By Emmanuel Eya
My father used to tell us that, “lies are better told in English.” I wonder how easy it will be to translate, the Federal Government’s directive on the relaxation of the lockdown, to any of our native languages without sounding like a man trying to deceive adults with tricks meant for children.
Still puzzled with the clear intention of the government, but it is clear that work resumes on Monday, 4th May, in what the government called gradual easing-off. Why are we easing-off, whereas some countries that began before us are still on lockdown?
It took only one index case to spread the disease across the country. We locked down when we had 5 cases and reopening now that we have 1,932. Am not a public health expert, but it looks like this goes against common sense. On the other hand, the situation requires more than common sense. Quite debatable.
One thing is established. A lot of Nigerians are in dire strait now. We must reopen because we do not have the resources to remain closed like some other nations. Some may argue that we do, but data does not support it. It is a tale of two evils. Remain closed and die, open and die. I don’t want to be in the Federal Government shoes at the moment. Where you must choose between two non-favourable choices.
Several commentators have argued for and against this strategy. In Prof. Charles Soludo’s article titled, “Covid-19: Can African afford Lockdowns?” published on 24th April 2020 by Premium times. He argued in favour of reopening the economy.
He stated that “lockdowns in Africa suffer a time-inconsistency problem, without a credible exit strategy; is unaffordable and could potentially worsen the twin pandemics — health and economic — in Africa”.
I get his point of view as a banker; he is biased towards ensuring that the economy is not destroyed while trying to contain the pandemic. However, since he is not a public health professional, he may not have adequately accessed the risk factors inherent in this decision. If these risks are not mitigated, we may be in for a war-like situation.
Those who argued in favour of lockdown have their reasons, but is this sustainable? I don’t pray anything worse happens, but whichever way we go has a huge price to pay. It is like a proverbial tale where a moth is perching on the scrotum. Hit it hard and wallow in pains. Leave it, and you are not better either.
But let’s say we want to extend the lockdown until we are certain the pandemic is contained. In this case, the government will be forced to provide critical palliative measures to sustain the lockdown as most Nigerians are subsistence in nature.
As the poverty capital of the world, many of our citizens are living one day at a time. To feed, you must go out daily and hustle. Therefore, the government must provide at least food to many citizens before it degenerates to the survival of the fittest. We have seen several cases on social media where mobs attacked trucks and pick-up vans conveying rice and bread and looted their consignments.
By United Nation estimate, we have over 200 million people out of which 94 million (Oxfam estimate) are living below the poverty level. The explanation is that 94 million Nigerians are eking a living out of USD1.9 or about N722 naira a day.
This amount is for everything not just for feeding. It includes transportation, laundry, medication et cetra. The total package in our local parlance. A pittance by all standards. Consequently, the government will need a lot of funds for palliatives. Let’s do a little mathematics here.
If the government is to give every poor Nigerian at least N500 per day, say for feeding, let’s leave the rest for God, it will translate to N47,000,000,000 (forty-seven billion naira).
What this means is that the government must spend at least 47 billion naira on feeding the poor for each lockdown day to sustain it. Roll it up to one month and you get a whopping sum of N1,410,000,000,000 (1.4 trillion naira).
When I tell my peers that the country is poor. They charge at me without understanding my point of view. Our national budget for the year 2020 is N10.59 trillion out of which N1.59 trillion will be borrowed. Simple arithmetic will show that our national budget can only feed poor Nigerians for seven and a half months of 30 days each.
Since it will be unwise to borrow and fund consumption. Let’s say we use money locally generated without borrowing. In this case, we will net off N1.59 trillion leaving a total sum of N9 trillion. Redoing the maths shows that total collectable revenue can only feed poor Nigerians for about six months. No government will foreclose other areas of governance and use the national budget for feeding, though.
We have been receiving aides from international communities to fight the pandemic and ameliorate the pains of lockdown. As announced, the European Union donated EUR 51 million to Nigeria, which is about N21.8 billion. The truth is that these funds, even though huge, will still not be enough and there has also been a bevvy of accusations of fraud on the part of those who manage these interventions.
The major challenge being how to identify poor Nigerians in a country where there is a dearth of demographic register.
Reno Omokri, former special assistant on media to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ, once counselled the Federal Government to use Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) to transfer palliative funds to Nigerians. The fact is that most very poor people do not have bank accounts. Not likely going to have BVN. A lot of banks have been working on financial inclusiveness to capture these unbanked groups, but there is still a large gap to close.
So, the long and short of the story is that we cannot do palliatives; so, lockdown must be discontinued. Sounds like we have tried our best for you.
I recall when I was serving some years ago. The buzz word then was, “OYO” – On Your Own. A cull from Faze’s modish release then, titled, “Faze alone.” Little did we know that a day shall come when it sounds like the government is telling Nigerians, “OYO”.
In my melodramatic moments, I imagined a national broadcast on resumption date that begins like this:
“Fellow Nigerians, the national easing-off commences today; you are On Your Own now. Please wash your hands and maintain social distancing. Call 112 if bus conductor insists you must be 4 per seat. All ‘agberos’ are banned from motor parks. We want to ensure that parks are of 60% capacity. Keep safe and use sanitizers if you can afford it. Wear face mask …. Don’t catch COVID-19, if you die, only 20 people will attend your funeral….”
Sounds funny, though. But one could be tempted to say we should have prepared for a day like this way back. However, nobody could accurately forecast it. Even the most advanced nations were caught in the web.
Life is ephemeral and one thing will kill a man, but this development looks like a fast-track to early gave for a lot of vulnerable Nigerians.
From experience, the directive issued by the government will be violated. As a result, someone will contact the virus inadvertently and suffer the consequences.
I do hope that it turns out for the best and the curve somehow miraculously flattened.
In God, we put our trust.