Professor Jaja Nwanegbo has said that the greatest impact of the Corona virus pandemic will be on the economy. The Professor of Governance and Comparative Politics, Federal University, Wukari in this interview, speaks on various issues.
What are your thoughts on COVID-19?
By what I have read since the emergence of the novel virus, I can say that it is a virus that attacks the human system, especially the respiratory system and some other vital organs of human body. I have also seen that pandemics such as this have occurred (at least as history can tell us) for two earlier times in the past two hundred years with each one hundred years experiencing one. Therefore, as they have come and gone before, so shall this and I pray that this (COVID-19) should have a lesser mortality rate and would be easier managed than the previous ones with improvement in the science of medicine.
What are its implications on Nigeria’s economy with only one major source of economy?
This is actually where I expect to see its greatest impact in Nigeria; the economy. I want to look at it from these two dimensions: Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nigerian economy is supported from three major sources: oil (which constitutes the highest percentage of the total annual earning), Custom Duties and Tax income from the Federal Inland Revenue. All these major sources of income are being affected by the pandemic. As we can observe, the oil economy, even though had started experiencing problems before the advent of the pandemic, is badly hit. The price became very unstable and indeed went very low and still declining as the energy consumption in the world is reduced to the barest minimum. The second source which is import and exercise duty is not spared. Indeed, both from the countries where the goods are imported from and the people and companies doing the importation, all are hiding. I may not know the actual record of the standing of that source in this first quarter of 2020 but I should believe that it must have gone down too. With the closure of most companies and with government announcing palliatives which could affect even the tax income, that source would no doubt be affected too. Cumulatively therefore from this first source of fund to the federation, lots of negative effects are expected and of course noticed already.
The second part considers the effect on the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This group which occupies the central part of any country’s economy is completely crippled. Think of the whole enterprise you know or see around you and consider their situations now. With them going down, even if the oil price increases to the magnitude of the boom, it will still need years to return to its previous state. The situation unfortunately, will continue going down as the days go by if the viral effect is not controlled early for people to return to their businesses.
What are your suggestions as to the way forward and what can the government and the people do to prepare and avert the dangers ahead?
It is really difficult to make one specific prescription at this level as things are still going bad. I think that what the government will do is to start a process of re-thinking the orientation of businesses in Nigeria. Committees need to be charged with the responsibility to start thinking into the best kind of economy we would want to have after the pandemics, the method of putting that in place and making it work. Looking at the situation of things, we may need to completely redesign the country’s economy. This will be difficult but it may not be a bad idea all the same as this has afforded Nigeria the opportunity to start something new and chart a new course in the country’s economy.
What’s your evaluation of the palliative measures provided by Nigeria compared to what other countries are doing? Do you think they are doing enough? What should they do?
The situation of the country is quite different from some of the countries we are comparing them with. Some of these Western countries had established welfare systems already and had designed methods and sources that sustain them within their economy. What is happening in the world would, at best increase their commitment in that area. The Nigerian state did not have a template for social services and that makes it difficult for them to do something that would fit into what the other parts of the world (especially the Western states) have done. This though will provide the country the opportunity to initiate something. We therefore cannot make comparison. Nigeria is large and also very highly populated with poor record; we need to consider all these in judging Nigerian state.
In specific terms and without prejudice to the above, I will still say that the state has not done enough to provide succor to the people. People are actually hungry and are suffering this time much than before as they are not doing even the little thing that sustains them. But I must say that this is not about the Federal Government. Much is expected from the state and local governments in providing for the people. This is the period to use the security votes of the state governors and their colleagues at the lower level of governance.
I also feel that under this condition, the funds made available by well meaning, well off members of the society should be channeled towards providing for the people. The government should be able to fund the treatments and equipment for fighting COVID-19. These in my opinion are the few ways they can improve on the people’s condition and get their full support in this fight and trying time now. A hungry man, they say, is an angry man and that is why responses of the people are low in this period of lockdown.
What are your views about the antagonism between, Federal Government, a helicopter service company and River State? Does the state have the right to act the way they did?
That conflict is quite unfortunate. In my view, the antagonism is uncalled for, at least not at this time. The Airport environment is no doubt a Federal space that exists within a state. The state government ought not to have gone in there for such operation without clearance from the Federal Government. Intergovernmental relation has its methods of operation and that is what makes the security situation in successful federations and countries to look seamless. It is the lack of such order that created the antagonism.
