COVID-19 response: Medium and long term recommendations – Part 3
Accordingly, we can begin a review of the Lockdown to in the short term:
relieve the populace of the pressure associated with the inability to engage in economic, social, recreational activities, relieve Government the burden of unsustainable disbursement of an endless list of palliatives that will never satisfy the populace, allow the economy to start to breathe, allow agricultural activities to resume and thereby foster urban to rural migration, and restore the society to near normalcy.
The way forward in the immediate term is to lift the Lockdown in phased spatial mode to allow:
full agricultural activities in the rural communities, and foster rural to urban migration segmented trading by the urban low-income earners in the informal sector, opening up of services and retails in the urban areas etc. and commencement of all other activities relating to commerce, manufacturing etc BUT excluding, in the meantime, the opening of educational institutions at the Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary school levels. (The exclusion of schools is to first allow observation of what would happen in the older population who can better show the symptoms before schools can be opened).
In all cases, the wearing of protective masks should be made COMPULSORY for whoever is stepping out of their houses to the streets. Additionally, social distancing would, as much as possible, need to be observed in the commercial areas and public offices.
There is a need to Ramp up the testing capacity. It is noteworthy that the country is working on increasing the number of Testing Centers but there are two major challenges – availability of testing kits and the logistics of transporting samples that the PTF would need to overcome.
Charting the way forward after fully lifting the lockdown
Our Immediate to Medium Term Strategies
We should begin a Trial Run of the National ID database to determine its feasibility in distributing palliatives;
Access the role that BVN can play in conjunction with the National ID database, in some selected States if not the entire federation, since these two are linked;
Sponsor a team of active virologists/researchers for a Study Visit to, for example, Senegal for peer review of the Testing Kit that they have come up with; Identify strategically located health facilities in the country which can be upgraded to Centers of Excellence for the Management of Diseases of both clinical and public health importance;
Identify at least 2 or 3 Virology Laboratories which can be saddled with the responsibility of manufacturing Test Kits and antibodies, with one of them possibly being funded to become the ECOWAS Laboratory for the West African Economic block;
Medium to Long Term Strategies
The ramification of its on-going impact on every sector of human endeavor has already led many to the justifiable conclusion that the global economy is not going to be same again. The evidence is staring us in the face; the earlier we recognize it and swing into action the better for us.
Think about it:
Ebola speaks to our hygiene while HIV and AIDS speaks to our unprotected sexual behavior and/or unhygienic use of invasive instruments like needles, surgical materials or barbing equipment;
Covid-19, on the other hand, is attacking socialization, communal living etc which are the very essence of our humanity. Every facet of human endeavor is going to be affected, some by direct impact others by the way we deploy our ingenuity to respond to the challenges.
The world would still face more virulent strains of the virus in years to come, natural or man-made, it is a question of time.
Covid-19 is already having an irreversible impact on the world economy and it is going to change the mode of human interaction for a long time to come. The Social distancing prescription is going to dent our psyche. Even if Covid-19 is fully wiped out this year, it will take time for the society to return to our crowd eliciting way of life, whether in social and sports engagements or in travelling.
The National Economic Council (NEC) chaired by the Vice President has set up a Special Committee on Covid-19. The focus of the Committee is “urgent economic solutions that will be beneficial to Nigerians through this pandemic”. It seeks to “coordinate Federal and State governments response as well as develop additional measures to alleviate the challenges being faced by Nigerians because of the implications of the global pandemic on the country”. It appears that, for now, the focus of the Vice-President’s Committee is, to all intents and purposes, to support the President to make the right decisions and to enable him to give further directives in terms of immediate response arising from the recommendations of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation -led Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
It is important that we start to look beyond the preoccupation of our current short-term responses and begin to ponder on what will happen when Covid-19 is finally over. As a nation, we need to start to focus attention on what are we going to put in place to the memory of those who lost their lives across the social strata and especially the frontline professionals in the health care sector who are putting their lives at risk in defence of the populace. Collectively, we need to show that we have learnt some lessons and that those of us who, by the grace of God, have waded through this period is determined to not be caught unawares again so that generations yet unborn will be spared this ordeal? That should be our goal.
This goal, in the face of the realizations listed above, demands that we look beyond the immediate responses prescribed so far to start in earnest to develop medium and long term strategies including the institutional realignment for a governance structure that will give us a stable society and a competitive economy in the post-COVID-19 era.
Our emphasis on infrastructural development in yearly appropriations must recognize Health, Education, Environment, as well as even the intangible issues of Ethics and Values as the bedrock of the sustainability of physical infrastructure of Electricity, Roads, Railways and Aviation that have been taking the bulk of our national budget and priority, and be accorded equal, if not greater, attention.
Air travel has virtually collapsed world-wide, for both international and local travels. Only yesterday the British Airways announce the plan to cut 12,000 jobs. Many others are following suit while some brands are going to go under. Factoring the principle of social physical distancing into air travel will lead to an astronomical rise in the cost of air travels. This has serious decision-making implications across all sectors and for individuals in duties and activities where such mode of travel is the most efficient.
