Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 73-20 | Lack of Resilience Strategy Hobbles Nigeria

Ejeviome Eloho Otobo and Oseloka H. Obaze*

A well-worn cliché states that those who “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.” That has been Nigeria’s fate in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force and the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) are discernibly doing their utmost to combat the pandemic. Yet Nigeria is way behind the required response curve. If Nigeria’s resilience capacity at the federal, state and local levels has been low, it is due to some critical gaps, of which the lack of a national resilience strategy is most fundamental. National, State or community resilience is no longer an abstract concept. Long ignored by political leaders –often to their peril – as being the remit of academic theoreticians that perception has changed diametrically, as nation states increasingly face debilitating disasters capable of ruining national economies.

Some forty days into fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, certain factors have manifested making it impossible for Nigeria to respond optimally. These realities further underline deficiencies in her national resilience strategy and disaster risk management. Of these factors, we consider six as prominent and the weak links in Nigeria’s national resilience chain. These include the overwhelming political leadership inertia; weak fiscal situation, in particular the low foreign reserves to fall back on in times of emergency; poor funding of national healthcare delivery systemm, reflected in the fact that Nigeria is far below the 15 percent target of the budget allocation for health, as agreed in the 2001 Abuja Declaration on Health by African countries; absence of synergy between dedicated emergency response agencies; and levity of the national population to the demands of public health emergency.

The unfettered adverse impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated national economies and healthcare systems, beginning in Wuhan, China in December 2019, uncovered the broad weaknesses in Nigeria’s governance, regulatory methods and national resilience. To paraphrase The Economist magazine, the corona virus threw up “grim choices” and a “miasma of tradeoffs.” So with Covid-19, Nigeria entered uncharted territory as the pandemic exposed the weak underbelly of her national crisis management architecture. Nigerians had expected that the procedures adopted during, and lessons learned from, the management of the Ebola crisis in 2014-2015 would be rapidly deployed to combat COVID-19. Instead, there was a fresh effort to reinvent crisis management modalities, leading to trenchant criticisms from professionals and the public.

Enormous disasters, quite often produce inevitable paradigm shift in terms of response and even as an aftermath, which must compel critical conversations. Being organised for pro-active crisis management and response requires forward thinking, assessments, and planning, requisition and procurement, and strategic stockpiling, for such exigencies. From the moment of the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease in Wuhan, China, on the 31st of December, 2019 to Nigeria’s first confirmed case on 27 February 2020, Nigeria had ample time to trigger her national response and mitigation strategies. She did not, because such strategies were lacking. Nigeria’s leadership and policymakers were asleep at the wheels and were caught off guard, despite early warning which other nations provided and yet, other nations heeded.

It’s noteworthy that just as military strategists maintain Standby Brigades, Special Forces and plan war games in order to assess national military defence capacity; disaster risk reduction (DRR) managers and strategic resiliency experts are increasingly part of the core national security mosaic, in most forward looking nations. But they hardly exist in Nigeria. While disaster risk reduction policies, strategies and mechanisms may exist on paper, often they turn redundant or moribund if the enabling drivers – the political will and governance decisions – meant to drive them are not forthcoming or they are not periodically tested to assess their fitness for purpose. That was exactly the problem Nigeria faced from the onset in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic as it spread globally.  

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s limited resilience strategy continues to hobble her response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is bad enough that Nigeria, like most countries, lacked adequate amount of vaccines, test kits, the required therapeutics; it was worse that there was no preparedness and response until after the outbreak and spread had become a global pandemic. Foresight should have informed that the only option open to Nigeria as an assured mitigation tool, was to lay emphasis on social distancing and isolation and in the most extreme case, institute mandatory lockdowns. These had to be combined nimbly with palliatives and establishing of social safety nets. Regrettably, she has not been as vigorous as the circumstances dictated in that regard either.

Despite Nigeria’s response to the crisis being lethargic from the outset, faulting her dreary response to the pandemic might seem grossly unfair, when her efforts are compared to those of bigger and better developed Western countries. But in truth, the impact of the pandemic on Nigeria is still unfolding and thus can only be fully appreciated in the longer term. If Nigeria fumbled badly in handling the pandemic by not exhibiting sufficient resilience capacity, and many believe she did, here is perhaps the single most important take away. Ensuring national resilience requires the central government to regulate and take the lead in coordination, taking serious public health measures, pulling everyone along, and polling all available resources in the common interest. But being able to do that require a grand strategy and visionary leadership. Regrettably, again, both were lacking this time around.

Good governance in risk and crisis management is a game of numbers. Numbers in the realm of crisis management relates to vital statistics, which in critical moments of disaster risk management becomes the most concrete basis on which national resilience is predicated. As a nation our population is based on estimates. We do not have a complete functional basis for identifying our citizens (the national identity management programme is embryonic) or a composite national telephone directory for contact tracing and systematic outreach to our citizens. We hardly have or maintain a national strategic fuel reserve, food reserve, nor stockpile for disaster mitigation equipments.

Far more troubling was our inability to expeditiously identify the multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral experts and specialists, in logistics, contact tracing, social welfare intervention, finance, supply, transport and procurement, food security and delivery, search and rescue, small business administration and trained first responders. The one bright spot in Nigeria’s response is the contributions by various private sector entities in the fight of COVID-19 Pandemic both within and outside the framework of The Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19, even if belated.

Finally, Nigeria ought to have had in place people are proactive and can prioritize; people who understand fully how to manage complex emergencies. These are disaster risk reduction mangers that can take hardheaded decisions and not buckle or allow partisan considerations or vested interest to detract them from delivering expeditiously the required services nationwide, when and where they are most needed; or goad them into pursuing sectional policies.

It’s exceedingly painful that as a nation, we were nowhere near being prepared to tackle the pandemic robustly. If other nations will pay the price of the viciousness of the coronavirus, Nigeria could pay doubly such price; that being the added burden of her not having a resilience strategy. Going forward, Nigeria can only ignore the need to have a robust national resilience strategy — that anticipates and plans for various crisis scenarios–at its own peril.
*Otobo is a Non-Resident Senior Expert at the Global Governance Institute, Brussels. Obaze is MD/CEO Selonnes Consult in Awka. This op-ed is adapted from their forthcoming book, Nigeria: Caught in the Whirlwind,


Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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