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COVID-19: CAN AFRICA AFFORD LOCKDOWNS? by CHUKWUMA CHARLES SOLUDO, CFR

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COVID-19: CAN AFRICA AFFORD LOCKDOWNS?*

*CHUKWUMA CHARLES SOLUDO, CFR*

This piece summarizes my contribution to an African debate. From Johannesburg to Lagos, Cairo to Dakar, Kinshasa to Kigali, Nairobi to Accra, etc the debate on how Africa should respond to the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is raging. At an African regional policy platform, I had expressed some of these (personal) views some weeks ago but have been encouraged by most members to circulate them in Africa beyond the platform.

This year 2020 begins a new decade that promises to be one of dreadful disruptions, with Africa holding the weakest end of the stick. In 2008/09, the global “great recession” was triggered by financial crisis in the US (world’s largest economy). Then, much of Africa was said to be decoupled from the crisis and muddled through without severe devastation of its economies. This year, a global health pandemic that has paused the global economy and certain to rail-road it into synchronized recession (if not depression) was triggered by the second largest economy, China. Unlike before, multilateralism and global coordination framework are at their weakest. National (local) self-defence is the rule. As before, the rich world with its generous welfare system and huge financial war chest, is taking care of itself (the US alone has US$2.2 trillion stimulus package). Africa is left to its fate.

Covid-19 caught the world totally unprepared, and with no proven and available medical response. Ad-hoc cocktails and learning-by-doing constitute the strategic package. In most western countries, the cocktail of response has included a coterie of defensive measures including: border closure; prepare isolation centres and mobilize medical personnel/facilities; implement “stay at home” orders or lockdowns except for food, medicine and essential services; campaign for basic hygiene and social distancing; arrange welfare packages for the vulnerable; and also economic stimulus packages to mitigate the effects on the macro economy.

Many African countries have largely copied the above template, to varying degrees. Piece-meal extensions of “stay at home” or lockdown orders as in many western countries have also been copied in Africa. But the question is: can Africa really afford lockdowns, and can they be effective? Put differently, given the social and economic circumstances of Africa and the impending ‘economic pandemic’, can Africa successfully and sustainably defeat Covid-19 by copying the conventional trial-and-error template of the western nations? In confusion and desperation, the world seemed to be throwing any and everything at the pandemic. Recall President Trump’s assertion that hydroxychloroquine “might help”? The evidence so far (from limited sample) is that it probably actually worsens the disease. The trial and error have left huge human toll and economic ruins, and there is still no solution.

Let us be clear: no one can blame African policymakers for the initial panicky copy and paste response some weeks ago. No public officer wanted to be blamed for doing nothing or not doing what others were doing. After these initial pilot schemes, it is now time to ask the deep question: Is this the right approach for Africa?

All lives matter and African governments must do everything to protect or save every life from the pandemic. The challenge is how. Africa faces two unsavoury options: the conventional template, including lockdowns versus heterodox (creative local) approaches without lockdowns. Both have risks and potential benefits. Sadly, people will still get the disease and die under both approaches. People will differ on the choice, depending on what is on their decision matrix: data, resources, subjective preferences, and interests, etc. I focus on which option (on a net basis) is achievable in the short to medium term, consistent with our social and economic realities.

Our thesis is that lockdowns in Africa suffer time-inconsistency problem without a credible exit strategy; is unaffordable and could potentially worsen the twin pandemic—health and economic—in Africa. We call for Africa to press the reset button now, mainstream its collective, simple, smart learning-by-doing solutions that could, in the end, be the African solutions for export to the world. Covid-19 won’t be the end of techno-economic disruptions or health pandemics even in this decade: this is an opportunity to think without the box—to engender greater self-confidence in our capacity to think through our problems, with authentic sustainable solutions.

Let me illustrate why I believe that a strategy that includes lockdowns/border closure is the worse of the two options given our social and economic realities. (Recall that China isolated Wuhan, and kept Shanghai, Beijing, and other major economic engines open, and today, China supplies the world with medical equipment, face masks, etc and raking-in hundreds of billions of dollars). The idea of a lockdown (and border closure) implies that you will continue to do so (with extensions) until such a time that you are satisfied that the spread of Covid-19 has been arrested or on the decline (with the possibility of imposing another round of lockdown if new infections surge). That is the catch: lockdown for as long as required to stem the spread. The length of time required for such lockdowns to ensure “effectiveness” in arresting the spread would make it near impossible in much of Africa. If the strategy is to lockdown until infections stop/significantly decline or so, then we would have a suicidal indefinite waiting game.

First, monitoring the spread requires effective testing, and Africa cannot afford effective testing of its 1.3 billion people. New York State, with a population of 20 million and a budget of $175 billion, is pleading with the US Federal Government to assist with testing kits and facilities. Check out the number of testing centres and facilities in each African country relative to their populations. A joke in the social media narrated that the health minister of Burundi was asked to explain the miracle in his country whereby the number of infections was reported as zero. His response was: “it is simple: we don’t have any testing kits”. Besides, there is stigma associated with the infection, and on the average Africans only go to the hospital as the last resort. There are also asymptomatic cases, and only the critically ill ones will report. So, there will always be massive under-testing, and gross under reporting.

Furthermore, social distancing in most parts of Africa will remain impractical. From the shanties in South Africa’s townships to the crowded Ajengule or Mararaba in Abuja/Nasarawa, or Cairo or Kinshasa to the villages and poor neighbourhoods in much of Africa, social clustering, not distancing, is the affordable, survivalist culture. Communal living is not just about culture, it is a matter of economic survival. Hence, the statistics on infections will be coming in fits and stats: shall we be locking down and unlocking with each episode of surge as there may probably be several such episodes (unless and until a cure is found)? Even with over four weeks of “stay at home” or lockdowns in some African countries, the reported daily infections continue to rise. Some may argue the counterfactual that without the initial lockdowns, the number of infections could have been multiples. It is a reasonable conjecture or anecdote, albeit without any proof. The question is the end game for a poor society such as Africa? New infections have re-emerged in Wuhan, and both Singapore and South Korea are going back to the drawing board. Since we cannot sustain lockdowns indefinitely or even until the spread stops/declines, it means that we would sooner or later remove the restrictions. What happens then? There would still be infections, which can still spread anyway. Why not then adopt sustainable solutions early enough without weeks of avoidable waste and hardship? Let us think this through!

