Nigeria: Race to Outlive Covid-19 Pandemic

Ajibola Olayinka

“Mankind will drop its last blood to preserve its digital age civilization.”

Global handling of the 1918 – 1920 Flu Pandemic, Great Britain’s unusual prosecution of the World War II and Biafra’s ingenuity during Nigeria’s civil war were taking turns to engage my thoughts. The fact that the earlier century virus crisis persisted for over two years reflected the level of medical advancement at that time and no wonder casualties ran into incredible numbers before it was subdued.

When it became inevitable that Great Britain must break the box to come up with victory over Hitler’s Germany, the country enlisted about 400 civil organisations to lead in manufacturing war arsenals. The Biafran museum told a good story of locally made bombs, innovative “Ogbunigwe” and other novel inventions which stretched its resistance in the battle for survival.

Unorthodox model of human efforts at a point of global inflexion adopted in these three separate events defined the outcome recorded in history. Unlike in past crises which galvanized the G7 and advanced nations to ramp up support for the African continent with multilateral aids, the coronavirus is raging across borders, ripping boundaries and messing up globally ranked powerful nations with death, diseases and economic destruction. Every country should therefore understand the urgency in standing up for national interest and survival and wrench control from this invisible enemy.

The race to outlive COVID-19 begun the moment the world realized the mutating resilience of the virus and the possibility of being as devastating as it came unless it is tamed. The world is now between the proverbial devil and the deep sea as “stay at home” slogan in one breath connotes staring hunger in our closet with no source of livelihood. This is certainly not a case of “either/or” as the two extreme conflicts present two sides of the coin. If we must stay home, we must stave off hunger and if we must resume work or movement, safety must be guaranteed. Resolving this dilemma is the pathway to outlive COVID 19.

The original epicenter of Coronavirus, Wuhan, is open for business while the political and economic headquarters in China are fully recalibrated after a strict regimen by the authorities. Both New Zealand and Australia have bared their chest and relaxed the stay home rule. Even Italy and Spain have done a partial opening while Germany has taken the front seat as the first country to return to football though playing in empty stadiums while pressure is on for many other western nations to follow suit. Africa is represented in this group with Tanzania, Rwanda, Madagascar and Ghana stepping forward some weeks ago. We need to do a quick appraisal of these bold nations who have eased lockdown and relate with status of lockdown in Nigeria.

China, South Korea, Singapore are distinct examples of countries which employed personal phones and specialized apps to manage the pandemic. As of Sunday April 26 2020, Wuhan for one shut down its COVID-19 hospitals and reported only one coronavirus incidence because of the disciplined approach adopted via this digital option. New Zealand actually declared that the country has ‘defeated’ the dreaded infection with supporting statistics. Madagascar came up with home-grown/home-brewed preventive and curative prophylaxis and its efficacy was attested to by their President who took the herb publicly. But Ghana’s situation has a slightly different report after easing lockdown with higher infected cases few days thereafter. US disease control authorities have confirmed that any mistake in easing off without putting appropriate measures in place will lead to a second wave with more devastating outcome. And so, it is clear that pockets of progress across the globe came with aggressive testing, tracing, isolation and treatment of identified cases. In addition, these countries operate well-drilled palliatives and stimulus package of food and cash in particular, supporting their people and enterprises with required resources in this unusual period.

The message for Nigeria therefore is to build her survival bridge beyond the here and now to the new normal. Inertia, option ‘do nothing’ or emulating the tried and tested especially by western nations have always been recipe for disaster in situations like this. My people say if you linger long on relieved faeces, poisonous flies will feast upon it. A concrete plan addressing the immediate, short, medium and long terms clearly articulated should be on ground with implementation timelines. Such plan must be pragmatic and devoid of all ambiguity concerning ‘how to’ and who is responsible. A federating unit like Nigeria presents a classic case of nobody did what anybody could have done. The melodrama daily aired by CNN between the President and Governors in the United States should be an example of how not to tackle a pandemic of this scale. In the long run it is the lives of her citizens, sources of her livelihood and freedom that are on the line. Even now, our country still has a fair leverage to contain this case with a well-knit national solution uniformly implemented across our geographical spread.

