By Tope Fasua
“Be fearful, when others are greedy… Be greedy, when others are fearful” – Warren Buffet
Alright. Gloves off. Enough already. I have refused to add COVID to the title above because we have seen and read too many COVID-titled articles already. Everyone has an opinion on that subject and justifiably too. But the time for play is over. Equally, the time for fear and hedging is over. I will say it like it is in this article and let anyone’s ox be gored. Nigerians are simply not dying due to this disease, and for whatever reason. We have refused to die by the thousands and millions as they projected by now. I have ‘friends’ who spread bad news daily, and who due to the positions they had earlier taken, come on social media daily, looking to celebrate the deaths of thousands, if not millions of poor Nigerians. It is not happening. It will not happen, save for the small numbers that the Grim Ripper takes on a daily basis due to old age, sundry illnesses and a few inexplicable sudden deaths. This will happen, even as our maternity centres are noisy, with the cries of thousands of mothers in the pangs of child birth, and tiny tots just popped out of their mothers’ tummies. Mwaaah mwaahhh! Those are the cries that dominate Nigeria’s many run-down primary health centres. We are refusing to fall and die due to some funny new disease, no matter what anybody wishes. Death is not us. Nigerians have suffered enough and seen enough already. And I say this with every sense of responsibility.
Nobody should wish Nigerians dead by the millions, or for dead bodies to litter our streets. I also stand in the breach to speak for Africans, black, brown, cream or white. Nobody should wish calamity on us. And nobody should try anything funny, by trying to gas our people through any funny means, especially as most of us are at home, and the free security that is afforded by the randomness of our people moving about day and night, is curtailed by this fraudulent tactic of sealing people at home or getting humans to space out in a sadistic regimen of self-hate and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) gone global. The chances of any stray African seeing anyone getting up to funny activities just to prove some people right that millions of Africans (seen as dispensable), will fall and die, is reduced when Africans are forced to sleep and sequester themselves in their homes. The strategies of the enemies of humanity have failed. Enough already of this charade.
As the presidents of South Africa and Ghana, as well as many around the world, are eventually standing up for their people, and summoning the courage to see through the whole charade, by reopening their economies, I urge President Buhari to start reopening the Nigerian economy. I have chosen a conciliatory and apolitical stance in all this. This is not the time to start abusing and cursing government for past failures. But President Buhari, please stop weakening Nigerians. Stop starving Nigerians. Stop sinking Nigerians into depression. Already, more than 80% of whichever proportion of Nigeria’s 41million MSMEs are dead because of the one month forced closure. These are people who had no fallback. Our economy cannot as yet be run remotely. No business gets done except people see you face-to-face. Reviving businesses will be a herculean task even when people come back. In the interregnum, Nigerian business have got weaker and more rudderless. Big, foreign business who are more driven by technology – which we don’t have – have become stronger and intend to swoop on the cash flows of 7billion people whether we like it or not. Now is the time to stop this dance of death. If Buhari does not stop it now, and continues with a strategy that weakens and sickens our people and ripens Nigerians for the cull, then he has written his own testimonial in history. It is not looking very attractive.
I have also just reviewed and shared interviews by Dr Dan Erickson and his colleague, which justify my position on this since. As I have always stated, this COVID-19 is yet to be proven as being more deadly than the normal flu. Certainly not in Nigeria and not elsewhere in the world. The real data is emerging (after this disease started appearing in December last year), and it is pointing to a very low fatality rate that does not justify the global shutdown. On the flip side the shutdown is damaging billions of people. Domestic violence and marriage breakages, alcoholism, gun crimes, looting, armed robberies, police brutality and killings, rape and child molestation, as well as suicides have spiked everywhere; even in Nigeria, as frustration and depression sets in from long lockdowns especially in countries with little or no provisions for their people. Also, like the doctors noted, large supermarkets and businesses are allowed to open, while small ones are closed and killed. The risk of infection is still rife, as people cluster in the few open shops from time to time. It just doesn’t make sense. If the world must make these mistakes, must Nigeria follow? Don’t we have our own many problems?
Our Best Ever Opportunity to Seize This Economy
I participated in a webinar on Friday 24th April, 2020, under the auspices of Duke of Shomolu Economic Forum (DOSEF). I titled “Nigeria had no Economy – Let’s start afresh”, because that is exactly what I can see. As I presented the paper I got even more excited at the prospects that nature – or whatever it is – has thrown up for us as a result of this COVID and the concomitant global lockdown. I say that Nigeria has no real economy till date. See how crude oil crashed and we are left scratching our heads about what to do next! Was that not what gave us our bragging rights in the comity of nations? Are we not left hoping and praying prices go back up, so that we may continue with our unthinking, profligate ways? What input did we ever add to crude oil, apart from watching as foreigners bring the technology, do the heavy mental and logistical lifting only for us to get the credit alerts? Is that how to run an economy? Naira sells for anything between N450 – N500 to the dollar today. We were promised that nothing of that sort will happen. Note that when President Buhari came in 2015, Naira was N197 to the dollar. Officially it sold around N160. Look at us today? We need bold policies, not to be sleeping at such a momentous time.