Next, African states cannot pay for lockdowns. Many countries depend on budget support from bilateral and multilateral donors, and with acute balance of payments problems. They do not even have leg rooms to simply print money. Most are now begging for debt relief and applying for urgent loans from the IMF and the World Bank. In Africa, both the governments and the people are begging for “palliatives”. The most that African states and their private charities can do is “photo charity”—with much fanfare, drop a few currency notes or grains here and there for some thousands when millions are in desperate need, just to be seen to have “done something”. At a fundamental level, most African states do not have credible demographic data to identify and target the most vulnerable. In the western societies from where we copied the lockdown/border closure, their citizens are literally paid to stay at home (by silently dropping monies into their accounts plus other incentives). Check out the trillions of dollars, Euros, and pounds in support to the vulnerable and stimulus packages. Despite these, check out the restiveness/protests in several of these countries and the unrelenting pressure to eliminate the restrictions (even in countries where thousands are dying each day due to Covid-19). Given that no government in Africa can seriously pay for lockdowns, over one billion Africans are left to survive if they can or perish if they must.

Without government support, no more than 5% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people can possibly survive any prolonged lockdown on their own finances. Most of the others have no assets or savings to live on for any prolonged period, and there is no social insurance (welfare system). Without the pandemic, the African economic space is already in dire straits, with unacceptable unemployment rate (especially youth unemployment) as well as endemic poverty. In 2007, I evaluated the structure of deposits in Nigerian banks and found that only 8% of the bank accounts had balances of N300,000 (over $2,500 then) and above, and these accounted for 95% of the total deposits. The remaining 92% of bank accounts had 5% of total deposits. I understand that a recent study showed that only 2% of bank accounts had N500,000 (about $1,300) and above. Also imagine the dependency burden on this 2%. The dearth of infrastructure (basic electricity is deficient) makes compulsion to stay at home hellish for most people. We have lockdowns in Africa but without pausing several pressures for private expenditures on the people: monthly house rents; banks’ interest payments for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), electricity charges, etc.

With some 80% of Africa’s population living from hand to mouth on daily toil and hassle, complete lockdown would never be total, almost impossible in our social settings. In most cases, the orders simply create opportunities for extortion for the security agencies: those who pay, move about! Attempts to force everyone into a lockdown for extended period may indeed be enforcing a hunger/stress-induced mass genocide. More people could, consequently, be dying out of hunger and other diseases than the actual Covid-19. In normal times, thousands die every day in Africa due to other illnesses and communicable diseases—cholera, malaria, lassa fever, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis, heart diseases, stroke, HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, zika virus, measles, hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, Ebola, Rift valley fever, monkey pox, chikungunya virus, pregnancy and child-birth related deaths, renal failure; pneumonia, etc.

Lockdowns worsen these as many of the victims of these now have little or no cash to attend to themselves. Soon the pharmacy shops will run out of imported drugs. Even local pharmaceutical manufacturing firms need imported inputs but cannot efficiently source them under lockdowns/border closure (even more so with restrictions in China and India). Soon local, adulterated ones may fill the gap. A summary point is that the millions of persons in the street, who are struggling between life and death each day with numerous other challenges do not, and will never, understand why so much additional hardship is being foisted upon them because of the novel coronavirus. For most of them (wrongly though), it is an elite problem since for them, the “hunger/other disease virus is more dangerous than corona virus”. The hungry and desperate millions may be forced to take desperate actions to survive, and little surprise that crime has spiked in several African countries with lockdowns.

What many do not seem to appreciate is that African economies are facing their worst economic condition in decades. Commodity prices have fallen dramatically, and for oil producers, the situation is precarious. IMF predicts that aggregate Africa will fall into a recession this year (the first in over two decades) but possibly rebound next year. For oil producers, it all depends on what happens to oil prices in the coming months and how they creatively craft a plan to transition to the world with little or no oil. If appropriate measures are not taken quickly, some oil producers may slide into depression. But border closures/lockdowns that dramatically affect the labour market and supply side (as well as demand side) of the economy will only worsen the situation, especially with little or no room for effective fiscal/monetary stimulus. Government revenues will be severely affected.

Thousands of MSMEs will die under the weight of formal and informal loans, bills (rents, electricity, wages, interest, etc) that continue to accumulate under lockdowns as well as low demand for their goods and services. Some countries are busy “announcing” fantastic figures of helpline for the MSMEs (and much of it will end at the announcements) but without a clear path to address the legacy burden on the firms— the persisting bills! Most of the owners of the MSMEs will probably consume their business capital during the lockdowns, with no clear helpline afterwards. The US Senate just passed a bill for $484 billion “More Small-Business Stimulus”, including a $320 billion “Paycheck Protection Program” to enable small businesses pay their staff salaries for two months. This follows the exhaustion of earlier $350 billion for small businesses under the $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The above is just an example of what western countries from whom we copied the lockdown strategy are doing for their MSMEs—which Africa cannot afford.

Millions of poor farmers will be hard hit. Their perishable products that need the informal public transport to reach the cities will be wasted; while millions that need transport to their farms cannot do so. Agriculture in Africa is rain-fed and seasonal. Lockdowns during the planting season could threaten food security in months ahead. Inflation will shoot up in many African countries, and with critical food shortages later. Manufacturing firms need imported inputs, machinery, and spare parts. Countries under lockdowns are consuming their old stocks. Even after lifting the lockdowns/border closure, it may take months for normalcy to return in some countries.

Each day that any of the major African economies stays under lockdown costs Africa billions of dollars in lost income but with debatable benefits. Given its financial and structural weaknesses, Africa does not have the luxury of using the same “conventional tools” of the western countries in the face of the twin pandemic. At the minimum, Africa needs its full population (its most important asset) working at full throttle to have any chance of defeating the impending economic catastrophe.

What should Africa do?

We should think African but act locally and opportunistically to survive and prosper, and exploit the global opportunities offered by the crises. Every shock or pandemic presents opportunities. Solutions need to be multidimensional, far beyond economics and western medicine. Ad-hoc response will be a wasted opportunity. Africa needs a package for creating sustainable prosperity in a world of continuous techno-economic-health disruptions. Such disruptions will become the new normal in the decades ahead, and we should better get used to that. Only societies that anticipate and plan for such disruptions will opportunistically exploit them, while others mourn and blame the shocks. The way we work, socialize, meet etc will not be the same after these crises. Welcome to the decade of rapid creative destructions!

As a first step, African countries should urgently dismantle the border closures as well as the stay at home/lockdown orders. Hopefully, some useful data were gathered, and lessons learnt that will help in crafting simple, smart, and sustainable heterodox responses. Africa cannot afford lockdowns that will prove ineffective anyway.

Opening Africa does not mean abdication of responsibility by the governments. Governments should lead in the mobilization, education, and possibly equipment of the people to take personal responsibility for their safety; mainstream the African spirit of community/collective action by mobilizing the churches, mosques and civil society organizations to lead in the public education and mobilization; and finally for the government to do its utmost best in providing public healthcare. An enduring lesson of this pandemic is that African countries must take public healthcare seriously. There will be future health pandemics and we should better get ready today. Professionals, religious leaders, CSOs and community leaders should be mobilized to agree on simple, smart solutions consistent with our financial and social realities. Our western and local (herbal) medical experts and research institutions should all be mobilized to come up with solutions. Those with pre-existing conditions might receive special treatment. The president of Madagascar is reported to have announced that his country has found its own cure for Covid-19 and has ordered schools also to reopen. The west is still on a trial-and-error mode, and why shouldn’t we experiment as well? Africa fought and survived Ebola without lockdowns and we can do even better this time.

