Every plague in history has an expiry date and the black swan COVID-19 is no different. COVID-19 has dramatically impoverished our lives and inflicted unquantifiable economic losses on many nations. I am aware that majority of Nigerians are currently engulfed in high levels of uncertainty about surviving under the ongoing lockdown and many fear that the hunger plaguing the populace may become more virulent than the virus itself. Palliative interventions by Government, Corporate and Individual philanthropies to curb imminent catastrophes, though helpful, are seemingly not enough. Some cities have reported demonstrations and even violent citizens’ protests to express the negative impacts of the continued lockdown on them. Already the effect of the pandemic has deepened citizens’ suspicions and distrust for government due to failed expectations, and perceived poor handling of the pandemic and its direct economic impact on them.
This is a genuine cause for anxiety in many quarters but as an incurable optimist, I know this pandemic will certainly become a thing of the past and we will emerge strong from the abyss of the black swan pandemic. That is not to say it will be the end of pandemics but regardless of how tough it may seem for now, it is my earnest view that the world will come out of this turbulence soon. How fast this will happen, will be a function of so many actors and actions, part of which will be determined by how we are able to come together to collectively tackle it with a unity of purpose. In the interim for instance, priority must be given to putting monies in the pockets of both working and non-working Nigerians for an effective management through this perilous era. Private sector operators must be offered some necessary incentives to make essential payments to their staff even while they are observing the lockdown orders at home. As a country, we need to constantly reassess the effects of our approaches and strategies, whether foreign or indigenous, and consider only that which will serve us better in rapidly beating this pandemic to an expected retreat. It is gratifying that scientists, both at home and abroad, are working in search of a vaccine in the nearest foreseeable future.
If there is one thing that was exposed during this pandemic, it is the current neglect and dilapidated state of our health infrastructure. Many of us did not envisage that the lockdown will mean that even persons who can afford to take care of their health outside the country will be forced to remain here. Some of the drugs and medical supplies that we easily import from countries like Germany, United Kingdom, India and Vietnam have been temporality suspended because supply chains were not only logjammed and stretched to breaking points, but some of these countries also had to do the needful of first satisfying their domestic needs. This means that we should now see the urgency in upgrading our health system as an unavoidable priority. The unfortunate death of the late Chief of Staff, coupled with the alarming surge in COVID-19 related deaths within the country, should teach us all the lessons we need to learn about the necessity of a functional healthcare system. I expect that our private sector will join hands with the government to ensure that there is at least one functional healthcare facility built to international standard in each of the 36 states of the federation.
As we continue to protect ourselves by observing the recommendations issued by the experts, we must also begin to cautiously look and travel to the future. One consensus is that there will be profound effects on the world, and it will never be the same after this pandemic. The post-COVID-19 “new world order” presents an opportunity to slowly but systematically rebuild the world economy to begin to function again. Many pundits are already forecasting opportunities that abound in the wake of the current crisis.
There are those who have made suggestions about how we can take advantage of the current upheavals and craft a prosperous tomorrow. I totally agree with them. But for these to happen, we need to take a deep breath, think outside the box and begin to do more. Contributing to shaping what the global and continental outlook will look like will require more rigorous and unorthodox intellectual approach. Now is the time to seriously envision what a post-COVID-19 world will look like and how Nigeria, and Africa at large, will fit into that new world. We must immediately put in place a comprehensive package of economic diversification and resilience beyond oil. I had the opportunity of reading a presentation by Godwin Emefile and I am satisfied that our economic managers are thinking beyond the present challenge we are facing.
In the wake of the post-COVID-19 new world order, we have had to make unimaginable readjustments and embrace long-standing capabilities that were neglected in good times. One of the capabilities that many of us were forced to develop during this lockdown is intimately embracing technology. Personally, my quest for emerging technologies has increased. It is without doubt that technology will create new business models. It is already changing how we live, work and learn, positively. This is something we must now learn to deliberately leverage on, to create employment for our teeming youth population. The digital revolution will be a boon. Already we have more than 92.3 million internet users in the country. There are at least 70 million Facebook users (33 million monthly and 16 million daily) as well as 1.6 million persons connected to Twitter. This is a huge resource that can be put to better use. E-learning has flourished as we all continue to discover new ways of learning an information exchange through virtual platforms. I am happy that our educational sector is quickly adapting to what is now an inescapable reality.
