By: Waheed Ogunjobi
From all indications, the Federal government, in line with the global trends may consider systematic reopening of the economy or better put further easing of the lockdown that will ensure that everyone finally breath air of freedom after about two months phased lockdown. Thus, any time soon, the hitherto prostrate economy may be alive and kicking, while the deadly Coronavirus yet remain with us.
President Muhammadu Buhari in some of his numerous Broadcast to the nation and later through the Chairman Presidential Task Force who doubles as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha had repeatedly said that the Federal government will consider gradual and phased ease of the lockdown and it is expected that there will be a reappraisal of the current situation. Perhaps in anticipation of this move, some states of the Federation have already gone a step further with the reopening of religious places, especially in the Northern parts of the country, while still in the middle of the crisis.
Why should Nigeria consider a return to economic activities at this critical period, especially when only a fraction of her burgeoning population had only get tested? Could it be justifiably said that the country had achieved appreciable daily drop in the number of death or new infections as it is the case in other parts of the world, thereby flattening the curve ? Far from it . But, the answer to this poser is not far-fetched. Nigeria is known to follow international trends and protocol, even when the circumstances may not be comparable to what is obtainable at home and thus it is expected that as the world moves in the direction of lockdown ease, Nigeria must soon follow suit.
From the current global reality, at t least, some countries where the virus had left its ugly trails have started opening up the economy. Taking stock of the global situation, two of Europe worst hit countries considered as epicenters at a time after Wuhan in China where the virus recorded its first noticeable outbreak have begun careful process of reopening their societies. Needless emphasizing that Wuhan and the entire Hubei province had since gone back to normal activities.
For instance, Italy where more than 31,000 people died with over 225,000 infections as at press time and was at a time named as the epicenter of the pandemic after Wuhan in China had since announced a systematic ease of lockdown; In Spain, where 277,719 cases of Covid-19 and nearly 28,000 deaths as have been confirmed, adults were allowed back on to the street to exercise for the first time in seven weeks last weekend. Even in the United States of America, with over 1.5 Million infections and nearly a 100,00 death considered as the new epicenter after China and Europe breathe air of relieve is not all that favorably disposed to the idea of perpetual lockdown of the economy especially if this statement by its President, Mr. Donald Trump is anything to go by ‘’ This is a big moment in our history because we are opening up our country again. People are coming out, they are starting to go around and see what’s happening, they have been short of shut down as the expression goes, but we are opening up our country. People want our country to open up’’. Trump was quoted as saying in a Video message released by the White House recently.
Without necessarily taking the Nigerian government to the firing squad, it is indeed time to move on. We cannot afford to keep the economy in perpetual lockdown for fear of a virus that defied cure and has refused to show signs of abating. Life must go on!. Already, incalculable damages have been done to the economy and the body polity. The government is almost reaching its elastic limit in terms of loan acquisition, especially with the recent swat of loans from the International Monetary Funds (IMF), the World bank and the likes to fight the pandemic, yet the shape of things to come looks gloomy. Lagos State, arguably the most viable state in the country has reported 30% decline in Internally Generated Revenue projection. Many states have been grounded and adopting various austerity measures to keep afloat as the two major sources of their income, the Federal Allocation and the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) are badly hit. The private sector is in comatose. Jobs are being lost as employer’s device various back door strategies to ease out workers. Many people currently observing the current mandatory sit-at- home and had barely managed to feed are not sure of returning to the places where they normally earned their living even after the lockdown. The future looks gloomy. What then, do we do at a time like this?
One statement that captures my attention as we entertain divergent views whether to reopen the economy or not is the repeated message being echoed by the government to the populace indicating that soon, our destinies will b in our hands. Are our destinies really in our hands? Let us jointly take a trip.
Going by the experience during the ease of lockdown, majority of our people have not adhered to the protocols and guidelines by health officials. Most members of the public at the slightest opportunity still go about their normal business activities with reckless abandon, as if nothing was amiss. The rules of social or physical distancing as it were in public places are being flagrantly abused. As a matter of urgency, we have to learn to live with the virus and keep ourselves and family safe. The ball is now in our court.