The uninvited visitor has cut down many lives, ravage millions of people with infection, truncate livelihood and dislocate neighbourhood. In order to demonstrate that all lives matter, the whole world is standing up to it with the best foot forward. The initial reaction of lockdown and keep safe protocol is a strategy to keep alive and fight another day but we should remember that palliatives and support are lifeblood.

Though arguable, at least 60 per cent of the informal sector drive Nigeria’s economy. Most of these players thrive on daily income come rain or sunshine. With no social safety nets and savings for a rainy day (Dr. Abati said it rains every day for this class of people), the on-going sharing of food and cash in fits and starts should go back to the drawing board for a better package.
The haphazard nature still resonates with the Nigeria factor. As water finds its level, the teeming hungry mobs shown every day will eventually fight back. Can our country afford aggravation of the current pandemic travail? The political model which connects the grassroots during election can come in handy to give succor to the needy on an egalitarian basis. Hard hit industries can be revived with bail-out and palliative packages.

Corporate atrophy does not discriminate based on size, age or other criteria. Aviation, transportation, hospitality, education, just name it, are gasping for breath and untold corporate fatalities are imminent if help is delayed for bail-out. Keeping both personal and corporate soul and body together is the first law of COVID-19 survival.
The announced parachute for loans granted by CBN and BOI are too restrictive to impact organizations with financial burdens as there is need to extend these revised terms to borrowers from commercial banks. As they say, when paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero.
Just as nourishment is important to soul and body whether personal or corporate, so is the urgency for education on COVID-19 awareness, behavioural changes pre and post lockdown. Several videos on social media have done a lot of damage and trivialize the problem at hand. An old woman consuming local gin said she was drinking ogogoro to prevent ‘Korona Festus’.
Apart from the proverbial 30 million viewers of NTA (even with a big percentage who loose regular access due to incessant power outage), how many Nigerians follow the National Task Force in its daily briefing? Majority in Lagos for example are connected to rumours of 1 million boys attack and their personal security. The elites are fully briefed and following regular updates due to multiple media tools and devices but majority of our population are still pondering Coronavirus as an elephant with multiple sides. Snippets of information strewn together from Kano, Gombe, Jigawa, Bauchi has kept the whole nation and WHO on edge about multiple deaths which may not be unconnected with COVID-19. Indeed, an irony that this horror movie is rolling out of the people singing ‘babu korona’.

Layers of publicity by word of mouth, neighborhood meetings and associations, hand-bills, traditional, conventional and digital media, below and above the line, jingles on radio and TV, role plays, social media plus any other means should be rolled out. The conversation should start at the beginning: what really is COVID-19 and how does it affect us?
What are behavioural expectations during lockdown and how will this be modified on full or partial movements? Lagos, the COVID 19 epicenter in Nigeria has braved the odds for partial movement from Monday May 4, 2020 but the question is how prepared are we? A bustling city accustomed to mad rush for limited resources such as transportation, how will the state initiate semi normalcy without spiking the already growing numbers of the infected cases?

In a little over a month, Nigeria’s COVID-19 dashboard grew from less than 500 to about 6000, an outrageous increase of 1,100 per cent. Nigeria probably have one of the largest concentration of cerebral marketing professionals who can rise up to the occasion. Every segment of the society should have its information interest adequately covered, CNN says “you are what you know”.

Therefore, the pandemic communication strategy should cascade in a systematic manner to penetrate the ‘veins and arteries’ of our citizens and societies in rural and urban centers.
And so, Nigeria’s only option is to follow the rest of the world to the new normal. This is predicated on the fact that there is a limit on freebies in food and cash handout and man needs to reconnect with work and recreation for sustenance. This world has in-built resilience to outlive COVID-19 as history has proved time and again. What is the sequence to begin the new life experience?
So far, there is no error-free formula even from countries who have braved the headwind to ease movement. Beyond stimulus and living packages therefore, we need to think through the steps required for safe movements while the virus is still in town and learn from others not to reinvent the wheel. Education and awareness on new behavior outside the home cannot be over-emphasized with social distancing, mask and hand washing/hand sanitizer as minimum precaution required from everyone.