Many jobs no longer require that you work from a particular physical location. Working virtually and from home will be the new normal and that means young people who are ready to get the right skills can even do more than one job at a time. Using Zoom,BlueJeans, Whatsapp, Skype and the likes to hold meetings and conferences from the comfort of our homes has great potential for government and private sector. It has dramatically changed the way we do business and commerce. Although there are concerns that the necessary infrastructure to robustly support smooth e-commerce and virtual learning may not yet be available but we will get there. I envisage that data will play a major role in the world to come after this pandemic. Reducing the cost of data will mean that more people, especially poor and low income earners, will afford to have access to these learning platforms. This is a direction government should quickly begin to consider. Concerned government agencies must be made to rise to the occasion. We must begin to ask the right questions for us to make the right policies. For instance, we must understand and appreciate how the deployment of the 5G technology has impacted on education and commerce in countries that they have been deployed, so we can profit from it optimally.
As a country we must learn to take seriously all enabling structures to increase our capability to extend access to water supply and adequate sanitation . A recent World Bank report indicates that about 39 percent of Nigerians still do not have access to portable water while an estimated 71 percent lack access to adequate sanitation. Additional reports from United Nations agencies have it that poor sanitation contributes to diseases like diarrhoea, which kills approximately 121,800 persons annually in Nigeria including 87,100 under the age of five. These preventable deaths can be avoided through strong education program including encouraging the water sanitation and hygiene education program (WASH) to be taught in our primary and secondary schools. Mandatory connection of safe water supply and sanitation to all public buildings, is a way to start demonstrating commitment to expanding access to safe water supply and sanitation.
From the lessons we have learnt from this pandemic, good hygiene plays a focal role in preventing the spread of this virus and similar ones; it cannot be over-emphasised.
As part of the country’s response to the covid-19 pandemic, many countries have imposed export restrictions on critical food items like rice and wheat amidst heightening concerns of food insecurity. Nations like ours whose consumption far exceed our domestic production will therefore be forced to look inwards to satisfy our domestic need. This is an important opportunity that we must now exploit. According to a survey by the World Bank, the agricultural sector remains the highest employer of labour in Nigeria. About 70 percent of our population engages in agriculture at the subsistence level. However there is great potential for expanding our agricultural sector both for domestic food production and for export.
We have abundant ocean resources in this country but surprisingly, most of the fish we consume in the country are still imported from overseas. It is estimated that annual fish demand for the country is about 3.32 million metric tonnes. Out of these, only 1.12 million metric tonnes is produced locally. The remaining 2.2 million metric tonnes are imported from abroad. This is despite the 853 kilometre coastline bordering the Atlantic Ocean as well enormous fresh and mangrove swamps, creeks, coastal rivers, estuaries, bays and others. If we optimize our potentials and at least begin to produce sufficient fish for local consumption, we will be saving our country an estimated foreign exchange of about 1.2 billion US dollars as annual spend on fish importation.
Blue economy has been dubbed the new frontier of African renaissance and provides a likely potential for systematically realizing the untapped potential of our oceans, rivers and lakes. We now need to take a deep breath and look more comprehensively at how we can use innovations and the potentials of technology to secure our waterways, promote sustainable fisheries and explore transportation and tourism. There is an opportunity to draw in investment in these areas in a manner that is both sustainable and protects our environment from avoidable pollution. The Atlantic City in Lagos reminds me of what is possible in other parts of the country. For instance, across my village, Opobo down to Andoni, even across Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom, vast ocean resources exist with such mind-blowing aesthetic appeal that possibly provides endless and profitable world class opportunities for tourism. From my service in the maritime sector I have no doubt that blue economy is the next big thing for our country.
Government should also invest in infrastructure such as roads, power, farm input and storage facilities which are required for profitable agro-business. For instance there is a high prospect for increased palm oil production in the southern states like Rivers, Imo, Abia and Akwa Ibom to become a potential foreign exchange earner especially amidst the current sinusoidal curve of oil revenue. Similar opportunities exist in many northern states known for their huge agricultural potential. Against the backdrop of volatility of the global oil market, it has become necessary for government to pursue positive policies that will impact on farmers’ productivity and improve the sector’s contributions to the economy. I understand that there are existing windows for lending and eligible farmers can benefit from in this regard.
These issues are urgent – as one of the most populous country in Africa and a responsible member of the global community, there is so much we can do and we need not wait. Although the path to global recovery may seem dark and gloomy, the popular saying has it that the road to the impossible may be rocky and windy, but it is there. We must demonstrate that Nigeria and indeed Africa, have something to teach the world by putting together a coherent policy architecture that is capable of launching us back to the path of prosperity after a stormy period as we have encountered in the Covid -19 era.
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