• Says continent lacks capacity to sustain prolonged shutdown
By Emmanuel Addeh
A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, Monday reiterated his advice to African leaders to re-assess the current lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, insisting that the continent cannot sustain a total economic shutdown.
Soludo, who spoke on ‘The Morning Show’, an Arise Television programme, argued that it was wrong to adopt the present ‘cut and paste’ approach to mitigating the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria and indeed the entire continent.
The Professor of Economics said that the structures to support the lockdown in most African countries do not exist, maintaining that African leaders cannot continue to shut in citizens without food.
Soludo, a member of the eight-man Economic Advisory Council (EAC) set up by President Muhammadu Buhari last year, argued that many more people were dying of lesser ailments, hunger, low body immune system, malaria and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as a result of the lockdown.
“Covid-19 numbers will continue to rise. But the exit strategy is important. Do you keep locking down until the numbers begin to decrease or when the curve flattens? For how long do you continue to lock down without food. Do you have an exit strategy?
“If the exit strategy is to lock down until it stops rising, we are in for a long wait because Africa does not have the capacity. New York is still begging for resources for tests and unless you test, you don’t know,” he maintained.
The former CBN governor emphasised that though the countries’ leaders did the right thing by restricting movement initially, the time is ripe for a review and to proffer home-grown solutions, rather than imitating other parts of the world with stronger and more resilient economies.
“We did the right thing (initially) because when you see people running, you run. But after a while, you wait and ask questions. Africa might be afraid of death, but in the end, it might end up committing suicide via prolonged lockdown. If you put all the diseases together, Nigeria alone may account for up to a million.
“So, whether you lock down or not, people are dying even if you lock everybody at home. People have no money to treat their malaria and typhoid. There are probably more dying that we don’t have the statistics.
“Africa has about 1.3 billion people and maybe 2.5 per cent can afford a lockdown. So for others, malnourishment and low immune system will set in and there are thousands dying everyday.
“We hear of the Covid-19 cases, but what we don’t hear is the number of people that are dying of malaria, one million cases and 300,000 deaths yearly which is almost a thousand a day. So, between malaria and HIV, you have almost 500,000 people dying,” he said.
According to him, to solve the current problem, Africa has to have some critical disruptive thinkers who reason through the solution vis-à-vis the African social and economic reality.
Soludo also warned against printing more money as a solution to the challenges likely to be faced post Covid-19, stressing that it will pose serious strain on the naira.
He argued that quantitative easing, a form of unconventional monetary policy in which a central bank uses to increase the money supply and encourage lending, may not resolve the problem, given the current state of African economies.
He said: “A system that is in a deep hole will find it hard to stimulate. When many of the African countries are in a precarious external position, doing quantitative easing is not possible. You have foreign reserves depleting, currency is depreciating , rising inflation, negative net external position and you then want to increase money supply under the circumstances.
“Each country will have to decide where they want to prioritise. Like I said, you pump in more money, then your currency will come under heavy attack.”
Soludo further aligned with the position of Dr Oby Ezekwesili, who last week called on China to pay some form of compensation to African countries as a result of the effect of the virus on their economies.
“It’s a very great idea. I have alluded to it. We haven’t held them to the same standard. We should begin to hold countries which cause global harm to the rules to account and to pay recompense. That will be a new world order,” he argued.