How do we factor social distancing into office layout, and into assembly and meetings?
How do we adjust processes and procedures as well as the spending profile of Governments and organizations to make allowance for non-office space requiring duties while supporting performance under such situations?
Our investment in Road and Niger Bridge construction should elicit the establishment of world-class Referral Hospitals for the treatment of the major communicable and non-communicable diseases (Heart, Kidney, Cancer, Malaria, Tropical Epidemics etc).
The institutional realignment will have to take place and this will affect Government structure. Suddenly, we are beginning to see that a Ministry like the Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is establishing its relevance while Aviation as a Ministry is bound to lose its shine and slide to the background as a component of the Ministry of Transportation.
Similar realignment will be expected to take place to put the reorientation of our values at the center governance to enable it to define, not only the crusade against corruption but the setting of our national priorities. We must go back to the basics and begin to appreciate our cultural values and practices including the lessons of simplicity and moderation preached, not just by our two major religions but even our native religions. Our ostentatious social life styles which we put on display in marriage, funeral ceremonies and the likes will have to change. Such realignment will also have to take place in the private sector.
We are beginning to see the imperative of Strategic Storage Reserve, in sectors hitherto not considered of requiring such attention. Accordingly, strategic storage reserve is not just for food security but for health security as well as for energy security not just in the downstream but especially at the upstream of our petroleum industry. The new realization of our need for strategic storage reserve at the upstream for our crude oil stems from the volume of our country’s losses during the past 4 months arising from our long dependence on direct loading to vessels which while waiting weeks and months-on-end on international waters for buyers do end up attracting huge costs.
Obviously, the way to go is the Dangote approach of adding value to the product through the establishment of refineries. Refineries are what would save our nation from the unnecessary double transportation cost inbuilt in the importation of refined petroleum products made from crude oil that had been previously shipped at cost to the refining country. As my friend Professor Segun Adegbulugbe who is very familiar with the sector has enlightened me, our future as a nation lies in a gas economy. This was proven during this on-going Covid-19 world crisis, where the yoyo tumbles of oil price were not witnessed in the price of gas throughout this period. In his words, “Covid-19 has proved to the world, beyond all doubt, that we are already at the beginning of the end of the oil era”.
Therefore, as a nation, we should quickly develop a Blueprint on how to invest in the other sectors of the economy, especially agriculture and mineral resources with an overarching strategy of a full embrace of their development throughout the entirety of their respective value chains. This is the opportunity begging for the attention of our State Governments, an opportunity that will reduce their dependence on the center and douse the unnecessary tension and insults inherent in the perception that we are all hooked to the monthly handouts from the federal government and therefore at the mercy of the oil-producing communities. Land mass, for which the non-oil producing States are more endowed, is the ultimate resource of any nation or State and the Israeli-Palestinian struggle should convince whoever is in doubt. In the Nigeria of the next 10 years and beyond, land and not oil is going to become the determinant of “Resource Control” label among our State Governors. It is an opportunity that I hope States that are complaining of being disadvantaged in the current revenue sharing formula will seize before it is too late.
In all, we should now see the import of the unsustainable consumption patterns, driven by the mere urge to satisfy want instead of need, and environmental degradation that have manifested in climate change, which the principles of sustainable development have been advocating over the past 30 years that many political leaders have been reluctant to address. Embracing the principles of sustainable development by Governments also involves the appreciation of investment in research and development (R&D) as well as the sustenance and improvement of national assets, especially in the health and environment sectors. Such investment are insurance to our future and the type that in normal situations if they have been sustained, we should be reaping now.
As I said in a paper delivered in1998, “investment in environmental management (to which I will now add health care delivery) should not be viewed as “sunk” money but as viable, current and indispensable insurance against looming disasters, exemplified in such hidden benefits as the healthcare costs saved, natural and man-made disasters avoided, the human and natural resource productivity improved etc, all of which have multiplier effects in the order of magnitude better imagined than suffered”.
In our discussions a few days ago, Dr. Femi Oyewole was able to recall with nostalgia his contributions to the upgrading of the Public Health Laboratory at Yaba at the same time that the Vaccine Production Laboratory was being upgraded in the same vicinity, both of which were commissioned in 1989 and 1992 respectively by Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti as Minister of Health. His joy is that, by sustaining the lab as a diagnostic centre, it is one of the satellite laboratories currently supporting the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) in Lagos. In the same breath, he was forced to note the sad plight of the Vaccine Production Laboratory which in the 80s and 90s was known and respected as the one reliable laboratory that anybody could visit to procure vaccines against yellow fever, rabies and tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this production laboratory currently does not produce any vaccine for humans.
Our Governments at all levels, Federal, State and Local, need to swing to action right now to come up with National Policy and Strategies that will place our respective tiers of Governments in good stead ten years from now so that when the next pandemics arrive we would not only be self-sufficient as to survive it but be able to compete as a nation. That is the lesson that we must learn from Covid-19.
Adegoroye is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary.