BEING TEXT OF THE THIRD ANNUAL LECTURE OF THE FACULTY OF ARTS, EKITI STATE UNIVERSITY, DELIVERED BY THE MINISTER OF INTERIOR, OGBENI RAUF AREGBESOLA, HELD AT THE UNIVERSITY’S MAIN AUDITORIUM, IN ADO EKITI, ON MONDAY JULY 12, 2021
COVID-19, THE ECONOMY AND SECURITY
It gives me great pleasure to be at this great citadel, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, to be gathered with these fine ladies and gentlemen. I must therefore thank the Dean and other members of the Faculty of Arts for the kind invitation to deliver the third annual lecture of their faculty.
I must commend the faculty for the presence of mind not just to hold an annual lecture but to invite a plebeian like myself, a departure from the tradition of inviting academic giants, in an encouraging effort at bringing the town into gown. Bringing town to gown is necessary for cross-fertilisation of ideas, a practice now common in Western academia.
I am speaking on the subject of Covid-19, the economy and security. These are interwoven issues that have had the most significant impact on humanity, and Nigerians especially, in living memory.
In 2002, an outbreak of a viral disease was reported in China, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). It was a severe form of pneumonia of unknown origin but localised in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong. The cause was ascribed to a strain of coronavirus.
However, by July of the following year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that it has reached 29 countries, with 8,086 persons infected and 774 persons killed. No case was reported in Nigeria or West Africa, though few cases were reported in the Middle East. That was as close as it could get.
When therefore in late 2019, an outbreak of COV-SARS 2(later named COVID-19, WHO’s official nomenclature for coronavirus disease that broke out in 2019) in Wuhan, China, was announced, though the appropriate government agencies were at alert, it was with a measure of disinterest that the news was received in Nigeria. It sounded like one of those foreign news of war in a remote part of the world in which our only interest is that humans were affected, and possibly Nigerians who could have been unfortunate to be domiciled in those parts.
As the disease began to spread around the world, especially in US, UK and other parts of the world with a sizeable population of Nigerians, some disquiet began to emerge in Nigeria, especially on the state of preparedness to contain it in case it came to our shores. But like the tempest not long foretold, an Italian man working in Nigeria had gone back home and returned to Lagos from Milan on February 25, 2020 with the disease. It was confirmed as the first case in Nigeria two days later.
The test was conducted and confirmed at the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), one of the laboratory networks of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), that had been prepared for the outbreak of any infectious disease.
Then the cases began to trickle in, just as they were mounting globally. As panic spreads all over the world, WHO on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic, citing over 118,000 cases of coronavirus illnesses in more than 110 countries. Before then, what we were used to was ‘epidemic’, a localised outbreak of a disease. We were then told that a pandemic is a disease spreading fast and would touch every part of the globe with devasting effect.
In calling for global efforts to contain the disease, WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, declared: “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector, so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”
Before then, the Federal Government had on March 9, 2020, set up a Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, made up of the following members: Mr Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, as the Chairman; Dr Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator; Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health; my humble self, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior; Senator Sirika Hadi, Minister of Aviation; Sadiya Umar-Farouk, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services; Mr Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education; Mr Mohammed Mahmoud, Minister of Environment; Mr Yusuf Bichi, Director-General, Department of State Services; Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control; and Dr Fiona Braka, WHO Acting Country Representative.
The task Force’s mandates include:
• Provide overall policy direction, guidance, and continuous support to the National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at the NCDC, and other Ministries and Government Agencies involved in response activities, and ensure their coordination towards a single set of national strategic objectives.
• Enable the delivery of national and state-level outbreak control priorities which include;
• Effective and safe treatment centres to ensure capacity to manage outbreaks
• Coordination of National and State Emergency Operation Centres
• Response commodities for case management, infection prevention and control, diagnostics, etc
• Sensitization and awareness campaigns for the general public on prevention measures and response activities
• Diagnostic laboratories and deployment strategies
• Review and make approval recommendations for implementing country-wide or regional non-pharmaceutical interventions if and when needed; such as school closures, suspension of large gatherings, implementation of social distancing, flight limitations etc.
• Provide recommendations for the provision of direct funding and technical support to states and local governments to strengthen their preparedness capacity and mobilise human, material and financial resources from within and outside the country for effective national and state-level preparedness.
• Define targets and monitor the progress in the delivery of these targets to meet the minimum requirements for a satisfactory performance and use this to advise the Presidency on the overall national response to COVID-19.
