By Hajia Hadiza Mohammed
Corona virus disease has continued to dominate discussions world over in the media, at home and sundry other places and we may not stop talking about it in the near future. And so my topic is still about the dreaded disease that has jolted the world since the beginning of this year. My title appears too optimistic as if we have already won the victory over the killer virus. Don’t blame me after all the faith we all profess admonishes us to always be optimistic. I am writing against the backdrop of eventual victory over the stubborn virus. So while we wait for the final victory over the virus we must pro-actively think of survival after it. Now where do we begin? Already offices, businesses, production lines and factories have been shut down. I am not a trained economist but I am aware that this will have a crippling effect on the economy and the people thereafter.
Countries all over the world are rolling out economic stimulus packages to cushion the harsh effect of the lockdown. The United States of America has already rolled out a temporary $2trillion stimulus package. The G7 countries and many other countries have released their temporary relief packages aimed at stimulating and sustaining human activities after the corona virus lockdown.
The President Mohammadu Buhari’s speech, the second since the outbreak of the COVID-19 and the lockdown did not spell out any stimulus package for Nigerians contrary to general expectations. He instructed some ministries to work with the economic team to fashion out something but he gave them no time frame. Are we going to wait forever for the package? It is certain that life will begin anew after the corona virus lockdown. So it is necessary to release the incentive package in time to enable people make appropriate adjustments. A stitch in time, they say saves nine.
Already concerned personalities like Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (GCON), the former Vice-President and Wazirin of Adamawa and many others have provided insightful perspective on the vexed stimulus issue. Experts on economic management and investment have harped on the imperatives of providing stimulus package for businesses and the survival of households.
Globally, it is expected that there would supply chain problems that means we would have shortages in the supply of essential commodities because of production disruptions. This means our farmers will need incentives to produce more food this season to sustain our local demand. I know that the survival of small businesses and many individuals after the corona wahala will most certainly depend on government incentives. It is public knowledge that there are petty traders among us whose working capital is below twenty thousand naira. These people after spending four weeks at home and probably spend their meager capital on food, how will they resume their businesses after the lockdown? Again, it is expected that after the lockdown many families would be cautious in their expenditure; limiting their spending on the very essentials – food and health care. Construction, reconstruction and rehabilitations works will slow down. How then would our technicians and artisans who survive on daily pay survive after this? The government must do something in this regard. Otherwise there would be social cataclysm. Stealing, prostitution and other social vices will increase and even suicide rate would go up. It will be tragic for the people to survive the COVID-19 pestilence and then die of hunger and starvation afterwards or violent crime.
How would the government do it, I don’t know. I am not an expert in financial matters but I do know that part of prudential management is reducing unnecessary expenditure; cutting down luxuries and concentrating on our necessities. First, I expect the government to review down the bogus 10.9 trillion Naira 2020 budget to the bare bones, cutting down overseas travels, medical tourism and other appendages. Government should re-order our priorities to accommodate the economic vulnerable group in order to avert potential future social unrest in the polity. Relief funds should be made available through relevant agencies, CBN, deposit money banks and micro-finance banks for disbursement to the small businesses at rock-bottom interest rates. Moreover, concerning the controversial manner through which the initial palliatives to the vulnerable economic group was disbursed, I expect the government and the National Assembly to set up a high powered panel of inquiry to investigate it to forestall further misappropriation of our expected economic stimulus package.
Nigerians are said to be one the happiest people on earth. As legendary Fela put it, even when we are suffering, we are smiling. I earnestly enjoin Nigerians to be patient and to comply with government directives and the tips from National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to ensure that we win the war against corona disease during this lockdown period. And while we wait for the government stimulus package, we should try to be our brothers’ keeper and as much as we can try to help those in need. This is the time we need philanthropy the more. I appeal to our public-spirited and well-to-do compatriots to remember to empower those around them to start life again after the lockdown. Corporate giants in the financial services, oil and gas, telecoms and the blue chips companies should be persuaded not to contribute to the looming unemployment crisis by laying off part of their staff strength. They should see this as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and their contribution to the country.
Again while we wait for the much-needed stimulus package, I will advise everybody to look inwards. There is always opportunity in every difficult situation. Let us try to put our skills and talents to creative use.
And, beyond the stimulus package which is short term measure, the government should design our economy and provide basic structures that will make our economy self-reliant and less dependent on other economies. I expect the agricultural sector to be given greater attention this time to reduce too much dependence on oil revenue. This is also the time for the Central Bank to put its financial inclusion programme into action. The economy cannot survive without the small holdings. The government should create the enabling environment for business to thrive and for our experts in Diaspora to come home to contribute to the development of our land
Hajia Hadiza Mohammed writes from London, United Kingdom