Dr Murtala Muhammad, activist academic with the Kano University of Science and Technology, Wudil, argues that, long before COVID-19, Nigeria had been on a prolonged lockdown, offering his own suggestions on how Nigerian might get out of that.
Before COVID-19, Nigerians were already on lockdown. They have been suffering from prolonged quarantine and isolation from education, quality healthcare services and improved agricultural production. The country’s manufacturing base has been shattered and neglected. The country, from colonial occupation to date, has witnessed wanton mismanagement of opportunities. Just like the COVID-19, the hype of the moment, Nigeria is isolated from reaping the benefits of globalisation. Instead, it has been remarkably exploited by the forces of globalisation, creating unsavoury social and economic insecurity. One need not go far to know that the internal inadequacies and the massive and unbridled foreign imports to the country, forced factories to close and consequently led to retrenchment of workforce and then the near collapse of the manufacturing industry. Nigerian space is characterised by crippling effects of past policy mistakes which was triggered off by inconsistency in fiscal policies, failure of infrastructural support services, corruption and mismanagement of resources among many other issues.
It is within this context that COVID-19 has proved particularly disturbing because of the way it makes nations submissive to its dreaded thorns. It is a known fact that people all over the world have gotten the jitters over the novel COVID-19 strutting around the globe. The new illness certainly needs attention. In the nick of time, government should truly worry about protecting Nigerians and using that fear to take precautions. It would be an embarrassment that committees inaugurated to rise against the pandemic would be investigated in the aftermath of COVID-19 for insincerity and financial recklessness in fighting the dreaded disease.
It is disgraceful and appalling in the 21st century to have a decayed healthcare system in a resource laden ‘giant of Africa’. Nigerian healthcare system is challenged by inadequate medical facilities, equipment, inadequate welfare packages for health personnel, poor funding and brain drain as it is in universities. The statistics on health as a share of GDP indicated that Nigeria, in 2014, spent 3.7% of its GDP to outperform Angola and South Sudan with 3.3% and 2.7% respectively, but lagged behind Ethiopia that spent 4.9%. Of the 3.7% of the GDP that Nigeria spent on health, only 0.9% was publicly funded. Based on this scale, Nigeria dropped even below war ravaged South Sudan. The wife of the President of Nigeria reported the deplorable situation at the State House Clinic, Asokoro, Abuja that there are no syringes in the hospital. Zahra, her daughter also claimed that the hospital could not provide ordinary paracetamol in spite of the N331.7 million allocated to it. In October, 2019, two years later, Daily Trust reported that the problem still persists. Distastefully, recently, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning begged Elon Musk of Tesla Company to support the government with ventilators. Little wonder that some French doctors considered testing the efficacy of Coronavirus vaccine on Africans.
All along, before COVID-19, our leaders have shown corrosive attitudes, ineptitude and disdain towards revamping the healthcare sector and were globetrotting to seek medical attention outside the shores of the country from ear throat to common flu. Meanwhile, a vital segment of the service sector such as tourism has fallen off the cliff, meaning that the tourism industry that gave many nations in Europe and Asia and East Africa revenue is struggling to survive in Nigeria.
As a matter of urgency, government must fight corruption, stop official ineptitude and to look for ways to improve the economy, stop being neo-colonial lackeys, and immediately pay ASUU members their salaries. Government as a matter of necessity must provide better and improved health, agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors. Insurgency, cattle rustling, kidnapping and other novel evils must be arrested. The wanton mismanagement of opportunities must be brought to a halt. The bigger question is, however, whether we have learnt lessons from the novel disease. Where will we be in six months, a year, and ten years from now? Other nations are planning. They are planning to control the world and be part of a more integrated and open world with increasing social and economic relations. The world will never be the same after COVID-19. The contemporary phase of globalisation and the pace of global transformation within the last two to three decades have been profound. Nigeria must be on its feet, set and ready to be part of global transformation. Hopefully we would use this crisis to milk opportunities for all its worth in an attempt to rebuild and rejuvenate the Nigerian state. If not, we may slide into high and dry situation.
There is a case for singling out and expatiating on the educational crisis. Nigerians and the movers and shakers in government ought to be scared of the wanton damage to and neglect of the educational system generally, and the university system specifically. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) has provided the government the authentic way out in this regard. Having seen the state of decay in the Nigerian universities, ASUU marshalled its thoughts and pushed for the implementation of Needs Assessment and Revitalisation Funds. ASUU resisted Government’s attempt to repudiate aspects of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement for the revitalisation of the Nigerian universities; clearly noting that the future of Nigeria heavily depends on it. However, government has, as it has consistently done, reneged on its promises to the union and the nation. ASUU is again calling on the government to honour its promises to address chronic underfunding of the universities and improve conditions of service for Nigerian universities to have all the hallmarks to compete with their peers in other climes. This hopefully, will address the deplorable conditions under which the future leaders will live and learn. ASUU has for long laid bare to both government and Nigerians the decrepit state of infrastructure, which has been the bane of research activities in the universities. But, alas! The authorities are unperturbed.
This is because, in stark contrast to their efforts, what members of ASUU got from February, 2020 till date is to be mired in salary stoppage and insistence of the government for ASUU to be pulled into bottomless pit scripted by neo-imperialist institutions which came to be known as Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS). The imposition of the obnoxious IPPIS by any manner or means despite its demonstrated shortcomings is a clear case in point. The refusal of the government to accept the alternative model, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which is developed by ASUU and proffered to the government at no cost, calls for serious concern and in essence, the opening of a pandora’s box. It is worthy to note that TETFund and Needs Assessment Intervention and Revitalisation Funds are borne out of the patriotic agitations by ASUU.
Instead, the Federal Government prefers a COVID-19 style social distancing from taking full responsibility to cater for education in preference for shallow neoliberal, market oriented policies that are recipes for backwardness, illiteracy and disempowerment of the people. Budgetary allocation to education in countries like Uganda, Botswana, Lesotho and Burkina Faso are higher than that of Nigeria which is after odds and ends. Nigerian government should note that universities are established to salvage situations, bearing in mind the fact that education remains the engine that drives the growth and development of a nation.