By Casmir Igbokwe
The nationwide curfew declared by the Federal Government of Nigeria will take effect from Monday, May 4, 2020. This is in addition to lockdowns already imposed in some parts of the country and across the world. Coronavirus disease is the cause of these restrictions. But at the end of the pandemic, our leaders may discover that they have solved one problem to create some other ones.
Unintended pregnancies are some of such problems. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that COVID-19 lockdowns could lead to seven million unintended pregnancies in the coming months. In a new research conducted recently, the UNFPA, in collaboration with Avenir Health, John Hopkins University in the United States, and Victoria University in Australia, add that some 47 million women might lose access to contraceptives if health services remain disrupted and the lockdown continues for another six months.
Ironically, domestic violence, or what many experts prefer to call “intimate terrorism,” has further increased. This is not surprising considering that there is always a spike in such violence whenever families spend more time together. Currently, many families are marooned at home for prolonged periods because of the COVID-19 restrictions. This is the current situation in China, France, Spain and many other countries. In Nigeria, the problem is such that some prostitutes even decided to slash their rates to attract the trapped men. But it is doubtful if they will succeed.
What usually fuels this domestic violence are poor economy, job losses and personal financial setbacks. As you read this, the price of oil, which constitutes 90 per cent of Nigeria’s exports, has seriously plummeted. Buyers are not even forthcoming. The informal sector, which contributes about 65 per cent of the country’s economic output, has been greatly affected by movement restrictions. Besides, investors’ wealth is eroded with massive decline in stock prices.
For many companies, it has become inevitable that they cut salaries or lay off staff. For some weeks now, these companies have not made money because they were forced to shut down operations. The airline and hospitality industries are typical examples. British Airways, for instance, will reportedly cut up to 12,000 jobs from its 42,000 workforce. A Nigerian airline announced recently that it would slash salaries by 80 per cent for the month of April. From May 1, the company said 90 per cent of the workers would proceed on leave without pay till further notice. Some hotel managements took similar decisions. Labour unions are fuming. The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, said stopping or deducting from workers’ salaries was illogical and illegal.
Many countries are at their wits’ end in seeking solutions to this current crisis. Last week, the Nigerian Senate quickly approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for N850 billion loan. According to the Federal Government, the loan will be sourced from domestic capital market. It is reportedly needed to fund the critical projects and programmes in the 2020 budget. The Federal Government considers it prudent borrowing from the domestic market, given our current realities. It also deems the conditions in the domestic capital market favourable in terms of availability of funds and relatively low interest rates. But it fails to address the recent estimates, which put Nigeria’s debt service-to-revenue ratio at 60 per cent. With the rampaging COVID-19 and falling oil prices, this will likely worsen.
On its part, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has arranged fiscal stimulus package for households and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) largely affected by COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the N50 billion credit facility it is currently doling out to select SMEs, the N100 billion loan to health sector and a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities.
This is commendable. But the Federal Government should do more. It should intensify efforts at diversifying the revenue base of the country. For now, expanding our agricultural output appears to be the best alternative.
The Federal Government should also endeavour to eliminate profligacy in governance. Why, for goodness sake, have we not stopped security votes that have remained a drainpipe on our economy? The President and state governors collect humongous amounts of money every month as security votes but do not account for them. Most times, this money is used for many other things except security. When you visit a governor and he gives you some wads of naira notes, it is not his salary he is spending. It is most likely to be security vote.
When the wife of the President or governor makes millions of naira worth of donation under the guise of donating to charity, it is not her money she is spending. It is state funds. When a lawmaker begins to make noise about donating COVID-19 palliatives to his constituents, check it very well, he or she is up to something.
Don’t get me wrong. Donating to charity, especially at this period, is a worthy cause. But how many politicians do that with sincerity? How many of them do it with their personal funds?
Hypocrisy is our second name. We want to make political gain out of every adversity. At the end of this pandemic, reality will dawn on us. The governors will realise that they have salaries to pay. But there won’t be money to do that. Perhaps, that is when they will consider dropping the idea of paying huge pension entitlements to ex-governors some of whom currently serve as ministers and senators.
Also, companies will wake up to the realities of the time. Some made huge donations to COVID-19 funds but turned around to announce the sacking of some of their staff. A certain Nigerian bank had earlier sacked thousands of staff last year but donated billions to COVID-19 fund recently.
Eternal vigilance should be our watchword. Both government and the people need to show some understanding in these trying times. The federal and state tax collectors should exercise caution. There is no need harassing businesses now when personal and company finances, especially those of airlines and hospitality industries, are bleeding.
As for women who will inevitably breed children this period, there is no need to caution them. The pangs of hunger that will follow this pandemic will provide enough lessons on why they should always keep their reproductive instrument in check.
Re: Police, lockdown extortion and One Million Boys
I am very much delighted the extra mile you go in handling matters that concern the voiceless/downtrodden among us. You’re there not only as a mirror but also as a Senior Advocate for Nigerians (SAFN) Please, keep the FLAG hoisted.
— Anonymous, +2348037408332
In those countries that serve as the epicentre of coronavirus and where lives are wiped out in droves, compliance with the safety guidelines is enforced by the ravaging virus itself while the governments of the concerned countries take appropriate steps to contain and or cushion the effect of the hardship occasioned by the lockdown. In some situations, we have heard that some of their people are agitating for more days to stay at home until they are convinced that the virus is no more. However, Nigeria posts a different picture. The mere scare of coronavirus has opened many more avenues for extortion and further impoverishment of the poor and underprivileged. Achieving compliance has provided an avenue for corrupt security agents to line their pockets at the expense of those who abuse the safety guidelines or only occasionally wear nose masks at the sight of nosey security agents. In this latest Nigerian drama, the fear of coronavirus has helped to amplify the country’s agelong notoriety in corruption.
– Edet Essien Esq, Calabar South, +2348037952470
Thanks Casmir. When HIV came, health sector politicised the whole thing so as to win foreign donors. Citizens became fed up and went back to unprotected sex. The same fate has befallen COVID-19, now people shake hands without caring to sanitize. The virus is not with the poor. If the lockdown exceeds 27th of April, it is tantamount to inhumane treatment. Enough is enough.
– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215
Africa, Nigeria in particular, must be proactive and not reactionary in approach to win this ‘war.’ We are in a war situation not a fight as the virus is also tactically mutating to survive in man. Bad eggs in the police should stop exploiting the populace, thereby compounding our woes. One Million Boys’ days are numbered as they would be routed by the citizens who are already hungry, angry and in killer mood.
— Mike, Mushin, +2348161114572
Under this COVID-19 pandemic, some Nigerians are smiling to the bank because of the poor sharing of palliative provided by government and some agencies. Palliative sharing was not well organised because there is no data to verify the poor and vulnerable people in our society. People capitalise on poor data to enrich themselves from COVID-19, which is very bad.
–Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535
Dear Casy, your article represents the Nigerian malady and the virus worse than Wuhan Sino corona type. The security agents in charge of Apapa corridor, from Ijora Olopa U-turn to Area B, had destroyed Apapa since 2016 till many business owners sold their properties there. Apapa used to be an economic hub of both Nigeria and West Africa but the present government promoted corruption to the highest level. The game is still on. Nigeria is sinking every day. Federal Government hasn’t prepared isolation centres for our people at home and abroad. One Million Boys represent government and societal failures. Government didn’t provide the core development and jobs while some parents didn’t raise their children well. Our paradigm shift from self-worth to networth has now turned this virus to the society. May God save us from both Wuhan and Nigerian viruses!
–Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495
- First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, May 4, 2020.