COVID-19: Arise O Compatriots, By Issa Aremu

I commend  the statesmanship of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State for his weekend status full disclosure as a Coronavirus case in Nigeria. His honest  and audacious disclosure was timely in removing remaining ignorance among some citizens. It was a  wake up call for all  that this rampaging virus scourge is  real. 

By this singular act, Governor Nasir and other statesmen were about their status, had offered leadership to convince  those  still in an unhelpful denial.  COVID-19 is a reality. It is  a rampaging classless, gender and race blind, faith-blind virus. Coronavirus  is indeed indiscriminate but it can still be damned,  controlled through non-denial and respect for the rules of global public resistance against it. Governor Nasir El-Rufai had rightly  submitted to COVID-19 test and in line with the protocol managing the COVID -19, self-isolates  as requested by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)- for cases showing no symptoms. It’s time for all compatriots to heed the advise by the Governor and public health authorities in general to observe preventive measures, “stay home and stay alive”.

The point cannot be overstated that the cases are still increasing. The historic battle is not for governments alone. Organized  labour, civil societies  and organized businesses must compliment. Employers must invest in particular on the protection of essential health workers  and control of the disease. The Federal Government must urgently revive the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council ( NLAC) made up of workers, employers  and government with proactive coordinated and strategic interventions to minimize the impact of the Virus.

All labour market Institutions such as negotiating councils must be reactivated in both private and private sectors for  innovative, problem-solving agreements to ensure that workers don’t suffer loss of lives and earnings, wages and pensions during the ongoing lock down. The tripartite National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) should urgently establish a SITUATION ROOM/ PLATFORM/ FORUM. Nigeria reportedly had  only 300 tested cases compared to South Africa which had reportedly carried out over 20,000 tests. can only pray that the cases at hand are not huge. is certainly a considerable room for a robust bipartisan collaboration in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole to prevent worsening Virus  against the background of the existing daunting health challenges of ever persisting Malaria, Ebola and  Lassa fever, which had killed more than  Corona Virus.

 It is commendable that the Governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele initiated proactive 6-point new measures to ameliorate the impact of the disease on the economy that include: Cuts rates from 9 to 5 percent per annum for one year effective March 1, 2020, extension of moratorium on all CBN intervention facilities effective March 1, 2020 and  N50bn targeted credit facility through NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hard hit by Covid-19.

It is also significant and commendable that President Buhari had promptly approved a 10 billion Naira grant (about $27 million) to fight the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, and  already released to Lagos State, which is still counting  the highest number of coronavirus cases. Post coronavirus calls for sustainable prompt budget releases. The current crisis had exposed the underbelly of poor governance characterized by endemic complacency, delays, sheer indifference and unnecessary competition among government agencies.

It is great that the Federal House  passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020 to complement the plans of the Executive arm. must operate collectively and make sure that Coronavirus as an opportunistic disease does  not defeat us separately. This is NOT the time for uncritical cut in public spending. Already Nigeria has lowest budget per capital in the world. Additional reduction in the size of the 2020 budget by about N1.5 trillion, as part of the measures to address the impact of Corona virus disease on the Nigerian economy will only undermine economic recovery and employment creation. CBN has rightly directed that all Deposit Money Banks should increase their support to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries and support for funding intensive care as well as in training, laboratory testing, equipment and R&D.

The Bank has financial intervention by N100 billion in loan this year to support the Health Authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators work with global scientists to patent and or produce vaccines and test kits.  Nigeria needs a radical departure from the age long unhelpful neoliberal economics of wholesale liberalization, cuts in public spending, factory closures and export orientation. It’s time for urgent diversification, import substitution, re-Industrialization and beneficiation.

This is the time to re- inflate the economy as commendably being done by the CBN .At $30 dollars per barrels, Nigeria is far from being broke. On the contrary it’s time to move from export of crude to refining, save scarce foreign exchange and create sustainable Decent jobs. CBN has promised to increase intervention in boosting local manufacturing and import substitution by another N1trillion across all critical sectors of the economy  that include textile and garment sector. 2020 budget proposed as much as N2.45 trillion (almost a quarter of the budget!) into Debt servicing.

With coronavirus crisis, the  debts service allocations are simply unsustainable. N2.45 trillion into Debt servicing is more than N2.14 trillion of capital expenditure!. It is time to review downward N125 billion statutory allocation scandalously allocated  to the  National Assembly of some 500 senators and legislators.   Indeed the budget per capital of the National Assembly at N266,524,520.30per legislator dwarfs the national budget per capital of about N57,388.88.

The  total allocation to the National Assembly almost equals the total sums of N44.5 billion for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) and N111.79 billion for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) expected to impact on millions of citizens. Nigeria needs pandemic- sensitive budget! The lockdown must be complemented with direct and targeted transfer to the poor in formal and informal sectors whose per day incomes are engendered.

With the spirited national efforts, this singular pandemic will come to pass, but the poverty and underdevelopment challenges would persist. Corona Virus crisis is  another costly opportunity to reinvent an economy like China’s  with   remarkable resilience that has in record time tamed the Virus restoring and development. Meanwhile as are under lock and key against an invisible virus, ask about your neighbors and send relief materials for neighbors in need. 

Issa Aremu mni