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[OPINION] Post Covid-19 Mentality And The Global Economies; Enugu In The Eye Of The Storm

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By Steve Oruruo

From the clustered Favelas in Rio de Jenairo Brazil, to the Times Square in New York. From the Valleys of the Lombardy region in Italy to the bustling Streets of Lagos. From the lake City of Wuhan in China to the Amazon forest borderland of Manaus. From the University towns of Qom in Northern Iran to the Kofar-Mata district in Kano, the Covid-19 pandemic has emerged another inflexion point in the course of human civilization, presenting severe challenges that have overwhelmed global institutions, humiliated the sensibilities of super powers and rebalanced the yawning racial chasm, indiscriminately retarding our collective responsibility as humans. We simply overrated the intelligentsia of the west and a lot of issues have combined to mock at that foresight. 

Of particular concern, it is taking a heavy negative toll on the economic landscape. Over 40 million Americans have been out of work since this pandemic. Arising from a partial de facto shutdown, the IMF projects the global economy to sharply contract by -3% in the year 2020, and the World Bank predicts that 60 million people worldwide could be pushed into poverty to join the already existing millions of plebeians. Crude oil prices dropped by about $40 a barrel from mid-January to the ending of March. Many countries are already seeing indicators of a severe domestic economic fallout.

The world is reliving historical economic downturns, the likes of the Great Recession triggered by the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, the Great Depression of 1929-1939, the two World Wars and the Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1919. The Great Recession almost destroyed the international financial system; the Great Depression period wrought a 15% drop in worldwide GDP; and both World Wars prompted mammoth economic calamities globally. 

Nigeria, despite being touted to be the 27th largest economy in the world, occupies a prime position in the path of the Covid-19 economic storm. This stems from its vulnerability to domestic and global risks, exposure to geopolitical and trade tensions and an embarrassing debt profile of over 25 trillion naira. The collapse in crude oil prices has already wrought a 31% drop in oil and gas revenue influx to the federation account and the GDP could contract by as much as -8.94% in the worst case scenario. The world has fared badly in the face of the debilitating blows from Covid-19. 

The world is not sitting on its hands; policies are being made and implemented to weather the current straits and brace up for the worse that is yet to come. The World Bank has pledged $160 billion in loans, grants and debt reliefs; the search for a vaccine remains desperate; many countries are paying billions of dollars in rebate and stimulus checks, and lending to small businesses and corporations. In Nigeria, the Buhari-led administration is arranging stimulus packages as well as credit and loan facilities; CBN is dropping interest rates and granting one-year moratorium on all interventions; import duties are being waived on pharmaceutical supplies. No doubt the world is certainly changing. 

The measures so far taken by the Federal Government make macroeconomic sense, however they can only provide temporal relief to a chronically ailing economy, marred by such recalcitrant defects as abysmal foreign investments profile, food insecurity, epileptic power supply, unemployment and deteriorating institutions. As soon as possible, the nation needs to design a blueprint for its post-Covid-19 economy featuring a marked deviation from the persisting mono-cultural status. In the face of a steadily falling crude oil price, diversifying the economy to improve the national GDP and grow our external reserves is a sorely needed respirator. Local extractive and manufacturing industries must be developed to guarantee self-sufficiency and create jobs. Furthermore, every institution of accountability must be strengthened through legal and socio-political instruments to root out corruption, which has continued to unapologetically stymie our common progress.

But the remaking of post Covid-19 mentality is the real vision that should be on the desk of every right thinking leadership, stretching from that of the governments at various levels, to families and individual persons. Mere physical infrastructure without the human capital with requisite cultural value orientation to maintain same is symptomatic of underdevelopment and engraved poverty. Indeed, it is social liability. We have often exaggerated Nigeria’s development status based on our misconception of human and natural endowments as resources. As the Niger-Delta militancy, kidnapping and criminality have shown in the south; Boko Haram, Almajiri scourge, banditry and terrorism are exhibiting in the North, it is now clear that  underdeveloped endowments are liabilities rather than resource assets. 

As events are showing, any development process that fails to engage the people in the entire processes of creativity, production, distribution and consumption is a recipe for social instability and invitation to disaster. The failure of the political leadership to sufficiently organize and engage the people in those processes is practically responsible for the poor state of our development. This is what is instigating distrust, social strife and accentuating the crisis of confidence in the polity. 

But while physical infrastructures are constructed with tangible materials, Nations are built on systems, while systems are run and sustained by the sincerity of men who are committed to excellence, ideas and common good. As with physical systems that require the employment of professionals of diverse expertise, Nation building demands the engagement of statesman-leaders. Whether young or old, they are consummate politicians with orientation and rhetoric that are geared towards excellence, dexterity, undeniable probity and system development. Like Architects that ensure the integrity of project designs, statesman-leadership ensures that a Nation works for the greater good of the greater number and stands out in the comity of Nations. 

