A former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, has urged Nigerian lawmakers to donate half of their salaries to the fight against the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria.
He made the demand in a statement he issued on Sunday on the efforts by government and the private sector to check the spread of the virus.
He urged members of the National Assembly to share the burden of fighting the pandemic with the government by donating 50 per cent of their emoluments. He also called for contributions from state governments.
Mr Moghalu, who was the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) in 2019, identified poverty as the biggest threat to the effort to curtail the spread of the pandemic in Nigeria.
He said apart from the absence of healthcare infrastructure to handle the likely large number of coronavirus patients, widespread poverty will pose a major challenge in Nigeria.
While commending the federal and state governments and the private sector for their efforts against the pandemic, Mr Moghalu proffered ways to contain it and protect the people.
COVID-19 epidemic: A difficult challenge
"The Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) epidemic presents a difficult and challenging time for the world and our country Nigeria. This crisis has security, social and economic dimensions, and we must now and in its aftermath fundamentally re-examine our patterns of thinking, acting, citizenship and leadership, and how this all translates into governance," Mr Moghalu said.
Despite the interventions so far, Mr Moghalu said much still needs to be done, particularly the need to "recognise the underlying prior failures of leadership, governance and citizenship that have left us uniquely vulnerable."
"Apart from the absence of healthcare infrastructure to handle large numbers of coronavirus patients should this become the case -as is likely - there is the unique challenge posed by widespread poverty.
"This is reflected in the large crowds of the urban poor in commercial cities such as Lagos, Kano, Onitsha and Aba, congested into tight spaces and seemingly oblivious to the requirement for social distance as they engage in their daily "hustle" for subsistence.
"This imperative of poverty is the greatest immediate threat to curtailing the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria," he noted.
He urged the federal government to immediately order the shut down of the whole country for one month, barring only existentially essential services.
This, he said, was necessary to give more time for contact tracing, to reduce community spread of the disease, especially in urban slums and rural areas, import and deploy testing kits, and to deal with emergency treatments while it can still conceivably be handled.
To enforce compliance with these measures across the country, he said the police and the army should be deployed, while stronger communication about the pandemic, and the role of citizens, should be put out in local languages.
He justified his call for the complete shutdown of the country on the failure of some Nigerians, particularly some overzealous religious leaders to continue to insist on gathering in large crowds in churches and mosques against public health advice.
Cater for poor and vulnerable
On how to cater for the poor and vulnerable people in times of crisis like this, Mr Moghalu reiterated the need for the establishment of fiscal savings and a real fund to draw from in times of national emergency.
Considering the poor revenue situation of the country at this time, he said federal and state governments budgets must be dedicated completely to tackle COVID-19 in 2020, except for security and the payment of salaries.
"We are at war with an invisible enemy. The N50 billion fund established by the Central Bank of Nigeria for families and small businesses will not be adequate to address the crisis if and when it escalates.
"The fiscal authorities must plan and make provision for the subsistence funding of all extremely poor Nigerians and individual citizens, numbering approximately 100 million, for 30 days in this scenario," he proposed.
He proposed about N20,000 be made available for every impoverished family to stock on food and supplies for a month in a Covid-19 total shutdown scenario. The Tufts University Fletcher School of Law teacher said this would require an intervention of about N2 trillion.
However, he said even the full commitment of the N10-trillion federal government budget for 2020 may not be enough to take care, considering that it was based on unrealistic projections,
State governments, NASS role
In addition, he re-emphasized the need for the federal and state governments to begin to invest adequately in human capital - healthcare and education - as a priority.
Bearing in mind that Nigerian households in an already-impoverished population bear 70 per cent of healthcare expenses out of pocket, the federal government must now urgently commence funding of the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund with 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund as provided in the Nigerian Health Act (2014)," he said.
Panacea for economic recovery
On the impact of the pandemic on the economy, the former deputy governor of the CBN said it was obvious the country's economy was heading for a second recession in four years.
"The COVID-19 crisis further demonstrates the ludicrousness of the now-suspended plan to borrow $22.7 from foreign countries (mainly China) for "infrastructure".
"That plan should be canceled completely. The Nigerian government will likely not be able to service (let alone repay) such debt in the next few years.
"We need urgent fiscal reforms immediately after the coronavirus crisis. Our economy must become truly diversified away from crude oil.
"The petrol subsidy needs to be removed and the fuel pump price deregulated, with savings from subsidy removal invested urgently in the health and education sectors.
"Foreign exchange reforms that truly incentivise a shift away from oil-dependency through increased manufacturing and export trade remain urgently needed.
"The naira should be strategically and proactively devalued, and then align this move with appropriate fiscal and trade policy rather than, as is often the case, having devaluations forced on Nigerians with no accompanying policy reforms.
"The CBN should scrap its FOREX-access restrictions on the importation of over 40 items. Our fiscal authorities should instead impose high tariffs on items perceived as "luxury" or non-essential (and generate revenues from such tariffs).
"On the other hand, industrial and trade policy should establish subsidies and other incentives for domestic manufacturers, especially those that can provide proof of export orders that will bring in hard currency and take advantage of the naira devaluation in the international market," he said.
If this approach is adopted, he said Nigeria would wean itself from crude-oil revenue dependency.