At the turn of 2020, expectations and economic indicators across many nations showed an improvement in many nations’ economies. Unfortunately, no environmental analysis had foreseen a momentous change that would lock down economies and slow down anticipated growth.
An insight into the global economy with this pandemic indicates that the global economy has entered a recession, with a far more significant impact than the global financial crisis of 2008. Accordingly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated negative growth for many economies; -6.1 per cent for advanced economies, while emerging and developing economies will have -1.0 per cent and -2.2 per cent, respectively, if you exclude China, in addition to the reduction in global income per capita of over 170 countries.
Although this pandemic’s impact is severe on global economies, it is expected to have far-reaching consequences on developing economies such as Nigeria. This is because Nigeria houses more than 60 per cent of poor people; their economies are mostly informal, dependent on commodities with little value addition.
Impact of COVID 19 pandemic on Africa
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Africa’s total lockdown resulted in a $65 billion loss, exposing her economies to several social consequences. Before the pandemic outbreak, there was an incidence of droughts and locusts in Africa. The continent is highly reliant on food sourced externally. The pandemic and supply chain disruptions have only worsened cases such that they created severe food crises and chronic hunger. UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that, as a result of the pandemic, global food insecurity would increase to 265 million people and, by extension, the poverty level in this region.
Many economies in Africa are commodity-based. The shocks of price decline in oil and other commodities worldwide and the attendant consequence of the rise in United States dollars against developing and emerging markets highlights the severity of this impact on such economies. The heavy reliance on oil revenue has grossly affected earnings and triggered shocks in other vital sectors and the government’s fiscal activities. For instance, in Nigeria, British Petroleum (BP) recently posted a massive quarterly loss of about $4.4 billion, which is a sharp contrast to the $2.6 billion profit posted in the same quarter in 2019. This has negative consequences on the capacity of the government to discharge its responsibilities. The conversation about Nigeria’s diversification is more vital than before, particularly with agriculture and its value chains.
COVID 19 issues in Item community and Nigeria as a whole
Nigeria is a country with over 200 million people, with most of the population living in rural areas such as Item community in Abia State. It is reputed as the most populous black nation in Africa. Nigeria’s population is growing at an annual rate of 2.7 per cent and a fertility rate of 36.9 births per 1,000 people. Evidence from both the UN, the National Bureau of Statistics, and PwC shows that Nigeria’s population will be about 264 million in 2030, 333 million in 2040, and 398 million people in 2050. Some of these people will be born in Item community.
Nigeria faces several socio-economic challenges, including poverty, hunger, unemployment, health, and nutrition crises. All of these challenges affect national productivity. In November, Nigeria officially went into its second recession in five years, which experts predicted will be worse than the previous recession of 2015.
According to The Economist, some of the key factors that resulted in this recession are COVID-19 lockdown, rising inflation, which is now double digits due to import restrictions, fall in oil prices, debt, etcetera. Although debt is not limited to Nigeria, policy analysts are concerned about its sustainability, given that about 40 per cent of the budget is used to service such debt, leaving little budget space for investment in critical infrastructures.
Has COVID-19 pandemic any negative impact on Nigeria and Item people in particular?
Yes, what affects Nigeria affects the Item clan in particular. Available evidence shows that the pandemic affected every aspect of our lives, social, economic and environmental. Most of our socio-cultural gatherings were not celebrated with fanfare, as was our practice before the pandemic. Many of our brothers and sisters’ businesses were affected drastically by the lockdown, forcing most to depend on other people. There are other psychological aspects to the lockdown, such as mental health and other people’s health conditions. Interestingly, there are several stories out of this pandemic. From inadequacies to the relationship between motives and poverty, and yet other stories in principle mirrors the impact of public policy, leadership, and commitments in addressing critical social and economic gains in circumstances like this pandemic.
During this period under review, many companies retrenched their staff, many of whom were our people increasing unemployment in Nigeria. We witness this across different sectors of our economy, including the oil and financial sectors.
Is the story different from Abia State? No! According to the NBS Q2 2020 labour force statistics, the Abia State situation is not different from other states. Out of the 1,605,290 labour force population, about 570,609 are unemployed. At the same time, 34.8 per cent are underemployed, that is, people whose skills are underutilized, implying that they earn less of what they are supposed to earn in real value.
There are several consequences of this situation occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and flawed policies.
1. Widespread poverty and hunger – famine
2. Civil disturbance such as #EndSARS and #ENDBADGovernance and its multiplier effects. This protest, which was hijacked after 12/14 days of peaceful protest, led to the destruction of properties in billions of naira.
3. Increase in other social vices such as general insecurity, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping.
4. Financial crimes such as fraud, cyber-crimes, and other sharp practices.
All these may persist, unless we do the needful. Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
We need to ask ourselves fundamental questions: How many of these children are in the Item community in particular? What will be the spillover effect of a similar situation from other communities around us? How do we protect and empower our youthful community to be resilient to the shock of pandemics and other consequences that may follow such situations?
These questions and others are crucial because the people we refuse to make policies that better their lives may return to attack us. One of the ugly lessons out of the #ENDSARs protest is the unspoken class war between the political class and the poor among us. If we do nothing today to check a repeat, many of us may have a sour taste of this class war later.