A major terrible misfortune in our development process is the misconception of democracy within the precincts of electoral franchise and leadership contest only. Thus, we ignore the most crucial aspect, which is economic participation link between the people and their governments. Our weak State condition is worsened internally by lack of nationalism in leadership, with consequential low sense of patriotism that makes citizens to accept same, as they engage perpetually in the scramble for personal opportunities. Seemingly lost in the maze of the brewing economic quagmire, and sitting on the tiny labyrinth of survival; Governments need a self-motivating nationalism stimulus while the people should inevitably don the toga of true patriotism. None will win without the other.

Therefore, efficient leadership is a process that is activated and sustained by patriotism and nationalistic fervor. It is not a function of propaganda, but of effective communication by the manner the affairs of the state are conducted. 

Despite our misconceived and exaggerated estimation of our National wealth, our poverty has become very apparent. Unfortunately, we misconstrue potential as resources thereby failing to develop systems that can process, create, multiply or manage resources. As a fact , systems do not thrive on the philosophy of gathering, distribution and sharing, but on the concept of productivity. As the National experiment has shown, travelling cap in hand to the centre in a routine style of “mobilise, share and consume policy” is incongrous to sustainable development .This is a time for thinking caps.

Finally, we have been stunned into the stark reality that neither the west nor any part of the world is safe for the bourgeoisie. There are no safe havens anymore between the deceived electorates who contrive to surrender to the unforced errors of gullibility, acquiescence and inexplicable conspiracy of silence, and their more “illustrious and smarter ” politicians who periodically manipulate them with intellectual dishonesty knitted and often romanticized under the conspiracies of elitist deceit.

What we have failed to do in 59 years of our independence, can actually be achieved now, even if only to save our blushes. It is not a rocket science. It can be done. All that is needed is the political will and a sense of history. In these perilous times, our leaders must not mortgage the freedom, future, survival, existence and progress of our generation for short term worthless and oftentimes stage-managed red carpet receptions, handshakes, trappings, glitz, glamour and personal gains. 

It is on a time of this highest demand for rectitude and probity in governance that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi steps in like a sacrificial lamb for the sake of his people.

Since 2015 the historical capital of the southeast, Enugu State under the dynamic leadership of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has continued to strengthen its economic structure, reinforcing it with various fiscal shock absorbers; and by a wider implication, setting the requisite basement for the prosperity of the state and its patriotic citizens. This is in defiance of the economic recession crystallized by a drastic drop in crude oil prices which heralded the governor’s first mandate. Despite being daunted by inherited debts, rolled-over wage bills and declining federal allocations, Enugu State, an otherwise civil service state, steadily grew its internally generated revenue (IGR), to the extent of being ranked 9th best state in Nigeria in the year 2019. This was achievable through innovative leadership reforms such as diversification of revenue streams and the automation of the Enugu State Internal Revenue Service (ESIRS) & other major revenue generating MDAs to tackle leakages and corruption.

The diversification witnessed in Enugu State under His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is an overdue breakaway from the suffocating nationwide culture of economic unilateralism.This has been largely driven by youthful energy, equally materializing in human resource development, a central focus of the Governor’s agenda.The transformations in the state’s agricultural sector are yielding massive fruits manifesting as jobs creation, food security, human empowerment and a swelling GDP growth.

Among countless other terrific initiatives, thousands of farmers were provided with grants, productive assets and protective equipment; the Adani Irrigation Scheme was expanded; seven Centre Pivot Irrigation Systems covering 340 hectares in four locations (Oho, Ogururu, Asaba and Mgbagbu Owa) were constructed for all-season rice production; and 910 Small Plot Adaptive Technologies (SPATs) demonstration plots on various agricultural technologies were established. To further catalyze agricultural development in the state, feeder roads and other critical infrastructure were constructed to support the economic activities of farmers. Consequently, the state’s crop production (including rice, maize and cassava) witnessed a 62.91% growth annually. Also, not so long ago, the Coal City Rice Concept was unveiled, to standardize rice production in the state and increase the quality and quantity of farmers’ output. Of utmost significance is a deliberate and conscious attempt by the Enugu Governor through relevant government agencies to draw his people into the aspired chain of productivity.

In fact, no sector with a direct or indirect bearing on the state’s economy is being alienated from the revolutionary train: health, education, trade, commerce & industry, housing and water, tourism and rural development. In the health sector, the ultra-modern Diagnostic Centre inherited from the last regime, has been completed to provide a wide spectrum of medical diagnostic services and attract a chain of secondary and tertiary healthcare investments into the state. Several health facilities in the state have been upgraded, including the recently acquired Colliery hospital which is still under reconstruction and extensive rehabilitation. The Governor has equally started on the spot assessment of all General Hospitals in the state with a view to mobilising a total overhaul. In the education sector, schools are being renovated and equipped with ICT tools to imbue the state’s future economic drivers with the requisite knowledge and skills. It is epoch-making that the first ever University of Education in the southeast is being constructed at Ihe in Awgu Local Government Area at the same time with the construction of a new ESUT campus in Enugu North Senatorial Zone.