Our model should be learning-by-doing while mainstreaming basic common-sense tips such as: mandatory wearing of masks in public, basic hygiene, disinfection of all open markets every early morning and all places of public gatherings, practical social distancing tips, provision of hand washing facilities in public places, production and use of hand sanitizers, gloves, etc. For example, all public transport vehicles—taxi, buses, trains, airplanes might require disinfection of the vehicle before use, and for all passengers to wear masks and with hand sanitizers. Can you imagine the thousands of jobs to be created in producing face masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, etc for 1.3 billion people? But this cannot happen under a lockdown. New opportunities! Everyone wants to live, and Africans will learn and adapt quickly. Staying at home will become a choice, not a compulsion. The slogan could be: “stay at home if you can, or smartly go to work if you must”. We can only defeat the challenge by confronting it, and not by playing the Ostrich only to still confront it the day after.

Every African society has some local herbs that, to use President Trump’s phrase, “might help”. While the UK and others are experimenting with vaccines, you never know if an Africa herb might be the cure. Necessity is the mother of invention, and only those who dare, succeed! With enough education and mobilization, the infection rate will be drastically reduced without pausing the lives of 1.3 billion people.

The real challenge is the potential economic catastrophe that many African economies face. How policymakers respond depends on how they interpret the shocks: as temporary or permanent structural shifts. But howsoever they choose to see it, one thing is certain: several more similar shocks (not necessarily in exact form) are on the way.

What is evident so far is that most African policymakers (typically) think of the shocks as temporary, and consequently seem to believe that they can just stimulate their way out of it and wait for the next one. African multilateral financial institutions (e.g. AfDB and Afreximbank) have announced packages to assist Africa ride over the shocks. The World Bank and the IMF have provided quick disbursing windows for us to borrow. African finance ministers have called for moratorium on debt servicing, and most have applied for the cheap loans from Washington. Several African countries have “announced” intervention funds that, at best, constitute a drop in the ocean relative to need. The buffers and institutions for dynamic adjustments are weak or absent. In most countries, subnational governments are pleading for bailouts from their cash-strapped central governments. Many of these subnational governments will soon realize that they are basically on their own, and many could become fiscally insolvent.

After most African countries empty all their piggy banks now, and borrow their full tranches at the Fund and the World Bank, secured moratorium on existing debt etc, what happens with the next disruption in a few years’ time? Or like the African musician, Oliver de Coque sang: “let us enjoy life today, and after that we can worry about tomorrow”? But that tomorrow is a few hours away. Because of these crises, many African currencies (especially the oil producers) might likely depreciate significantly. Servicing these external debts tomorrow with the exchange rate then, would require heavy lifting. But it is difficult to see how a competitive real effective exchange rate regime will not be a critical component of their comprehensive strategy for diversification and global competitiveness.

Politicians with short-term electoral cycles typically have short time horizons or suffer policy myopia. This is not just an African problem. It is a typical problem of multiparty democracies with short term electoral cycles and term limits. However, extreme cases abound in some African states especially because the civil service (that ought to ensure longer term continuity) is very weak. With eyes on the next election, opportunistic populism wins. Rather than confront the underlying structural dysfunction, the easiest escape is to pile up debts and contingent liabilities. This is the circularity that has brought Africa to the present embarrassment whereby barely some years after massive debt cancellations/reliefs from our creditors, we are again pleading for “debt relief”. But several future shocks are on the way. When and how can African countries escape this circular trap? This is a short question but with a long answer. Each country’s economic/development team should get to serious work.

For the countries that see the shocks as signalling structural shifts (which it largely is), the focus should be on exploiting the opportunities offered by the crises to press the re-set button. It requires a realistic diagnosis and admission that the existing business model has been rendered obsolete. Crafting a new business model that encompasses the whole range of institutional, technological, structural, macroeconomic, and even politico-governance arrangements takes time and demands for disruptive thinking. It would require mainstreaming creative non-debt-creating financing options and new forms of economic partnerships. But these require longer-term perspectives and a form of inter-generational planning. There lies the conflict versus the opportunity and points to what separates politicians from statesmen. Politicians think of the next election, while statesmen think of the next generation. We pray for Africa’s political statesmen (a seeming contradictory combination—be a politician and statesman at the same time). That is why I strongly support the re-opening of all of Africa urgently, and let all hands get to work to help them succeed.A MUST READ.

COVID-19: CAN AFRICA AFFORD LOCKDOWNS?*

*CHUKWUMA CHARLES SOLUDO, CFR*

This piece summarizes my contribution to an African debate. From Johannesburg to Lagos, Cairo to Dakar, Kinshasa to Kigali, Nairobi to Accra, etc the debate on how Africa should respond to the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is raging. At an African regional policy platform, I had expressed some of these (personal) views some weeks ago but have been encouraged by most members to circulate them in Africa beyond the platform.

This year 2020 begins a new decade that promises to be one of dreadful disruptions, with Africa holding the weakest end of the stick. In 2008/09, the global “great recession” was triggered by financial crisis in the US (world’s largest economy). Then, much of Africa was said to be decoupled from the crisis and muddled through without severe devastation of its economies. This year, a global health pandemic that has paused the global economy and certain to rail-road it into synchronized recession (if not depression) was triggered by the second largest economy, China. Unlike before, multilateralism and global coordination framework are at their weakest. National (local) self-defence is the rule. As before, the rich world with its generous welfare system and huge financial war chest, is taking care of itself (the US alone has US$2.2 trillion stimulus package). Africa is left to its fate.

Covid-19 caught the world totally unprepared, and with no proven and available medical response. Ad-hoc cocktails and learning-by-doing constitute the strategic package. In most western countries, the cocktail of response has included a coterie of defensive measures including: border closure; prepare isolation centres and mobilize medical personnel/facilities; implement “stay at home” orders or lockdowns except for food, medicine and essential services; campaign for basic hygiene and social distancing; arrange welfare packages for the vulnerable; and also economic stimulus packages to mitigate the effects on the macro economy.

Many African countries have largely copied the above template, to varying degrees. Piece-meal extensions of “stay at home” or lockdown orders as in many western countries have also been copied in Africa. But the question is: can Africa really afford lockdowns, and can they be effective? Put differently, given the social and economic circumstances of Africa and the impending ‘economic pandemic’, can Africa successfully and sustainably defeat Covid-19 by copying the conventional trial-and-error template of the western nations? In confusion and desperation, the world seemed to be throwing any and everything at the pandemic. Recall President Trump’s assertion that hydroxychloroquine “might help”? The evidence so far (from limited sample) is that it probably actually worsens the disease. The trial and error have left huge human toll and economic ruins, and there is still no solution.