Matter of factly, part of the strategies of beating the odds is to learn to adapt to the new normal. What is the new normal? The new normal was the type of life we all adapted to wittingly or unwittingly during the novel lockdown. We suddenly have a resurgence of online learning with the system being perfected daily. Majority of our people who seems to have covenant with the banking hall now device other means of accessing funds especially through online exchange. The neighborhood paga business spiked at this time. Can we also forget in a jiffy how business meeting, training, talks, seminars, workshop and what have you suddenly gone online through the Zoom app, Microsoft Team and the likes. Indeed, Zoom had become an integral part of our new normal.
But then, let’s take a pause, now that the only available option seems to be that of reopening the economy, whether gradually or fully, are we going to out rightly jettison all of these initiatives and quickly return to our normal ways of life? Are we going to suddenly forget about our new found hygiene of constant hand washing and the usual rubbing of hand sanitizers? No. it is not time yet for us to abandon the new normal! We have to now adopt a hybrid lifestyle if we must survive this critical period. We have to learn to live in a way that will safeguard our lives by adhering to the guidelines and safety protocol without necessarily being prodded. We have learnt about the situation in places like France in Europe where there were spikes in new infections shortly after the ease of lockdown. With the current figure of new infections on the rise daily, we have to jointly contribute to flattening the curve so to say. The responsibility is no longer solely that of government, it is a joint and collective effort.
The Federal government had subtly told companies and business premises to use the period of the two week lockdown extension which is gradually palling out to prepare for reopening. In Lagos State, the Incident Commander, Babajide Sanwoolu as characteristic of his leading strides has listed conditions for businesses and Churches to reopen, part of which is the mandatory filling of a Register- to-Open, inspection of business facilities by government officials, visitation to religious places to monitor compliance, hospitality, events , entertainment centers and malls to re-register, banks to give the elderly preferences between 9am and 10.30am while above all is that the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) will communicate with all businesses and monitor compliance. The reality however is that while the Federal Government is expected to announce its own guidelines of reopening the economy soon, many states will naturally follow the Lagos course. So, the economy is itching towards being reopened, there are no two ways about it.
A medical expert had advised that part of the way to beat the virus as the economy reopens is to limit our outings to places that are extremely necessary. Just like only the essential workers were allowed to move about during the lockdown, we must begin to take stock and live our lives to fit into that fold, by ensuring that we limit our outings to the essentials. There is virtually no need for long distance travel in the name of attending parties. We must review our attendance at Owambes if there would still be something like Owambes. The essentials of our lives would be to go to work, visit the market to get food supplies and return home to relax. We must learn to live by this new normal, it is not a choice, it is a must!
In all of these contraptions and expected reopening of the economy, the one that kept me worried is about reopening of schools. How do we deal with the kids who can barely distinguish the right from the left hands? As government is expected to dish out new measures and guidelines of operations for businesses to return to work, are we going to compel schools for instance to eliminate free period or perhaps cancel break time to limit the rate of physical distancing? Would it be enough to ask schools and businesses to provide hand washing utensils and hand sanitizers in addition to compulsory use of face masks? This is a critical moment indeed, because once a child who does not understand the language of physical distancing is caught in the web, the entire family is as good as infected; once a child is infected in a school for instance, the entire school becomes a potential danger. How do we deal with all of these? Schools in the interest of themselves and their pupils must therefore device different strategies to beat the odds.
Giving the delicate nature of the environment and majority of what we have espoused earlier, many pundits have nursed the feelings that schools would probably be the last place to be reopened. But then, the wheel of the society must be kept running. Our children cannot be kept at home in perpetuity, yet we must all rise to the occasion by keeping close watch on the children. If need be, any child that attended school must be made to take a shower before mingling with the rest of the family, or how really do we go about this ? Our destinies are really in our hands and the steps we take in the coming months will determine the shape of things to come. May God help us all to defeat the deadly Coronavirus ravaging the whole of mankind.
Waheed Ogunjobi, a Public Affairs Analyst writes from Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital and can be reached via email@example.com or 08035004741.