Governor Ugwuanyi has persistently boosted trade, commerce & industry and tourism as major economic strongholds in the state. The first ever Investment Summit in the history of the southeast was organized in Enugu to attract both foreign and local investors and further project the business potentials of the state onto the global map, as if the Enugu Governor had a premonition that a time like this would come. In consonance with other measures, this expedited the proliferation of businesses across the landscape of Enugu, with the state emerging second out of 36 states and the FCT on the 2018 World Bank’s ranking on the ease of doing business and 3rd in the ease of starting business. In addition, the sum of 3.4 billion naira was appropriated by the Enugu State Government for the establishment of a Small/Medium-scale Industry in each of the 17 local government areas of the state, a spatially targeted investment approach to enhance rural economic development opportunities as soon as the pandemic eases. The tourism industry in Enugu which had hitherto been almost comatose is being revived, exemplified by the speedly-completed Unity Park formerly known as Forest Reserve located adjacent Michael Okpara Square and the wave of activities and new attractions at the Nike Lake Resort since 2018

There have been massive investments in infrastructure in Enugu State by Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration, to restore the metropolitan urban master-plan and fuel rural-urban economic prosperity. As if clairvoyant, the Governor has by his visionary undertakings, already cushioned in advance the economic investment deficits expected to be precipitated by the Covid-19 disaster, in what is a textbook enactment of the timeless ideology of saving for the rainy day. 

The dualization and reconstruction of Opi Nsukka Road, construction of Enugu-Onitsha Express/Amankwo/Ameke Ngwo/Ama Brewery Road, storm water channelization & discharge at Amalla Orba-Orie Orba-Eke Ovoko road project, asphalting of the 26.665km Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Eziani road in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area and Abakpa-Emene 13 kilometer road connecting Nike Lake junction from Harmony Estate, Amorji Nike, Adoration pilgrimage centre, to Orie Emene road through the thick forest of Umuchigbo community in Enugu  East LGA, among many others, are helping reduce trade costs and increase the efficiency of economic logistics in the state. 

In another vein, the governor has upgraded the security architecture of Enugu State, through measures such as the procurement and donation of 100 units of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) patrol vans to the security agencies in the state, the repositioning of the Vigilante/Neighbourhood Watch groups, and the pioneering engagement of 1,700 Forest Guards. This is imperative as economic activities cannot thrive in any clime overrun by all forms of crime.

Furthermore, an instituted culture of accountability, prudence and transparency has been a clog in the wheels of financial misappropriation and other malfeasances, enabling the payment of the Minimum Wage and several other developmental strides. In what appears his pet project, Governor Ugwuanyi has particularly been keen on grassroots development in a bid to close the gaping urban-rural imbalance in the distribution of the dividends of democracy. The sum of 2.25 billion naira was released as the first tranche of the 10 million naira approved for each of the 450 communities in Enugu State to enable them address their paramount developmental challenge. Consequently, most communities now enjoy the accruable benefits. 

However, despite the governor’s ingenuities, Enugu State was not completely immune to the economic constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, having predicated its 2020 budget on a GDP growth of 2.93%, an oil price of $55 per barrel and US dollars to Naira Exchange Rate of N305. There has been a significant drop in statutory allocations from the federation account, and many sources of IGR plugged by inevitable lockdown measures. 

In response, Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration is fashioning a new economic framework within its consolidated structure to achieve the best possible outcome. The 2020 budget is set to be reviewed to reflect the current realities, a Strategic Economic Recovery Plan is in the offing, and investments in non-oil sectors of the economy including Health, Agriculture, Trade and Investments and Tourism are being ramped up. In the short term however, the economy is being partially reopened under strict safety regulations (Ogbete and other relevant businesses)and palliatives including the coal city rice are being disbursed to vulnerable groups. All these may not be guaranteed to be successful, unless there is a patriotic and passionately compliant citizenry absolutely ready to make sacrifices.

Given the inclement realities of the times accompanied with the bleak futuristic projections, families in Nigeria must readjust their scale of preferences to fit into any prevailing vagaries. Difficult choices must be made, which jettison excesses and unscrupulous frivolities for necessaries of life. Such is the mentality needed to survive this nemesis defined by unfavourable economic indices and wobbling institutions across all realms of livelihood. Prudence by the government of the day must be matched by adaptive willingness and patience on the part of the citizenry to contain the looming vicissitudes. Expectations from the political class and self-imposed demands must be curbed, to avoid falling prey to fraudsters looking to heinously capitalize on the heat of the moment. 

There was the Stone Age, the Discovery Age and the Industrial Revolution; the Civil War Era, the Victorian Era, the Progressive Era and the Cold War Era. Now, we are living in the Covid-19 Era, a period of enormous global health challenge, an existential threat instigating tremors at the foundation of worldwide economic and sociological institutions and structures. Globally and in Nigeria, concerted efforts are rife to resuscitate asphyxiating sectors of human endeavours and rebuild battered systems. However, what Nigeria needs the most is a drastic mental shift from the consciousness that breeds leadership failures, citizens’ indifference and weak institutions to one that addresses the gaping socio-economic imbalance, entrenches leadership probity and integrative followership. As has been demonstrated by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in Enugu State, leadership built around the locus of human resource development in a healthy environment is the novel mentality of tomorrow’s sustainable nationhood.

Steve Oruruo is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Information


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