Let us be clear: no one can blame African policymakers for the initial panicky copy and paste response some weeks ago. No public officer wanted to be blamed for doing nothing or not doing what others were doing. After these initial pilot schemes, it is now time to ask the deep question: Is this the right approach for Africa?

All lives matter and African governments must do everything to protect or save every life from the pandemic. The challenge is how. Africa faces two unsavoury options: the conventional template, including lockdowns versus heterodox (creative local) approaches without lockdowns. Both have risks and potential benefits. Sadly, people will still get the disease and die under both approaches. People will differ on the choice, depending on what is on their decision matrix: data, resources, subjective preferences, and interests, etc. I focus on which option (on a net basis) is achievable in the short to medium term, consistent with our social and economic realities.

Our thesis is that lockdowns in Africa suffer time-inconsistency problem without a credible exit strategy; is unaffordable and could potentially worsen the twin pandemic—health and economic—in Africa. We call for Africa to press the reset button now, mainstream its collective, simple, smart learning-by-doing solutions that could, in the end, be the African solutions for export to the world. Covid-19 won’t be the end of techno-economic disruptions or health pandemics even in this decade: this is an opportunity to think without the box—to engender greater self-confidence in our capacity to think through our problems, with authentic sustainable solutions.

Let me illustrate why I believe that a strategy that includes lockdowns/border closure is the worse of the two options given our social and economic realities. (Recall that China isolated Wuhan, and kept Shanghai, Beijing, and other major economic engines open, and today, China supplies the world with medical equipment, face masks, etc and raking-in hundreds of billions of dollars). The idea of a lockdown (and border closure) implies that you will continue to do so (with extensions) until such a time that you are satisfied that the spread of Covid-19 has been arrested or on the decline (with the possibility of imposing another round of lockdown if new infections surge). That is the catch: lockdown for as long as required to stem the spread. The length of time required for such lockdowns to ensure “effectiveness” in arresting the spread would make it near impossible in much of Africa. If the strategy is to lockdown until infections stop/significantly decline or so, then we would have a suicidal indefinite waiting game.

First, monitoring the spread requires effective testing, and Africa cannot afford effective testing of its 1.3 billion people. New York State, with a population of 20 million and a budget of $175 billion, is pleading with the US Federal Government to assist with testing kits and facilities. Check out the number of testing centres and facilities in each African country relative to their populations. A joke in the social media narrated that the health minister of Burundi was asked to explain the miracle in his country whereby the number of infections was reported as zero. His response was: “it is simple: we don’t have any testing kits”. Besides, there is stigma associated with the infection, and on the average Africans only go to the hospital as the last resort. There are also asymptomatic cases, and only the critically ill ones will report. So, there will always be massive under-testing, and gross under reporting.

Furthermore, social distancing in most parts of Africa will remain impractical. From the shanties in South Africa’s townships to the crowded Ajengule or Mararaba in Abuja/Nasarawa, or Cairo or Kinshasa to the villages and poor neighbourhoods in much of Africa, social clustering, not distancing, is the affordable, survivalist culture. Communal living is not just about culture, it is a matter of economic survival. Hence, the statistics on infections will be coming in fits and stats: shall we be locking down and unlocking with each episode of surge as there may probably be several such episodes (unless and until a cure is found)? Even with over four weeks of “stay at home” or lockdowns in some African countries, the reported daily infections continue to rise. Some may argue the counterfactual that without the initial lockdowns, the number of infections could have been multiples. It is a reasonable conjecture or anecdote, albeit without any proof. The question is the end game for a poor society such as Africa? New infections have re-emerged in Wuhan, and both Singapore and South Korea are going back to the drawing board. Since we cannot sustain lockdowns indefinitely or even until the spread stops/declines, it means that we would sooner or later remove the restrictions. What happens then? There would still be infections, which can still spread anyway. Why not then adopt sustainable solutions early enough without weeks of avoidable waste and hardship? Let us think this through!

Next, African states cannot pay for lockdowns. Many countries depend on budget support from bilateral and multilateral donors, and with acute balance of payments problems. They do not even have leg rooms to simply print money. Most are now begging for debt relief and applying for urgent loans from the IMF and the World Bank. In Africa, both the governments and the people are begging for “palliatives”. The most that African states and their private charities can do is “photo charity”—with much fanfare, drop a few currency notes or grains here and there for some thousands when millions are in desperate need, just to be seen to have “done something”. At a fundamental level, most African states do not have credible demographic data to identify and target the most vulnerable. In the western societies from where we copied the lockdown/border closure, their citizens are literally paid to stay at home (by silently dropping monies into their accounts plus other incentives). Check out the trillions of dollars, Euros, and pounds in support to the vulnerable and stimulus packages. Despite these, check out the restiveness/protests in several of these countries and the unrelenting pressure to eliminate the restrictions (even in countries where thousands are dying each day due to Covid-19). Given that no government in Africa can seriously pay for lockdowns, over one billion Africans are left to survive if they can or perish if they must.

Without government support, no more than 5% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people can possibly survive any prolonged lockdown on their own finances. Most of the others have no assets or savings to live on for any prolonged period, and there is no social insurance (welfare system). Without the pandemic, the African economic space is already in dire straits, with unacceptable unemployment rate (especially youth unemployment) as well as endemic poverty. In 2007, I evaluated the structure of deposits in Nigerian banks and found that only 8% of the bank accounts had balances of N300,000 (over $2,500 then) and above, and these accounted for 95% of the total deposits. The remaining 92% of bank accounts had 5% of total deposits. I understand that a recent study showed that only 2% of bank accounts had N500,000 (about $1,300) and above. Also imagine the dependency burden on this 2%. The dearth of infrastructure (basic electricity is deficient) makes compulsion to stay at home hellish for most people. We have lockdowns in Africa but without pausing several pressures for private expenditures on the people: monthly house rents; banks’ interest payments for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), electricity charges, etc.

With some 80% of Africa’s population living from hand to mouth on daily toil and hassle, complete lockdown would never be total, almost impossible in our social settings. In most cases, the orders simply create opportunities for extortion for the security agencies: those who pay, move about! Attempts to force everyone into a lockdown for extended period may indeed be enforcing a hunger/stress-induced mass genocide. More people could, consequently, be dying out of hunger and other diseases than the actual Covid-19. In normal times, thousands die every day in Africa due to other illnesses and communicable diseases—cholera, malaria, lassa fever, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis, heart diseases, stroke, HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, zika virus, measles, hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, Ebola, Rift valley fever, monkey pox, chikungunya virus, pregnancy and child-birth related deaths, renal failure; pneumonia, etc.

