Worried by the ravaging strength of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National leader of All Progressive Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has issued a wake-up call to the government both at the state and federal levels to step up action and prepare wisely if they must overcome the disease.
He warned that not only is the Coronavirus a health and medical problem, but would also bring heavy economic costs.
The former governor of Lagos State who used this as his birthday message today harped on the danger ahead, urging Nigerians to unite despite tribe and religion, but with adequate preparation by all to subdue the rampaging plague.
Tinubu who in the past 11 years has celebrated his birthdays with a colloquium where the best and brightest minds gather to dissect and explore weighty issues of the day to find solutions, said the threat of Coronavirus obligated organizers to postpone the event.
“We did not want a large number of people gathered in a relatively compact physical space. This was a decision well taken,” he noted.
Speaking on the danger at the moment and the need for the right attitude among Nigerians, he said: “We have entered a sobering period. We face a challenge we cannot see, but one that can find us all too easily. As individuals, this puts every one of us at a startling disadvantage. Each is rendered vulnerable by the reckless act of his neighbour. Each is made safer by the enlightened conduct of a stranger. The very nature of this assailant calls us toward greater unity and kindness.”
According to the astute politician, “in the normal push of our daily affairs, we tend to focus on what divides us. We are either APC, PDP or another political affiliation. One person is rich. Another is poor. There is the labourer then there is the boss. One person is of the North, another of the South, with both often acting as if the boundary between the two cannot be traversed.
“We are of different ethnic groups; these identities mean so much to us that we behave as if the affiliations are the very source of our humanity. In this, we tend to forget God. Even when we worship God, we divide ourselves in ways that too often bring violence to a way of life meant to bring peace and compassion.”
He, therefore, called on the government and Nigerians to take drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, which devastated even developed countries, advising that Nigerians should obey social safety and distancing techniques.
“China and other Asian nations took drastic, wholesale action to thwart the viral spread. North America and Europe initially took small steps against the virus. Those did not work. Now, they are fast implementing lockdowns of whole cities and closures of key segments of their economies.
“We must be prepared to do the same, though it is alien to our communal culture and way of life. Let us be frank. The public health care systems of developed nations have been overwhelmed by this virus. They are running out of equipment and healthy doctors.
“Our public health care system is much smaller and less equipped than those in Europe and North America. We cannot afford to put undue pressure on our system because it cannot bear the great weight of a pandemic. Thus, it is incumbent on us to thoroughly implement and obey social safety and distancing techniques so that we halt the spread of the disease and keep hospitalization to the barest possible minimum,” he advised.
He asked Nigerians to cast aside the myth that COVID-19 is not a black man’s disease and that it cannot survive in Africa’s weather.
“We must cast aside the myths that we have comforted ourselves with these past weeks. We told ourselves this was not a black man’s disease. We took false comfort in this self-deception. Well, black people have contracted the ailment; black people have also died from it. We hoped that our hot climate would bake and destroy the virus.
“That wish now appears too optimistic. We even said our history in dealing with malaria and other tropical diseases granted us some type of immunity. Well, I doubt that immunity exists as there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim. If such immunity exists, it is at most incomplete and so unreliable as to be of no avail to large segments of our population,” he said.
As expected, he listed a few preliminary economic actions that should be considered should COVID-19 threaten the nation’s economy.
“There is a need to maintain government expenditure. The natural instinct will be to reduce spending. Such reductions may be prudent for individuals and households. For government to move in this direction only feeds economic carnage by amplifying economic hardship. Prudent fiscal policy is generally ‘countercyclical.’ As the private sector shrinks, the government does more.
“At a minimum, the Federal Government must stick to its naira budgetary expenditures. The government should increase naira expenditures by at least 10 – 15 per cent during an emergency.
“Concerning government projects, if the virus is largely kept from becoming a widespread public health menace, government should accelerate spending and actual work on key infrastructural projects particularly regarding transportation. This will lower costs while bolstering the economy by generating employment and business activity. If the virus does become a large-scale public health challenge, more funds should be allocated to the health sector.
“There may be a need for tax reduction. The government should announce a tax credit or partial tax reduction for companies or firms. VAT should be suspended for the next two-four months. This will help lower import costs and protect against shortages.
“There is need for food security. We need to protect people from food shortages and high prices. As such, we must quickly improve farm-to-market delivery of agricultural produce. Also, government should initiate a crash programme to decrease spoilage of agricultural produce by the construction of storage facilities in local marketplaces in and around major cities and towns throughout the country. We must establish a strategic grain reserve. The government should help ensure supply by establishing a minimum premium price for certain food products.”
Other measures include: lowering interest rates by the CBN, quantitative easing where the CBN and other financial regulators should be alert to signs of fragility in the financial markets and banking sector, debt suspension by government and increased stipends to the poor, among others.