There is no problem being faced by Nigeria as a country today that another nation has not witnessed before or currently facing. The weaknesses in the country’s systems owe mainly to the poor governance structure and poor leadership decisions. The Coronavirus, COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria is showing how weak our systems are, and what the direction of discussion Nigerians need follow.
The COVID-19 outbreak is something the world has not seen before, at least since 1918. It is exposing the vulnerabilities of many countries including advanced economies like Italy and the United States. Italy; the most hit country so far in terms of fatality rate has 132,547 confirmed cases of the virus and 16,523 deaths. Though Italy is a country with one of the aged populations in the world second only to Japan, yet its response to the outbreak was not prompt enough which overstretches its medical infrastructure.
The United States with a similar experience has over 367,004 confirmed cases and 10,871 deaths from the virus as of today. New York which happens to be the epicentre for the country is calling for help in terms of more health workers and medical supplies.
Back home in Nigeria, we all know, apart from many individuals in government who always give the wrong impressions about the realities on ground in the country in term of how bad our health system. Nigeria is rank first in health tourism owing to its level of patronage of foreign medical services which includes President Mohammadu Buhari.
But with this outbreak and the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria, coupled with the fact that most countries of the world are overwhelmed with magnitudes of medical needs arising from the spread of the virus. Nigerian bigmen has nowhere to run to for medical treatment.
COVID-19 testing: NCDC and Akwa Ibom
The disagreement between the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control, NCDC and the Akwa Ibom state government over the testing results and the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state is something that should have not come up in the first place if we are running a system that is transparent enough for all stakeholders to have access to the same information or we are operating true federalism. What stops states in Nigeria from conducting the test? And if not, why are they not involved in all processes of conducting test?
As a health official of the state said, the test results of five confirmed cases were news to them. That is to say, they are not involved in the process of carrying out the test. It is a fact that states do not have what it takes to carry out COVID-19 tests before the outbreak. But that does not stop NCDC from being transparent in its operations.
A health system that works in synergy with all tier of government and other stakeholders in the sector is what can deliver quality health service especially in a pandemic time like this.
Nigerian governments should know that there are things that do not worth playing politics with. One such is the healthcare system. Our politicians should make sure that our health system works.
Other medical issues in terms of bringing personnel from China and seeking for help from Elon Musk are not something to be at the centre of our arguments. Rather, Nigeria should use the pandemic to highlight our shortcomings in term of emergency preparedness and healthcare service delivery. And at the same time start the correction of the anomalies in our disaster and health management system to avoid future failures.
COVID-19 lockdown stimulus
We wake up almost every day to one intervention either from federal or state government since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria. The whole thing in term of designing and giving stimulus packages to Nigerians look unrealistic and poor. Citizens do not trust politicians’ motives behind COVID-19 palliatives. Still, politicians are using the pandemic to advance their stomach infrastructure idealogy.
The latest is the federal government announcement to engage 774,000 Nigerians. The minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed disclosed this to Nigerians yesterday.
It is not a bad thing for the government to come up with intervention in this unprecedented time. However, on what bases are all the interventions are going to work? Is it on the economic structure that is a shadow of itself? Or, is it on an ill-governance standard that is ever non-transparent?
No doubt that nations all over the world are coming up with one economic stimulus or another. But most of those countries have systems that work. Nigeria has data collecting agencies, yet they are not synergizing enough to help in identifying citizens accurately.
Then the government decides to share N20,000 to 2.6 million poor Nigerians. Poor Nigerians in this sense are those listed in the National Register for poor people. The truth of the matter is that every government action in this regard is on assumption and false claims.
COVID-19 lockdown and National Social Registry
According to the National Social Registry, 2,644,495 households are poor and vulnerable in 453 LGAs. These figures are the latest release by the National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office. I believe no one is doubting this number of poor household in the country. As a matter of fact, we have more than double this figure. See a tweet below:
Here’s the status of the National Social Registry (NSR) as at 31st March 2020. @NigeriaGov through the @FMHDSD is strategically targeting poor & vulnerable Nigerians using the NSR with palliatives to lesson the impact of measures taken to curb #COVID19Nigeria pic.twitter.com/3fLWEJnJyk— NASSCO Nigeria (@NasscoNigeria) March 31, 2020
However, the unclear thing about the figure is how did the coordinating agency arrive at this figure. As at mid of October 2019 the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, announced a government plan to develop a unified register for the poor. In less than five months after the announcement, we now have over 2.6m households in the register.
Data is not just data. If its reliability and validity are compromised, then it becomes useless for measurement. The coordinating agency does not have a website to displace its works and processes. It only shares results through its social media platforms. This is unacceptable for sustainable development and for achieving effective palliatives for COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria.
Building strong institutions that produce good systems take time. In Nigeria, it seems our leaders do not desire the country to follow the path of sustainability. Business, as usual, will make Nigeria remain world poverty capital.
The kind of cash transfer the government is carrying out will not reduce poverty incidence in the country. Though economics tells us that consumptions increase growth but sustainable development asks what kind of growth are we generating. Let all governments in Nigeria know that Almajiri kind of social intervention will not help the people and even the politicians.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria is exposing the weaknesses in the country’s public system. The virus outbreak containment might not be a major problem for Nigeria but conditions it put average citizens are worst than the outbreak itself.
There is no way to prepare for an emergency or to develop an impactful programme without having a solid database. The data managing agencies of the government should rapidly synergise to form a comprehensive national database. More importantly, the federal government needs to conduct a nationwide census. With these, a foundation is laid for serious development business.
Furthermore, palliatives should target the right people. Aged people who are dependents on their younger relatives should be prioritised ahead of young people. In addition, politicians should desist from using the relief items as a publicity stunt. However, they should focus on how to sustainably pull Nigerians out of poverty.