Lockdowns worsen these as many of the victims of these now have little or no cash to attend to themselves. Soon the pharmacy shops will run out of imported drugs. Even local pharmaceutical manufacturing firms need imported inputs but cannot efficiently source them under lockdowns/border closure (even more so with restrictions in China and India). Soon local, adulterated ones may fill the gap. A summary point is that the millions of persons in the street, who are struggling between life and death each day with numerous other challenges do not, and will never, understand why so much additional hardship is being foisted upon them because of the novel coronavirus. For most of them (wrongly though), it is an elite problem since for them, the “hunger/other disease virus is more dangerous than corona virus”. The hungry and desperate millions may be forced to take desperate actions to survive, and little surprise that crime has spiked in several African countries with lockdowns.

What many do not seem to appreciate is that African economies are facing their worst economic condition in decades. Commodity prices have fallen dramatically, and for oil producers, the situation is precarious. IMF predicts that aggregate Africa will fall into a recession this year (the first in over two decades) but possibly rebound next year. For oil producers, it all depends on what happens to oil prices in the coming months and how they creatively craft a plan to transition to the world with little or no oil. If appropriate measures are not taken quickly, some oil producers may slide into depression. But border closures/lockdowns that dramatically affect the labour market and supply side (as well as demand side) of the economy will only worsen the situation, especially with little or no room for effective fiscal/monetary stimulus. Government revenues will be severely affected.

Thousands of MSMEs will die under the weight of formal and informal loans, bills (rents, electricity, wages, interest, etc) that continue to accumulate under lockdowns as well as low demand for their goods and services. Some countries are busy “announcing” fantastic figures of helpline for the MSMEs (and much of it will end at the announcements) but without a clear path to address the legacy burden on the firms— the persisting bills! Most of the owners of the MSMEs will probably consume their business capital during the lockdowns, with no clear helpline afterwards. The US Senate just passed a bill for $484 billion “More Small-Business Stimulus”, including a $320 billion “Paycheck Protection Program” to enable small businesses pay their staff salaries for two months. This follows the exhaustion of earlier $350 billion for small businesses under the $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The above is just an example of what western countries from whom we copied the lockdown strategy are doing for their MSMEs—which Africa cannot afford.

Millions of poor farmers will be hard hit. Their perishable products that need the informal public transport to reach the cities will be wasted; while millions that need transport to their farms cannot do so. Agriculture in Africa is rain-fed and seasonal. Lockdowns during the planting season could threaten food security in months ahead. Inflation will shoot up in many African countries, and with critical food shortages later. Manufacturing firms need imported inputs, machinery, and spare parts. Countries under lockdowns are consuming their old stocks. Even after lifting the lockdowns/border closure, it may take months for normalcy to return in some countries.

Each day that any of the major African economies stays under lockdown costs Africa billions of dollars in lost income but with debatable benefits. Given its financial and structural weaknesses, Africa does not have the luxury of using the same “conventional tools” of the western countries in the face of the twin pandemic. At the minimum, Africa needs its full population (its most important asset) working at full throttle to have any chance of defeating the impending economic catastrophe.

What should Africa do?

We should think African but act locally and opportunistically to survive and prosper, and exploit the global opportunities offered by the crises. Every shock or pandemic presents opportunities. Solutions need to be multidimensional, far beyond economics and western medicine. Ad-hoc response will be a wasted opportunity. Africa needs a package for creating sustainable prosperity in a world of continuous techno-economic-health disruptions. Such disruptions will become the new normal in the decades ahead, and we should better get used to that. Only societies that anticipate and plan for such disruptions will opportunistically exploit them, while others mourn and blame the shocks. The way we work, socialize, meet etc will not be the same after these crises. Welcome to the decade of rapid creative destructions!

As a first step, African countries should urgently dismantle the border closures as well as the stay at home/lockdown orders. Hopefully, some useful data were gathered, and lessons learnt that will help in crafting simple, smart, and sustainable heterodox responses. Africa cannot afford lockdowns that will prove ineffective anyway.

Opening Africa does not mean abdication of responsibility by the governments. Governments should lead in the mobilization, education, and possibly equipment of the people to take personal responsibility for their safety; mainstream the African spirit of community/collective action by mobilizing the churches, mosques and civil society organizations to lead in the public education and mobilization; and finally for the government to do its utmost best in providing public healthcare. An enduring lesson of this pandemic is that African countries must take public healthcare seriously. There will be future health pandemics and we should better get ready today. Professionals, religious leaders, CSOs and community leaders should be mobilized to agree on simple, smart solutions consistent with our financial and social realities. Our western and local (herbal) medical experts and research institutions should all be mobilized to come up with solutions. Those with pre-existing conditions might receive special treatment. The president of Madagascar is reported to have announced that his country has found its own cure for Covid-19 and has ordered schools also to reopen. The west is still on a trial-and-error mode, and why shouldn’t we experiment as well? Africa fought and survived Ebola without lockdowns and we can do even better this time.

Our model should be learning-by-doing while mainstreaming basic common-sense tips such as: mandatory wearing of masks in public, basic hygiene, disinfection of all open markets every early morning and all places of public gatherings, practical social distancing tips, provision of hand washing facilities in public places, production and use of hand sanitizers, gloves, etc. For example, all public transport vehicles—taxi, buses, trains, airplanes might require disinfection of the vehicle before use, and for all passengers to wear masks and with hand sanitizers. Can you imagine the thousands of jobs to be created in producing face masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, etc for 1.3 billion people? But this cannot happen under a lockdown. New opportunities! Everyone wants to live, and Africans will learn and adapt quickly. Staying at home will become a choice, not a compulsion. The slogan could be: “stay at home if you can, or smartly go to work if you must”. We can only defeat the challenge by confronting it, and not by playing the Ostrich only to still confront it the day after.

Every African society has some local herbs that, to use President Trump’s phrase, “might help”. While the UK and others are experimenting with vaccines, you never know if an Africa herb might be the cure. Necessity is the mother of invention, and only those who dare, succeed! With enough education and mobilization, the infection rate will be drastically reduced without pausing the lives of 1.3 billion people.

The real challenge is the potential economic catastrophe that many African economies face. How policymakers respond depends on how they interpret the shocks: as temporary or permanent structural shifts. But howsoever they choose to see it, one thing is certain: several more similar shocks (not necessarily in exact form) are on the way.

What is evident so far is that most African policymakers (typically) think of the shocks as temporary, and consequently seem to believe that they can just stimulate their way out of it and wait for the next one. African multilateral financial institutions (e.g. AfDB and Afreximbank) have announced packages to assist Africa ride over the shocks. The World Bank and the IMF have provided quick disbursing windows for us to borrow. African finance ministers have called for moratorium on debt servicing, and most have applied for the cheap loans from Washington. Several African countries have “announced” intervention funds that, at best, constitute a drop in the ocean relative to need. The buffers and institutions for dynamic adjustments are weak or absent. In most countries, subnational governments are pleading for bailouts from their cash-strapped central governments. Many of these subnational governments will soon realize that they are basically on their own, and many could become fiscally insolvent.

After most African countries empty all their piggy banks now, and borrow their full tranches at the Fund and the World Bank, secured moratorium on existing debt etc, what happens with the next disruption in a few years’ time? Or like the African musician, Oliver de Coque sang: “let us enjoy life today, and after that we can worry about tomorrow”? But that tomorrow is a few hours away. Because of these crises, many African currencies (especially the oil producers) might likely depreciate significantly. Servicing these external debts tomorrow with the exchange rate then, would require heavy lifting. But it is difficult to see how a competitive real effective exchange rate regime will not be a critical component of their comprehensive strategy for diversification and global competitiveness.

Politicians with short-term electoral cycles typically have short time horizons or suffer policy myopia. This is not just an African problem. It is a typical problem of multiparty democracies with short term electoral cycles and term limits. However, extreme cases abound in some African states especially because the civil service (that ought to ensure longer term continuity) is very weak. With eyes on the next election, opportunistic populism wins. Rather than confront the underlying structural dysfunction, the easiest escape is to pile up debts and contingent liabilities. This is the circularity that has brought Africa to the present embarrassment whereby barely some years after massive debt cancellations/reliefs from our creditors, we are again pleading for “debt relief”. But several future shocks are on the way. When and how can African countries escape this circular trap? This is a short question but with a long answer. Each country’s economic/development team should get to serious work.

For the countries that see the shocks as signalling structural shifts (which it largely is), the focus should be on exploiting the opportunities offered by the crises to press the re-set button. It requires a realistic diagnosis and admission that the existing business model has been rendered obsolete. Crafting a new business model that encompasses the whole range of institutional, technological, structural, macroeconomic, and even politico-governance arrangements takes time and demands for disruptive thinking. It would require mainstreaming creative non-debt-creating financing options and new forms of economic partnerships. But these require longer-term perspectives and a form of inter-generational planning. There lies the conflict versus the opportunity and points to what separates politicians from statesmen. Politicians think of the next election, while statesmen think of the next generation. We pray for Africa’s political statesmen (a seeming contradictory combination—be a politician and statesman at the same time). That is why I strongly support the re-opening of all of Africa urgently, and let all hands get to work to help them succeed.

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Opinion

Otò ge: Why Governor Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq enjoys massive support in Kwara

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By Anjolaoluwa Folajimi

For several years, late Chief Olusola Saraki, Waziri Ilorin reigned supreme in the Kwara State politics. From the second republic down to the present democratic dispensation, his name made or marred the political fortune of many aspirants in the State.
His political clout transcend over three decades. The political legacy “Oloye” remained unrivalled until 2019 when the “Oto ge” Tsunami put an end to the political influence been enjoyed by the Sarakis in Kwara State politics.

With a change in government, courtesy of the “Oto ge” revolution, a political “greenhorn”, under the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq emerged as the Governor of the State of Harmony. The new Kwara helmsman, a consumate businessman is the son of the first lawyer from the Northern Nigeria, late A.G.F AbdulRazaq, SAN.

Though not known in the political landscape of the state and by extension, the country, Abdulrazaq was fully prepared for governance, having contested and lost the Governorship seat in 2011 under the defunct Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), he has attended to the demand of the office since May 29, 2019 with total zeal, dedication and commitment. A focused and committed leader, the 7th executive Governor of Kwara State in the less than two years on the saddle, has changed the narratives of governance in the State. A development that has endeared him to the people in the 16 local government areas of the state. Not even his political detractors and the oposition can denied the fact that the 61 year old Governor has turned the face of governance, delivered dividend of democracy, give purposeful leadership to the state and written his name on the hearts of Kwarans with indelible ink.

Despite the rot in the system and the downturn of the economy, Abdulrazaq has brought his ingenuity to bear in turning the almost comatose fortune of the state back of its heels.

In the words of Ambassador Nurudeen Mohammed, a Chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress and Nigeria’s immediate past Ambassador to Malaysia, “Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq remains a man of the people and he stands tall as a man of honour among the majority of our party members in the state, in spite of the unfair demarketing campaign launched against his administration by some party chieftains and their co-travelers in the opposition. This is not by chance. Not only has the Governor demystified the office of Governor with his uncommon humility, simplicity, and prudence, he has redefined the story of our state in many positive ways. Whether in health, education, road, or water, the Governor has touched lives in many ways never seen before. He has strategically taken governance to the people such that there is no electoral Ward in the state that cannot point to one or two things that they have benefited in just 18 months of his administration.

“A modest and humble personalty, the Governor who has driven his own private car since day one of his administration to date. Here is a Governor who lives in his own house till date. Here is a Governor who is not taking salary. Here is a Governor who is willingly opening up his government for accountability through the phenomenal social audit process. Here is a Governor who just wants to deliver his campaign promises to the people, despite the biting economic realities. Here is a Governor who gives every part of the state a fair sense of belonging by always identifying with them in time of cultural celebration or mourning, and extending government’s patronage to every segment of the state. Today, Kwara is a model state on the continent in youths and women inclusion in government.”

The retired diplomat rated the Governor high in the health sector. According to him, the health sector of the state has received about the highest priority even before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic.

Mohammed further said, “the administration has started rehabilitation works across dozens of decrepit primary healthcare facilities. Long-abandoned routine immunisation and vaccination is back. For the first time, Kwara now has isolation centres equipped with modern gadgets like ventilators, defibrillators, patient monitors, and others. Its oxygen plant has been revived. For the first time, the state now has ambulances with capacities to manage patients in critical conditions on the go. Indeed, Kwara is now listed as A-list state in healthcare sector.”

The story of education sector of the state has continue to beat the imagination of Kwarans. Priority attention was accorded the sector, which had hitherto suffered neglect by previous administrations leading to the state been blacklisted from accessing from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) fund for more than seven years before his advent as the Governor.
It is on record that Kwara State under Abdulrazaq, has accessed a backlog of N7.1bn UBEC counterpart funds with a matching grant of N7.1bn to gradually reposition the schools. Aside from the upcoming UBEC intervention, the state on its own is carrying out renovation works in at least 43 basic schools. With the UBEC funds in the kitty, no less than 600 basic schools are to get facelifts while teachers are also to be trained.

Worthy of commendation is the transparent process of recruiting 4701 qualified and competent teachers into our public primary, junior and senior secondary schools in the State.

Abdulrazaq’s developmental efforts are not limited to public institutions. In the wake of the novel Covid-19 pandemic, he extended his hands of kindness to Proprietors of 1,119 privately cowned schools in the state. Soft loan were given to help cushion the effects of the pandemic due to shutdown on public places on their schools and teachers.

