Op-ed: Corruption, COVID-19 and the Poor
By Oluwasoromidayo George
The last couple of weeks in Nigeria have been nothing short but drama. The ‘reality shows’ that we see playing out in government quarters, where corruption bares its ugly face at the highest echelons of leadership, comes as no surprise to many. The stories that we do not often tell or the linkages that we do not sometimes make is how corruption keeps many entrapped, and the poor consistently downtrodden.
Can we successfully prosper as a nation without addressing the issues of leadership or governance? The answer to that is probably no. Globally it appears that the issue of nationalists, as opposed to competitive styled approaches to socioeconomic development, is increasingly becoming more popular. So also is the disruption to the rule of law and democracy as we know it. This disruption can be seen evolving in developed nations in what can best be described in synonymous terms as democracy experienced in some third world countries, where what you really have operating is an authoritarian/democratic mixed type of governing. Therefore, the concept of democracy as we know it appears challenged. If what we know is successfully truncated by those who have modeled it for centuries, it probably stands to reason that this may, in turn, influence fragile governance structures all over the world.
While the capitalist democratic systems are far from perfect, what l believe it provides, is an opportunity for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable to have a voice and a platform for justice when law and order are in place. A country without an appropriate process of the rule of law and order will most likely harbor an unjust system that further oppresses the poor and violate human rights in many aspects.
Though what is happening globally may be worrying, l think that it should provide Africans the opportunity to get back on track to making the continent rise economically and socially, if we do the right thing – which is to entrench and not truncate democratic systems, while finding the right models that safeguards our culture and bridge the poverty gap. This is the time for us to rise and shine. Take our place in the world order through collaborative efforts and fair and competitive practices that eliminate corruption to the bare minimum. The question is, how do we do that amid a pandemic and a rising death toll?
According to a World Bank report, tagged, ‘Nigeria in Times of COVID-19: Laying the foundations for a Strong Recovery’, the Nigerian situation appears dire with an estimated five million people likely to fall below the poverty line if the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not adequate.
The report stated that the widespread nature of the pandemic and the attendant collapse of international oil prices have had a negative effect on Nigeria’s macroeconomic balances. Experts have for a long time, advocated for sustainable economic growth through a diversified portfolio, specifically through national revenue generation from non-oil sectors. The authors of the report highlighted five focus areas for concerted efforts from both the public and private sector for recovery. This includes containing the outbreak and preparing for a more severe infestation, enhancing macroeconomic management to boost investor confidence, safeguarding and mobilizing revenues, reprioritizing public spending to protect critical development expenditures, and stimulating economic activity while protecting poor and vulnerable communities.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a household survey of poverty in Nigeria. The five-year study stated that over 40% of Nigerian households currently earn less than N137,000 per annum, roughly about N11,000 per month. In its economic sustainability plan, the Nigerian government noted that with the COVID crisis, the income may further decline. The government’s financial plan, therefore, seeks to provide a response to the pandemic, identify fiscal measures to increase non-oil revenues, develop monetary policy measures, and provide fiscal and monetary stimulus package. It also seeks to give support to sectors most affected by the pandemic, develop a strategy to keep existing jobs and create new ones.
A Nigeria, with many people, economically empowered, is possible. All we need is the political will, matched with the boldness for affirmative action to see these laudable plans successfully implemented, with the utmost integrity.
■Oluwasoromidayo George Is a Non-executive Director at CSRG Institute where she leads research into Bottom of the Pyramid strategies