the fact that they now engage in conferencing. New frontiers are opening up.
A lot of tax payer’s money has been saved because government officials cannot indulge in frivolous journeys for pleasure and, or, medical tourism. Instead, every kobo is spent here in the country for the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians.
In the same way, COVID-19 and lockdown imposition has made us to look inwards as we discover more than ever that we are more of a consuming nation than a producing one. If after what we have suffered as a result of COVID-19, China locks down and lack of raw materials for most products (like something as simple as material for leather for sachet water) we still remain the same, then there will be no remedy to our situation.