Recalling Governor Abdulrazaq intervention in the provision of portable water, Hon. Abdulmumin Katibi, a one time member of Kwara State House of Assembly said, “in May 2019, water tanker was the source of potable water in most parts of Ilorin, the capital city, even in the Government House. Today, Pipe-borne water is back and stable in the metropolis while nearly 500 boreholes have either been dug or rehabilitated across the state. No fewer than nine water works have been fixed since this Governor came on board while contracts for more have been awarded. With water situation being tackled, Kwara is keying into the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a key component of the Sustainable Development Goal 6 to promote hygiene and end open defecation. Under this scheme, many schools and hospitals across the state would now for the first time get tap water and pour-flush toilets.”

Urban and rural road infrastructure since Governor Abdulrazaq assumed office has continued to receive attention. The administration has fixed over 100 rural and urban roads/culverts/bridges. Many agrarian communities are now getting standard roads, those hitherto cut off from civilisation are being linked, while at least 500 rural roads are to be fixed under the World Bank-enabled Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project (RAAMP) arrangement for which the administration had earlier paid counterpart funds. These road projects are spread across the senatorial districts, deliberately linking agrarian areas to the urban centres.

Modelled after President Buhari’s Social Investment Programme, Kwara State Social Investment Programme (KWASSIP) is the Governor’s multi-faceted and nonpartisan response to the question of extreme poverty and government’s poor attention to the vulnerable. Under the scheme, at least 21,623 petty traders have accessed soft loans to stay afloat while over 10,000 transporters who could not work during the COVID-19 lockdown were supported. Similarly, already-enumerated 10,000 vulnerable and poor senior citizens, from age 60, are now getting monthly stipends under what would be the state’s first ever institutionalised social protection scheme.

The scheme is also offering free digital training to young people to help them cope in the new economy. Over 3000 persons received training in July last year while 10,000 more are undergoing a richer version of the course in the second phase of the programme in conjunction with Wootlab Innovation and Grow With Google. A total of 30,000 young people are billed to benefit from the training within three years.

It is on record that the federal government has indeed hailed Kwara State’s version of the Owo Isowo (TraderMoni) for its innovative features, such as the inclusion of BVN of the beneficiaries. This is just a few of the many interventions Governor Abdulrazaq has made to lift our people out of purverty. The interesting thing about him is that he sees governance as an affair that transcends party loyalty, and this explains why he has become so popular with the masses, to the chagrin of his traducers!

To achieve the desired transformation in the State, Governor Abdulrazaq’s administration has positively changed the narrative of staff welfare in the state civil service. There is now regular payment of salary. No more percentage payment and promotion of staff has resumed while arrears of salaries and allowances dating back to as far back as 2012 are now being paid. Besides, pensioners now enjoy regular payment of pensions. A sustainable arrangement for payment of gratuities on monthly basis has now been put in place.

However, the unprecedented achievements recorded within this short period is now being threatened by some self serving political leaders, with dangerous sense of entitlement, greed and lust for personal gains are out to forment trouble.

It is a known Convention in the ruling All Progressives Congress that the Governor of a state is the leader of the party in the state. This explained why the likes of Minister of Information, Lai Labode, his counterpart, Minister of State Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki and Akogun Oyedepo have failed in their bid to highjack the party machinery from the Governor.

Despite a well sustained campaign of caluminy by this set of individuals, the political rating and public perception of the Governor continue to assume a constant rise.

An instructive development was the recent endorsement of Governor Abdulrazaq by the kinsmen of the Information Minister from Irepodun Local Government area of the state. Lai Mohammed kinsmen and APC leaders who publicly identified with the Governor include former Kwara State Commissioner for Information, Oloriewe Raheem Adedoyin, a member Kwara State House of Assembly, Hon. Tayo Awodiji, Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House, Princess Bukola Babalola, Prince Shuaib Olanrewaju, Barr. Teju Ogintoye, Gen. Lasisi Abidoye(rtd), Elder Agboola Adewumi, Conrade Ben Dintoye, Alhaji Raheem Olokoba, Prince Samuel Alebiosu, Mrs. Deborah Aremu, Gen. Lasisi Abidoye(rtd), Mrs Shade Omoniyi, Chief Raphael Awotunde, Mr. Yomi Adeboye, Mr. Femi Ajibade, Dr. Sule Popoola, Mr. Debo Adeleke, Hon. Azeez Yakubu and others.

Declaring their support for the Governor at a Press Conference recently in Ilorin, the Minister’s kinsmen through their spokesperson, Hon. Olabanji Olayemi, who is also the Chairman, Kwara South caretaker committee, was quick to refer the Minister to some laudable projects of the Governor in their area. The projects include, “the completion of Taiwo Road, Omu Aran-Esie Museum Road asphalt lay, renovation of court building in Omu Aran, free surgery, state government social investment programmes such as Owo Arugbo and Owo Isowo, comprehensive renovation and construction of additional facilities in Oro Grammar School, Oro.

“Renovation of block of 3 classrooms with an office and store, GSS, Omuaran, renovation of a block of 4 classrooms, CHS, Ajase-Ipo, renovation of a block of 4 classrooms and workshop building, Esie/Iludun Technical College, renovation of examination Hall, GSS, Omu Aran, renovation of a block of Laboratory, PMC, Oro-Ago, and many mores.”

In their verdict, Olayemi said, “In the light of the enumerated achievements of the governor in Irepodun LGA, it is not difficult for us to publicly declare unequivocal support for His Excellency, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, the Governor and our party leader in Kwara State.”

The voice of people of Irepodun is on a daily basis being re-echoed from all the nooks and crannies of Kwara State. If in less than two years, Governor AbdulRazaq has recorded these milestone achievements spread across all the wards in the state, no sooner than later, he may emerge as the new political force that will dominate the political horizon of Kwara State for long.

Folajimi is a member of APC in Kara state.

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Opinion

The Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua I knew

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By Ifueko M Omoigui Okauru

When in Public Service, one never knows the shoes you step on or those who write behind your back especially when you are in the process of reform, requiring unsettling changes to many.

One day, sitting in my office, as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), in the early days of the tax reform process, I was told a gentleman by name of Mallam Ismaila Isa Funtua was at the reception to see me. I invited him in, not knowing who he was.

He introduced himself as a life patron of the International Press Institute and Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) (I had no clue of what that meant) and said he had a matter to discuss with me.

He brought out an official letter purportedly written on my behalf regarding unilaterally imposing VAT on the newspaper industry.

First, this was the first time I was seeing the letter. Second, it was not my style. I didn’t and still don’t take unilateral actions such as was suggested in the letter without consultation even if that was what I wanted to do.

I was shocked.

He mentioned the reason he came. That he didn’t know me but decided to meet with me.