• Coordinate Nigeria’s engagement with other countries’ bilateral and multilateral bodies, international organisations to share lessons, best practices, and technical assistance.
• Keep the public abreast of strategic progress with Nigeria’s response, and emerging developments regarding preparedness and response.
The Federal Government announced immediately the provision of N920 million for health agencies to contain the disease in Nigeria and special grants to Lagos and Ogun state to combat the pandemic.
Unforgettable March and beyond
The month of March, 2021, was particularly eventful. That was when normal as we used to know it began to disappear and a new normal of lockdown, facemasks and social distancing emerged. Schools were shut and all sporting activities suspended. Shops, banks, hotels, clubs, markets, places of worship and other centres of social interaction were ordered shut across the states. Government announced the suspension of flights from 15 countries with high incidents of Covid-19, including United States and Britain. Then international airports were shut altogether. The month ended with FCT, Lagos and Ogun States being put on lockdown for five weeks and extended later by two weeks.
In April, government banned interstate movements and imposed an 8pm to 6am curfew nationwide as part of measures to curb the spread, although the restrictions on FCT, Lagos and Ogun were relaxed a bit, as Kano was added to the mix.
Relief came in June when the restrictions on the select states, domestic air travels, interstate travels, schools, (for graduating students) and worship centres were removed. Though the curfew was still in place (but relaxed to 10pm-4am), things began to ease and normalcy gradually began to return, by which time we have become used to facemasks, social distancing, avoiding handshakes and other restrictions. We have become accustomed to fist-to-fist, elbow-to-elbow, foot-to-foot and other forms of unconventional greetings. It was even joked that some people were greeting with their foreheads and how some people avoided intimacy with their spouses, citing the need for social distancing. As it is, it looks like we may have to relearn the fine art of handshakes.
As is well known, the disease wreaked havoc on the population. Latest figures from NCDC indicates that there have been 168,552 positive cases with 2,124 fatalities, as at this morning. Some of them were my very close friends and VIPs that I know and have worked with. They include the former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Senator Bayo Oshinowo, Prof Femi Odekunle, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, Dan Foster, Senator Bayo Salami, Senator Buruji Kashamu, Major General Irefin, and several others. The fatalities could probably be more than the official figures since some people, especially in rural areas, could have secretly buried the corpses of the victims without informing the authorities and having them documented.
Effect on the economy
The effect of Covid-19 on the economy is humongous. Save for the essential services exempted from the shutdown, the paralysis of other economic activities must carry consequences. It is not surprising therefore that the GDP fell by 23 per cent while household incomes fell by 60 per cent. The fall in GDP is largely due to the fact that the four states put under lockdown account for two thirds of the economy.
With the shutdown of industrial production globally and the grounding of air travels and vehicular movements, oil price fell by 45 per cent to $30 in the first quarter of 2020. It continued to fall and by April it reached a negative value in the United States i.e. selling below zero. Oil producers were giving away oil to whoever can take it and paying them for storage.
This development was a nightmare for the Nigerian economy, considering that oil accounts for 80 per cent of government revenues. We should have the managers of the economy and especially President Muhammadu Buhari to thank for safely steering the economy during this perilous period.
Also, according to the World Bank, private remittances of Nigerians in the diaspora, mainly from Britain, France, Italy, Spain and the United States constitute five per cent of the GDP. This declined precipitously by between 80 and 90 per cent in the first quarter and 25 per cent in the whole of 2020.
Other economic and social impacts of the restriction on movements
• Declining revenues and the grounding of the hospitality industry, with the suspension of tourism;
• Innovation and importation of technology put on hold;
• Family separation due to lockdown and travel ban;
• The halting of seasonal migration which is a means of livelihood to many, especially across West Africa
• Border closure and halting of trade with our neighbours; and
• Foreign nationals caught in lockdowns with little or no provision for daily sustenance and expired visas; and since in many cases, hotels and accommodations have to be closed, getting them stranded.
• Nigerians and West Africans trapped at border points in the Subregion whom authorities could not allow in for fear of bringing the disease to their shores. Nigeria overcame this challenge and allowed Nigerians at the border to come in but took them to isolation centres, from where they were eventually reunited with their families, after tests confirmed they were negative.
The Federal Government as I said earlier promptly empanelled the Presidential Task Force which immediately swinged into action, coordinating with the NCDC and the Ministry of Health, all of government’s response and holding daily national televised briefing.
The enforcement of non-pharmaceutical policies of lockdown, isolation, stopping interstate movements, maintaining social distance, wearing facemasks and aggressive public enlightenment, the regrettable inconveniences and disruptions they brought notwithstanding, proved to be effective in significantly halting the spread of the disease.
The fatalities recorded, though much regretted, could have been worse, in light of the projection by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the WHO that Nigeria, among some other developing countries, would suffer heavy casualties from the disease. Bill Gates was later reported to have heaved a sigh of relief that his prediction of mass casualties was falsified.
In April, the Federal Government commenced the transfer of N20,000 to poor and vulnerable households registered in the National Social Register (NSR). The register was also increased from 2.6 million households (about 11 million people) to 3.6 million households during the Covid-19 crisis.
In same April, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development began the provision of food rations to vulnerable households in the four states put under lockdown.
CBN, taking proactive measures, pledged to pump NGN 1.1 trillion into critical sectors of the economy.
The Federal Government commenced a three-month repayment moratorium on all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans. This makes eminent sense. These peasants could not have been in good positions to repay the interest-free loans they collected when the economy was being shut down and the streets were empty.
Similar moratorium to be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank.
Moratorium on at-source deductions on state loans with the CBN and shoring up the Federation Account pool from which states and local governments receive monthly allocations. This is important in that given the steep decline in oil receipts during this period, some states would simply have collapsed.
Other interventions include the enumeration of six million farmers, 3.6 million passed the first stage of validation and 2.4 million scaled the second validation stage. Also 129,000 crop farmers and 38,333 animal farmers have been profiled for the Interest-Free Loan Support for the dry season farming cycle.
Under the COVID-19 intervention programme for the health sector, the establishment of 520 Intensive Care Units (ICU) Beds, 52 Molecular Laboratories and Isolation Centres at Federal Tertiary Hospitals is almost completed while 485 water points have been constructed/rehabilitated by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources across the federation.
As a result of government’s stimulus package, 1.3 million jobs were saved while close to one million new jobs were created.
In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the nation’s custodial centres, the Federal Government in an initiative of the Federal Ministries of Interior and Justice procured presidential pardon and amnesty for some inmates and recommended others to state governments for release.
Using the following criteria:
a. Old age. This is for inmates that are 60 years old and above.
b.Those suffering from ill-health that are likely to terminate in death
c.Convicts serving three years and above and have less than six months to serve
d.Inmates with mental health issues and;
e.Inmates with options of fines not exceeding N50,000 and have no pending case;
A total number of 2,600 inmates spread across our various custodial centres benefited from the amnesty. These included 885 convicts who could not pay their fines totalling N21.4 million which the government paid on their behalf to enable them get their freedom. From this number, 41 inmates were federal convicts.
The economy has since been picking up in manufacturing, construction, aviation, tourism, services, transportation, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), hospitality, artisanship in SMEs, education and other sectors. Hopefully, the badly hit ones like aviation, education, manufacturing, construction and the hospitality industry will recover fully and fins their feet.
Covid-19 and Security
The lockdown imposed on FCT, Lagos, Ogun and Kano States and the prohibition of interstate movements had two profound effects on the people. The first is economic, as I mentioned earlier.
Since only government workers and to some extent, those offering essential services or whose business can be done electronically were the only ones receiving incomes, it should not be surprising that household incomes fell by 60 per cent during the lockdown and by a quarter for much of last year. This had to be mitigated with cash transfers and palliative measures by the Federal and State Governments, Non-Governmental Organisations and charities.
Still, for a lot of people, it was nightmarish. Those affected had to draw down on their life savings, sold valuables or plunged into huge debts. Those without any coping means and especially those with low tolerance threshold were quick to go into crime – form criminal gangs or join existing ones. This shot crime incidents above the roof, especially burglary, armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping for ransom, on a scale that the security agencies struggled to cope with.
The second effect is psychological. In the disruption of economic and social life, we had our lives, as we know it pre-pandemic, literally frozen. The best moments in life – wedding, funeral for loved ones, graduation, birthdays, chieftaincy and others – went past as we helplessly watched in lockdown, isolation and restriction on social gatherings. A lot of psychic energy had been built up as a result, bursting at the seams, waiting for opportunity to find an explosive expression.
The combination of built-up psychic energy and economic deprivation provided fillip to the #ENDSARS riots that gripped Lagos and other parts of the country. The anger was palpable and unleashed – as an unmeasured fury – in an orgy of wantonness across the country. During the riots, private residences, business premises, persons of means and law enforcement agents were savagely attacked. By official estimates from the Federal Ministry of Information, 57 civilians, 37 policemen, and six soldiers were killed all over the country. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles destroyed and 134 police stations were burnt down. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service all lost infrastructure, equipment and other valuables to attacks by hoodlums during the crisis. It is most regrated that eight medium security custodial centres in Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi states were attacked, with 1,957 inmates set free and 31 members of staff injured. While the violence lasted, 269 private and corporate facilities were burnt, looted or vandalised, 243 government facilities burnt and vandalised and 81 government warehouses looted. Even some cases, national strategic grain reserves were also looted.
Perhaps, the most insidious is that a lot of strange bedfellows, people within the same proximity but who hardly spend time together, now had to compulsorily cohabit for unusually long periods. This leads to tension and interpersonal conflict. Incidents of homicide, assault and battery, rape and domestic abuse also rose during the period. Women and the girl-child were particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic abuse. Gender-based violence during Covid-19 lockdown has been rightly described by the influential American Time magazine as ‘a pandemic within a pandemic’, to highlight how pervasive the practice was.
“This pandemic is of such enormity that a new order must come out of it” — Professor Wole Soyinka
The first is that the leadership of this country can admirably rise to an existential challenge that will appear to have overwhelmed even developed countries with greater capacities and resources. Nigeria happily did not even experience the third wave, even as it coursed through nations like the United States and Britain and South Africa had to impose another lockdown on account of it. Although there are indications that it is gradually seeping into the country with the announcement from the governor of Lagos yesterday of a rise in incidence of infection and bed occupancy in the state. But the casualty rate has remained negligible.
It has also been impressed on us the interconnectedness of humanity. An outbreak of a disease in a wet meat market in a far away country has the potential to wipe out humanity, if not handled carefully. There is no doubt now that we will take even greater preventive measure. If there should be an outbreak of any disease (God forbids), we will be better prepared.
Thirdly, we recognise beyond doubt that our markets, building, settlement patterns, town, urban and regional planning and transportation modes need to be revolutionised. The emergence of sprawling urban slums with high population density will make it difficult to control communicable diseases. So also is the public transportation system in which humans are packed like sardines in metro buses.
Fourthly, we have seen the confirmation of the nexus established by development scholars between socio-economic welfare of the people and security. Deprivation will lead to frustration and frustration will lead to aggression. More than ever before, it has impressed on us the need to accelerate the project to lead Nigerians into prosperity and economic security. The government will work harder on President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Fifthly, we learnt of the importance of security in an emergency situation. The security services have to be primed and anticipate the worst of behaviours from a tiny section of our population.
We must not forget the global efforts to develop vaccines to combat the disease from the moment it was discovered. It stands to the credit of the researchers, pharmaceutical companies and the medical community for the near speed of light it took to develop vaccines. We must commend the tiny island of Cuba especially for its breakthrough in developing vaccines for the virus. The nation has the largest per capita medical doctors and facilities in the world. It is expected that when it begins its own rollout, the motive force will be to help humanity and not to make profit and exploit.
Lastly, we saw the pervasive and intrusive role of technology, especially in adapting to change in an emergency. Those who had head-start in online marketing were clearly at an advantage. Exchange of goods were done online and received at designated places. We now recognise that meetings can be held by multiple people in the comfort of their home through conference calls, on Zoom and other virtual platforms.
Covid-19 hit us but the government was able to mitigate the consequences. It also brought out the capacity of the Nigerian people for resilience in the face adversity and the milk of human kindness in the way a lot of our compatriots demonstrated generosity and acts of kindness to the less privileged in our midst.
We must mention in particular the yeoman role played by Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID) during the pandemic. The coalition received support from over 300 individuals and private organisation, to the tune of N39.65 billion. It however, spent N43.27 billion on the procurement of medical equipment and supplies, as well as food palliatives for the vulnerable members of the society.
If history is our guide, then we are going to witness a new wave of prosperity, stemming from increased demand for goods and service, triggering hopefully an increased energy demand. This will translate into fortune for the nation.
I must thank most sincerely, once again the Dean of Arts and the entire university community for the enthusiastic welcome accorded me.
I will also like to thank the government and the good people of Ekiti State for their progressive leaning and warm reception given me and my team and their progressive leaning from time immemorial. I thank the various groups and individuals from Osun that came all the way from Osogbo to honour me with their presence.
More importantly, I thank this distinguished audience for your kind attention.