COVID-19: Opportunity for National Development

COVID-19, the coronavirus respiratory disease is the major news feature globally as I write this. The outbreak has caused entire countries to ask their citizens to remain indoors while health officials work tirelessly to treat infected people and contain its further spread.

Nigeria has recorded 12 positive cases of the infection already and efforts are being made to bring it under control and take care of her citizens.

Some of these efforts include media announcements on thorough hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, cautious interaction with people sneezing or coughing, social distancing, and self-isolation at the far end of the spectrum.

The children will remain at home now until the all clear; religious gatherings are restricted to 50 or less persons, some organizations have asked their staff to work from home.

Can we all work from home? No.

God forbid, but how would we cope if the government had to declare a nationwide lock-down like Italy, Spain, or Argentina? How long could our current infrastructure, power, internet connectivity, water, financial, even health services bear up under in such a situation?

The answers to these questions are plain to every one here, and they cannot at all be pleasant. If we are wise, we ought to take this pandemic as an opportunity, or excuse of you will, to redesign and rebuild our nation.

With every bit of humility, I say we only need to glance at the effect of the virus in the worst hit regions and how each nation’s pre-existing infrastructure has helped to assuage the suffering.

The immediate and ranging effects of an invisible enemy.

Economy

Stock markets, at least the ones which drive all others, have decreased in value. This is basically because more people are selling off their stock than those willing to buy them.

Investing, providing financial security for the future is relevant only if there is a future.

So although the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted markets negatively abroad, we are in no way free of its effect on our economy. For instance, Nigeria’s oil chief announced that 50 cargoes of her crude oil were ignored by buyers. This has never happened before according to him.

Shops and businesses have closed their doors, too. For some, workers have been asked to work from home; for others the situation means the “We are closed” sign remains in windows until the siege is over.

I call it a siege because it reminds one of a city’s gates against an advancing enemy. The gates remain closed as the enemy stands outside the walls. The city hopes it can wait out the constant knocking until the villain runs out of fuel, food, strength, or will.

Sports

In sports, coronavirus has countries cancelling or rescheduling games for periods of at least one month. All football or basketball lovers know that this is a disaster, okay, for some reasons. First, this is 2020, a Euro cup and a Copa America year, plus there’s the Olympics, too.

There was hardly any resting space for these guys in between these competitions and now postponing the leagues just makes the events happening almost impossible.

Secondly, there might be less money to make for sports betting enthusiasts. I’m not a punter but I can only imagine. Maybe it’s just sentiment.

The third point is purely sentimental, but this may even be the most important among these three. How would you pacify the millions of sports fans (and fanatics) around the world who depend on the cycle of games for meaning, stability in their lives?

I’m not sure it’s a question anyone has thought through. But this is all well and good for certain masses of people. Only healthy and living persons cry over missed games. Only those with the luxury of health and life fiddle with such sentiment.

Schools

The classrooms and lecture halls are closed; pupils and students are at home.

All of these may not be new to most of you reading this. It’s collected tidbits here and there, with sprinkles of commentary from me.

The point I’m driving at? How prepared is Nigeria for a lock-down, all stay at home situation? Can we truly continue to function as a society, as an economy if this happens?

Necessity births invention.

If we look closely we would realize the reason they are able to still do anything is because of pre-existing infrastructure: power, health, information technology, functional government agencies, thriving businesses / entrepreneurship.

  • China was able to build up mega quarantine hospitals within weeks;
  • South Korea mobilized rapidly to screen masses of citizens within days, even going on to produce and distribute six million face masks daily free of charge to citizens;
  • Italy though one of the worse hit quickly declared a nationwide shutdown and still functioning, with internet traffic increasing by up to 10-30 percent within a week;
  • Senegal (yes!) has a lab developing a test kit delivering test results within four hours (the US manages two days).

I will leave off the examples for now.

As a nation, we have the privilege (we have always had the privilege) to observe the actions and responses of peers but somehow manage to carry on with our inertia, our complacency.

We can do more than observe now and swing into measured, reasonable action, a systematic building up of our infrastructure as a strategy to survive in emergencies.

For organizations, maybe now is a good time to review our work patterns, maybe now is the time for the emergence of new work and business models rugged enough to carry us through this pandemic into a new era.

I do not predict gloom, I sincerely believe the world’s scientists and health workers will soon discover ways to contain, manage or even eradicate this virus infection.

For instance, I just read that while the virus may thrive for up to five days on plastic, glass and stainless steel, it disintegrates within seconds when it’s in contact with copper and its variants.

And there are louder whispers that chloroquine might just be the silver bullet the world needs to combat the virus.

So what do these things tell us?

It is time to become deliberate about out survival as a nation. Any investments made to put all of these infrastructure in place will help us now and into the future if when disaster strikes. No one hopes for this but this is an opportunity for us to take action, or even an excuse for a well-meaning leadership to pour resources where needed the most. We get things done when circumstances compel us to act.

Now more than ever, we have such an excuse to rise up to begin to develop this nation and move things beyond our current state.

Consider the principles of business continuity and disaster recovery in business. Organizations develop a system to assure survival against potential disruptions or disaster-man-made or natural or viral.

This preparedness against determined risk elements helps to ensure that organizations can forge ahead through future storms.

I suggest a simple approach:

Allocate resources to develop cornerstone infrastructure rapidly. And for me, I say there are two of them.

  1. Sort out power as the foundation for this rapid scaling once and for all!
  2. Then rebuild the nation’s educational systems.

That’s it.

We will be on our way to building a thriving, resilient nation while raising a bulwark against future disasters if we begin to work out these two aspects today. COVID-19 has come and will go but the emergence of future threats is almost a guarantee.

The human race is resilient and will forge on but how Nigeria continues to fare as a nation is entirely in our hands. What will our response be?

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