Forgive me if I repeat myself. I may have written about some of what I will write about here at a previous recent occasion. I am writing with almost unprecedented energy after I visited Arise TV a few minutes ago, to attend a financial show with ace anchor, Charles Aniagolu. The station is situated inside Transcorp Hilton Hotel, which I had never seen to be so ghostly. It was eerie. Even spooky, as the wind swept the empty parking lot and the vast reception echoed at the sound of every footstep. The dry streets of Abuja could not have told the story of this lockdown more eloquently than the otherwise bustling hotel now turned haunted house.
But it was not only the eeriness of the hotel that spooked me and prompted me to type this article out this very moment. It was partly the chilling statement by Mr Femi Adesina, the presidential spokesman, aired on the show, that Nigeria may soon become totally broke, with no money coming from anywhere, and also the prognosis from Mr Bode Ososami, the Arise analyst from London, that instead of the U-shaped recovery that global economists had expected (meaning a prolonged period of slump and then a sharp recovery), some pundits were now looking at an L-shaped curve, meaning the global economy – predicted to fall by 12% by the IMF – has crashed and will stay down for as far as the eyes can see. Whereas Adesina’s analysis was based on the crash in the price of crude oil, as he tried to justify why other nations are able to put up massive bailouts compared to what Nigeria projects as response to this unprecedented catastrophe, Ososami came in from a wider angle – as he discussed the fact that 10million Americans , and perhaps 1.5million Brits, had filed for unemployment in the last two weeks. Instead of the job growth that Trump used to boast about, the US Department of Labor announced today that employers cut over 700,000 last month – the highest percentage since 1975. The world is in for a period of serious trouble as a result of Coronavirus. The Daily Independent newspaper today also had a big headline “COVID-19 HAS CRUMBLED NIGERIA’S ECONOMY – FG”. That was perhaps the briefing the President got from our topdog economic managers yesterday
Adesina’s statement needs to be taken very serious and further examined. It is true that crude oil has slumped. But contrary to his explanation (as he looked at a recovering Brent), our Bonny Light has stayed down, veering off the Brent in a very worrisome manner. A barrel of our Bonny went as low as $18 yesterday 2nd of April, 2020, before recovering to $21 today. More worrisome is the fact that 50% of the global economy is presently shut down and very few people are optimistic enough to be buying more of fossil fuel, despite President Trump’s attempt to bring the Russians and Saudi Arabians together – the reason why there is a recovery in some other oil contracts. Of course, Trump has bigger problems right now, and the forces rallied against him would rather this present bump in crude oil prices be very temporary. We are in trouble. We are in serious trouble. NNPC is not earning money – or rather we can surmise that it is not getting any cash flow as at now. The Group Managing Director of the corporation had announced two weeks ago that if the price of our crude should dip lower than $22 we were ‘out of business’. Even if the price rallies to say $30, the margins are low, and our 2020 budget is shot to pieces, being based on the price of crude – a very lazy approach that our fiscal arm couldn’t shake in spite of all the postulations over the matter. What is more? The GMD informed us that we had 50 cargoes floating in the high seas, paid for but the beneficiaries had more problems on hand than to collect them. Countries are just not buying crude right now as they face the Big C! So it is a great time to talk seriously about diversification from crude oil. But nowhere is open.
I listened yesterday to a gentleman as he complained that goods are acquiring demurrage at the ports and if the lockdown persists, many importers will simply abandon the goods – and many will go bankrupt. The bankruptcy that is already rolling abroad will soon make a landfall here. The last time it was Carluccio, my favorite airport restaurant brand. So NPA is closed. The FIRS is closed. No one is collecting any taxes and no one can pay. Though the service recorded a 30% increase in collection in the first quarter ended March 2020, the expectations for the rest of the year isn’t looking great. In fact, tax authorities at federal and state levels have started writing to taxpayers, offering us some forbearance as a result of this ‘force majeure’ – Act of God. So where will the cash flow come from to pay for anything after a while? Where will Nigerian governments find the salaries of their staff after a while? The time to think, and act, is now. We cannot afford this rest and this sleep, not even for Corona! Our strategy MUST change. We must buck the global trend.
We need a WAR ROOM. I have been repeating this. We need smart people hankered down over our political, economic, social and public health map, strategizing deeply over the next steps to take. Chances are that there is something there right now, but given the average age of those running the country – many of whom are vulnerable to Covid19 as a result of age, there is every reason to expect that the extreme caution not to get infected may have created a strategic vacuum. Some of us are putting out our ideas right now, for the sake of the nation.
Whoever can convene a war room should. But it is frustrating if it ends up being just a chat group with none of their decisions being taken up. My idea of a new strategy, different from what we have deployed right now against Covid-19, is that we must immediately start refurbishment of our thousands of moribund primary health centres, and equip them with some of the drugs that are indicated for therapeutic management of Covid-19. I’m afraid we cannot afford to test perhaps hundreds of millions of Nigerians. That is semantics. If a wave of cold flu should sweep through Nigeria, we must be ready to counter same with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin administered by doctors at the primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions. That is the only viable strategy we have given our relative poverty in comparison with rich countries. We cannot afford the current high drama for much longer. The focus should not be on pristine isolation centres and non-existent ventilators. We are not America.
