Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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  • Financial Market
  • Fiscal Policy

A roadmap to fully reopen Nigeria 25 Apr 2020

My wife, a physician and consultant cardiologist, has been twice in self-isolation during this Covid-19 saga & tested negative. Trying to understand the impact of self-isolation from this close range, I imagine how lockdown is wasting human capital.

Minimising waste of productive resources, while observing NECESSARY precautions to safeguard personal and public health, is very important. Some say you can’t earn a living if you are dead. But you can’t live without earning (or being provided) a living.

Our path to safely reopen the economy fully by July ending should start with ending the exaggeration of the lockdown. Agriculture, which constitutes 22% of our GDP and accounts for over 70% of the workforce, is not -- and should not be -- locked down.

Therefore, we must keep agricultural production at about the pre-Covid-19-crisis level. Farmers should keep getting seedlings, fertilisers and extension services. Government should support safe logistics for the distribution of farm produce.

We have to be systematic in getting the remaining 30% of the workforce back to work. To start this, we have to develop guidelines and solutions for industries including transportation and banking that we have unnecessarily shuttered/crippled for about 25 days now.

The general principle is to limit the number of people in a place at a time and observe these safety measures: effective public comm. on Covid-19, social distancing, personal hygiene, use of hand sanitisers, surveillance for infections & use of face masks in shared public spaces.

We have to reopen schools fully by May 31. For the universities, ASUU should immediately call off its strike. Lecturers should start pre-recording their lectures from now. Lectures should start with recorded video/audio. Learning is important; not all exams are important now.

Hygiene and screening measures should be used in admitting students and staff to campuses. Access to campuses should be strictly controlled for safety. Only students who are ready to comply with strict safety regulations should be welcomed back to the campuses.

States should develop safe guidelines on reopening elementary & secondary schools. For Lagos and Abuja, for instance, govt should divert public buses to convey pupils/students to school in the morning and from school in the afternoon. School hours should be adjusted as necessary.

Many manufacturing industries needed not be shuttered in the first place. They should be fully reopened by mid-May; they should run shifts, to avoid crowding at the factories and to accommodate adjustments in public transportation. The general safety measures should be observed.

For micro, small and medium scale enterprises, they should observe our established general principles. Social gatherings, churches, mosques, night clubs and similar places, should be the last to reopen in July. The intervening period should be used to sensitise the operators.

From the foregoing, operators of public transportation need to be compensated for loss of business volume per trip, since they have to carry smaller number of passengers per trip. Government should address revenue shocks for businesses hampered by the need to safeguard public health.

By the way, government needs to pay its service providers and contractors. This vital aspect of doing the needful, has been ignored by the authorities, including cases where the payments were close to being fully processed before offices were ordered to be shut.

The above will restore ability to provide unofficial social security to less-fortunate and aged family members and friends. The volume of unofficial social security, including migrant remittances, is in multiples of the budget of the federal government.

On the healthcare side, testing should continue as much as possible but public resources should not be wasted on acquiring testing capacities that we cannot, and will not, deliver. Healthcare workers should be protected and motivated.

We should be gathering data and knowledge along the way & modify our plan as necessary. The threat of Covid-19 will only certainly be ended by a vaccine. Government should preserve resources for us to procure and administer the vaccine when it becomes available for global distribution.