Ayo Oyoze Baje
“What we need (for this crisis) is something unusual, it is not business as usual. It is not marginal action. It is radical action’’
– Donald Kaberuka at the Second Edition of UBA Africa Day Conversation.
The hard lessons that the COVID-19 bitter experience has come to teach us as the game changer in the global healthcare delivery system will be here with us for eons. For instance, now we are back to Mother Nature to benefit from the healing herbs. Again, the wise choice of the right types of food items to take to boost our body’s immunity against sundry diseases has become an imperative. The paradigm has also shifted as far as the conduct of our businesses are concerned. The apt application of digital technology to several transactions is on the upswing. Online businesses are booming. If in doubt, ask Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com set to become the world’s first trillionaire!
Nigeria is also compelled to rejuvenate the agriculture sector with the application of modern technological practices. These range from the use of high-tech tillers and harvesters to the supply of herbicides, pesticides as well as high-yielding,disease-resistant and early maturing hybrid seedlings, made available to the rural farmers.
In essence, increase in agricultural produce would not just be to enhance food security but for youth empowerment and increase in export potentials, as it was during the First Republic. The pain and the paradox in all these however, is the inexcusable gap which has persisted between our rich, vast natural resources and the country’s parlous production level.
If we are ever going to take giant strides towards economic growth, we have to look deeply at the root causes of our current woes.For instance, back in 1953 the International Bank Mission to Nigeria had this to say about the factors responsible for the impoverished state of the country.’’Production methods are still primitive, the great majority of the population is illiterate and standards of nutrition, housing and medical care are low. The people are anxious to produce more goods in greater variety;they want to become better educated…
‘’There is lacking however, the supply of technical and managerial skills and the knowledge of the country’s resources necessary to carry out anaccelerated programme of economic development.’’ This is an excerpt from the book titled, ‘Storms on the Niger’ by Mokwugo Okoye.
It is therefore, depressing that 67 years after, the factors listed as having failed to rejuvenate the economy back then are still here with us.If we are still grappling with similar issues as at this day, it is a clear indictment on the leadership class-both military and civilian- that Nigerians have had to contend with over the decades.
The worry, this time around is that the country has to brace up to economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic when it is currently enmeshed in below-the-per Human Development Index (HDI) indices. These include recording the world’s highest extreme poverty level andthe world’s highest number out-of-school children that has thrown up the Almajiri crisis. Othersare the abysmal food and nutrition insecurity and of course, the escalating rate of unemployment, at a time it is contending with a debilitating debt trap!
There is no way that the rich would not have to make huge and impactful sacrifices to move the economy forward, this time around. And that is for their own safety too because a hungry people are an angry bunch. Anger, you know corrodes simple reasoning or call it common sense!
Yes, Tony Elumelu has enjoined Africans that this is not the time for finger pointing but for global collaborations. Truth be told however, our political leaders and those that drive the economy have to think and act differently as Kaberuka has rightly admonished.
To do so, yours truly hereby calls on Nigeria’s political leaders again,to face the reality and do the needful. Firstly, all the political parties should reduce the huge cost of accessing political power in the country, which is the source of corruption. Let leadership be for service of the people instead of the greed-driven political elite. Let the humongous pay packages of politicians in government be drastically scaled down. Let the people stop asking elected politicians for any form of favour, but task them to deliver on their mandates. Let the people remove their elected representatives who violate constitutional provisions using the instrument of the rule of law. In fact, this pandemic has shown us that a drastic reduction in the cost of running government machinery has become a necessity.
So also is the crying need torestructure this cumbersome entity called Nigeria. Only recently, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed was compelledby circumstances to hit the nail right on its head-that the country is too big to be managed as it is being done, by an all- controlling federal centre. The chickens are coming home to roost. If it is the North and its leaders that have been acting as stumbling blocks to the call for restructuring, as alleged, they should realize that they have been shooting themselves in the foot.
Imagine how Zamfara state would have been driving its economy with proceeds from its quantum of gold, how Benue would have been feeding the nation and exporting processed farm products to several countries outside our shores. And what about Kogi state with the Ajaokuta Steel complex, if completed and Nassarawa state with several precious minerals waiting to be tapped?
Restructuring would not only unleash these potentialities but the competitive spirit in us as Nigerians. It would make nonsense of the faulty fiscal policy that has our state governors going cap-in-hand to Abuja for peanuts from the master’s table.
Another means of breathing life into the post COVID-19 economy is reaching down to the grassroots as the George Weah-led governmenthas been doing in Liberia.He had this to say at the recent UBA Conversations.’’ In Liberia, we have been taking measures to ease the burden on vulnerable business in the informal sector by providing small loan assistance to SMEs.’’
Note that he did not add any political colouration, as in some freaky economic climes where loans and palliatives have been politicized. As George Chikoti of ACP rightly noted, the huge task of economic recovery on the continent, at this critical time rests on both the government and the private sector.
As reflected in the book, ‘Elements of Development’, edited by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Prof. Akin Mabogunje (1991) which came as a product of extensive brainstorming by erudite scholars from across the African continent, funding of the health sector is an imperative. ‘’ In an era of dwindling resources …the inability of the state to provide adequate financial and human resources for an effective health care delivery system becomes more acute than ever.’’
Such is the situation Nigeria currently finds itself in. The need for our leaders to think and act outside the box and for effective public private partnerships is now a must, to revive an already comatose economy.
Baje writes from Lagos