There is a multidimensional aspect to these problems, and they require integrated solutions. We need to operationalize a system thinking to deal with the consequences of failed Nigeria’s structure and demand for good governance. Item Development Association (IDA) needs to work with all the villages in Item and even beyond to advance and support policies that scale up economic opportunities for our people.
Are there opportunities and lessons for youths from this pandemic?
You probably remember the story of Joshua and Caleb and the Promised Land. The first set of people sent to spy on the land returned with bad news, they saw limitations, but Joshua and Caleb came back inspiring hope. They did possess the land. Although the pandemic affected our world, there are lessons and opportunities for economic empowerment and investment for us as a community, state, and nation.
The first task is to identify economic value areas around the pandemic and see what opportunity(ies) it holds for our community. The data below shows what Nigerians spend their money on significantly during the pandemic and beyond.
The answer we seek is how to curb youth unemployment in our community. I want you to close your eyes for a minute and reflect on man’s basic needs – food, shelter, and clothing. There will always be opportunities in these needs, but it requires much creativity and innovation to succeed.
In recent time, shreds of evidence have shown that there are vast opportunities in the following areas:
1. Information and communication technology, particularly in AI, data mining, etc.
2. Agriculture and agricultural value chain.
4. Fashion and design
5. E-commerce/e-business etc.
Today, opportunities in our environment are limitless, particularly in the food and agricultural sector of our economy. However, available evidence has shown that finance is increasingly mentioned in the context of challenges facing youth empowerment. I want to encourage IDA to work with critical stakeholders in Item and beyond to set up an NGN100 million interest-free loan to empower youths to take advantage of these identified opportunities.
Also, IDA can mobilize resources and set up an entrepreneurship program, where winners will emerge through the competition process and award a cash gift of between NGN500,000 to NGN1 million, depending on the idea(s).
Why do we need to pay attention to food and agricultural innovations?
Today, Nigeria’s population is growing in geometric progression, while food production is growing slowly. Therefore, feeding Nigerians is a big challenge and opportunity for investment. The UN estimated that the world would need about 70% more food to meet the growing population estimated at 9 billion in 2050. What do we do here? Adoption of innovative systems and technologies that guarantee improve productivity. Does it mean we have to be farmers? No. there are several opportunities in agricultural innovations value chains in Nigeria such as digital agriculture, agri-tech, smart farming to value chain and innovations
Within the last four years, investment in agricultural innovation in Africa was estimated at above $19 million, according to PwC. In January, the PwC report said over 82 agri-tech startups are operating across Africa, with more than 60% of these in Nigeria and Kenya. Today, many of these startups provide an avenue for investment, giving returns more than our typical banks offer. We need to encourage our people to adopt modern and improve varieties of crops and adopt modern agricultural practices. Importantly, they must see agriculture as a business. In the words of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the next set of millionaires in Africa will be from the food ecosystem.
What do we do to take advantage of changes in our ecosystem generally?
We need forward-thinking and forward action. We need to be like ndi ocha in thinking and action. As a community, we need to invest in education. Let us ask ourselves, what is the state of public schools in Item clan? Do we have functional laboratories and qualified teachers across the schools? Can we devote resources to have at least two well-equipped science schools in Item in the next two/three years? This is the foundation! Building a house involved several processes, and the foundation is usually ugly but the most crucial phase of the building. You may have noticed; I concentrated on science schools because the world is more than interested in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. To others, can we encourage our children to be actively involved in STEM areas?
We also need to encourage our children through competitive scholarships. Amaba Ukwu, Amaokwe Item, through HRH Eze Osoka Agwu, have a functional scholarship board. During the last scholarship disbursement, I recall Eze Osoka encouraged them to work hard to not end up as an okada generation. There is nothing wrong with okada, but we need more engineers to rethink transportation than street boys.
We need to rethink our food policy as a community and nation. This pandemic revealed several cracks in Nigeria’s food policy at several levels. The general incoherence in several policies practically played out during this pandemic to estimate that Nigeria will face a food crisis in the coming months. We need a comprehensive and coherent food policy with inputs from all relevant stakeholders, particularly smallholder farmers that makeup 80 per cent of all farm holdings in Nigeria.
The #ENDSARs agitation and end bad governance movement have brought to the fore that we need to mainstream our youth in governance. They must be part and parcel of the policy machinery of our community. This may be a learning platform for them to grow into better leaders outside our community. Bringing them closer will help to educate them about our culture – values, and norms. From various communities, there appeared to be a disconnect between the old and the youths. We need to understand the value of engaging with the youth in the challenge and potential change ahead. What we see often is leasers attempt to enact new approaches without seeking to understand others’ perspectives. We can benefit from our shared experiences.
Finally, we need to fix our politics in Nigeria; because every other thing revolves around politics. According to my dear sister, Ms. Arunma Oteh, we all need to develop as individuals and emphasise among the political class these key traits – Character, Courage, Confidence, and Competence. Also, let’s remind ourselves today (particularly the youths of the Item clan) that to succeed in life, we need Uche, Uchu na Egwu Chukwu. This view is the perspective of Chief Osita Chidoka (Ike Obosi).
Remember, the foundation is education. Education is an investment that pay, pays, and uplifts. Ndewo nu.
•Dr. Oteh is Marketing and Agribusiness Management
lecturer, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike