Opinion | COVID-19 And The Nigerian Economy: Mitigating Potential Risks Ahead

I know we are a faith-based nation, and our respective faith teaches unrepentant optimism. However, if you read your scriptures better, you’ll see many instances of risk management in the Bible. King Solomon noted in Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12, that the prudent seeth danger and hideth, but the simple pass on and are punished.

Acts of the Apostle chronicles several instances where Paul had to do risk management. When he appeared before the panel made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, he quickly evaluated his risks and strategized on how to mitigate his risks by splitting the vote. Even when he was caught in a tempest on his way to Rome, he also checked his “risk matrix”. So, yes, there is nothing unscriptural about evaluating worst-case scenarios, and planning to mitigate same.

Back to COVID-19. I have looked at the Nigerian figures. It sounds like popcorn. One pop sound here, and another at a different cartesian coordinate; and then it slows down one day, and spikes the next day. 70 in Lagos one day, the next day it’s a zero. Even with my data analysis skill, it is a bit tricky to gain insight into the relatively noisy data and make accurate projections to the future.

A lot of reasons are responsible: poor testing, poor communication, cultural reasons, the commonality of symptoms in several tropical ailments, the possibility of a large number out there who are asymptomatic carriers, etc. While I can draw a line to establish clear trends as we have in Lagos and Abuja, I am also worried about irregularities preventing a clear inference to the larger population. I am reminded of Aaron Levenstein’s definition of statistics: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital”. I have noticed what our COVID-19 statistics reveal, but not unmindful of what it conceals.

Two months after, and more than two weeks after shutting our national borders, we are unable to contain the virus. In fact, the statistics suggest it has reached community spread in some places. What if it doesn’t slow down in the next 1-2 months? Let’s look at the likely scenarios:

(1) Citizens will run out of supplies, and it will not be possible to keep them indoors. This is a potential national security crisis, and we must begin to anticipate and work out mitigation measures. So far, our containment measures have been built around keeping healthy people away from harm’s way; we should restrategize in the coming weeks, on how to perfect keeping harm out of the citizen’s way. When they are hungry, the natural instinct will kick, and they will troop out in search of food. What should government do: ramp up testing capacity to more 25,000 per day; perfect contact tracing; increasing isolation and quarantine facilities; make wearing of nose mask compulsory (provide free or subsidized nose maks); work out sustainable palliatives for the vulnerable; increase public sensitization, etc.

(2) What if your public health holding facilities are exhausted? Research on home management remedies. Explore creative options in telemedicine; Increase your public health work force, and provide means of mobility to be able to check up on patients at home; provide more mobile ventilators; strategic communication; etc.

(3) What if oil price continues to plummet? While Brent crude has not fallen as much as WTI, however, there is some measure of expected correlation that might kick in the coming days. Nigeria will be hit below the belt. FG and states have to revise their budget to a realistic level, to meet short term obligations. Cut down on unnecessary recurrent expenditure, and prioritize your capital expenditure. Aggressively reach out to your creditors to seek debt relief, and renegotiate loan terms. The 2020 budget had almost 25% set aside for debt servicing and an unknown amount for subsidy. Creatively negotiate to free up these obligations, and channel your revenue to critical areas of the economy. There has not been a better case for us the diversify our economy than these dangerous figures. Diversify, or we die!

(4) What if a large percentage of SME’s are unable to survive? Don’t wait for that time. Majority of the SME’s are dancing on the brink of collapse. The FG and State Governments should workout creative support. SME’s to seek creative alternatives; don’t stick to your peace-time business strategy in the middle of a war.

To be continued….I hope we learn.

Stay safe.

  • Tombari Sibe, a software engineer, writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.