By Debo Adeniyi
As the global outbreak of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic continues to cause significant health challenges across the world, many countries have been working assiduously in containing it and its challenges with a devastating impact on world economies. No doubt, the natural environment is the biggest gainer in this pandemic era with many factories and businesses closed, combined with fewer cars on the road and fewer planes in the sky, our natural environment is recovering slowly.
We now need to balance the social and economic sustainability while deploying strategies in the transition to the new-normal in sustaining the natural environment in its green and clean state towards a more digitalised and a low-carbon economy.
Sustainability is often conceived as an attempt to balance competing economic, environmental and social priorities. United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, also suggests that sustainable development is a balance between social, environmental, and economic objectives.
Since most countries have implemented some level of lockdown to curtail the spread of the disease, this is having huge adverse effects on businesses. Most industries particularly, airline, retail, financial institutions, sports, tourism and hospitality, oil and gas, and other service-related industries, have been adversely impacted.
In Nigeria, with the huge population of the country in the informal sector and many surviving on daily wages, and the growing existence of Micro, small and medium enterprises, MSMEs, the continued total lockdown will further cripple businesses, accelerate the rate of job loss and increase the level of poverty with the consequential effect of increased insecurity.
I greatly appreciate the health authorities, the healthcare, and other frontline workers, in the race in winning the battle towards saving lives from the wicked hands of the invincible enemy called COVID-19, I also understand the sentiments in advising the government on effective and total lockdown as one of the effective ways in curbing the Coronavirus, they should not also overlook the economic realities that if not addressed swiftly too, may spell doom for the same lives that they have saved.
How do we explain a man that was infected with the Coronavirus disease, admitted at the health facility within the isolation center, received treatments and saved by health workers, only to get home and eventually killed by hunger or depression as a result of job loss? This shows us clearly that the “economy in itself is the sustenance of life”. Hence, balancing the protection of lives with economic interests is paramount at this point.
It is important to note that while businesses remain shutdown and unproductive with attendant mass losses of revenue, overhead costs still remain. Companies will have to struggle in paying rents, salaries, taxes, servicing loans, etc.
Unlike the advanced nations that have made good provisions for the people and businesses via “stimulus Package” with more direct intervention such as direct wage or income support, tax credits or tax deferrals, wage subsidies, short-term work schemes, moratoriums on loan payments and the establishment of a coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where the government pays up to 60% of private-sector salaries until June, as long as workers are not sacked, as exhibited in countries like France, Denmark, UK, etc. so as to reduce the negative impact on businesses and slow the rate of job loss, the US alone has deployed a US$2.2 trillion stimulus package which, The US Senate also just passed a bill for $484 billion “More Small-Business Stimulus”, including a $320 billion “Paycheck Protection Program” to enable small businesses to pay their staff salaries for two months. But what we have witnessed in Nigeria has been highly disappointing and unacceptable.
Evidence has shown that the stimulus package by the federal and state governments in Nigeria are not effective, nor sustainable. The Federal and State Government in Nigeria has no financial or economic capacity to sustain Nigerians for a week lockdown let alone months of lockdowns. Lack of structure and data has also made it difficult for the governments in identifying the targets which are the vulnerable, old, and poor people, etc.
We have also witnessed the politicized and lopsided distribution of the stimulus packages to Nigerians, the youths who constitute the largest population are largely cut-off from the stimulus package. Also, the announced stimulus, to a large extent, has not addressed the critical needs of businesses that will guarantee the sustainability and protection of jobs.
Furthermore, With the present decline in the global oil price, the Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi has warned that States may get zero FAAC Allocations in June. According to him.
“You have seen the difficulty that oil prices are experiencing around the world. So, it is a no-brainer. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that you may not even have N200b to share as FAAC in June. We are talking of June because oil is sold three months ahead. So, the ones that have been sold before now, they have given us that it is not as bad as it is”.
The impact of the above statement is that most states in Nigeria will no longer be able to pay salaries of workers since they largely rely on Federal Allocation. So, the easiest alternative that can save them is internally generated revenue through taxes and other ventures. So, how can you achieve that when the states are in a lockdown situation?
The essence of the lockdown with border closure ordered by the governments means that it will continue to do so with the option of extensions until the time that it has reached a certain satisfactory state that the spread of Covid-19 has been contained, curved, or on the nose-dived. The length of time required for such lockdowns to ensure effectiveness and satisfaction in arresting the spread would make it near impossible in a country like Nigeria where no sustainable palliative in place and where social distancing in most places will remain impracticable.
From the shanties in Makoko and Ajegunle townships to the crowded places like Okokomaiko, Idumota, Idumagbo, Ajangbadi, Akesan, Akowonjo, Alimosho, or Mararaba, Yayan in Abuja/Nasarawa, etc social clustering in only natural and certain in such circumstances as Communal living is not just about culture, it is a matter of economic survival.
If the strategy is to lockdown until infections stop/significantly decline or so, then we might be waiting indefinitely as evident that the four weeks of lockdown only produced a spiraled increase in cases instead of decline. So, there is no evidence that further lockdown will reduce the figures of cases per day with the present social, environmental, and economic realities in our communities.
As widely informed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that a good strategy in curbing the Coronavirus is to improve and accelerate testing and reporting. It has become evident that Nigeria’s Government through NCDC has been moving at a snail pace when it comes to testing.
While a country like Ghana has tested over 100,000 people as of today, Nigeria has only managed to test about 10,918 people from the population of over 200 million people despite the imposition of 4-week lockdown in states like Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja, with many other states following the same route. With the above data and pace, it is clear that there will always be massive under-testing and gross under-reporting. Hence the need to rethink our strategy on the Lockdown order.
Since it is evident that we cannot sustain lockdowns indefinitely or even until the spread stops/declines, I propose a gradual and strategic/systemic relaxed lockdown where the transport sector and businesses should be activated with guidelines and legislations to include compulsory use of Face masks in public places, sanitizers, maintenance of social distancing, increased education and awareness (posters, social media, electronics, and print media, etc), disinfection of all open markets and all public places, a limited number of passengers in public and private transportation and strict enforcement of same, personal hygiene at homes and offices, amongst others.
Lifting of restriction of large gatherings should be in the second phase such as educational, religious, political, and social gatherings, also border lockdown restrictions and full economy restart should follow.
All states and local governments in Nigeria should be mobilized in carrying out the Covid-19 test as soon as possible and governments at all levels should be transparent with accurate data and reporting.
The farming season is on and we must ensure that the farmers get access to fertilizers and other inputs as soon as possible to avoid famine. Lockdowns during the planting season could threaten food security in months ahead and Inflation will shoot up in many cases. The government should also provide a safe, enabling, and secure environment for them in the distribution of their farm produce.
Our western and local/traditional (herbal) medical experts and research institutions should all be mobilized to come up with solutions to cure the Covid-19
It will also be imperative for the government at all levels to be more strategic and transparent in the administration of social welfare and palliatives distribution among the most vulnerable.
Governments at all levels, private sectors, and other stakeholders should embrace sustainable solutions, sources, and begin the journey of transiting to a more digitalized and low-carbon economy.
Once again, I applaud and salute our frontline health workers, other front liners, the governments, Health Authorities at the World, National, State, and Local levels, the Private Sector and other stakeholders towards their efforts in fighting this invincible enemy called Covid-19 into a halt. We are surely in this together.
*Debo Adeniyi is the Executive Director and the Global Sustainability Leader, at the Centre for Global Solutions and Sustainable Development, CENGSSUD.