I note though, that part of the reason why they are having such a major crisis in the USA is because they politicized the issue. The establishment was more interested in rubbishing Trump, they rejected some of his suggestions and expressed too much cynicism to alternative ways of dealing with the crisis. They played along with the global press who were more interested in driving fear (which has killed a lot of people) than in getting people healed. The technocrats – many of them public health ‘experts’ and very smart people – were more interested in being right and relevant than in really saving lives. They made many medical doctors confused and worked them to the bones. Well, they have what they want – something akin to an uncontrollable pandemic. It is a pathetic place to be, but this is the unblemished truth. If they blame Trump for his blustering and for adopting his usual salesman tactics in talking up the people, they have even more blame in the death of over 6,000 Americans, and thousands more around the world. I note also that Mexico, with 3,145 miles of border between her and the USA, and with millions of people crossing daily between the two nations, has only about 1,300 people infected, with just over 30 unfortunately dead! I note as well, that some other nations in the northern hemisphere with worse health systems than the USA are not having this embarrassing number of deaths – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Japan and many more. Sweden has refused to lock down her economy.
Economies are not built to be locked down, as Trump said. And seeing as things are unfolding I agree with him 100%. This global scare by Bill Gates and his people is just too debilitating and the medicine (approach) we have adopted to kill this disease, will kill far many money people than the disease itself. Watching Gates with a smirk on his face talk about the fact that we can rebuild economies but we cannot wake a dead person, I am appalled at the illogic of not knowing that many of the 10million people who have lost jobs in the USA in the last two weeks will die as a result of little things – including Coronavirus, hypertension, heart failures and so on. Then come to Africa and you will see serious calamity loading.
The expectation that millions of us will fall dead, will ONLY be realized when they further impoverish us (or we end up impoverishing ourselves) more than we already are today. The time to reopen the economy is NOW President Buhari! Worst case scenario, this lockdown must never exceed these initial two weeks no matter the numbers we have at the end of the period. We have about 184 as I type. We could close at 200 today. Hopefully we will not have more than 2,000 at the end of two weeks; most of them with mild symptoms – we saw them singing and dancing on social media. We are lucky here and better, strategic preparedness will save us a lot of grief. In fact, an empowerment of primary, secondary (state hospitals and general hospitals), and tertiary (teaching hospitals) institutions, to be able to handle this – even for the care to start from our homes – will be very strategic because Covid-19 and related diseases are here to stay in the long run. At the end, we all will develop herd immunity (that is if there are no other underhand dealings going on with the disease).
If we sit at home, when we should be working frantically to reposition all our hospitals, educate our households on what to do when they see the signs of corona, get our scientists to conduct more researches that will help further still, scientifically and objectively consider alternative medicines and treatments, get our economy moving so that people should be lifted out of poverty, give fillip and encouragement to the informal sector (our market people and so on) and keep them working, and strategize on how we can raise funds to lift this country out of this terrible hole – or to put it more globally, how to weather the brewing Great Depression 2 – then we will end up pushing our people into the hands of a thousand different deaths, most of which will be empowered by poverty, hunger, crimes, corruption, and opportunistic diseases aplenty. Countries that supply us with pharmaceuticals have since stopped as a result of coronavirus and in no time even medicines for most other illnesses will be super scarce and expensive as local producers are unable to meet the demands of 200million people. I hope Bill Gates, who controls a lot of things, and whose foundation as well as Johns Hopkins University, UN, WHO, among others conducted a simulation of exactly what is happening (in October 2019), can see now that shutting down every economy is not just about economics, but indeed about a thousand other diseases that vulnerable societies cannot treat. I cannot get his smirks and chuckles, and his terribly uninformed misjudgments off my mind.
Still on the pandemic. Some of the new predictions say that countries in the southern hemisphere will encounter serious crisis in the fall and winter as weather changes. This means that we should start working towards being very strong and ready between October into January next year. But then I googled north and south hemisphere and realized that the whole of Nigeria is in the northern hemisphere! If the Gates theory is correct, then we could as well jubilate. But let us continue to hedge our bets and be very cautious.
TIME TO RAISE MONEY
We know that foreign investors are very edgy right now. Many are losing monies in stock and commodity markets everywhere. Rating agencies have downgraded Nigeria to B Negative, almost default zone, and the prognosis is not looking good at all. Foreign investors are listless right now, and I will suggest we look away from them. We cannot keep begging them. They will come if we show internal strength. That is why I am suggesting that we raise a local war bond, after all this ongoing calamity is now known as World War C (for Corona) or just World War 3 for its severity. A war bond of at least N20Trillion, to rake in money from those who have domestically, and maybe incentivize Nigerians who have money abroad to repatriate some once they have the chance. A war bond, that can target Nigerian diasporans as well and eventually get the foreign investors on board once they see we can show internal strength and confidence. It will be an unprecedented move, but hey, we have no choice really. We cannot just keep sitting on our hands, hiding under our beds, impoverishing ourselves, destroying struggling small businesses, laying of millions of Nigerians, when we should be struggling to sell this bond and get needed financing for what promises to be a long, dark, treacherous night ahead. I believe the bond can be successful. There are many Nigerians with serious cash sitting everywhere. We can even decide that we will ignore your source and take on the money. Such monies are being lent to the Federal Government of Nigeria and can earn between 10 – 13% calibrated between 5 to 30 years.
We should also be haranguing the World Bank and IMF for some of the funds they have put together for vulnerable countries like ours. The World Bank has out up about $12billion already. The bank also issued some Pandemic Bonds in 2017 which are by now paying off to vulnerable countries. We should be at their doorstep already. Every help counts at this moment. The monies raised from the bonds should be used for budget support, social services, support for some of our banks who will feel the hit if people reclassify their bank balances and many of whom are dangerously exposed to sectors like Oil and Gas, Real Estate etc that have presently tanked, and of course infrastructure support, among others. We need visionaries. The funds must also be tightly managed. Bye-bye to our profligacy.
These are not things we can achieve whole sleeping and shutting down the economy. Please, please, please. Anyone with access to the president should let him know. Let us keep discussing on phone and sharing ideas on social media, including WhatsApp, on how we can weather this season of anomie. Now is the time to be super alert. We are the ones our nation has been waiting for.
Tope Fasua. April 3, 2020