Leaving our shell behind, replicating accessible test centers and quick turnaround of results should be an integral part of basic infrastructure put in place. With Africa as the last bastion of civilization, each country possesses what it takes to provide ‘Virus solution’ a la Madagascar while the world awaits approved vaccines. In Nigeria, several herbal homes and inventors have announced discovery of COVID-19 drugs widely reported in the media. How far have these been tested and what approval processes are they undergoing? When can they be available as succor for those in need?

Communication from NCDC will shed light and bring hope. Remember, these ideas in process will in turn be commercialized for mass production and distribution as critical value chains after resolving the financing sources. We should embrace the new world with our feet on the ground and each step carefully crafted to mitigate avoidable calamities.

The corporate world and meeting places must temper their anxieties to resume business with new workplace culture as safety first takes its prime position. The lockdown period has provided lessons on working from home and operating online and this should assist us to identify deliverables which can be conveniently handled without leaving the home.
Tweeter has confirmed some positions as ‘work from home’ offices without any need to be physically present in its office on a permanent basis. In order to err on the side of caution, about 50 per cent of the workforce can test the new culture on one week on one week off while the other 50% will experience it in the other week.

Depending on the level of stewardship, business continuity scenarios can be generated for proper governance and revised capabilities for owners’ approval. And oh yes, the pandemic can open doors for new opportunities while those hardest hit will need to introduce new business models for survival. Necessity they say is the mother of invention.

The post COVID-19 phase will announce the demise of many critical lines of business but will open a new world of fresh demands for new products and services. For a long period has been publicized without much patronage until the lockdown provided the platform for boom business. A popular beverage company is marketing with glee its brand of hand sanitizer. Every need of man has to be repackaged, reworked and represented for value exchange and the new times will try the surviving strengths of emerging models.
The popular quote during COVId-19 is “crisis is too valuable to waste”; Merck the pharmaceutical giant applied this for its turn-around in the 1990s.

After years of lying, deception and literal lip service to changing the monoculture economy built on crude oil, COVID-19 is forcing Nigeria to look elsewhere for money. Dr. Pat Utomi is at the vanguard of well-meaning patriots who shouted themselves hoarse on Dutch disease. For one, Nigeria is caught in the middle of the oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two giant oil producers which led to crude price chicken game. Two, the rampaging pandemic has shut most factories with several oil contracts floating in the air. It was reported that twelve cargoes of LNG tankers were not allowed to berth in China.

Three, “stay at home” has kept oil stock in tanks all over the world and oil-powered automobiles have remained on holiday. Four, the price of oil like humpty-dumpty has fallen to levels never recorded in history. The long and short of it all is that Nigeria’s 2020 budget with about 70 per cent oil revenue is in jeopardy. Despite all the noise on agricultural revolution, our quick fallback position, the train of its value chain has not really been built. Funding and farm technology are scarce because the lenders are too scared to lend to agriculture. Farm gate prices are exploitative because of access to markets.

Seasonal products are vulnerable to waste because of lack of storage. Excess produce cannot be exported because of logistics and port bureaucracy. Raw agricultural exports eventually are at the mercy of buyers because Nigeria lacks semi processing and processing factories. The story is a long one. Relics of the old industrial estates in Kano, Ibadan, Ikeja, etc. are reminders of past exploits in manufacturing. With the hub of manufacturing built on imported inputs from outside the country, it is no brainer that it is fed with crumbs falling from the masters’ table. Every week, it is a fresh round of struggle to scout for scarce foreign exchange to fund letters of credit.

This beautiful country can start afresh. The take-off capital or seed fund will be sourced by exchanging what we have for what we need. Our rich minerals and valuable natural endowment will be the saving grace for this needed revolution. Physically, Kuwait lost all during Operation Desert Storm but with investments in biggest refineries in Europe, the country was rehabilitated in a record time. Dubai is another living testimony turning an arid region into one of the biggest tourist centers and modern wonder in the world. Every segment of Nigeria’s polity such as Health, Education, Infrastructure, Transportation, Housing, and Employment should be accepted as a second chance to start afresh and do the right thing. The king’s house which went on flame is an opportunity to build a modern and befitting palace.

Olayinka, a former chief executive, sent this piece from Lagos.

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