: LEADERSHIP AND SURVIVAL OF CITIZENS BEYOND COVID-19

An Online Paper Presentation on the Summit organized by the Journalists International Forum for Migration (JIFORM), June 6, 2020. Time: 11am

By Pastor Adedeji Adeleye, The, Executive Director, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP) & Media Chair,   OneVoice Coalition, Lagos, Nigeria.

Coronavirus otherwise known as Covid-19, because it broke out on December 31 2019, has become a global pandemic that shook the whole world like a tornado-hurricane with devastating consequences that we are yet to recover from. The ferocious virus began in Wuhan China where Chinese and other nationals who visited Wuhan in December and went back to their different destinations, transported the virus along, infesting 185 countries so far, and within weeks, thousands of people across USA, UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, and many parts of the world were dying in great numbers.

It was discovered that coronavirus was man-made, a biological weapon designed somewhere in New York but its research and study took place in a Wuhan laboratory where the virus leaked into the atmosphere and thousands of people began to die.

There was no immediate solution, no drugs, no vaccine and no cure. There were accusations and counter accusations from different countries of the world against China.

However, the immediate reactions were a set of template measures for everyone across the world: stay at home; sanitize your house and yourself with a sanitizer liquid; wash your hands frequently; use both nose-mouth masks and hand gloves; maintain social distancing of two metres from the next person; stockpile foodstuffs and drinks very well at home; complete lockdown, no going out except frontline essential health workers, security agents and other officials; no schools, no church/mosque services, no recreations, no entertainment centres, no sporting activities, etc. Panic, anxiety, fear, multiple hysteria etc were few of people’s personal reactions to this deadly pandemic.

Economy

The world economy suddenly collapsed: The virus has left businesses across the world counting their costs. As many countries and world capitals were kept under strict lockdown, major industrial production chains have been brought to a halt. The stocks markets crashed as investors feared the spread of the coronavirus will destroy economic growth and that government action may not be enough to stop the decline. In response, central banks in many countries, including the United Kingdom and Nigeria slashed interest rates.

In the USA about three million people filled unemployment forms while in the UK it was about one million. By May 2020, it was reported that about 36 million people had lost their jobs in the USA thus putting an end to a decade of expansion for one of the world’s largest economies.

 There were no air, land and sea travels just as domestic and international flights in most countries of the world were grounded following governments placing travel restrictions, with billions of dollars lost; all businesses including manufacturing companies in different countries of the world were shut down following their government directive that everyone must “stay at home in order to stay safe”; citizens began to lose jobs in millions just as their employers were counting their losses in billions of dollars;  also, employees who retained their jobs experienced pay-cuts; etc.

While the real economic losses for each country and even the entire world cannot be ascertained yet, we can still decipher the following:

a.   The persistent crash of crude oil prices due to low or non-air, land and sea travels which adversely affected the usual demand for crude oil.  In other words, demand for oil dried up as lockdowns across the world kept people inside. The crude oil price previously affected by a row between OPEC, the group of oil producers, and Russia was compounded by Coronavirus as oil price dipped further. Brent crude is the benchmark used by Europe and the rest of the world. Its price dipped below $20, to the lowest level seen in 18 years.US West Texas Intermediate was equally hard hit by oil price crash.

b.   A rundown on the financial reserves of each country as palliatives to cushion the economic effects of covid-19. In order to cushion the coronavirus economic effects governments of different countries rolled out financial and material palliatives: US rolled out over $2 trillion; UK budgeted £330 billion; France brought out €45 billion; Spain released €200 billion package; Italy budgeted €55 billion; Germany rolled out €800 billion; Nigeria received $1 billion from the World Bank, 50million euros from EU, $45 million from US and disbursed out $145 million the Presidential Task Force (PTF) created to combat the virus.

c.   For each country there are losses in taxes, VAT, tariffs, customs & excise duties, import & export duties etc.

Generally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pointed out that the global economy will shrink by 3% this year 2020 adding that the decline is worst like the Great Depression of the 1930s.

However, Governments around the world urged employees to work from home where possible. Shares in technology companies such as Zoom shot up as more people relied on video conference calls and email to hold meetings or get tasks done. The demand for online shopping and entertainment also soared as people stayed indoors.

For Nigeria, the country is still struggling to recover from the 2016 economic recession brought about by global oil price crash and insufficient foreign exchange earnings to meet imports. In the spirit of economic recovery and growth sustainability, the federal budget for the 2020 fiscal year was prepared with significant revenue expectations but with disputable realizations. The approved budget had projected revenue collections at N8.24 Trillion, an increase of about 20% from 2019 figure. The revenue assumptions are premised on increased global oil demand and stable market with oil price benchmark and oil output respectively at $57 per barrel and 2.18 Million Barrels Per Day.

The emergence of COVID-19 and its increasing incidence in Nigeria called for drastic review and changes in the earlier revenue expectations and fiscal projections. Compared to events that led to recession in 2016, the current state of the global economy poses more difficulties ahead as the oil price is currently below US$20 with projections that it will dip further.

Government for the third time reduced the retail price of gasoline to curb rising inflation, especially food price inflation which will mainly benefit the poor. However, prices of foods, medicines, transportation of people, goods and services, rents etc jumped up phenomenally. Worse still, security agents who were detailed to enforce lockdowns, curfews and compliance to the use of nose masks, social distancing and other measures, began to arrest citizens illegally and imposed crippling extortions on them, thus compounding covid-19 devastating economic consequences.

Leadership

Coronavirus became a leveller: it did not recognize social status, education, wealth, position, nor achievement. Everybody was the same before the virus. Leaders and followers reasoned together to find solution to the virus and every quality advice counted. Leaders all over the world exchanged ideas and possible solutions: US President Donald Trump came up with Hydroxi-chloroquine; Madagascar President introduced herbal cure; Russia brought its own chloroquine version, Israel developed a drug vaccine; Italy discovered its own drug cure saying covid-19 was not a virus but bacteria as a result of the autopsy carried on the various deaths etc.  

Admittedly, no leader starting from the family setting to government level treated the virus with kid’s gloves. Every leader reacted decisively adopting measures rolled out to stay safe. One of the first noticeable changes was the end of the humble handshake, with some senior figures, from US President Donald Trump to Prince Charles, adopting the namaste greeting instead. Business leaders across the world, (for example in Nigeria) started offering billions of cash to combat the virus. Nigerian business moguls and organizations donated close to N30 billion. Some other organizations distributed materials and food items instead. We hope this generosity will go beyond covid-19 in 2021.

Survival of citizens beyond covid-19

 In Nigeria, for the citizens to survive beyond covid-19, we must keep money in circulation through financial service channels, particularly ATMs and agents (banking and mobile money) to serve the poor (about 93.7 million people). Under the current situation, the poor are being stretched beyond their capacity to survive via the inability to earn daily income. To deepen financial inclusion therefore, government must quickly support the poor citizens with soft loans to enable them recover from consequences of this pandemic. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) must be given easy access to loans with zero interest from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Banks and other business companies must be prevented from retrenching their employees with government offering tax reduction to them for this year. Also, public schools can offer free tuition to their pupils/students, and free health services in public health centres for citizens to enable them survive beyond covid-19.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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