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Recognising opportunities in COVID-19 crisis

By Martins Oloja
05 April 2020   |   3:51 am
As we are smarting from the surprises and agony of the COVID-19 crisis, I would like to send this word of encouragement to our people: that we need to organise ourselves too...


The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity. (John F. Kennedy)
‘Close scrutiny will show that most crisis situations are opportunities for either advance or stay where you are’. (Maxwell Maltz)
‘Crisis and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage: that they force us to think’ (Jawaharlal Nehru)

As we are smarting from the surprises and agony of the COVID-19 crisis, I would like to send this word of encouragement to our people: that we need to organise ourselves too to think about the opportunities arising from the pandemic. As I often repeat here, this is not again a time of lamentation, which has never been a strategy in any framework. The wonder virus has become a leveller of some sort as we noted last week. The power and business elite got their lesson and message already: trapped by the coronavirus, despite their private jets, the power and the glory from their billions, they have had to face the squalid hospitals in the country. We are all trapped in the rickety elevator they refused to maintain.

Nigeria’s duty bearers, the constituted authorities, who have always been flying over all human development challenges have an opportunity to be remorseful for once. They should invest robustly in the education and health sectors.

And here is the thing, instead of looking for the whereabouts of our absentee leaders at all levels, instead of looking for the locations of some influential ones who are secretly looking for herbal cure, instead of lambasting the years that locusts have eaten, we the young ones should study the many possibilities that are already visible in the virus crisis. I think it is time to study the architecture in the ruins we see now.

First, even small business owners should scrutinise the crisis and grab some lessons provided by the stay-at-home order to see how business operations can be overhauled to cut costs, after all. For instance, this is an opportunity to spot some job schedules that can actually be done from home without jeopardising quality control.

This is a time to see opportunities in digital and social technologies, which can be used to monitor business operations from home. So many managers tried that during this lockdown. It is possible to lock down operations but the brains can’t and should not be locked down at this time. This is a time for investment in more digital literacy as so many things even in the public sector can be done without the motley crowds you find at the government offices. Let’s not get this twisted: I mean here that public sector can be reformed for more efficiency by deploying available digital technology people can use to work even from home as this time has taught us. Let no one begin to cry wolf that someone is suggesting mechanism that may cut jobs, after all. Fear not, that modern senior public officer who cannot still type his or her documents. Note this: there is nothing you can do to stop an idea whose time has come. We have quoted this several times here. All you need to do now is understand the times, invest in yourself, improve yourself and be more digitally literate. Study the repeated warning of Alvin Toffler: don’t be an illiterate of the 21st century who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. The next president of Nigeria, the future governor of your state, the next chief executive of your agency or organisation may not tolerate your analogue status. Be warned. Nigeria after Buhari will definitely not remain the same: may not be locked down. The oracle is speaking now. Listen. Learn. Unlearn. Relearn.

Let’s return to the brass tacks: even public officers in Abuja and the 36 state capitals should begin to identify and listen to the Innocent Chukwumas in the country. The auto manufacturer, Innoson has called on government to challenge him with production of ventilators, that life-saving medical device at this time.

Specifically, the Nigerian auto manufacturer Innoson Motors said last Monday that it was ready to convert its assembly lines to start producing critical medical equipment that may be in short supply as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. A shortage of ventilators and other critical equipment has become a growing concern amidst rising cases of COVID-19 across the world. “Innoson Motors is ready to assist the government in any way we can, including the likability of converting our lines to produce ventilators and other equipment,” Cornel Osigwe, the company’s spokesperson, told newsmen on Monday, citing his discussion with Innocent Chukwuma, the group’s chairman, on the matter.

“But we need the government or other health institutions to place orders, the quantity that may be required before we could take any step,” Mr Osigwe added. The company has requested for N4 billion loan to handle this challenge.

