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Call for subsidy removal, naira devaluation
Participants at the ongoing BusinessDay national discourse on Nigeria’s response to the coronavirus pandemic have expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The participants also voted for a removal of the petroleum subsidy which experts have advised would allow Nigeria to redirect resources to more productive uses and make the downstream oil sector more attractive. They also voted for the devaluation of the country’s currency, the naira, noting that it would help in building investor confidence and attracting more dollar investments into the country. They, however, expressed doubts about willingness of the government to right-size the country’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) which are a drain on its resources. These views were expressed in surveys conducted during the first day of the two-day BusinessDay digital dialogues themed ‘A National Conversation: Mapping Nigeria’s Response to COVID-19’. Eighty-two percent of respondents in the poll voted for immediate removal of petrol subsidy, and 66 percent said they believe devaluation of the naira will boost confidence in the economy. However, 69 percent of respondents said they do not think government will downsize its MDAs. This is despite recent moves by the government to rationalise the MDAs to cut cost of governance. More than 70 percent of the respondents to the surveys said they are unhappy with the country’s response to the pandemic. The displeasure, they said, was as a result of not just the timing of the government’s response to the virus, but also its failure to provide personal protective equipment for medical professionals in the frontline of the pandemic. In Africa, Nigeria is the second-most affected country by the virus, just behind South Africa, with a total infected cases put at 16,658 as of 16th June, according to data from Worldometer, a service that tracks statistics real-time. That figure includes 5,349 patients that have been discharged and 424 that have died from it. After missing the timing of quickly restricting international flights from coming into the country, a delay that resulted in the country recording the index case of the virus, the government of Africa’s biggest economy enacted a five-week lockdown that began on March 30, a move meant to check the spread of the virus. However, unlike many other countries that enacted a lockdown, Nigeria failed to utilise the lockdown period to ramp up testing in order to assist in isolating those that might have been infected with the virus. Meanwhile, in the process of enacting the lockdown, the livelihood of millions of the citizens were threatened, given that about 58-60 percent of Nigerian population falls in the informal sector. That is, they live by what they earn on a daily basis. The World Bank in a recent report highlighted that the lockdown measures, copied from the advanced world, might not be favourable to African nations due to the poor identity management system to channel any kind of fiscal stimulus to its vulnerable populace. The lockdown was, however, lifted without the country improving on its testing capacity. From the survey, 63 percent of respondents said the “lockdown curbed the spread of the virus in Nigeria”. Fast forward to 16th June, the country has recorded over 16,000 cases, with average daily cases put at 400, analysis of NCDC data shows. With the low level of testing seen in the country, 88 percent of the respondents in the survey feel the COVID-19 numbers in the country do not reflect reality. Analysts say the country is yet to reach its peak on the infections curve, with the number of cases rising daily. Already, with the increasing numbers, the country’s health sector is overwhelmed as the cases have outnumbered bed spaces in isolation centres. The government is proposing home care delivery treatment for those with mild cases of the virus, a move that has generated wild spread criticism from all fronts. Medical personnel have also cried out on issues of inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), with many health workers infected with the virus. In the survey, 86 percent of Nigerians said medical professionals are not well equipped to handle the virus. The coronavirus pandemic so far has exposed Nigeria’s weak economy as virtually all sectors of the economy have been battered. It has also exposed the country’s poor governance structure, according to 95 percent of the people surveyed. Seventy-seven percent of those polled agreed that Nigeria’s fiscal strategy to battle the coronavirus has been poor, with 9 out of 10 voting that the government was over-borrowing. The results come after data showed Nigeria’s debt to revenue at a record-high of 99 percent in the first quarter of 2020 on dwindling oil and non-oil incomes. Nigeria paid a total of N943bn in debt service from N950.56bn revenue in the period resulting in the country’s worst debt servicing record since 1999 at least. In the face of a severe slump in revenue and inadequate cash, Nigeria has sought more debt including a record $3.4bn IMF facility. On the way forward for the country, respondents asked the government to focus more on building the country’s educational sector and also the health sector. SOURCE BUSINESS DAY .