LIKELY EFFECTS OF CORONAVIRUS ON SOCIO-ECONOMIC LIFE OF NIGERIANS

Jide Ojo

On Monday, March 9, 2020, Nigeria’s Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire confirmed the second case of coronavirus infection in Nigeria. This was allegedly from the Italian index case discovered on February 27. I pray fervently that this Covid-19 will not get to epidemic level it has got to in China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. A scary news report yesterday in this newspaper shows that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte issued unprecedented nationwide measures, telling his citizens to “stay home”, banning public gatherings and suspending all sporting events, including Serie A football matches.  France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester also became the latest high-profile official to test positive to the virus.

Recall that Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, as well as 23 Members of Iranian Parliament have been reported to have tested positive to the deadly disease. In fact, as at Monday, March 9, 2020, Iran has recorded a total of 237 deaths. Quoting the AFP, The PUNCH yesterday, March 10, reported that the death toll from the novel coronavirus neared 4,000, with more than 110,000 cases recorded in over 100 countries since the epidemic erupted in December in Wuhan, China.

Tens of millions of people are now said to be in quarantine worldwide but there are fears that the disease will spread further and force several economies into recession. The number of cases in Europe passed 15,000 on Monday as Germany and Canada reported their first coronavirus deaths, but the vast majority of fatalities have been in China, where there are signs the outbreak has peaked. There are mounting concerns that the United States – the world’s largest and most connected economy – could be the next COVID-19 hotspot. At least 22 people have died in the country and the number of cases has passed 500. The WHO reported that 70 percent of the people infected with the virus in China had recovered. This is heartwarming and showed that the virus is not a death sentence after all. The International Monetary Fund called on governments worldwide to join forces and roll out aggressive financial supports, including direct payments to workers and businesses.

In Nigeria, I hope our luck will hold and that we would not have to shut down our schools and put the entire country on a lockdown as the case with Italy. Be that as it may, the country’s economy is already taking a hit with investors in the nation’s stock market losing a whooping N329bn at the end of trading on Monday. This newspaper reported yesterday that the All-Share Index of the Nigerian Stock Exchange dipped by 591 basis points or 2.4 per cent to close at 25,647.54 bps while the market capitalisation of equities depreciated by N329bn from N13.69tn on Friday to N13.365tn as market sentiment remained negative. Thirty-nine companies recorded price depreciation at the close of trading on Monday while only one stock gained.

I am happy with the fact that the president has set up a committee to look at the impact of the coronavirus on the country’s economy. The committee inaugurated last Monday and headed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning; Mrs. Zainab Ahmed is expected to submit its report to the president latest this morning. Already the Federal Government is considering a downward review of the oil benchmark of $57 per barrel in the 2020 budget as oil price fell to about $31 two days ago. Invariably the most reasonable thing to do is to cut the budget. My haunch is that it’s the capital envelope of the budget that will suffer it. This need not be so.

The bloated overhead of the presidency as well as that of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as the National Assembly and the Judiciary should actually be pruned down. The billions of naira earmarked for foreign and local travels, the budget for exotic cars such as the N5bn the House of Representatives wants to use in purchasing 400 units of Toyota Camry 2020 model for its members, the funds budgeted for pilgrimage, welfare, meals and incidentals, as well as purchase of non-essential office equipment should be removed or cut down considerably.

I plead that under no circumstances should the government at all levels fail to pay the N30,000 minimum wage for their workers. This is even the time when workers need to be well resourced to protect themselves against the coronavirus. I should warn Nigerians too to start saving up for eventuality. Imagine, if the country’s situation should get to where people have to stay at home for some time  in self-isolation or under quarantine, how will they fend for themselves? Will government be responsible for their welfare and wellbeing while the period of quarantine lasts?

Again, I have heard government encouraging Nigerians to embrace WASH i.e. water, sanitation and hygiene in order to stave off coronavirus infection. Unfortunately, this is dry season when water is in short supply. So, when health authorities are asking people to use soap and water for upward of 30 seconds, where are they to source the water to be used such generously? Government at all levels may start to ensure emergency water provision to many communities without water.

People have been warned to stay off purchase of used clothes, shoes and other items from Europe and Asia as they may actually have been from those who have contacted Covid-19 or have died of it.  That makes sense. There is an urgent need for strategic communication on this coronavirus so that Nigerians will know what to do and not to do. This should be in all major languages – English, pidgin and the country’s indigenous languages.

Religious leaders especially those involved in anointing and deliverance services need to watch it. Placing hands to pray on the sick may expose them to Covid-19. Though I look forward to the containment of this dreaded disease in Nigeria, I advise people to start reviewing their attendance of parties, picnics and crowded environment that may expose them to this coronavirus. Nigeria’s aviation, entertainment and hospitality sectors should brace up for possible business meltdown.

It is my fervent hope that sooner than later, scientists working on finding a cure for this virus will record breakthrough and save humanity from this plague threatening our collective existence.

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