Experts across different sectors of the Nigerian economy, on Thursday, agreed that despite the lockdown, sickness, and death occasioned by the raging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is an opportunity for countries to restart their economies afresh.
This, they noted, is much more important for governments and private sector leaders in Nigeria and across the continent of Africa to begin on a level playing ground with global giants at a time when countries have shut their borders.
The experts spoke during a webinar jointly organized by integrated energy giant- Oando Plc and the Institute of Directors (IoD Nigeria), with the theme “Leadership Strategies for Navigating the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” They noted that beyond all doubts, the pandemic has exposed the inadequacies in key sectors of Nigeria’s economy, particularly healthcare, and educational systems which need rethinking and retooling for global competitiveness.
In his final notes at the high-level webinar, moderated by Eleni Giokos of CNN Africa, Dele Alimi, Director-General/Chief Executive of IoD Nigeria said: “every economy will come out of COVID-19 at the same time, so Nigeria has to decide how she wants to come out (evolve).”
At the heart of that decision by the government and private sectors, he said, are food and security, expressing hope that these stakeholders will not misuse the opportunity through a lack of strategic planning and cooperation. Going back to business as usual, he warned must not be an option.
The panelists agreed that there is a need for palliatives, particularly food to ensure that people stay at home and safe, without exposing them to starvation, which many agree kills faster than the Coronavirus.
Dr. Ainojie ‘Alex’ Irune, Chief Operating Officer, Oando Energy Resources, said Nigeria must think past the pandemic as demand for goods and services will return at some point. For now, COVID-19, he continued, has fast-tracked digital revolution in the country, judging by what is happening in the country’s educational system with school curriculums now out of date and in need of refocusing.
In his contribution, Emmanuel Ijewere, a chartered accountant-turned agripreneur urged the government to ensure unhindered movement of food and raw materials across the country.
He thanked the Lagos State Government for showing leadership in its interactions with farmers, urging stakeholders to use this opportunity to address post-harvest losses, even as road and rail networks should be given the deserved attention to ease the movement of food across the country.
He called for a discussion involving farmers, government and financial institutions to ensure better understanding and cooperation, compared to the current situation where each stakeholder works in silos.
Ijewere lamented that successive governments in Nigeria have paid lip-service to diversify the economy and focusing the agric sector for too long stressing that agriculture, rather than crude oil is the future of Nigeria’s economy.
Nigeria needs to “completely retool and reset” going forward he said, assuring that this opportunity for new beginnings will create a new generation of young and better-educated farmers, who pay taxes.
He also urged the financial sector to have a rethink about agricultural lending, through ensuring better understanding, just as the government should urgently deal with the challenge of multiple taxes imposed by each of the three-tier of government that manufacturers are daily contending with.
Calling for a complete paradigm shift, Ijewere said the government must understand that food is of utmost importance to the people under lockdown, following which there should be no one-size-fits-all solution to checking the spread of the virus.
“There is going to be a problem by October and November because farmers are not getting inputs and fertilizers,” Ijewere warned.
For Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, 2019 Obama Leader and CEO of Futuresoft, with these gaps in economic sectors evident now, there is also a need to rethink business strategies, driven by technology.
There is a need also for government and business leaders to retool and retrain their local workforce and supply chain for the times ahead because the expatriates and foreign vendors are no longer within reach, she added.
“This is time for the public, private sector collaborations to help us become a globally competitive nation… This is a wakeup call for the government to develop infrastructure.”
The question that should occupy everybody’s mind now, she believes, is how to transform the nation’s educational sector using technology, even as “technology must be the core of our development to ensure we retool.”
She urged stakeholders to start deploying the right technologies and strategies for a value-added economy, which requires heavy investment.
Mrs. Solape Hammond, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on SDGs and Investment, agreed on the need for a reset, with everyone learning to do things differently, as seen already in e-schools for pupils in primary and secondary schools owing to the lockdown. In the uncertain environment of today’s world, she urged all to adopt strategies that work for them, as everyone is learning afresh.
With the benefit of hindsight, Ini Ebong, Group Executive, Treasury & Financial Institutions, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, expressed happiness that Nigeria’s banking sector developed some infrastructure in its recent past that has reduced the impact of the lockdown today, particularly agent banking.
First Bank, he said, currently has 55,000 agents across 772 local governments of the country as part of the huge investment in digital channels which is why the impact of the lockdown is not as severe as it would have been five years ago.
“Post-COVID lockdown, it will not be business as usual in a long time to come. Some of these new ‘normals’ will exist for a long time.”
That notwithstanding, he said the Nigerian credit environment has been weakened, applauding moves by the fiscal and monetary authorities through various forms of forbearance.
Also contributing, Boye Olusanya, COO, Flour Mills of Nigeria, said going forward, a lot of transformational issues will be dealt with especially the resort to backward integration at a time the global supply chain is in turmoil and companies unable to import needed raw materials.
There is an opportunity to improve on the locally produced raw materials, lamenting the absence of a national identity card in Nigeria, which has prevented cash transfers to vulnerable Nigerians, a critical challenge the lockdown has thrown up.
Dr. Irune urged all to prepare for a post-COVID mental shift, citing as an example the fact that “all of us just noticed we could work from home now.”
He used the opportunity to announce the launch of Oandos initiative to end hunger, The Aggregator Programme (TAP), which, supported by the Oando Foundation. TAP, he said, was created by the #HumansOfOando as an aggregator platform for all COVID-19 related intervention efforts focused on the sustenance of livelihoods in less privileged communities across Nigeria, starting with Lagos State.
A number of organizations, Oando explained further, are supporting the less privileged during this lockdown period with food items for the homeless, and households especially in high-density urban areas. These organizations cannot cover it all, and there’s no single point of coordination to assess their reach, identify gaps, and help amplify their efforts. That single point of coordination is TAP, it added.