It is a nightmare scenario out there. President Buhari should level with Nigerians and let them know that hard times are here again… If we get creative and commit to looking inwards and developing the real sector, we can emerge from this stronger. In all of these, there is one big lesson learnt that we will never forget. We all, are bound by common bonds of humanity.

The global pandemic has shown how interconnected we all are in the world. The post-COVID-19 era recovery, as well as winners and losers, will be determined by how each nation handles the crisis. The speed with which Guarantee Trust Bank set up a fully functional and well equipped care centre, and donated it to Lagos State shows that there is no excuse for Nigeria’s pathetic, weak health systems. It has become clearer that greed and selfishness is at the root of our lack of infrastructure in the country. The money to provide public goods for the good of all, is in private accounts of those entrusted with the responsibility of leadership. Well, here comes another chance to convert this crisis into an opportunity.

The lessons of past failures and greed must be learnt. Both the rich and the poor are confined to the same space, with an eighteenth century health infrastructure. This is the time to create new public health institutions and strengthen existing ones to world standards. Nigeria must scale up its health infrastructure to be responsive and ready in case of another epidemic or natural disaster. Leadership and organisation is everything. We have seen how the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has worked, despite the many limitations it faces. It shows what Nigeria can accomplish if its institutions are run by credible independent experts working in the public interest without political interference.

It certainly won’t be a walk in the park to face the humongous challenges of dwindling revenue, lack of infrastructure, low skill workforce, uncompetitive education, youth unemployment and under-employment afflicting us at this point in time. The latest data shows Nigeria as the 14th youngest country in the world, with 43.84 per cent of its population under the age of 15. This has significant implications for education, jobs, housing, health care and other needs that Nigeria is not prepared for. While the resources to care for this youth bulge might seem daunting due to greed and the lack of planning, the bright side of the youth bulge has its own dividends. We must use this crisis to begin the creation of equal opportunities for all.

…we could have done better if we had citizens data and our own unique predictive epidemiological models to drive decision-making based on assumptions unique to us. Thinking seems to give us pain and we don’t value intellection. Otherwise, simple polynomials using open-source software like MATLAB or Scilab could have prepared us in good time.

So far, the copy-and-paste European or Asian response to this pandemic is unsuited for Nigeria. Our cultures and communal ways of life are not amenable to social distancing. It is not uncommon to find four or more people sleeping in a poorly ventilated room. The population density in our cities is very high. A lockdown may have worked if we had shut our airports earlier or shut the entire country down for three to four weeks at once in the early days. With 90 per cent of the population in the informal economy, few can survive more than a week without help. More than 95 per cent buy staples and other essentials on daily basis from open markets and kiosks.

Without public potable water, hand washing is difficult, making personal hygiene a tall order. Given decades of plunder and profligacy, Nigeria does not have the economic or welfare structures to support a longer lockdown that worked for the West. The virulence and pathogenicity of COVID-19 is directly related to the age and health of the population. Since the country is demographically young, with just 2.7 per cent of the population above 65 years of age, we could have done better if we had citizens data and our own unique predictive epidemiological models to drive decision-making based on assumptions unique to us. Thinking seems to give us pain and we don’t value intellection. Otherwise, simple polynomials using open-source software like MATLAB or Scilab could have prepared us in good time.

All hope is not lost. Nigeria’s game of hide-and-seek with citizens data, because sharing of oil revenue depends on population, must end if we must have any real development. We must tell ourselves the painful truth. How can a government be distributing cash in a way that encourages fraud and unscrupulous conversion? We need data to reach the vulnerable without favouring some people over others. We need data to identify the most vulnerable among us. Data is life. Data is the new oil. Whoever controls data controls everything. Pending the establishment of a citizens database, if we will get it done at all, we must take advantage of the high mobile penetration and connectivity across the country. Real time data can be obtained by leveraging data from telecommunication companies. Low and high level household data on economic impact of social protection programmes and interventions in formal and informal sectors can be obtained from Point of Sale (POS) kiosks and existing mobile money platforms. These data can give insight and context to strategies for those in decision-making capacity.

COVID-19 will prove disruptive to economic growth and global supply chains. Before the pandemic, Nigeria was already in the maelstrom of high debt, an oil price slump, with sustainability challenges. It is time to get creative to forestall the possibility of civil unrest.

COVID-19 will prove disruptive to economic growth and global supply chains. Before the pandemic, Nigeria was already in the maelstrom of high debt, an oil price slump, with sustainability challenges. It is time to get creative to forestall the possibility of civil unrest. Due to the lockdown, small businesses will face cost pressures because of depleted capital. This will lead to job losses, unless there is targeted help for them through banks. Of course job losses will depress consumption and household spending. The closure of schools could precipitate future human capital losses, with many girls not returning to school. Government should find a way to open schools in early August, instead of September.

On the government side, reduced tax revenues and the loss of forex earnings will increase deficit and increased pressure on the naira. It is a nightmare scenario out there. President Buhari should level with Nigerians and let them know that hard times are here again. The pay of legislators should be cut by 70 per cent and frivolous loans to sustain consumption must be shunned totally. If we get creative and commit to looking inwards and developing the real sector, we can emerge from this stronger. In all of these, there is one big lesson learnt that we will never forget. We all, are bound by common bonds of humanity.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo