Flattening the Curve Of Our Economy’s Ailment, By Uddin Ifeanyi

I must confess that my worst fears about the new coronavirus pandemic have not been borne out. We, clearly, came to the lockdown reluctantly. When, finally, we agreed to it, we went about it as perfunctorily as it was possible to, without looking collectively stupid. Two weeks ago, the lockdown was lifted with a celebration of crowds, that I was so sure we were in for a second round of infections. Unarguably, the trajectory of infections and deaths are still steep. But they remain nowhere near where they should be headed, if the experiences of other places are anything to go by.

We could dwell on possible reasons. The virus evidently prefers cold places and was never going to do as well in tropical Nigeria. Nigeria has a fairly youthful population and so was always going to be spared the carnage that we have seen happen in care-homes in Europe. But across sub-tropic South America, South Asia and South Africa, the virus’ toll has been exacting. And in the U.S., despite its fairly youthful population, the death toll has been as severe as in the worst afflicted parts of Europe. Besides, in both Europe and in the U.S., Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups have come out the worse for the virus.

Add to the fact that there are no conditions native to the African that make her a lot more immune from the virus than other ethnic groups, the fact that our healthcare facilities were far from capable of dealing with the pandemic when it broke out, and you have a riot of questions in search of answers. There is no gainsaying the fact that we have undercounted both infections (and rates of infection) and deaths from the virus. Nor that our paucity of data mean that we have no sense of how many ordinarily die on average in our communities – against which we may measure unexplained new deaths.

Any which way, the one thing that is missing here is anecdotal evidence of a spike in deaths. We do not have communities where hospitals have been struggling with an epidemic of deaths – Kano State aside. Or susurrations of morgues overflowing with dead bodies. Nor of overworked grave-diggers.

Whatever is responsible for our coming off this pandemic in fairly decent fettle so far (until there’s evidence of the contrary, it is hard to argue to strenuously against those who would put it down as further evidence of God’s love for the country), the worst response will be to squander this new lease of life.

Over the next two years, economic outcomes will be unsavoury. In part because the bottom may have permanently fallen off the global oil market. And so, we will struggle to find the money we require to spend our way out of the next depression. But with a more flexible and resilient economy, our chances of riding the global economic storm would have been brighter. Against weakening global demand, there is always 198 million mouths to feed domestically.

But over the years, our policy preferences have been to drive foreign exchange-oriented activity, either by selling more crude oil, or restricting the demand for foreign exchange. Indeed, the underlying arguments about the need to diversify the economy was never about diversifying economic activity. No. it was always about diversifying the sources of foreign exchange earnings.

Time now to build an economy worth that name. Not the autarkic construct that seems currently to be preferred by our policy makers – we have North Korea’s example as potent argument against this path. But one that leans heavily on the most important resource that the Nigerian nation has – its people. To argue that educating our people and keeping them in good health (the only way out of our economic cul-de-sac) is a long-term challenge, is to acknowledge the lack of vision that has plagued our leadership thus far. In terms of its mortality rate, the toll bad leadership has exacted from our people puts SARS-CoV-2’s incidence to shame. Why would it take the virus preventing people from commuting to work before sub-national governments understood the need to do away with their previous insistence on a king’s ransom being paid to lay fibreoptic cables across their territories?

At a much larger level, the challenge posed by the requirement to properly manage the domestic economy is the same. For the most part, get government out of the economy’s face – that way, we may spend scarce public resources providing goods that may be more efficiently provided by a central authority (education, health, defence, policing, diplomatic services). While leaving our respective communities to experiment their ways through the provision of solutions that work. Unfortunately, in the run up to the pandemic, and as part of our response to it, we have seen government balance sheets burgeon as it bludgeoned its way into sectors that it had no business in (rice farming, for example).

About the Author: Uddin Ifeanyi is a journalist manqué and retired civil servant, he can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.

Source: Premium Times

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *