This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 20 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, 474,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with 21,300 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and China where the pathogen originates from. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 65 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with one fatality recorded and two discharged. Six others are to be discharged in Lagos any moment from now. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made three broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government on Wednesday was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of paramilitary outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
In spite of these commendable efforts by the state government, The Tide observes that the level of compliance with restrictions in the state is abysmally low. There appears to be apathy and indifference by the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives even when the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Of particular worry to us is the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overload their vehicles, while many people still transact their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believe in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man state ministerial committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for the state government to rally traditional rulers, religious clerics and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the public awareness.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to suggest that, as a way of encouraging public compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19, the state government should consider some stop-gap measures to cushion the effects of its directives. One of such measures might be suspension of issuance of government’s tickets to commercial drivers in the state pending the time the fight against Coronavirus will be over, while also putting a permanent stop to tolls collected from transporters by the police at various stop-and-search checkpoints.
We also consider it apposite that the state government makes sanitizers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidized and affordable rate.
However, while the state government must rally its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.
Nigeria And Recession Alert
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently projected that Nigeria’s economy would soon witness its worst recession in 30 years.
This projection was part of the Fund’s April 2020 World Economic Outlook report released penultimate Tuesday in Washington DC, United States at the commencement of its 2020 Spring meeting held through video conferencing.
The IMF further said that Nigeria’s economy will recede by 3.4 per cent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the global supply chain of most commodities, including the country’s main export commodity, crude oil.
It noted that this would be the worst economic setback in 30 years for Africa’s largest economy, after a negative economic growth of 1.51 per cent in 2016.
According to the IMF Chief Economist and Research Director, Gita Gopinath, the impending global recession would be the worst since the Great Depression between 1929 and 1932 when the advanced economies shrank by 16 per cent.
While Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to shrink by 3.4 per cent and land her in another recession, the Fund’s projected outlook for Africa’s most advanced economy (South Africa) is even worse at 5.8 per cent, from a 2019 growth of 0.2 per cent.
Nigeria was hoping to improve on her 2.2 per cent 2019 growth rate before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic which saw the global oil price of petroleum tumbling. In fact, while oil prices were taking a bashing (no thanks to the muscle flexing between Russia and Saudi Arabia), the COVID-19 pandemic simply aggravated the situation. Currently, North Sea Brent crude is reported to be trading at USD 31.48 per barrel while Western Texas Intermediate sells for around USD17.75 per barrel. OPEC Basket is USD12.22.
To say that Nigerians did not see this coming will be the height of insincerity as there had been suggestions to nearly every administration to diversify the nation’s economy as to move the country away from its over dependence on petroleum as main revenue earner.
The Tide is deeply troubled that this gloomy projection is coming at a time when the average Nigerian is wishing that the trauma of the 2016 recession would soon be over and for things to return to normal.
The effects of job losses, high cost of living, border closure, herder–farmer clashes and the rising crime rate had led to a worsening of the nation’s misery.
We are also not unaware of the latest warning by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in which Nigeria was listed as one of the 10 countries that would soon experience severe famine of biblical proportion.
With these projections indicating impending national calamities, we fear that the government and, indeed, Nigerians hardly have the time to make any meaningful preparations.
Already, the USD 57 per barrel crude oil benchmark in the 2020 budget has been reviewed downward, even as today’s oil price still makes nonsense of that review. Also, capital expenditure has been severely downsized. This is even as the nation’s USD 1.5 billion debt servicing pledges have become impracticable and need to be renegotiated.
Inflation rate has already entered double-digit while the steady depletion of the external reserve piles pressure on the naira’s worth. What’s more, with COVID-19 came the adoption of national and interstate border closures as part of containment measures. The intra-city lockdowns that also followed led to a halt in economic activities with the attendant negative effects on Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The nation may therefore begin to reconsider redenominating her currency as was successfully done by Ghana some years ago, after decades of economic doldrums. Debt forgiveness is already out of any consideration for Nigeria because she is no longer in the world’s list of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), especially since after rebasing her economy in 2013 and emerging as the largest economy in Africa. She is now considered a middle income nation.
