…COVID-19 has been a sudden and unexpected occurrence across the world, which has triggered sad and unfortunate illnesses and deaths, jolting the world in a way that has not been witnessed for several years. Nonetheless, it has also represented some measure of wake-up call and provides opportunities for us as a people and a nation to re-invent ourselves in a multitude of ways…


Across the world, COVID-19 has brought with it incredibly sad realities of deaths and illnesses unimaginable almost a year ago – significantly altering collective and individual plans, including government plans and action. Undoubtedly, the dreaded disease will be defeated but its lessons will and should remain with us for a very long time. In Nigeria, just as in many other countries, no one can deny that not only has the disease and its scare brought into sharp focus the mistakes and failures of the past, it has reinforced more than ever before the imperative of urgently and vigorously pursuing a new raft of ideas and action plans that should seek to release our people from the stranglehold of poverty and disease, re-energise our national economy, deal with renewed urgency the wide social disparities that have lingered with successive governments and ensure greater political participation and speedy reforms.

While battling COVID-19 with determination, faith and focus, we must now begin to consider much better options for the immediate and longer-term future. A sobering and extremely ambitious futuristic perspective is now imperative – indeed inevitable – if we are to forestall potential dangers that could possibly lurk ahead but also the only sure way of revitalising and sustaining the hope of many young Nigerians and building a future filled with promise, incredible opportunities and a quality of life that everyone can be proud of. This will be no time for petty political bickering but one in which the political elites ought to pull together and galvanise the people towards the attainment of greater societal ideals and importantly the urgent pursuit of a new set of development priorities across health, education, social inclusion, economic renewal and growth, as well as political participation and reforms. And I need to emphasise here that this is not a burden that lies upon the central government alone but surely very significantly on the state and local governments across the country. Indeed, we should begin to see a greater sense of urgency and ingenuous thinking at the state level, which unfortunately now clearly appears to be either lacking or could do with significant upgrade in quite a good number of states.

Health

In no other sector has COVID-19 revealed the gross and sad errors of the past anew and the need for a new trajectory as the health sector. COVID-19 has revealed that the huge budgetary expenditures of the past years have not necessarily translated into well-equipped and highly functional hospitals in a very good number of cases. There have also been missed opportunities in respect of building, not only well-equipped specialist hospitals but properly equipped, functional general hospitals in the nooks and crannies of the land. Admittedly, the development of health infrastructure requires considerable financial resources, which have not always been available, but in quite a good number of states, a lack of strong political will, wrong priority setting, and misapplied funding, have sadly undermined and limited what could have been achieved. One clear manifestation of this trend was the grossly inadequate or in a good number of cases, a clear absence of ventilators and other important equipment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, there must be stricter monitoring of the health budgetary spend across the country and a new wave of health infrastructure investments, including considerable spending on critical equipment and the building of more functional health centres over a period of years, in a way that no community or people have to suffer the consequences of unavailable/unaffordable health care. Importantly, health care staff represent a critical element of our health care delivery system, as COVID-19 has further reinforced and governments across all tiers must now begin to take more deliberate measures to increase morale and job satisfaction.

If we are to truly release the potential of our teeming youth population and fully deploy the huge possibilities of information technology in our national growth efforts across all sectors, we must hasten the process of empowering our young ones in vital ICT skills, which will be invaluable in propelling our country in a world where ICT has become such an important tool for competitive advantage.


Education

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have brought a total halt to formal learning in all our institutions – universities, polytechnics and secondary schools. This need not necessarily be the case. Decades of the large and almost complete concentration on the delivery of educational content only via traditional modes of learning delivery, and almost excluding technology as a complementary mode of learning delivery totally, has now left student, teachers and institutions largely exposed and unable to adapt to changing times. Post-COVID times, institutions must now vary their learning delivery methods and invest in technology enablers to facilitate alternative and adaptive learning approaches – of course with the active support of government.

In addition, as I have argued in a previous article, there is an urgent imperative for the democratisation of the adoption of ICT – ensuring that ICT becomes an important and compulsory element of school curriculum, at the very least at the secondary and higher institutions of learning. This needs to be facilitated through an urgent legislation that makes coding compulsory from secondary school to the university/polytechnic level. If we are to truly release the potential of our teeming youth population and fully deploy the huge possibilities of information technology in our national growth efforts across all sectors, we must hasten the process of empowering our young ones in vital ICT skills, which will be invaluable in propelling our country in a world where ICT has become such an important tool for competitive advantage.

Social Inclusion

Nothing portends greater danger than a lukewarm attitude by governments and indeed the elite towards the wide social disparities that are undeniably a sad feature of our lives. While governments at the state and federal levels may have initiatives in place to bridge the gaps that exist, there needs to be greater concerted action to tackle the twin issues of poverty and infrastructure deficit, which remain important triggers of the challenges of social disparities and indeed other social problems that we are now confronted with. For example, as we tried to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic via social distancing, our challenges with affordable and decent housing for many in the lower segment of society has again been brought to the fore. For example, the blight of slums like Ajegunle, Ijora and Mushin in Lagos, Durumi in Abuja and several other areas across the country and their attendant consequences, must now stir us to greater action at dealing with the environmental and housing challenges that puts us collectively to shame.

Importantly, more ingenuity will be required at the state level in what is clearly an urgent necessity to stimulate state economies and identify new revenue sources and quickly wean them from an overbearing dependence on central funds. In a post-COVID-19 era, this should no longer be an option but an urgent imperative…


Economic Renewal and Growth

Given the clear fact that oil still represents the major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria – representing 90 per cent of the country’s export, the steep decline in the demand for oil and oil prices, with their obvious implications on government expenditure, stemming directly from the pandemic, has further reiterated the urgency required in the pursuit of other multiple sources of government income. Already, the central government has invested significantly in agriculture as an attempt to diversify the revenue source, but more significant push will be required to re-energise other sectors such as manufacturing, mining and ICT. Importantly, more ingenuity will be required at the state level in what is clearly an urgent necessity to stimulate state economies and identify new revenue sources and quickly wean them from an overbearing dependence on central funds. In a post-COVID-19 era, this should no longer be an option but an urgent imperative and will require that those who assume leadership at the state level should be those who have the sagacity, pedigree and vision to stimulate state economies and importantly create new revenue sources.

Political Participation and Reforms

Political participation has declined, coming to a low of 35 per cent in the 2019 elections. Election violence has also remained a by-product of electoral contests. In the same vein, there has been a poor monitoring of party and candidate funding by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), with the result that elections are hugely influenced by the weight and depth of candidate and party purses but less by robust argumentation and ideas. Post-COVID-19, we must transit our electoral battles to a place where ideas and the pedigree of candidates become the key determinants of outcomes. Also, we must urgently seek and devise new and consistent sensitisation techniques and incentives that seek to ensure a greater involvement and participation of youths and women in the political process.

In all, COVID-19 has been a sudden and unexpected occurrence across the world, which has triggered sad and unfortunate illnesses and deaths, jolting the world in a way that has not been witnessed for several years. Nonetheless, it has also represented some measure of wake-up call and provides opportunities for us as a people and a nation to re-invent ourselves in a multitude of ways – pressing the reset button to positively and dramatically change our social, economic and political landscape.

Soji Ehinlanwo, a UK-based IT consultant/manager, was once the Ondo State governorship candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).