A lot of theories have suggested that the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a weapon of bio-warfare, deployed by some global forces to cut world population, and/or gain economic power. Whether or not that is true, the economic meltdown that has gripped many countries, the world’s super powers included, is a call for concern.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced global markets to shutdown, social life to halt, schools and factories to suspend operations. Consequently, nations have been forced to cut down capital expenditures to cope with the resulting revenue deficits. This forced the prices of crude oil, Nigeria’s main export commodity, to fall from over $60USD/barrel, to between $20USD and $30USD, the sharpest decline since the Gulf War in 1991.
The Federal Government had projected crude oil prices to remain at $57 per barrel in its 2020 budget signed in December 2019, the month the Coronavirus was discovered. But with the unanticipated price crash, the country faces nearly 50% revenue loss, a significant threat to its N10.59trillion, intended to be funded mainly through oil sales.
The country was in 2018 rated the world’s poverty headquarters with over 50% of its nearly 200 million population living in extreme poverty. Government’s poverty alleviation programs including the Social Investment programmes, introduced supposedly to lift 100m citizens out of poverty in 10 years have not helped the situation. Official records show that unemployment rate reached 38% in 2018 from 11.70% in 2014 before the 2015 General elections that brought Buhari to power.
Perhaps as a direct effect, crimes and insurgency have surged, against President Buhari’s earlier promise to rid the country of violence within three months. In the first quarter of 2019 for instance, the officials reported over 546 kidnappings, an unspecified number of armed robberies and over 1,071 number of people murdered in crime related cases.
With the novel coronavirus disease crashing global economies and closing virtually all options to funding the country’s 2020 budget; oil revenues, taxation and borrowings included, the poverty rate is expected to worsen, giving room to more crimes. Already, in China, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Ukrain and US among others, authorities have reported the looting of medical supplies, face masks and other items essential for the treatment and/or prevention of coronavirus.
In Nigeria, many desperate individuals are using the coronavirus disease to make extra profit from sales of face marks, sanitizers and other medical supplies, a situation that if not checked could transform into crime. Crime – armed robbery, burglary, murder, theft, trespass, etc. especially when prolonged, often results to armed conflicts.
Many societies that have experienced armed conflicts – Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia and among others, Nigeria had similar foundations. This Nigeria cannot afford to experience in addition to the existing conflicts already crippling social and economic life in the Northeast and Central regions.
The Nigerian Government has slashed the 2020 budget by 10%, suspended recruitments and capital projects, and increased economic interventions to the private sector. This is to stimulate local production, to make sufficient goods available for the local consumers as a remedy to the now ailing imports market. However, this might be too late a move to consider.
The country does have some of the world’s largest mineral deposits, with vast land, water and other resources necessary for agriculture. These are able to supply local manufacturing firms with all the raw materials needed to produce, and with its large human population, Nigeria is capable of producing and consuming its own goods without relying on foreign markets.
However, many of these companies are still to recover from the government’s earlier economic policies – import restrictions and high taxation that forced about 200 of them out of business in 2016. Again, with the increasing need for social distancing to prevent the spread of the corona virus disease, most of them are slowing or suspending operations. This implies that no production or supply is likely to take place, a situation that analysts fear could worsen inflation and hunger. Even if they produce, the likelihood of them selling and making returns amid government guidelines and restrictions is quite low.
By and large, the coronavirus disease has brought a triple jeopardy (medical, economic and security) on Nigeria and a host of other countries. However, just as the conquered Ebola disease, it is a test of Nigeria’s creativity. The Ebola virus disease posed a global health threat several times, most notably from 2013 to 2016 when it claimed an estimated 11,323 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
At the time the first Ebola case was confirmed in Nigeria in July 2014, not even the World Health Organization had declared a medical crisis. On confirming the death of a Liberian visitor however, Nigeria immediately declared a national state of emergency, and successfully neutralized the disease to the amazement of the world. Perhaps, if the same approach was considered on confirming the first case of the coronavirus, the country would have been fairly safer from all its threats – medical, economic and security. Officials had claimed that since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Nigeria had moved from health emergency management to building effective response systems ahead of time to control outbreaks. The Federal Ministry of Health was said to have strengthened its National Reference Laboratory to provide molecular diagnosis for all epidemic prone diseases and highly infectious pathogens such as the new COVID-19.
Also, 22 States were claimed to have been supported to establish emergency operation centers in their domains. These were to serve as coordination platforms for all outbreaks, linked to the national incident coordination centre. This is in addition to the claimed training of rapid response teams in December 2019, in all 36 states of the Federation to immediately respond to any disease outbreak.
The increasing spread of the disease in the country has exposed the propaganda in these claims. These shortfalls, likely due to weak financial foundations could have been remedied ahead of time if the disaster was considered in the projections of the 2020 budget in December 2019 when it was designed.
At worst, it should have been factored and alternative revenue sources explored in January when signs started to emerge that crude oil prices were going to nosedive due to the ravaging coronavirus disease and the prolonged trade wars between the United States and China. Be that as it may, it is not too late. The country’s economic teams should be activated to save the country from the impending economic plummet.
Instead of waiting for funds from the World Bank, or used treatment kits as rumoured, to begin proper quarantine and treatment of patients, the country should find local alternatives – recovered loots, local borrowings, budget substitution and other sources to fund the management of the emergency. And instead of advising people to isolate themselves, government could follow the lead of other countries to impose restrictions on towns and cities until it is able to track and treat all available cases of the disease.
In doing this however, adequate measures must be put in place to cushion the resulting hardship that in most cases would push citizens to disobey government guidelines in the bid to survive. The reduction in PMS pump price from N145/ltr to N125/ltr is commendable. However, this has not translated to the reduction of prices of goods and service. The product is even said to have become scarcer with the reduction of the fuel price. Regulatory bodies should be active to prevent opportunists from leveraging the situation to hoard and make extra gains.
The same should be considered for other essential products. In other countries, hand sanitizers, face masks and other medical supplies are distributed for free. Nigeria could do more in view of the hardship a lot of citizens were already into before the outbreak of coronavirus.
After all is said however, the safety of every citizen from the coronavirus and other communicable diseases rests primarily with the citizens. Whether or not government works to control the disease, the death of any citizen might not be a loss to the government as to the family of the affected. All citizens therefore have an obligation to observe minimum standards for survival in these turbulent times.