But again, when I listened to the Governor of River State talk about the support the Federal Government gives to Lagos State in this fight against COVID-19, I was taken aback. I felt sad with the words of the governor and it was clear that such governor cannot exist in a decent intergovernmental relationship with another. Describing the assistance to Lagos state as politics when the cases in Lagos at that time constituted over 60 per cent of the entire cases in the country was not in a good spirit. Lagos received all those cases as a gateway to the country and therefore could be seen as managing the entire country’s problem and yet the governor expected the Federal Government to bring out money and share between Lagos and Rivers (with one case) because (as he said) the money comes from the South-South was not in good spirit, at least not at this time. When considering that disposition, the reason for the heightened situation became obvious. I will leave it at that.
What do you think about 2023 presidential elections, do you think there are reasons it should be left for a particular region?
Honestly, lots of problems come with such pattern of negotiating political power. Unfortunately, that appears to have become the process in Nigeria. As much as I am not an apostle of that, but having been elevated into the political norm, then I will say yes, the rotation should continue. With it, of the major ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, it is the Igbo of the South East that are remaining to produce the president of Nigeria.
Are there constitutional provisions for zoning or balancing distribution of power in Nigeria?
Just in the line with my response to your last question, the answer is no. It has become, just as some scholars have established, very necessary to ensure balance and avoid dominance in a polity. Again, the kind of contest that is associated with not having such regulation in a disordered country like ours can generate bitterness that can destroy the foundation of the union. But by the way, if the constitution can contain clauses for representation in the public service and the political cabinets and appointments, then rotation, zoning or balancing of power becomes implied. However, we need to note that if the flavor of governance, as it is in some other multi-ethnic but coalesced nations is such that is broad based in orientation, not the usual ‘me, I, myself and my ethnic group’, it would not be necessary making such arrangement. The zoning or rotation arrangement is an acceptance of the failure of governance and integration in Nigeria. That is it.
What are your thoughts about Igbo Presidency?
Well, I am an optimist and I am looking at the clamour for Igbo presidency with cautious optimism.
Do you think that Nigeria is better together as it is now or will regions be allowed to grow at their own pace?
This question will receive a response in affirmation from any political scientist, like me. It is embedded in our understanding of what federalism should be. A federal system should be a union of independent but coordinate states. In other words, the states should be free to grow at their own pace; grow their infrastructure, grow their economy, their internal security, etc. That indeed is what is required to grow the country. Look at California in USA, Catalonia in Spain, etc. That is the hallmark of federalism. I would therefore answer in affirmative that I will like regions to grow at their pace as they did under the 1954 federal constitution of Nigeria.
Why do all the political parties in Nigeria appear to be the same, as there are no clearly defined political ideology? Or do they have?
Like you said, they do not have defined and distinct ideologies. The reason is because they did not emerge or grow under known and distinct conditions like their counter-parts in Western Europe and North America, like the original ANC in South Africa, etc. Most of them emerged from the greed to acquire power and the need to just have their own political party and participate in the political process. They are not rooted on the foundation that could make them evolve along ideological lines. That is why ‘political nomadism’ is the order in the country. They cannot manifest different belief system because they are products of the defendants same arrangement, constituted by the same people and pursuing the same course through the same method.
Put word as your reaction to the extension of the lockdown
Well, the reactions by some people against the extension of the lockdown did not come as a surprise. First, as I earlier said, we are not used to this and are not prepared for it. We neither have an arrangement for managing the occasioned hardship, nor have we the enormity of resources required to tackle such emergency social service provision. The data base of people that would need supports at all times is not there and I tell you that if Nigerian state announces today that they want to provide (‘sufficiently’) for those that need it, every Nigerian will file out for it in different names and demand such support from different sources. That lays a foundation for the difficulties in providing for the people.
Secondly, and following from the above, most people are suffering as a greater percentage of the population in the streets in Nigeria earn their daily meals per day and they are currently trapped and are not being provided for. Again, being aware of the billions of Naira donated for COVID-19 support and receiving one loaf of bread and one cup of rice or garri (if that report was correct), for those that were lucky to receive at all, the people felt that they were being cheated by the state. Sending them back in-doors again when they had endured two weeks of such untold hardship and expected that an end had come only to be disappointed by the announcement of extension was a bitter pill to swallow. So the reaction was anticipated.
My advice is that we all have parts to play in this fight. People should endure more and government should quickly meet people at their points of need. Security operatives implementing the directives also need to be professional enough to understand the people’s challenges. If we handle the people carefully, with provisions (however little), with information, with understanding, their neighbourhood watch will implement the lockdown order without conflicts with the people. That is my take to it.