We have seen now, in bold relief, that economic diversification means only one thing; the ability for a nation to depend on itself to a large extent; to ensure that her people can find whatever it is they need from within the nation as much as possible, to ensure that the money circulates within the family. Every big country does it. This is not about what economists call Autarky – the desire for a nation to totally be on its own. No. The trick is that no nation can possibly produce every good and service that her people need. However, that is exactly what it must strive to do. It is an unending journey. Smart nations produce beyond capacity in some areas and then export. Some of us had begged Nigeria to look in this direction, which is not a stupid option given that scholars like Joseph Stiglitz and many more had more than hinted us. I recall that he wrote in one of his books ‘Making Globalization Work’, that South Korea would still be a rice exporter and not a tech and tertiary goods exporter today if she remained with the nonsensical and long-outdated idea of ‘comparative advantage’. Unfortunately, the economists and advisers that swirl around our leaders – usually posted and recommended from you-know-where – are ardent believers in this outdated idea. This is the time to make it plain to Nigerians that we had been defrauded, misled, and deliberately destroyed all along. Our best opportunity is today, to make a deliberate change of tactics. Our best opportunity is now, to close as many of the gaps as possible, now that foreigners are dealing with their own problems. This country can be great!
Look at our delusion! South Africa has budgeted exactly Nigeria’s annual budget just to get her people out of COVID! Yet we claim to be giants of Africa! South Africa’s annual budget is around $105bn-$130bn depending on exchange rate fluctuations between the Rand and Dollar. Nigeria only managed N10Trillion (then around $30Billion) at the beginning of 2020 – a figure we have now had to discount massively because there is simply no money to fund same! And the Naira has grossly depreciated too, meaning that per capita, we have no provisions for our people!
So the time is now to do something different. Our profound opportunity exists around reorganizing our society. Now that everyone is minding their own country, under this period of global scare, home biasw and lethargy, we should be making a move to get Nigerians to move their intellectual and entrepreneurial capacities into different sectors and be productive. We should be organizing, organizing, organizing. The interventions from government should be directed to achieve this feat. I had pushed earlier for a situation where even our students in universities and polytechnics will be pressed into service to become productive and useful. This is not the time for them to sleep. This is the time for them and their professors, to research and begin an organic productive renaissance. Not only should we be finding a solution to COVID-19 like Madagascar has done (even though we have discredited every Nigerian that has offered any idea in this area, our engineering students should be solving problems in rural electrification and what have you. They should be building little roads near their schools and helping to patch vast areas under supervision. They will at least get something on their CVs such that upon graduation no one will intimidate them with some lack of experience story. This initiative is even more imperative now that there is no cash flow anywhere for our usual bribe-laden contracts. We also cannot wait for foreigners to come back before we have an idea of what to do. I understand that many of the people who run our economy, can only think in terms of ‘foreign investors’, and at present, we seem to be in mental lockdown, waiting for Oyibo man to return. We neglect the potentials of our own human and material capital and wait for westerners or Chinese. The rhetoric on social media of late has been to bash the Chinese, but I say, we should look inwards immediately. As we can see, neither the Chinese, nor the westerners, give a toss about us when push comes to shove. Everybody is simply interested in advancing their own causes/courses.
So, if we can get our students to be productive, what about our millions of entrepreneurs? Is this not the time to be encouraging them in several directions? Let us start from the basics. COVID19 has revealed to us that the superstructure of our economy was not there in the first place. Whereas we asked our youths to all become entrepreneurs, but our idea of entrepreneurship is still all about purchasing technology, machines and manufactures from abroad or just becoming importers of things produced by smarter people. With lockdown and inability to import today, many businesses have already collapsed and millions of jobs, lost. Building from the scratch is what we need to do. So we need massive ideas, investments and entrepreneurship around the things that truly matter. We have almost 15million children on the streets. Thankfully, COVID is spurring some governors to try and outlaw the idea of children on the streets. But this is also opportunity for those interested in education. More schools will have to be built, more teachers are needed. The government must now sponsor these millions of children and develop the human capital that we have. What about Agriculture and agro-processing? Do we wait for the return of the Chinese? When will we mainstream the works of our scholars. I say this is the ONLY opportunity we will have to mobilize great local investments into the sectors that matter, the sectors we had neglected but which are fundamental to having a sane society – education, health, environment, security, power, water, basic housing… even social services. Yes, this is the time for NGOs to thrive. There is much work to do. This is our best opportunity indeed, to use local resources – human, material, financial – to reboot and rejig and reinvent the local economy.
