By Sunny Ikhioya
THE average Nigerian has certain personality traits that are known all over the world. One of these is long-suffering. Nigerians can endure under any condition; they can go through thick and thin to achieve their desired goal. Their patience is elastic and that is why we are where we are today.
The average Nigerian is also very intelligent; it is no surprise that surveys carried out by reputable international bodies have rated Nigerians as the most qualified/professional on the immigrants index in the US and the world. Fareed Zakaria of the CNN confirmed this in one of his programmes. If we are intelligent, rugged and patient, what then is holding Nigeria from becoming one of the best nations in the world? This is food for thought for all our leaders; a country with this quality of human beings, coupled with the resources available in the land, has no reason to be susceptible to every slight shock coming from other parts of the world.
Nigerians are also united when faced with a common challenge. In sports, everyone is a Nigerian, including the Asari Dokubos, Nnamdi Kanus and the Shekaus of this world. After the games, we all withdraw to our respective shells of religion, ethnicity and the like. We were also united in the fight against the Ebola disease; the fight was a matter of life and death and Nigerians confronted it with full determination and succeeded.
If we succeeded with Ebola, we will also be victorious against the corona virus that is causing havoc all over the world today. But the challenge of the corona virus is different from Ebola, in the sense that it is making people to withdraw into their respective shells. The wind of nationalism is blowing across the world and countries are protecting their territories, shutting borders and issuing travel bans to unwanted visitors.
The world as a global village is now under threat and if that happens, only those with the capacity for self-sustenance can survive. The challenge of the corona virus, as it is presently, is not only restricted to the health situation but also, poses serious danger to the economies of nations. This can cause nations to go under, especially nations that are very dependent on foreign imports. Such nations will find it difficult to cope if the challenges of the corona virus continues in this manner.
As we all know, Nigeria is in that category, despite the sweet report that our authorities are presenting to us. If that is not the case, why have the prices of petrol and other products derived from crude oil remained high? We are producing crude oil and the price of crude keeps falling at the international market; it has fallen above the 50 per cent level at the international market, yet we are reducing price at 13 per cent. To whose benefit is this? Whose responsibility is this?
Is this not the right time to totally deregulate the oil sector? Instead of tackling challenges head on, in line with our natural and cultural attributes, our leaders always prefer the easy way out. We always have excuses to give, are never prepared, and at the slightest global crisis, we are left scampering. Why must we depend on the Lagos ports alone for imports? Is that good for our economy? Whose responsibility is it to get this sorted out?
Our federal roads are in deplorable state – forget what Babatunde Fashola is saying- you need to drive through the federal roads to experience it. If you do not have good road network to bring agric products to the towns and cities, how can you resolve the challenge of food sufficiency? We want to promote indigenous production and our legislators are rejecting home-produced vehicles; how do we grow in that sector?
The challenge is not in looking elsewhere, the solution lies with the face in the mirror. The coronavirus challenge is a new one that will test all of our faculties, both the leaders and the led. It is time to have hospitals of international standards; our leaders do not need to go on medical tourism and that will save us scarce foreign exchange. We must prepare and be ready; other countries are already doing that; we must not be left behind.
We should not look at the health sector alone but particularly, we must look at our economy; we will surely survive the coronavirus; but how do we contain the economic effects? According to Neel Kashkari, President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, USA: “Everyone is heading into recession; financial markets do not know how to price risk and investment, we do not know until science puts us through”. That is the picture of the other side of the coronavirus, that of uncertainty; you cannot predict it and so cannot reach a definite conclusion, but we must be ready, no matter what happens. According to Neel, it is better to be over prepared than not meet the demands.
Government has the onerous task of protecting both itself and the people. Neel says “governments must intervene on the side of the people”. It is better for the economy if the workers are retained in their businesses; it is better to keep people employed. So the panicky reaction to the international crude oil price fall should not be a basis for the government to take rash decisions. They must focus on keeping the economy stable, encourage businesses to continue in operation through support interventions, interest free grants and waivers.
Companies must not be allowed to go under because, from projections, the situation will only be for a while; so no panic decision should be taken. It is ironic that China is now opening their economy, while the US and Europe are closing down. Which way is the best for Nigeria? That is the challenge of the people running our economy. It is time to test the Nigerian ruggedness, but our leaders must be sincere with their intentions. First, all plans for foreign loans must be shelved for now as we continue to look inwards. We have the best medical personnel; let us fund our indigenous technology/researches according to our needs; let us take the challenge of necessity being the mother of invention.
Government must use this period to cut cost of running government, at all levels and use the accrued monies to fund indigenous researches, build roads and other infrastructure. The bloated National Assembly expenses must also come down. From now, it must be Nigeria first; all foreign official tours must be cancelled and scarce foreign exchange will be used basically for essentials. It is time for sacrifice making and I know that the Nigerian people can cope, but will the government lead by example?
Ikhioya, a social commentator, wrote via www.southsouthecho.com