TOWARDS A DIGITAL ECONOMY AMIDST COVID – 19: A CALL FOR TACTICAL ECONOMIC REALIGNMENT BY ABUBAKAR TANKO

The Federal Government of Nigeria should as a matter of speed strengthen the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHDMSD) by harmonizing and hosting national data domiciled in sister agencies such as National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and Independent National Electoral Commission and (INEC) and National Population Commission at the MHDMSD. This has become imperative due to need to develop a robust social welfare and security scheme for citizens of the country for equitable and fair distribution of the nation’s common wealth. Several attempts by the MHDMSD in liaison with the Ministry of Communication and Digital economy to sieve data in order to reach out and provide succor to the most vulnerable Nigerians at the period of nationwide lockdown caused by the novel Corona Virus pandemic (COVID-19) has become a herculean task. Therefore, the challenges that confronts us as a nation must be embraced by all with a view to preferring meaning solutions, and close gaps identified in the discharge of public service especially as it relates to the survival of the economy. The recent methodology adopted by the MHDMSD especially as it relates to categorization of beneficiaries under the Federal Government Palliatives Scheme has suffered a setback in terms of the mechanics that form the model, which has exposed it to questioning on components such as currency of data, how samples are drawn among the Nigerian populace? How vulnerable household are identified? What are the characteristics or nature of a vulnerable household? What is the sequence (preference) of aids distribution among the populace? What types of items are distributed among the classified groups, how competitive and transparent is the procurement process and the general efficiency of the model? The model deployed by the Federal MHDMSD has left majority of Nigerians worried about their stake in a country they have labored for all through to the time of National emergency. For example, business owners who responsibly pay their taxes through legal businesses and operation are awash of the fact that their contributions is not enough to guarantee them a stake. Most worrisome is the strategy deployed in the execution of the palliative. The scheme was quick to disburse payments in rural areas that are non monetary in nature while social workers (informal sector) in the sub-urban and urban areas who operate in a full monetary economy (ie an economy where drinking water must be bought) are completely not captured in any of the social welfare scheme of the MHDMSD. It is only logical that the informal sub-urban group who live on daily income are the most vulnerable in the society in time of lockdown simply because they live in a full monetary economy against the rural dwellers who already have a workable traditional storage and preservative living system void of monetary exchange.
The unrest in Lagos state largely experienced within communities that accommodate the middle informal socio-economic group (such as the one million boys) few days after the lockdown was pronounced by the Lagos state government and the resurgence of criminal activities by a group known as the “Yan Shila” in Adamawa state is a clear manifestation of a failed model that did not properly take care of the core logic and strategic choices for capturing value within a network of vulnerable persons. Therefore, social security and welfare models as such must co-evolve with practical features and reflect the components and demography of the Nigerian socio-economic society before allocation of scarce resources can be efficient and effective. Acknowledging the fact that the pandemic has no specific time frame, there was no need rushing to disburse scarce resources without adequate planning, cash was disbursed to states that were not affected by the Federal Government pronouncement of lockdown while most vulnerable citizens in states that were ordered lockdown were left unattended. Nonetheless, this may be accepted as an experience not to be repeated going forward. Therefore, it is recommended that government should hire experts from the fields of economics and other related social science to thinker the line of social welfare and economic security with the aim of developing a robust an economic model that will forestall economic and social security in the short, mid and long run.
To add a voice on how to open the economy, government can borrow a leaf from the lessons of the great 1930 depression and the classical contributions of the great economic scholar Sir John Meynard Keynes and institutional economist whose proffered solution that bailed out the United States and European economy. Keynes advocated that government should intervene using fiscal policy (government expenditure) to restore full employment and attain market equilibrium. Although the root course of the recent global recession is not similar with that of the 1930 recession associated with stock market crash and deflation. There exist similarities in economic features such as high rate of unemployment and inflation. To solves this economic puzzle intellectuals within the realm of social and management science rose to the occasion to save and forestall the Nigerian economy to total collapse in the face of the global pandemic. The breakthrough came earlier than expected from a distinguished Nigerian scholar Ahmed Adamu PhD a lecturer from the Department of Economics, Nile University who in an article published on the 23 April 2020″ How to Open Nigerian Economy in the presence of Corona Virus” proffered solutions and made recommendations on how to open the Nigerian economy. Ahmed’s recommendations covered eight major areas that interwove the presence of Corona Virus and the strategies for opening the economy, these core areas are (a) Testing, (b) Contact Tracing, (c) Investment, (d) Organizational Response, ( e) Protections and Cure, (f) Distance Business and Learning, (g) Social Distancing, and (h) Enforcement. A week after his article was published Nigerian government partially opened the economy taking most of the recommendations into consideration practice but not without gaps.
One of such gaps was the omission of an economic task team among the Presidential Task Force that would help develop models that will boost the economy under a partial lockdown. The adverse effect of such omission has limited access to information sharing and communication technology advancement by the persistent closure of telecommunication outlets, hardware electronic gadget and device shops and associated service market whose benefits as a frontier in driving a digital economy cannot be overemphasized. Owing to the partial lockdown, there has been an increasing demand for the use and procurement of information and communication technology gadgets by the populace to render socio-economic services via online methods such as meetings and classes via Zoom, mobility via Uber and Bolt, shopping via Jumia and Konga etc. It is worthy to note that most emerging businesses resistant of the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic demand use electronic communication devices to function effective. Therefore, the nation cannot continue to lockdown its source of intermediate goods necessary to guarantee rapid economic expansion.
This is a call for the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy through National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and National Communication Commission (NCC)in collaboration with the PTF to map out a new guide line that will consider UNLOCKING telecommunication and digital equipment shops, malls and markets that provide support to information, communication and technology and by extension stimulate socio-economic activities.
This recommendation is supported by the position of a renown Professor of economics at the Kaduna state University Seth Akutson who stated in an economy brief entitled: COVID-19 Pandemic and the way forward for Nigeria: Policy Options and Strategic Initiatives; that the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 would remain with the global community in years to come, therefore government should revitalize the Nigerian education curriculum to accommodate online and digital skill necessary for the operation of an e-economy.

Abubakar Tanko Mohammed
PhD Candidate
Department of Economics, Nile University, Nigeria
babukartanko@gmail.com 

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