BusinessDay
Nigeria's leading finance and market intelligence news report.

FG, do not let this Coronavirus crisis go to waste

Nigeria maximise its greatest resource – the Nigerian people

With the shutdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States and many others, on account of COVID-19, the Nigerian economy is virtually on lockdown and could lose up to $1 billion daily, dividing for $476 billion, the value of Nigeria’s economy by 365 days. This virus is fast morphing into a seething crisis and we could waste it by ignoring the lessons it offers.

The biggest lesson is that government officials should be proactive and decisive in responding to global events. The Buhari government has been insular and protectionist. The consequence is that Nigeria has lagged so badly on the global stage, she rarely matters, in terms of trade, diplomacy, and international relations.

Nigeria is watching helplessly as the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia decimates its economy. In the 1980s, it was a decision by Nigeria and some other supposedly fringe producers to flood the market with oil that brought Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table when it started a price war with the US. Nigeria does not have that clout anymore, its leaders’ follies providing fodder for Trevour Noah’s wisecracks. With an army of image-makers, the government suffers a public relations deficit.

Officials have touted the government’s preparedness to deal with the pandemic saying it set up a crises team one month before the index case was reported on February 27 and started surveillance at five international airports in the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Yet, Italian passed through the airport and government officials were only made aware when the patient presented himself for testing. Worse still, the isolation centre he was sent to was so appalling he attempted to flee. This is the same situation in many isolation centres around the country and suspected people now prefer to stay home.

The deplorable state of Nigeria’s healthcare system is being unravelled by COVID-19. In a twist of irony, Nigeria’s politicians who are wont to travel abroad with their families and defund the country’s healthcare system have nowhere to go with countries shutting their borders. They are being forced to face the consequences of their stupidity.

This pandemic has induced the biggest collapse of oil demand in history. The Federal Government has reviewed the 2020 budget and cut out needless expenditure. Training and cutleries have been axed and so have hiring and refurbishing buildings.

While these are not strange budget items, they are often abused in Nigeria. Why does the statehouse have more funds allocated for entertainment than a primary healthcare center? Does the president’s kitchen have to replace cutlery every year? A non-profit business has started on calling out useless items on Nigeria’s budget.

Though Nigeria likes to think it is a rich country, in reality, it has the poorest people in the world. Yet, every year, it spends a frivolous amount of money buying cars for lawmakers and refurbishing government houses. If the country lived within its means, it would have just one law-making chamber and pay them part-time, using the civil service pay structure.

When Bill Gates visited Nigeria in 2018, he counselled Buhari and his top government functionaries to invest in healthcare and human capital development to lift millions of its poor people.

“The most important choice you can make is to maximise your greatest resource, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive. If you invest in their health, education, and opportunities—the “human capital” we are talking about today—then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity.”

Buhari’s government ignored this counsel and every year underfund healthcare and human capital development. The result is that in the midst of a global pandemic, his government is begging Elon Musk for ventilators.

COVID-19 is also unraveling the security risk of a squalid society. Thousands being told to stay at home depend on daily income and without social buffer many have turned to looting shops.

The government is pouring money into social investment schemes but discouraging private enterprise and job creation through recessive regulation. Billions are being spent on roads may not be maintained because they won’t be tolled.

For a government whose fierce defenders deify penury, the chickens have come home to roost. The government is bungling the so-called palliatives to its poor with government officials crudely sharing money to people. Nigerians should realise that it is all right to aspire for a better life and they must demand that their leaders chart a path to that life rather than provide excuses for their incompetence and attack critics.

 

 

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