That after reading the letter from the FIRS, the newspaper proprietors had met and decided to fight the FIRS and its reforms on an action that was to cripple the entire industry without even any engagement.

That he promised the group that though he didn’t know me, and had never met me, he had seen and listened to me on TV at different times. That he somehow wanted to be sure that the letter as written was truly written on my behalf as it seemed out of character with the person he had viewed from afar.

He gave me benefit of doubt and I will forever be grateful to him.

There in started my wonderful relationship with Mallam Funtua, Chief Ogunsola then of Punch and Uncle Sam (Amuka Pemu) of the Vanguard newspapers.

I had built the confidence of a formidable trio and only later did I realize what incredible value that brought. It was in every sense a win-win relationship for Government and the newspaper industry.

This relationship extended to my husband after we got married in 2007.

On occasion I would call after I had left office in 2012, and he would berate me for not asking after him enough. On his part, aside from his occasional calls, every time my husband ran into him, he would always ask after my well being, reminding him that he had not heard from us for a while.

If I was to call him a day before his demise, he would have been right as I had not spoken to him in several months. But I would have told him, as I always did, that our relationship was beyond just a call, but one forever in my heart. It is however a wake up call, that for those we love and share cherished memories of, we should constantly keep in touch as we never know the day God chooses to call us to his side.

I will always remember him for that singular act of walking into my office, not knowing me and giving me the benefit of doubt. In Public Service, and indeed any service, that’s immeasurable value.

The news of his death was broken to me by my husband. He woke me up from sleep to let me know. It came to my husband and I as a shock. Seeking answers, and several calls after, I understand that he had driven himself to hospital for a medical check-up as he wasn’t feeling well. The rest is history.

Mallam Isa Funtua, Rest In Peace
May Allah forgive your sins and grant you eternal rest in Heaven.

My condolences to his immediate and extended family.

▪︎ Omoigui Okauru, MFR, former Chairman , Federal Inland Revenue Service/Joint Tax Board
Managing Partner, Compliance Professionals Plc sent this via WhatsApp

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Is Dogara A Coward? “He Left PDP For The Same Reason Akpabio Did”

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By Ikenna Ellis Ezenekwe [Chem Engr, NYC]

Who does Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara thinks he is fooling?

His decision to exit the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] for the All Progressive Congress [APC] could not have come at a more convenient time. A time when the current Speaker of the House of Representative Rt. Hon. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila mandated the Federal Minister of Niger Delta Affair to put his mouth where his money is – and produce the names of the supposed federal lawmakers who were recipients of the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC] contract bonanza and related fraud.

Just when the Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio responded that the recipients were not the members of the current House of Representatives but the members of the previous House of Representative under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Yabuku Dogara – Dogara woke up and discovered the corrupt nature of PDP in Bauchi State – and the pristineness of the APC. He suddenly came to realization he no longer wants a part of it.

Who does he expect to believe the tale he just discovered after more than one year the Government of Bauchi State is corrupt? After partaking in the unholy communion? Who is fooling who? And, who is gullible enough to believe the fairy tale?

The Cambridge dictionary defines a hypocrite as “someone who says they have particular moral beliefs but behaves in way that shows these are not sincere”. And, defines a coward as “a person who is not brave and is too eager to avoid danger, difficulty, or pain”.

If only the Nigerian public knew the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] was hot on his trail and had pulled his files, it would be clearer to understand the predicament Dogara finds himself.

The EFCC had begun investigating his activities while at the Green Chamber – and had concluded on its findings. To arrest the former Speaker was the next move. Dogara was faced with arrest and prosecution – in the same manner Senator Godswill Akpabio was faced with arrest prior to his shameful exit. Like Akpabio, Dogara flipped the switch and crossed over for the political cleaners where his sins will be forever forgiven – and amnesty granted, at the APC.

In Akpabio’s case, he was rewarded for his crossover, and for the synthetically manufactured battle he waged against the Governor of Akwa Ibom – the PDP Governor who took over the Governor’s seat after his exit. He was awarded a ministerial position in return.

In the case of Dogara, the play cards are the same. Off the bat, following his crossover, he launched his version of a synthetically manufactured battle against the PDP Governor of Bauchi State – detailing what he termed as corruption with the Bala Mohammed administration. An administration that has won accolades beyond the boundaries of Bauchi Stare as worthy of emulation. One that has revamped the educational infrastructure within the span of 12months by adding over 350 classroom blocks across the wards that makeup the State. Has achieved the erection of world standard molecular laboratory for the testing of Covid19 that presently serves four neighboring States at over 300 samples daily. Road construction networks in proportions never witnessed in the history of the State – including water treatment plants to accommodate the increase in population due to migration of IDPs.    

The question then becomes what is really Dogara’s agenda? It cannot be Bala Mohammed or his administration.

Apart from freeing himself from the grips of the EFCC. He maybe positioning for the Vice President position against the 2023 presidential elections or a Ministerial position.

As a coward battling out of the fear of possible prosecution, it is evident he has sold his rights and integrity to the drowning APC. A vomit he excreted. With which face will he face his former colleagues whom he lampooned when he defected from the APC to the PDP?

After labelling the APC, the party of corruption, he has returned to the party of corruption. Now, he sees the PDP as the party of corruption. Who is he fooling? And to imagine he was the number four citizen of the country for 4years defines the trouble with governance in Nigeria.

“What happened to the N4.6 billion loan taken from a bank and paid directly into a private company’s account?” – was one of the questions Dogara wanted answered. He claimed it led to his decision to exit the party.

Dogara, himself, knows firsthand the truth behind the non-existent loan. But he is earger to play dirty. He wants to play ostrich. Dogara knows the Bauchi Government never secured any N4.6billion loan.

The supposed N4.6billion concerns a legitimate contract awarded to a contractor for the purchase of vehicles for the government. The Bauchi State government, as most clever state governments do, issued the contractor an Irrevocable Standing Purchase Order [ISPO] – which in layman’s term means the Bauchi State government reached an agreement for the contractor to be paid in monthly installments through automatic deductions from the government’s bank account. Armed with the ISPO, the contractor approached a financial institution and presented the ISPO as a collateral to secure a loan. The contractor was awarded the loan – and the vehicles were delivered.

Dogara puzzlingly called simple transaction a loan in an open letter released to the public.

And to know that Dogara was among the recipients of the vehicles is disheartening and exposes his hypocrisy. He collected a Toyota Land Cruiser. Yes, he even wrote a thank you letter to the State government acknowledging the receipt of the vehicle.    

Dogara’s defection back to the APC may not be his last defection. It should be understood Dogara left the PDP for his personal gains and not for the benefit of good governance. The fear of EFCC prosecution and/or persecution propelled his exit [cowardice] – but to author a letter depicting the government of Bauchi as corrupt is weak and unnecessary.      

Ikenna Ellis Ezenekwe is a Chemical/Environmental Engineer resides in New York  

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