This is also the time for us to reorganize the public service. We don’t need people at federal and state secretariats, pushing files and ogling for bribes, but in communities, mobilizing and assisting our people. We can see just how easily governments in other countries are able to reach their people; an impossible task for us here. Government needs not sack staff. Many of them will be useful in the sectors I mentioned above (education, environment, security, health etc), even as REGULATORS. We have not regulated our industries enough here. We seem not to even understand the meaning of regulation, which is not to squeeze life out of companies or societies, but ensure things are standardized and globally-competitive. We need more hands-on approaches. Milton Friedman pushed the idea of Disaster Capitalism, which means that periods of crisis and upheavals such as this, are great opportunities for nations to achieve sweeping changes for the better. I may not like his brand of economics which emphasizes the sole primacy of capital and money, but we have an opportunity on hand, which we will miss to our eternal detriment. We must not waste this opportunity; this crisis. By the time this is over, may we have created a million new entrepreneurs in all areas of the economy, such that when globalization returns with a vengeance, we will already be ticking and ready to engage the barrage of artillery. That is another phase of the war. First, our entrepreneurs must focus on solving local problems. We should be poring and brooding over our economic map presently, like war generals do, taking positions, strategizing on economic territories and encouraging our young and agile millions… WE SHOULD NOT BE SLEEPING OR RESTING OR HIDING UNDER OUR BEDS FOR THE FEAR OF COVID19!
And when this is over, may we not remain crumb-pickers, trying to survive based on platforms like Youtube, Twitter, Zoom, Skype, Facebook and Instagram, set up by barely teenagers elsewhere. I see that many of our youths work so hard to make a few dollars on those platforms. It is just so painful. Our strategy cannot be to leverage on those technologies where we make infinitely more money for the young dudes who own the platforms and backbones, while we rejoice for getting a few dollars. I have been studying how much Youtubers make for all their hard work and it is indeed annoying. The world is actually being cheated by the smart chaps (western, Chinese or whoever), who own these backbones and platforms. The idea of a digital economy will increase this cheating too. We have no choice than to go digital, but we must know, that we stand a great risk of being mere crumb-pickers. That is not a good destiny. This is the more reason we must organize from ground up. Our youths need new, tangible careers too. Now, most who are musicians, sportsmen, comedians, DJs, etc, may be out of work for too long. Left to Bill Gates, the world needs a minimum of 4 years before they can assemble crowds. Posting their work on Youtube will only earn them a tiny, few dollars. Wake up!
N20 Trillion war Bond
Part of the strategy we must adopt is how to raise the money needed to reboot and prime this economy given the total collapse of our revenues. Whereas crude oil collapsed in international markets, back home, our tax agencies and other revenue generators for government have also gone to sleep. FIRS is online these days, panicking about how to get their taxes in and I don’t blame them. When they wake up, the taxpayers will also resist because no one has been making any money. In a month or two, even the federal government will find it hard to pay salaries. The states are already in trouble. I will need a whole article to explain this idea which is making sense more every day that passes.
Why We Must Resume Business Urgently
On the back of Prof. C. C. Soludo’s recent article, I concur that we should open for business immediately, but I differ in the sense that I believe we should take it gradually. Thankfully Anambra and Oyo states are back. Some talk of flattening the curve (Nigerians like parroting things they hear on TV whether they understand them or not). I would argue that we cannot be said to be flattening any curve for now because of the few tests we have done. And we may never be able to afford to find the peak any time soon, because of money, time and cost to everybody’s wellbeing. Ghana and SA are back but even they have not tested 1% of their population. A good sample for any nation to feel safe will be at least 10% of population getting tested. Even the USA, which has conducted the most tests in the world, at just below 5million tests, has only tested 1.5% of population. The UAE has done perhaps the highest proportionate tests in the world at 790,000 out of about 15m people, or 6% of population. Germany and Italy have not done too badly at around 3% of population.
This is what I saw way back, that the current model of tackling COVID19 will break down. Countries will have to give up on lockdown except they want to commit genocide en masse and/or economic suicide. The logistics of taking your tests up to at least 10% or 20% in order to extrapolate over the rest of the population, is simply impossible for any country on Earth. This is where Bill Gates gets it wrong in pushing the idea that economies should lock down till November, and not come back to normal until 7billion are vaccinated. With that deluded idea, he pushes two options, death by hunger, depression, poverty and a thousand other diseases (especially in poorer nations), or death by a raging COVID19… which has proven to actually be much less potent than promised – even in the countries most hit. Note that we still have to compare the numbers of deaths to the usual numbers taken by the seasonal flu (250,000 to 600,000 yearly according to CDC). Figures will also emerge on how many people died needlessly as a result of focus on COVID19 to the detriment of other diseases and that will also be compared.
Again, we can blame and curse the Nigerian government all day but that will solve no problem. Nigeria will never be able to acquire enough test kits, ventilators or hospital bed spaces in this lifetime if we wanted to be very efficient with COVID. We have to make do with what we have. We have to be ingenious and think locally. We also have to recognize our luck, and make the most of our time by being productive. Therefore, it is not the time to sleep, but the time to organize our public spaces and deploy what is left of our resources to prepare just in case another wave comes. We have to be very vigilant too. For now, we hear COVID19 monies are being embezzled while we lock ourselves at home. This is a terrible thing to see happen. However, such is the price of cowardice. Nigerians, WAKE UP!
Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian businessman, economist, writer and 2019 Nigeria Presidential candidate for Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party ANRP.