By Tinuoye Adekunle Theophilius
Nigerians are justifiably miserable because of the fragile nature of the nation’s security, economy, democracy and governance. 2020 has been particularly difficult due to diverse challenges and changes associated with Covid-19. The coronavirus pandemic seriously jeopardized the livelihoods of Nigerians as a result of the general lockdown, temporary cessation of work, soaring unemployment rates, and permanent closure of restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, airlines, travel agencies, cinemas and primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions and made them fall behind socially, economically, physiologically and psychologically. Women suffered more, a Deloitte survey of 400 working women globally which found that 70% of them had experienced negative disruptions to their career routines, with some fearing it could impact future growth showed that women bore the most dire impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic.
A combination of economic recession, double digit inflation rates, plunging consumer purchasing power, devaluation of the naira and closure of land borders aggravated the already parlous situation of the economy and millions of Nigerians. Nigeria a mono product economy with almost 80% complete dependency on oil is encountering serious challenges. The oil markets have been on a downward t spiral as COVID-19 and the attendant global lockdown has crippled demand leading to serious revenue and income gaps for Government and the organized private sector at large. Consequently, poverty and economic inequality has reached unprecedented levels. For example, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in a study conducted from April to May 2020 revealed that 42 percent of Nigerians lost their jobs due to COVID-19 pandemic. The report also added that 79 percent of households surveyed reported that declining total household income since mid- March. The NBS also reported that food inflation rose by 16 per cent in August 2020 and this was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, fruits, oils and fats and vegetables
The onset of Covid-19 leading to the emergence of newer jobs and skills and the decimation of existing sectors and jobs changed the boundaries of the dynamics of work which is the epicenter of human activities. The open nationwide defiance of covid 19 measures and the lockdown showed that the economy and not the pandemic was the critical issue for Nigerians. This reinforced the thinking that the current government just needed to have shaped meaningful consensus and action in order to effectively direct attention on , design policies and implement measures that can actually ameliorate the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on the economic circumstances of Nigerians. Meanwhile, significant and long overdue labor reforms which would have benefited millions of workers was neither prioritized nor passed leading to the continued abridgment of workers’ rights which compounded the pre and post pandemic situation of Nigerians. The inability to adequately tackle the economic condition of millions of Nigerians- workers and non workers alike during the present era of crises: of variegated shades, makes it imperative to adopt policies that can directly address the needs of Nigerians especially the interests of the many millions of workers and small business owners doting Nigeria’s landscape. The importance of SMEs to Nigeria’s economic development is buttressed by the fact that they account for 96% of businesses and 84% of employment and the pandemic which resulted in massive low turnover , retrenchment of staff and eventual closure of small businesses and shops badly affected Nigerians.
The palpable mismanagement of the economy and worsening economic situation contributed immensely to whittling down the goodwill of President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration. Massive investments in infrastructure and Covid-19 relief for Nigerians would have created millions of decent paying jobs that would set the country on a path to full economic recovery. Full employment policies are the broadest way to increase incomes for the mass of working people.
Government should implement measures to ensure that workers receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work and have the right to organize. These policies would have a material and measurable impact on millions of working families. Conversely, Nigeria must desist from collecting frivolous loans with dubious origin and entering devastating, job-killing trade deals that are detrimental to national progress
This is obviously not the time for Christmas and new year breaks, holidays and or recess for our nation’s executives, legislators and top bureaucrats as the nation and its people face one of the most bleak Christmas and new year in recent times . The onerous task now is to put all hands on deck and kick start the processes of placing the building of a truly workable pan Nigerian economy that will primarily capture the interests of and benefit working people regardless of ethnic, religious, and political differences at the front burner of Nigeria’s economic agenda and policy making . The current crisis is undoubtedly profound especially on the cusp of a second wave , but the present government requires sincere, bold, strong, and public proponent of pro-Nigerian policies and innovative economic approaches that is hinged on deep understanding of the issues at hand, as well as the people, politics, and power dynamics that surround them; and the ability to foster constructive discussions, manage decisions, and support actions that can politically and economically shape Nigeria for the better in view of a very uncertain 2021.
Tinuoye Adekunle Theophilius is a Manpower personnel at Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, Ilorin, Nigeria, and also an external faculty associate at the Global Labour Research Centre, York University, Ontario, Canada.