COVID-19: The Economics of the Lockdown

Sanwo Olu

By Eddie Odivwri

There is hardly a debate on the relationship between the health and the economy of a people. The one hangs on the other.

That is why the threat posed to humanity by the COVID-19 pandemic has a lot to do with the economics of the various nations battling to contain the plague.

A fortnight ago, the World bank and other global financial institutions had expectedly predicted a melt down that would trigger a global recession.When that happens, the world would have to contend with the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 scourge which, even now, has ravaged the economy of the world.

It would be far worse with struggling economies like ours. For a country highly dependent on oil, the crash of the crude oil in global market to about $33 per barrel will spell in BOLD letters Hunger and hardship in Nigeria.

Already, Nigeria is somewhat drawing down so much from the external reserve, so as to combat the outbreak of the plague. This is coming at a time that the nation, nay, the world is practically frozen with the global economy truly shut down.

In Nigeria, the lockdown ordered by the president in Lagos and Ogun States, plus FCT, Abuja has translated to the gnashing of teeth for many of its citizens. The hardship has manifested in many ways including (but not limited to) the underlisted:

Stay-At-Home Fatigue

Lagos, the heartbeat of the nation’s economy is practically gasping for a breath of fresh air, economically.

For Lagos and Abuja, it is the 11th day of lockdown. And it has been like eleven years of imprisonment. People are simply tired of the stay-at-home order. That they are bored to the theirteeth is an understatement. That explains why in some parts of the two cities, some people dare to hit the roads, out of sheer boredom.

Matters have not been helped by the fact that staying at home has become more herculean than going to work, even in the farm. The conditions of staying at home have not encouraged a faithful compliance with the order.

Energy Supply, Still a Notorious Malaise

Last week, I had complained about the epileptic power supply in most towns and communities. That issue has posed its own challenge for staying at home. How is it convenient to stay at home with children without electricity supply either in the daytime or nighttime? Some apartments are literally like ass holes without light. Many of the ways the houses were built, some with poor ventilation, and others with choked spaces, make the stay-at-home order, look like punishment, especially when there is no electricity supply.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila had held a meeting with the officials of the DISCOs with the intent to see how energy supply can improve. One week after, there is no significant improvement in most parts of the country. People are still going through hell, running their noisy generators. The combination of the deafening noises from the various generators are perhaps more troubling than the fear of COVID-19 itself.

Measly Stimulus

Worse still, is the issue of food supply. Both the federal government and the Lagos State governments had promised to provide some stimulus packages to support “weak and vulnerable” households during the lockdown period.

While Lagos State governor promised distributing these food packages to 200,000 vulnerable families, the federal government said it will give assistance to “weak and vulnerable” families in the locked down states.

Even when the distribution of the food stimulus did not quite start early, when it eventually came, it was a far cry from what was expected or even promised.

Lagos State government had claimed that what would be supplied would be enough to feed a family of six for 14 days. But alas, when the so-called stimulus eventually came, it was nothing to write home about. You can’t even write abroad about it. It was damn too measly. A miserable morsel!

I had also expressed worry last week, about the data bank that will be used for the distribution. Does the state or even the federal government havea register of its citizens? No!, I dare say. So how is/was the federal government going to reach theso-called “weak and vulnerable” homesteads in the concerned states?

Who defines who is weak and vulnerable? What are the parameters of social classification? The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouk, while defending her register before the leaders of the National Assembly who were also concerned about her list of “weak and vulnerable” members of the society who usually get the “conditional cash transfer” confessed that something is wrong with the list she inherited but promised to work on it.

Perhaps more crucial is the geographical spread of the beneficiaries of the said conditional cash transfer. How come the sharing of the money is mainly in the northern parts of the country? Are there no “weak and vulnerable” Nigerians in the South-south, South-west and South-east?

But by the way, how can the distribution of N5000 every 30 days to a people lift them up from poverty, as claimed by the Buhari’s agenda of wanting to lift 100 million Nigerian from poverty?How can N5000 a month change the economic status of somebody?

In Lagos, the stimulus packages were an annoying joke. Yes, the relief packages are supposed to offer some succor to the beneficiaries, but, hey, what is worth doing is worth doing well. There were cases where a whole street of 31 houses was given less than half bag of rice, plus a medium-sized loaf of bread. Gosh…. , how are they supposed to share that? In anger, the youths turned the loaf of bread to a football and played it till it broke into miserable shreds of baked flour.

In Abeokuta GRA, Ogun State, residents got into a fight as they dragged a bag of garri, till it tore and they literally bathed themselves with the whitish grains.

In Festac Town, the local government authority had whimsically defined the poor and weak families to be dwellers of blocks and of flats. And in one instance, less than a bag of rice was dropped for a block with sixteen flats with each household having an average of five persons. So, what is the worth of such gesture?

All over the social media, are lamentations of citizens over the paltry worth of the gestures from either the state or federal government. This is even after tons of seized rice from smugglers was ordered to be distributed to quarantined families.

With no food, no cash in hand, no electricity supply, no water, no comfort, the stay-at home order is looking like punishment or at best , punitive lawful order.

The scant food packs contrast sharply with food packs shared in some other countries undergoing the same lock-down, where people would wake up and find huge and assorted packs of food items, victuals, fruits, milk, eggs , etc., at their door posts.

Admittedly, given our huge population and the crushing poverty that have always been our lot, meeting up the needs of the people at such a critical time would have been difficult and challenging. Yet, it would be a lot better, if we are a country of records. We do not have records of anything!

Tough Recovery Ahead

When the pandemic subsides and we survive it s as a nation, the next phase of the battle would be how to survive the spin-off effect of the scourge. I sit and wonder how tough it would be. It would almost be like trying to build up the economy of a nation after a grueling civil war. Here is a nation with a flighty economy, struggling to stay afloat, with all its earnings and resources, and now faced with sustaining an economy that has been wracked down by the pandemic in all sectors. How will it regenerate? What stimulus would be in place to get the economy running again?

The pandemic and its economic effect has shattered the fabric of global economy and the reverberations across the world and varying sectors is mind bogging .

One significant fall out of this pandemic will be thevolume of job losses that will follow. Thousands of jobs will be lost. Some companies may never recover. Some may lay off a good number of their staff, and re-appraise their operations.

Looking through the spectrum of the society, I do not see any sector that will be spared, be they small or medium scale businesses, not even the religious houses, many of which are already groaning.

Economic projections have long tumbled. The national budget will yet have to be tweaked and reworked in accordance with realities. Already,financial targets given to FIRS, Customs, are being reviewed downward.

The purchasing power of the people has already collapsed. How will they be re-inflated?

The 5G Brouhaha

With every crisis comes its own propaganda and misinformation machine. The COVID-19 plague has dragged in the issue of the 5G broadband. All sorts of misinformation and misunderstanding on the subject has been shared and circulated in the social media.

Without fully understanding the science and technology behind it, many people, including politicians and even clergymen, have begun to interpret all sorts of motifs into the 5G technology. Some have inferred that it is the prologue to Armageddon, while others add that it will usher in the mark of the Beast (in Christendom). All kinds of motifs and fears have been pumped into us. So much that many Nigerians are already psychologically crushed, thinking that the feared end has finally come.

Matters were not helped with the sundry videos of supposed “experts” one of which made the argument of using a so-called new British twenty pounds note with the 5G mast sitting under the symbol of COVID-19, all to suggest that the 5G technology is a global scheme to wipe out humanity. So, if humanity is endangered and finally wiped out, who then benefits from the 5G technology? Or will the optic fibres of the spectrum be laid up to heaven?

Thankfully, the Ministry of Communication has issued a statement allaying the fears so generated in the polity over the 5G technology, stressing that the 5G technology was laid with the 4G spectrum. I don’t expect any reasonable government, even in Afghanistan, to install anything that will imperil the health or life of its citizenry for whom it exists.

Fighting COVID-19: Thumbs Up for Gov Sanwo-Olu

Many people who were unsure of the capacity of the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to govern a complex state like Lagos must have changed their belief, what with the competence and pro-activeness the governor has shown in tackling the pandemic in the state.

Apparently turning out a star, Sanwo-Olu has impressed many Lagosians, nay Nigerians on the round-the-clock attention he has micro-managed the outbreak of the index case in the state since lateFebruary.

But last Wednesday, he scored another good point when he demonstrated a commendable large heartedness in forgiving his political rival, Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, the governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) in the last governorship election in the state.

Gbadamosi along with Naira Marley , amongst other, were part of the birthday party organised by the famous actress, Funke Akindele, in breach of the stay-at-home order of the state. Funke and her husband had earlier been convicted and sentenced to community service.

But last Wednesday, Sanwo-Olu failed to arraign Gbadamosi and co when they turned themselves up to the police because of the remorse they showed as well as agreeing to publicly apologise and even go on 14-day isolation..

By that gesture, Gbadamosi’s political career has been saved, as a conviction would have barred him from holding public office for another 10 years. Narrow-minded politicians would have seen it as an auspicious opportunity to nail a rival. But Sanwo-Olu chose to follow the less-travelled path in Nigerian political grassland. Kudos His Excellency!

Hurray, It’s Easter….But a Colourless Type

Last week was Good Friday, needlessly declared a public holiday since we have all been on forced holiday. Yesterday was Easter Sunday. It was a new type of Easter Sunday: devoid of colour or glitz. It was strange in Christendom as many faithful marked it calmly and privately in their various homes. COVID-19 has sent the world into a protective nest, with none daring to venture out.

But many Christian faithful believe the COVID-19 plague will reset the world spiritually. Coming at a time that the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is to be celebrated, many adherents believe that humanity will not be consumed by this ravaging pandemic. By the resurrection power of Easter, the earth will be healed, regenerated and redeemed from the plague slammed on it by bio-terrorists. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed. Happy Easter!