By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Okechukwu Tuesday, said that COVID-19 pandemic has afforded Nigeria the opportunity to prepare ahead of future emergencies.

He said that the current pandemic raving the world may not be the last.

Okechukwu’s assertion was contained in a keynote address themed, “Governance and Development in the COVID-19 Era: Strategies for Breaking the Jinx”, which he presented at an international conference organised by the Department of Public Administration, Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka on Wednesday.

In the speech made available to journalists, the lawmaker representing Aninri/Agwu/Oji River Federal Constituency of Enugu State noted that Nigeria’s inability to cope with the economic, health, and social consequences of the pandemic underscored a perennial state of unpreparedness marked by the absence of good governance and institutions that should support development and buffer the country in moments of crisis.

He said: “One of the fallouts of the pandemic is that it further exposed our vulnerabilities to external shocks such as the fall in crude oil prices. The last time we witnessed a sharp decline in crude oil prices in 2016, our economy slipped into a recession.

“Unfortunately, Nigeria is plagued by the ‘Dutch Disease’ or what Prof. Charles Soludo calls the Lottery Syndrome whereby a nation spends in the spirit of the boom of today without planning for tomorrow.

“We learn nothing and forget nothing – like the Bourbon royals of France. The chicken is now coming home to roost because even though the oil prices are going up, we are unable to reap its benefits due to our inability to meet our OPEC production quota. And since we are spending 98% of our entire revenue on debt servicing, we are left with little option but to keep borrowing from local and foreign lenders”.

Okechuckwu who emphasized the connection between governance and development also bemoaned the decline of Nigeria’s ranking on the Ibrahim Index for African Governance (IIAG).

“Governance is the foundation of development. But out of the 54 African countries measured in 2019, Nigeria ranked 34 with a score of 45.5 points and persistent decline of 1.6 points from 2010. We should be worried that this ranking is with African countries when we pride ourselves as the ‘Giant of Africa’.

“If we do not get it right with governance, we cannot get it right with development because in the broadest sense, the challenge of development is to improve the quality of life – higher incomes, better education, higher standards of health and nutrition, less poverty, cleaner environment, equal opportunities, a more secure society and greater individual freedom.

“Our failure to repeatedly activate governance to save development each time it is threatened by a crisis is the jinx we must break, and public administration is an effective tool we need to do it”, he stated.

To break the jinx, therefore, Okechukwu said the nation must introduce smart legislations, invest in the future, strengthen institutions, reposition the educational system, reform the security sector, and reinvent leadership.

“In moments of crisis, nations scan the horizon to project the trajectory of progress that have been unlocked and leapfrog obstacles to development.

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“During the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War, Biafran engineers and scientists developed several breakthrough inventions, innovations and technologies. Even though they were hastily utilised for the war, most of them could have provided the technological underpinnings of industrial development and advancement after the war and build a competitive advantage for Nigeria. But we failed to invest in that future.

“Today, we are at the cusp of another societal change because COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for us to innovate and go digital. Therefore, we must invest in the future by scaling up investments in the expansion of digital infrastructure, promoting digital transformation and encourage investments in ICT and innovation”.

“We should prime a model of policymaking and programme designing over adhocism, which is reminiscent of being caught napping”.

“For emphasis, we must not misuse the opportunities that this crisis presents the same way we mismanaged the civil war crisis, very much unlike Malaysia and Singapore, which utilised their own crises as springboards to launch forward.

“We must also seek to maximise the opportunities presented by the oil and energy crisis, infrastructural crisis, employment crisis, and farmers/herders clashes, among others.

“The choice is ours to either find solutions or weaponise them against one another. But my stand is that we should see the present challenges as a takeoff moment.

“The United Nations projects that Nigeria’s population will double in 2050, which is now less than 30 years away. Let us remember that our land mass will not increase to accommodate 411 million people.

“It is, therefore, important that public administration focuses on issues of national development in a very thoughtful and pragmatic manner”, he said.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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