Efforts should be geared to better manage the nation’s available income. This period should be likened to a war situation when emphasis should be reduced in infrastructural development, rather efforts should focus on amassing weapons to attack the common enemy which in this case comprises Coronavirus, corruption, misery, hunger, climate change, among others.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 lockdowns have eroded whatever savings that were available for investment to the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) in the country. In fact, some have had to convert their present stocks of goods for their daily consumption and survival. And this renders a serious blow to the nation’s GDP.
We commend the IMF for, as usual, alerting most vulnerable countries like Nigeria on the difficult times ahead. We also believe that, as it had always done in the past, the Fund will follow this up with a list of some necessary steps that need be taken by the government in order to curtail the extent of these difficulties.
And to the government, the call for a resort to mechanized agriculture and massive food storage has never been more expedient for a country of about 200 million people than now.
Still On COVID-19 Palliatives
Just over a week ago, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigerians on the need to extend the Federal Government’s lockdown and stay at home order in parts of the country, particularly Lagos and Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, owing to the continued spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, also called COVID-19.
The President, in considering the expected impact of the lockdown on Nigerians, also outlined plans to mitigate the sufferings that await the people, especially the poor and most vulnerable in the society. Among other measures that were designed to bring succour to Nigerians, President Buhari announced as palliatives, the sustenance of government’s food distribution programme, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers. He also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in two weeks.
These palliative measures, according to Buhari, were aimed at supporting additional homes with his administration’s Social Investment Programme, SIP.
While The Tide commends the efforts of the Federal Government in trying to curtail the spread of the pandemic in parts of the country and the President’s apparent passion and willingness to cushion the impact of the lockdown on economic activities, lives and living conditions of the populace, we think that the measures may have gone awry even before take-off.
We believe that despite the good intentions of the President or the original motive of the SIP palliative designers, the implementation of the measures has been skewed and seem to have defeated whatever gains they were primed to achieve.
We say so because the Buhari’s Social Investment Programme, SIP, which has been receiving a budget of N500 billion allocation a year since 2016, under which structure the palliatives are meant to reach Nigerians, has not had the desired effect on the poor and most vulnerable in the country.
Since the stay-at-home lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Nigerians have been crying out for some sort of intervention by the Federal Government as palliatives for them. Even the cash transfers, which the President ordered after the initial lockdown order on Lagos, Ogun and FCT did not affect most of the poor and vulnerable in those states.
Insinuations abound that the Social Investment Programmes, which were used to drive the palliatives, lacked transparency and at the best, a political gimmick that served the interest of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and its cronies.
It is unfortunate that it has taken this pandemic to expose the ineffectualness of the much vaunted SIP of the Federal Government. Even the leadership of the National Assembly has admitted the failure of the SIP and the attempt to hinge the COVID-19 palliatives on its structure. In addition, the so-called national social register that is to be expanded to contain 3.6 million households, cannot be said to be a true representation of the poorest of the poor and vulnerable in the country. There is no explanation or empirical evidence of how names/households were arrived at for the social register.
In fact, the register may not be different from a compilation of political party faithfuls’ names kept for patronage. This, perhaps, lends credence to the fear that if the palliatives are distributed based on the SIP modalities, many Nigerians, especially the poor and vulnerable that need them may be left out.
That is why we believe that government needs to think outside the box at times like these. Indeed, all Nigerians are affected by the current lockdown and suffer one sought of discomfort or the other as a result, even if it is at varying degrees. While we agree that some citizens feel the pang of the situation more than others, attempts should be made to reach out to more Nigerians in this time of need, rather than second guessing on who the poorest of the poor and vulnerable are.
We, therefore think that instead of relying on a register that apparently excluded most Nigerians abinitio, especially those that need the palliative and other interventions of government to send money across, the Bank Verification Number, BVN, should be a fair and sure way to reach majority of Nigerians with the palliatives.
Without prejudice to the fact that there are wealthy Nigerians, who may not need the palliatives, they, however, constitute a little percentage when compared to those whose lives may be saved by the gesture from government.
Through the BVN, we are convinced that at least, each family in the country would have a beneficiary from the palliatives. Moreso, with the cash transfer via the BVN, every family, especially those that depend on daily income but could not carry out their businesses due to the restrictions, would be able to restock food items as soon they have the window.
In other developed climes, there are efficient and transparent schemes such as social security and other measures designed to cater for the vulnerable, the poor, the aged and the unemployed in the society. Even the citizens are pre-profiled and stratified that every stratum could be isolated for any particular scheme.
