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COVID 19: A National Lockdown is Imperative!

With the increasing spread of COVID 19 across different states in Nigeria, the selective lockdown of mainly Lagos, Abuja and Ogun should be urgently reviewed. In just over one month with a single index case in Lagos on 27th February, we now have over 232 COVID 19 cases and 5 deaths spread across thirteen states and Abuja. As we have limited testing centers, the number of infected persons will certainly be higher when the unknown and untested but positive cases are added. Without claiming to be an infectious disease expert, the exponential spread of the virus suggests that the selective lockdown might be counterproductive. Our states, towns and villages are too inter-connected for disjointed lockdowns.

This is even more so given the permeability of our state borders, our lamentable health sector and the unserious disposition of our state governors in handling the crisis. Using selective lockdown might inadvertently enhance the spread of the virus. For instance, as Lagos is under lockdown and Oyo is not, there is an inherent incentive for people to move from Lagos to Oyo at least to move around and possibly make money particularly for Oyo indigenes resident in Lagos.

Imagine an unknowingly positive and asymptomatic Lagosian that travels to Oyo. Expectedly, he/she will spread the virus to his/her Oyo contacts. In the same vein, the Lagosian can contact the virus in Oyo and spread it in Lagos upon his/her return at the expiration of Lagos lockdown.

But, in a total and national lockdown, the incentive to move from one state to another will be significantly reduced due to the inactivity across the country. As it is proven that lockdown and social distancing are part of the effective measures to curtail the virus, we should do it properly. Anything worth doing should be done appropriately.

The lockdown should be total and national for a specified period! It does not matter whether the virus has reached for instance Abia and Adamawa or not for them to be included. This approach will help in the quick identification, isolation and proper treatment of positive cases across Nigeria and as such significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Given our weak health sector, it is important that we quickly learn from the mistakes of other countries in order to avoid worse heart-wrenching mortalities being experienced across the world. What we need now is a responsible leadership that is very proactive and effective and not a reactive one. There is no doubt that a total national lockdown will come with its wide socio-economic consequences.

 However, it seems to be best option if we want to achieve the least deleterious outcome or scenario which is limited spread of the virus and short duration of negative socio- economic impacts. Without a proactive approach such as a total national lockdown, we might knowingly or unknowingly be preparing for two possible worse outcomes. While the first is a widespread infection and a long term negative socio-economic impacts, the second is a limited spread of the virus with a prolonged management of the negative socio-economic impacts.

Given our weak health sector, it is important that we quickly learn from the mistakes of other countries in order to avoid worse heart-wrenching mortalities being experienced across the world.

Given our already challenging socio-economic situation before COVID 19, neither of the two worse scenarios should be our aim. As we are already in the second quarter of the year, a national lockdown of about three weeks will give us the opportunity of possible recovery from May which if effectively pursued will see business and GDP resume growth likely from the third quarter of 2020.

In my interactions with CEOs on implications of COVID 19 on business and economy, while some have already mandated their Human Resources managers to prepare a list of employees to be sacked from May if the crisis continues, some employees have been asked to proceed on unpaid break. This is just one of the possible consequences that might worsen if the crisis is not proactively and effectively managed. No doubt, a national lockdown will come with its negative consequences but as they say, no pain, no gain. What is required is an effective national strategy to mitigate the pains of a national lockdown.

 This is an area that requires our governors to wake up from their slumber and provide effective and responsible leadership. In this crisis period, they need to show patriotism and lead from the front in ensuring first, effective compliance to the lockdown across states and towns in Nigeria. Second, the provision of genuine and meaningful palliatives to the vulnerable and poor of every state.

At the moment, the palliates being provided and the way they are being provided is poor and shameful. In Lagos for instance, it seems that the scheme has been hijacked for selfish interests and even helping to spread the virus. Outside Lagos, the unpreparedness and unserious disposition of most our governors is lamentable. With no isolation centers in many states, even provision of basic equipment such as facemasks and protective wears for government owned hospital is lacking.

 A reliable source informed me that some governors are more interested and waiting for huge private sector donations as received by Lagos before they will act. I hope it is not true! With the huge private sector contributions and support, what is required from our governors is to rise to the demands of the moment and provide focused and patriotic leadership to complement the efforts of the Federal Government and save Nigeria from the emerging crisis.

 In a recent report, the United Nations states that ‘’From preliminary macro and micro social-economic analysis, the COVID 19 Pandemic is expected to place immense pressure on Nigeria’s healthcare system and will result in a serious economic and fiscal pressure with a risk of negative social impact if proactive measures are not taken to prevent, prepare, respond and cushion the economic impact of the Pandemic’. One of such proactive measures is an immediate national lockdown.

 

Franklin Nnaemeka Ngwu (PhD)

Dr. Ngwu is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy, Risk Management & Corporate Governance, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- fngwu@lbs.edu.ng,

 

 

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