Policy Briefs

Policy Brief 74-20: | Covid-19: Nigeria Must Avert Systemic Collapse 

Oseloka H. Obaze |


In just one week Africa garnered a 43% jump in its Covid-19 cases. These numbers are relative to Nigeria even as her recorded numerical remains discernibly low. Nigeria’s low infection and fatalities are loss leaders. They reflect stark correlation of her rather limited testing; contact tracing, and limited voluntary acknowledgement of infections. Policymakers must bear these hard but worrying facts in mind. Our national response beyond the lackluster efforts so far, must be infinitely robust. Nigeria’s pandemic exponential surge is just around the corner. This is a hard and grim fact. To mitigate the scope of liabilities, fatalities, and related consequences, Nigeria’s leadership must recalibrate, seek bi-partisan measures and adjust across board and more importantly, act boldly in order to avert a possible systemic collapse. At this juncture, policy, partisan and ideological pussyfooting will not serve collective national interest.

For Nigeria and Africa, the optics, unfolding narrative and concrete realities are not comforting. Because this is a global pandemic that affects almost every nation big or small, there is no rescue mission coming to Nigeria. Thus Nigeria’s solution to this crisis, now twined with the collapse of the global oil market, must be home grown. Regrettably, we are as a nation, ill-prepared and ill-equipped to grapple with the twin disaster, characterized by some as ‘the perfect storm.’ Meanwhile, governance and response resources will become scarce, and whatever there is, need to be well managed. 

The prospective fatalities aside, the pandemic has dire if not unfathomable national security consequences for Nigeria. It will push Nigeria’s so-called “poorest of the poor” further down and well beyond the desperate poverty threshold. If that happens, the ripple effect might include the triggering of uncontrollable civil disobedience and actual riots, if not well managed. The latter, could also predicate an unimaginable get-even reprisals from long disenfranchised masses against the national elite. One possible tripwire besides hunger-driven-anger will be further extra-judicial killings by security operatives while enforcing lockdowns.

Efforts so far by Federal and State governments to combat the pandemic have been as salutary as it has been disjointed and therefore, compartmentalized. The Organized Private Sector’s CACOVID framework has also beaten its own narrow path. It should adopt modalities used by the Dangote/Agbakoba 2012 Flood Disaster Committee. The overarching reality which also underpins the Nigeria’s laggardly response is the proof of Nigeria’s lack of a national resilience strategy, despite her 2014-2015 Ebola experience. A holistic approach was needed from the onset. It did not happen. Some federal politicos and bureaucrats felt it was business as usual. Hence related policies were transaction-driven and disbursements under the SIP framework skewed by partisan considerations.

There were several other hindering factors. First, the FGN made a huge mistake in failing to carry along the 36 states. Second, while some states were proactive, others waited to be ‘bottle-fed’ or ‘spoon-fed’ by federal authorities. Third, was the FGN’s failure to disburse mitigation fund at the outset, no matter how small, to the 36 federating units and the sectionalizing of the disbursement of N2trn palliatives. Fourth, the FGN lost sight of commonsensical measures, in understanding that ‘prevention is better than cure’ and that ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’ So as much as the FGN focused on the core affected states, it failed to shield and prepare mitigation measures in unaffected outlying states by simply ignoring the fact that the virus is nimble, has trans-boundary capacity and is invisible. That said, each state with an Executive Governor, ought to be fiscally independent and viable. Now the genie is out of the bottle.

From the outset I advocated that FGN should give each state N2bn to prepare for the Covid-19 response/palliatives, while also underlining that “The window remains vastly open that Nigeria may yet be hard hit down the line; as the exponential spread simmers beneath the surface” and on the need “to strategize for that boom moment.” I also suggested that FGN needed to “walk back her Covid-19 response strategy.” Locking down states without giving palliatives is putting the horse before the cart.

As of 23 April 2020, Nigeria’s core numerical stood at 873 infections and 28 deaths. Meanwhile, a majority of the 36 states of Nigeria believe or pretend they are fully prepared for the Covid-19 onslaught. They are not and such assumptions or grandstanding will in time prove delusional as evidenced by the exponential infection rate in Kano State. The unseen and undocumented numbers are at least ten times published figures and rising by the hour. Thankfully, the 36 Governors have agreed to a two-week interstate lockdown, albeit belated. But more needs to be done in the realization that the scope of the unfolding challenge will be further compounded by limited financial and testing, mitigation, and therapeutic resources. Unless a synergized decision is taken immediately, States looking to FGN to get unilateral support akin to the N10bn given initially to Lagos State will be grossly disappointed.

Nigeria’s present challenges will be further compounded by the emerging reality that her main source of national revenue -oil sales- has just tanked. Nigerian Bonny light oil is selling at $12 per barrel and no one is buying. The price may still drop to $2pb. Recently, the FGN drew $150million from the Sovereign Wealth Fund leaving a balance of $210million, with the Excess Crude Account at $72.2million, and the External reserves badly depleted and now $33.9billion. Invariably, even as FAAC doled out N780.9 billion to the three tiers of government this week, going forward, it is evident that the FGN and States will be fiscally challenged. Lack of buoyancy may turn to insolvency. This means it’s time to recalibrate.

The Upshot 

Along with the pandemic, a conjunction of circumstances has placed Nigeria at grave risk. Indeed, after many years of policy and governance missteps, her moment of reckoning seem to have arrived. Without being alarmist, if Nigerian authorities fail to handle the pandemic proactively henceforth, it risks a systemic collapse in the near term; that will mean restructuring of sorts by default. Meanwhile, here are some plausible emergent scenarios in the next four weeks.

• Nigeria’s Covid-19 spread will spiral upwards exponentially. Communal and institutional (prisons and IDP camps) infection outbreaks and death rates will rise in far-flung rural communities. Since most Covid-19 related deaths will not be recorded, absent prior testing, the fatalities will continue to be under reported.

• Henceforth, Federal and State funding for Covid-19 response will taper. Competition for funding will be steep.

• Federal and State authorities can anticipate further busting of the Covid-19 lockdown regime nationwide, protestations, possible food riots and related banditry and upheavals. The Catch-22 choice before a majority of Nigerians -either to stay home and starve to death or venture out, contract Covid and risk dying – won’t be pretty or palatable. None is a preferred choice for most people.

• At this rate, monthly FAAC allocation to States and LGs will be slow in coming, if at all. Only states with savings of up to 90days (3 months) for salaries will go unscathed.

• We can anticipate FGN-States relations will come under server strain, if not properly managed.

Remedial Action:

• FGN needs to devolve and decentralize Covid-19 response to the states immediately, while retaining oversight and regulatory duties. Marginalized Nigerian scientists should be pulled into the response fray. FGN should push for broader testing at the state-level; ramp up masking by making it mandatory and enforceable nationally, to compensate for ongoing breaches in lockdowns and limited compliance with social distancing regulations.

• The Presidential Task Force (PTF) should pool the available resources (N500bn stimulus; N20bn in CACOVID donations; balance of N2 trillion SIP fund and External UN/EU/World bank donations) under a single transparent and accountable umbrella. These should be in excess of N600bn. Of these, the 36 states should be allotted N2bn each immediately (N72bn total), as confidence building measures (CBMs) for Covid-19 response and grassroots palliatives. The estimated balance of N582bn should be held in abeyance for disbursement in May/June along with whatever FACC can muster for the month.

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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