What to Do with Nigeria’s COVID-19 Button


By Charles Iyore

Hope and opportunities are the greatest tools of recovery, after a dislocating encounter.

COVID-19 is a dislocating encounter for the world. However, leaders and countries who can give hope to their people and offer them fresh opportunities to rebuild, will ride the storm. These countries will not waste the pain of the crisis by making excuses, but will instead make the best use of it to improve resilience.

The opportunities that emerge from the global crisis will only be visible to the prepared leaders. The unprepared will be retreating in despair, until they are overwhelmed.

The events of the past few months have revealed the inadequacies of our leaders at all levels, the fragile state of our institutions, and the continuing absence of direction for many of our hopeless citizens. This has not been helped by the many distractions of graft and abuse of office, in their various episodes, that leave many on-lookers wondering: what will they think of next?

Against that background, you cannot help but wonder what home rule has brought to the country, in development gains, since 1960. The markets do not work well, and the underclass is at 100 million and growing. Compliant graduates risk a lifelong experience of never being gainfully employed. So who really, is benefiting from this format of self-rule? This format must change.

COVID-19’s Challenge of Bread and Blood

The COVID-19 protocols for containing the spread and managing infection had with it a heightened challenge for families to provide food as economies shut down. Countries that were prepared rolled out plans to deal with food first.

With community based intervention fund-holding, it has been easy for them to check abuses which are common with traditional service delivery channels. Canada is a case in point. All expenditure heads are audited independently at the point of delivery.

In an early interview on the COVID 19 Pandemic, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair charged country leaders to be strict with their procurement and logistics administration. I also forwarded an intervention and response protocol document to the national government and sub-national. You can imagine my amazement when the service delivery logic at a national covid-19 briefing, was about how far the treasury reserves will go to meet each individual’s cash need, if distributed.

Such an analysis could only have come from a mind-set that sees all government activity as contracting and budgeting. The fear of private sector partnership perceived as interference in an exclusive public sector intervention is worrisome.

The concept of money, it would seem, is totally lost on us all. The government needs to be reminded that she is the currency issuer and can determine its value stored.

Economic Production Profile

The UN SDGs were designed as destination statements to help build resilience in every community and through such units build the overall resilience of countries.

They are goals but each country must design her own road map for arriving at those destinations.

There is therefore convergence between the SDGs and our national COVID-19 response. We are challenged to pick up the pieces and build resilience in our communities.

Given the circumstances, how much extra does it cost us to run, with at least, a situation room headed by a medical doctor, in all the local governments in the country?

What does it cost to build a proper need register in those communities without using new ministries, departments and agencies?

What does it cost to establish uniform testing criteria, for assessing food banks? What will it cost to set up and update farm and farmer’s register in all the local governments? What percentage of the fruits and vegetables purchased by the food banks, can be locally sourced? How much data can be mined with these engagements to guide governance processes?

Can our processes establish regional protocols for COVID-19 response? This is the expectation of the sub-region which has appointed President Muhammadu Buhari, to lead the regional response.

Our national conversations do not seem to be going in that direction as MDAs in all three tiers of government, scramble for budgets to opaquely disburse.

The situation room, is only the first rung of the ladder and it doesn’t require a massive budget outlay; just variations in job description.

National Ledger

With the situation rooms up and running in the local governments, the presidency will have developed a national ledger of needs, and could begin the process of filling up the books with supply innovations. This tidy arrangement will offer the presidency numerous opportunities to review development progress nationwide. This will help the Presidency monitor the new directive on payments of statutory revenue allocation.

The innovations that come with generating supplies will bring about clustering of the local governments to meet shared challenges. Budget line items will emerge from their experiences and not from the wild imagination of public servants, sitting in their sinecure offices, at the Federal and State capitals.

Smart Commerce

Without smart commerce, it is difficult, if not impossible to combat crime. Smart commerce allows the state to track spending and deny criminals the proceeds of crime. All crimes are oiled by the proceeds and benefits which can come by way of violent exchange of ownership, client execution contracts, or serious fraud.

If by client contract, payments can come from local or external sources. All proceeds, however, find expression in consumption.

The first sign of our failure in smart commerce was when the military began to introduce commodity price controls, and the government of the day was too proud to find out from the Royal Niger Company in its successor UAC, how price band equilibration was achieved by them.

Food security and smart commerce are very complimentary tools of national security, along with military and police actions.

A Unique Seminal Moment

As the world pauses for a breadth in COVID-19, we have an opportunity to redress 60 years of drift, by starting from first principles. We need to cover all 774 local governments equally, challenge and monitor them equally, as well as demand storehouses of all equally, encourage clustering to create production assets, complete deregulation by actively promoting private sector participation, through appointing reputable community leaders to town halls, among others.

With the national framework set, it is easy to unleash the creative genius so clearly abundant throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is a journey of a thousand miles, but let COVID-19 prompt the first step into a new future.

…Iyore is a partner of DNA Capital, and he wrote in from England.