With its disclosure, Innoson has joined a growing list of automobile companies that have expressed intention to repurpose their manufacturing plants to produce medical equipment across the world. General Motors and Rolls Royce, major vehicle manufacturers in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, have publicly disclosed that they could produce ventilators and other equipment. This is an opportunity for experts to discuss with Innoson Motors some possibilities at this time instead of analysing where the company is located. It is a Nigerian company that has been involved in auto assembly we can all see. It is time to freeze politics. Let’s see what the U.S. President is doing in this connection.

While much of the U.S. economy has grounded to a halt because of the coronavirus outbreak, several dozen workers in
orange vests and hard hats were hauling heavy equipment last Sunday at a General Motors plant in Kokomo Industry. According to report, the crew was part of a crash effort to make tens of thousands of ventilators, the life-saving machines that keep critically ill patients breathing. The machines are in desperate demand as hospitals face the prospect of dire shortages. New York State alone may need 30,000 or more. So, President Trump on Friday accused G.M. and its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, of dragging their feet on the project and directed his administration to force the company to make ventilators under a 1950s law. But accounts from five people with knowledge of the automaker’s plans depict an attempt by G.M. and its partner, Ventec Life Systems, a small maker of ventilators, to accelerate production of the devices.

With deaths surging as cases rise, the two companies have moved urgently to find parts, place orders and deploy workers, the people said. Tasks that normally would take weeks or months have been completed in days. The companies expect production to begin in three weeks and the first ventilators to ship before the end of April. These are real job creators just as Innoson too can partner with all these giants to create more jobs in Nigeria. This is the way job creation becomes a reality beyond the temporary conditional cash transfers of #20, 000 to unknown one million out of 200 million Nigerians. The lesson details:

Experts on managing factory production say GM is already making an extraordinary effort for a company that normally isn’t in the business of producing ventilators. On March 19, G.M. began collaborating with Ventec, which normally makes about 200 machines a month, to figure out how to make about 10 times as many in that time. Working through the weekend of March 21 and 22, they hurried to find new suppliers that could provide parts in high volumes, said the five people, who asked not to be named because they fear it would further antagonise Mr. Trump.
Over the weekend, G.M. called in workers to clear out the Kokomo plant, which has been idle because of the outbreak, of machinery previously used to make electrical components for cars. Over the next few days, the automaker and Ventec plan to begin setting up an assembly line. G.M. is already taking applications for the hundreds of jobs. “We continue to work around the clock on our efforts with Ventec,” G.M. said in a statement on Sunday night. “We are working as fast as we can to begin production in Kokomo.” These are possibilities in crisis time. This is not a time to ask the Innosons in Nigeria the colour of their party cards. It is a nation-building, life-saving project by an indigenous company. This is not a time for EFCC to harass Innosons Motors.

Besides, coro-crisis is an opportunity to pay more genuine attention to equipment of hospitals from primary to tertiary levels. This is a time to put pressure on the National Assembly to redirect its N37 billion worth of renovation to equipment of National Hospital, Abuja and the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital. If these hospitals were in good shape, the powerful Chief of Staff to the President Malam Abba Kyari who tested positive to the deadly virus would not have issued a statement disclosing that he was seeking further treatment in Lagos the federal government left 44 years ago. That recourse to Lagos on health grounds at this time speaks volumes to the fact that Abuja is not yet a good capital of the federation. Again, this crisis has further strengthened the point I have been making here about the expediency of paying attention to Lagos as the economic capital of West Africa. Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu appears to be the Nigeria’s acting President at this time. He is the one that the nation hears from daily. Where is the power of Abuja, our Abuja at this time?

What is more, this is a time to take another look at policing at this time. The police and soldiers managing total and partial lockdown have become killers and abusers of rights of our people. Some police officers in Lagos are asking medical personnel to show duty roasters at checkpoints before allowing them to pass, despite ID cards, This is unconscionable. This too, in the main, is an opportunity to ask why our local government functionaries and National Orientation Agency (NOA) officials too have locked down their relevance at this time.