It is unfortunate that the pandemic has exposed our system as not working, but now is the time to abandon most of the underlying sentiments in our system and embrace an all-inclusive approach that will serve the COVID-19 palliatives to the majority of Nigerians.
Need For COVID-19 Lab In Rivers
I want to thank you for your firm, strong, committed and personally-led response to COVID-
19 in Rivers State. Rivers is one of the most important economies in the country. So, Rivers is important, not only to you but to the entire country. We thank you very much for your leadership and we need your leadership to continue in order for us to continue doing our work nationally”. That was part of how the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, captured the pivotal economic position Rivers State occupies and the robust efforts of the Chief Executive of the state in ensuring the protection of not only the lives and property of the indigenes and residents of the state, but also safeguarding vital economic interest of the country threatened by the ravaging COVID-19 global pandemic.
As noted by the NCDC DG, victory in the battle against COVID-19 in Nigeria largely depends on the strength of the synergy between the national and sub-national administrations, with all parties conscientiously, adequately, timely and proactively playing their parts.
It is on this plank that The Tide is concerned that it has taken too long for the Federal Government to set up a functional Coronavirus disease laboratory in Rivers State and strongly urges the federal authorities to activate a testing centre in the state without further delay.
We believe that every facility and infrastructure necessary for the containment of the deadly pandemic in the country should have been up and running from the word go, knowing that apart from being a part of the frontline social and economic nerve centre of the country, Rivers State also hosts the majority of foreigners in Nigeria, only next to Lagos and Abuja. The compelling need for the full-scale operation of all response activities against COVID-19 in Rivers State by the central administration is also underscored by the fact that the state remains an entry and exit point of trans-national travellers in and out of the country through its active international airport and sea ports.
Last week Wednesday, the Honorable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, at the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force press briefing in Abuja, disclosed that a total of 12 functional COVID-19 testing laboratories, with a capacity to test 1,500 samples daily had been activated in the country. The question is: why and how come Rivers State has still not been considered for one?
We are not unaware that Osun, Lagos, Oyo, FCT, Sokoto, Kaduna, Kano, Ebonyi, Borno, Plateau and Rivers States were originally programmed to be provided with testing laboratories but we find it curious that Rivers State that should have been prioritised among others is yet to have one with 12 already running, even though it is obvious and understandable why a state like Lagos should have multiple at this point in time.
By a stroke of good fortune and the resources and energy mustered by the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, the state is free of any confirmed case of COVID-19 infection after the successful treatment and discharge of the two index cases. However, the country cannot afford to push her luck too far by the seeming lack of urgency in doing the needful, the expedient and the imperative.
To continue to procrastinate the setting up of a functional laboratory in the state is to expose the population to mortal danger and to run the risk of stretching the lean resources of the state government beyond elastic limits.
The Rivers State Government has, so far, done a commendable job of holding the forth and keeping the rampaging murderous COVID-19 at bay by the number of stringent and often painful measures with alertness, regular evaluation and unrelenting monitoring of the situation.
The strength of the government is also greatly tasked and strained by the corollary need for the provision of palliatives to the people whose sources of livelihood have had to be shutdown to prevent a possible community spread with its devastating consequences.
With the state government undertaking to buy food and distributing to the people in the 23 local government areas in order to keep them at home as a measure to stave off avoidable contacts and transmission of the virus; the establishment of isolation and treatment centres and the additional provision of other personal protective items, there is no denying the fact that the government needs as much assistance as it can get from all stakeholders in order to make the response a holistic one with guaranteed victory.
A stitch in time, they say, saves nine and in recognition of the critical value of early detection, isolation and treatment in the COVID-19 containment effort, The Tide is constrained to insist that the setting up of a testing laboratory in Rivers State is a necessity that needs to be attended to with utmost dispatch by the Federal Government and or any other concerned corporate bodies.
To this end, we urge the International Oil Companies (IOCs), jointly or separately, and other multi-nationals doing business in the state (at whose instance the state hosts a good number of its expatriate population) to quickly think in the direction of meeting this all important need that will save lives, protect the economy of the state and restore normalcy in the general state of affairs in good time, even as we recognise and acknowledge the contributions already made by some organisations.
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