Preliminary Thoughts on the Socio-Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Nigeria - by Emmanuel Inyada
For some of us millennials that live in certain parts of the world, especially those of us that have lived all our lives in certain conflict free cities, the fight against the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is relatively the first crisis we have experienced that has been a real source of global and national panic. As a young Nigerian and having lived most of my life in urban Lagos, I have never experienced a crisis like this. I have heard of different crises in other parts of the country, especially those caused by terrorism, violent protests and certain communual and traditional conflicts. But this is the first time I will be experiencing in my lifetime this city of over 20 million people being shut down, with very little movement, with very little economic activity where everyone is required to stay at home for months.
The impact of COVID-19, beyond further revealing the ineptitudes of leadership in Nigeria at the moment, has been telling on all aspects of our lives and not in a positive way. In Nigeria, Saturdays are for “owambes” (also known as wedding parties)- but none of that will happen until there is a green light that COVID-19 has indeed been contained and eradicated. Party animals are squirming in isolation as simple parlour weddings are fine for now. Social distancing protocols have sullied the waters of romance; no romantic dates, no opportunity to manifest budding chivalry, and everyone is going crazy on social media. The world is no longer a sane place.
Let me talk of sanity in the economy. Everything is on a lockdown- the financial market is plummeting fast with bearish trends presaging some sort of Armageddon in world economy, oil prices are dropping at a pace never seen before recording the lowest surge in demand and price in about two decades, contractual obligations are being deferred and business men are getting ready for legal battles (after COVID-19 has passed), small businesses and sole proprietors are looking to the government and also to God for some sort of stimulus or bailout to keep them afloat. My dad after over five decades of working whispered to me that he just realised that he should have started a business that would make money in war and peace, with lockdown or not, and my bank account balance is not what my mother is currently proud of- and she is usually proud of me. The world is bleeding dollars, reserve currencies are dancing “shoki” and my naira has further lost its value, nay, readjusted its value to reflect market realities. It is acute insanity.
If this era has taught me anything about politics, it basically has proven to me that human beings are political animals and forever will be. But then, politics in Nigeria is different. Everything is about money, it is an intractable racket, a wheel that must keep revolving and turning in money for the top one percent of the constituency. COVID-19, therefore, must also pay tribute. Why do you think the governor of a state would reject certain test results for the simple reason that he was not aware of the testing? What would his awareness bring to the table?
Well, a lot. First, maybe a discovery that the correct number of positive cases far outweighs what the resources of the state can handle, and, of course, a lot of taxpayers’ money to make up the difference, which will be spent with the usual prudence. In Nigeria, politics is a business venture and COVID-19 is a fresh new product with high probability of return. The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is well aware of this and Elon Musk could have been a good customer just like the rest of us sundry Nigerians. Globally, I just hope there won’t be a World War after this, especially when the world will be looking at getting China to pay.
Hunger is another factor that must be considered. To put it in perspective, it is already quite difficult to live in Nigeria. With a population of about 190 to 200 million people according to recent estimates, the Brookings Institute and other international organisations just before the COVID-19 pandemic described Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world with just over 90 million people living in acute poverty i.e. less than $2 a day. At the moment, the spread of COVID-19 is quite low in Nigeria with the infection to death ratio being about 2% and the recovery rate being quite high. I would be remiss if I do not state that there has been good effort and progress made so far to combat the virus in Lagos, with improved testing and reasonable progress made in contact tracing. Praise should be lavished on the Lagos State government for their efforts so far- they have done well. However, in a country where the economy is largely informal and majority of the people earn their living wage from their daily trade or hustle, as the case may be, I must state that palliative measures made available to the poor are grossly inadequate. There is great hunger in the land and there is little or nothing being done about it. Let’s pray for the poor that they may find grace to endure the pending hardship. All really is not well.
There is another scare; the insinuation that COVID-19 is a biological weapon; a product of science and engineering as opposed to being of natural causes. Personally, I believe it is of a natural cause. Moving forward, there is the hope of a vaccine being discovered in 18 months. According to the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, there is great progress that has been made towards the discovery of a vaccine. He further stated that himself and his wife, through their foundation, will be funding research and also the construction of seven factories which will be responsible for production of the seven possible vaccines. He said there is a great possibility that only one or two of those vaccines will be effective as a cure, however, the gain is greater than the loss COVID-19 has caused and the prospective loss it portends. It is better to risk a few billions than to lose some trillions on a daily basis. If an effective vaccine is discovered, there is also the challenge of distribution to 7 billion of the world’s population. Indeed, this is not a problem that just money will solve in a jiffy.
I must also commend medical officers, especially the first responders for their efforts so far, researchers and epidemiologists the world over also deserve some accolades. However, people like Dr. Jean Paul Mira and Dr Camille Locht, both French researchers and academics, deserve nothing at all. I read on Takedia, a popular blog, and also saw a video of how they made provocative racist, disgusting, inhumane comments on live television. Jean Paul Mira suggested Africa should be the testing ground for COVID-19 vaccines due to their vulnerabilities. Jean Paul Mira stated, “If I could be provocative, should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s done, by the way, for certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?”
“We try things because we know that they are highly exposed and they don’t protect themselves,” he said.
Camille Locht, the research director from France’s Inserm, responded: “You are right. And by the way, we are in the process of thinking in parallel about a study in Africa ….”
You see that these people are racist? I will not be surprised if certain powers begin to give consideration to their disgusting thought of using Africa as a lab and Africans as lab rats. All it takes is for one man to argue, “let’s use them, it is a small price to pay for the safety of the human race”. Racism is real. Let me rest my case here because I am quite incensed. Well, I blame our leaders for making us look shitty.
Finally dear readers, Twitter is the new main street, WhatsApp the real private estate, Facebook the general market, Instagram a place of many things, LinkedIn the usual business hub, and TikTok is where the party is at. Social media has brought some joy to our lives. My father even laughs at memes these days. I know it is not unreasonable to freak out during these trying times, but you should laugh too. The world will heal, how long it will take is what we don’t know.
Emmanuel Inyada is writing from Lagos, Nigeria.