Covid-19: What are Nigeria’s options?

As far back as the decade of Nigeria’s independence; the 1960’s, Nigerians held high and unrealistic expectations for both personal and national prosperity. Evidenced in a survey done by Hadley Cantril in the early 60’s, “two-thirds of the Nigerians interviewed, and 92 percent of those able to rate both their present and future personal standings, expected to be doing better in five years, almost no one expected to be doing worse”. 
Lloyd Free in his survey also deduced similar responses for national standings mostly with rather unrealistic expectations as seen in statements like “in ten years, Nigeria will be one of the leading countries in industry” or “one of the wealthiest countries in the world”. 
Meeting such extraordinary aspirations and expectations for rapid socioeconomic growth and development in the shortest period of time have always been the determinant for every administration’s legitimacy in the eyes of Nigerians. 

And since those days, Nigerians have not changed. In fact, we tend to be updating such extraordinary and unrealistic aspirations for every regime/administration that passes. 
Paradoxically though, the level at which we adhere to our obligations as citizens and the support we give our governments is in absolute incongruity with our extraordinary aspirations. And partly, that is why we have failed to sustain a favorable tempo of development. 
Today, the entire world suffers from a ravaging pandemic caused by a novel virus that remains incurable till date. This virus has infected more than 2 million people globally, claiming about 175 thousand lives. Nigeria have registered about 782 confirmed cases with 25 deaths so far. 
The explosive nature of the spread of this viral infection and the reality of our poor healthcare system necessitated the enactment and implementation of lockdown policies in some of our states. Guidelines on prevention from this infection was also rolled out by the government in its quest towards limiting the spread of the contagious Covid-19. 
But as devastating as this pandemic is, most Nigerians expect the government to unilaterally contain its spread, end the infection’s course and at the same time provide necessary means of subsistence for its citizens. However, there still stands a huge inconsistency between our expectations and the role we are willing to play in helping our government achieve such extraordinary aspirations of ours. 
Many amongst us believe the pandemic is just a hoax, some believe it is real but are reluctant to uphold the preventive measures which include social distancing, regular hand washing and sanitizing, use of face masks in crowded areas and lots more while some remain absolutely indifferent. 

One of the most ravaging realities of this infection is that it has an asymptomatic incubation period of an average of 5-6 days(max 14days) and an infected person can still spread this disease even within this asymptomatic period that he himself does not know he harbors the infection. 
The numbers we keep getting as statistics of daily discovered cases keep hiking that one could unequivocally deduce the fact that we have shifted from a case of local transmission to that of community transmission(where cases keep erupting without a clear source or without relationships to the already existing cases). This might lead our healthcare system towards(facilities and manpower) being absolutely overwhelmed to the extent that we might face the risk of losing control of the pandemic.
It has come to a stage where Nigeria will have to decide on whether to continue the lockdown at the expense of economic collapse and risk of hunger and a high crime rate or strategically open the economy and summon back the major means of people’s subsistence at the expense of an increased infection rate. 

If the government decides to keep the country locked down, it will be doing so at the expense of an imminent economic collapse. Today crude oil which constitutes almost 80% of Nigeria’s revenue suffers from an unprecedented depreciation in value( Nigeria’s Bonny light fluctuating $13 and $15 while Brent crude is traded at $25) due to global fall in demand thereby making it hard for oil-dependent countries like Nigeria to sustain themselves. 
For example, the 2020 approved budget had revenue collection projections of about N8.24Billion, these projections were premised on the assumptions of an increased global oil demand with a price benchmark of $57 per barrel and 2.18 barrels per day estimated output. All other revenue-generating sectors remain closed. A vast majority of the masses have been stripped off of their means of livelihood as majority of our population depend on day-to-day works in the informal sector for subsistence; a sector that has been almost totally shut down, hence further deepening the statistics of people living below the poverty line from the estimated 87 million people living below $2 per day. 
Although, the government and the organized private sector have tried to implement palliative programs targeting the most vulnerable households in the country, these programs have been met with tremendous inefficiencies ranging from lack of adequate data to various implementation flaws. At this stage, some few Nigerians have started seizing the opportunity to effect illegal mechanisms by which they can sustain themselves and their families as seen in viral videos portraying how trucks of food items are being looted. Burglary and other forms of crime are expected to rise in the coming days as starvation remains imminent. 

Another point worthy of note is the fact that our capacity for testing, contact tracing, isolation and case management is not improving. Today, Kano State, which is gradually becoming the epicenter of the pandemic in Northern Nigeria announced that it has run out of testing kits even while the state seems to have shifted to a community transmission stage. The motive behind lockdowns is to flatten the curve and flattening the curve can only be evident by statistics which can only be obtained through improved testing and contact tracing. Can we say the lockdown is becoming somewhat counterproductive? 
Well, To sustain the lockdown, the government is expected by the masses as always to step down “the American Way” of stimulus package distribution, that is, to each and every tax payer. Infact in the Nigerian context, the government is expected to even do more by touching, one way or the other, the lives of every citizen. There is also expectations for concessions on every form of bill, tariff and charge payments ranging from electricity, pipe borne water to mobile banking services and internet access. Can these expectations ever be met? 
On the other hand, the government might consider the possibility of strategically opening up the country’s economy, but before which 3 prerequisite conditions must be met; 

First, Rigorous Improvement in testing and contact tracing capacity and efficiency across the nation. Equally important is improvement in data gathering. Second, Improvement in the country’s healthcare systems capacity in such a way that it can respond to a surge in new Covid-19 cases while equally protecting individuals most vulnerable and susceptible to contacting the disease. And third , Registration of Positive Results as products of the improved healthcare system indicated by declining rates of infection and deaths caused by the virus. 
Massive and rigorous sensitization on the basics of the infection and it’s preventive measures must be ensured to arouse the consciousness of the citizenry. Also, enforcement of the regulations imposing social distancing on the masses and other public preventive measures must also be taken with utmost priority. Ensuring compliance with these directives should be the new job for our law enforcement agencies. 
The Nigerian government have already reviewed the 2020 budget from N10.59Trillion to N10.27Trillion. The revenue projection was also reduced from N8.41Trillion to N5.08Trillion and the oil benchmark and production volume were reduced from $57 to $30 per barrel and from 2.18million barrels to 1.7million barrels per day respectively.
To achieve reviving the economy, the Nigerian government must devise strategic ways of expediently diversifying the economy towards non-oil sectors. Non-essential spendings especially as it concerns costs of running the government should be indefinitely suspended and subsidy payments(especially subsidy payments on oil) should be stopped. The cumulative proceeds from such cuts plus the funds initially planned to be shared to people as palliatives should rather be used to optimize the standards of our healthcare system and stimulate the economy. 
Either ways, perhaps it is time we(Nigerians) moderate our somewhat unrealistic and unhealthy expectations and modify them in such a way that they become consistent with what we are willing to offer in terms of compliance with regulations and support for our government in the fight against the pandemic. 
And as a mentor of mine once said, “When this crisis is over, we need to have a national plan for curing ignorance. Education alone cannot do it”.
Ringim, a nurse and advocate of sustainable development, writes from Zaria via [email protected] and @pragmatist_AIR on Twitter.

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