Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), a not-for-profit founded to inspire the transformation of Africa’s public sector, collaborated with the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford to host a virtual discussion on “COVID-19 and the Oil Price Crash: Nigeria’s Tough Choices” on May 29, 2020.

COVID-19 has brought about many changes to the fabric of every society, restricting business activities and causing loss of lives across the world. In Nigeria, the country is faced with a double-edged crisis comprising COVID-19 on the one hand and the instability in oil prices on the other. The latter has been costly because the 2020 budget was based on forecasted oil prices of $57/bl. The decline in the price of Brent benchmark crude has forced the government to revise this to $20/bl while maintaining proposed production volume at 2.18mn bl/d.

Prominent Nigerians who participated in the webinar included Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Founder and Chairman of Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), Former President of Nigeria – Olusegun Obasanjo; Former Emir of Kano State, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; Speaker, House of Representatives – Femi Gbajabiamila; and Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. The webinar also featured Dr Ceyla Pazarbasiogu, Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EFI) at the World Bank, Prof. Sir Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and Prof. Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School.

Many of the speakers agreed that this was indeed an important moment for Nigeria. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede in his opening address mentioned that while governments have so far committed $15.6 trillion in response to COVID-19, an average of $2,042.00 per person, Nigeria’s $6.5 billion in commitments amount to a paltry $32.50 per person. According to him, “COVID-19 has brought an opportunity for Nigeria to rethink and reinvent the way we lead our people so that we can spend smartly, generate more revenue and also get them to act in a manner that will deal with this pandemic and other health issues”.

Professor Paul Collier stated that the impact on Nigeria would be an economic one, with a fall in government revenues and people’s capacity to spend. He opined that the government should focus on encouraging growth in the informal sector to boost the economy. House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila while noting that this was indeed a tough time for the country, challenged the notion of Nigeria as a developing country, noting “If we harness our resources well, Nigeria should be a developed country, not a developing country.” In line with this, Olusegun Obasanjo highlighted the falling oil prices as an opportunity for Nigeria to finally advance the diversification of her economy.

The discussion featured specific policies the government could take to manage these tough times. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede recommended that the private sector should collaborate more with the government. Taking the historic route, Sanusi Lamido recommended we take a hard look at the structure of the country to understand that decisions taken decades ago have implications for our core governance framework. Dr Ceyla Pazarbasiogu recommended the implementation of policies to boost the economy and improve governance. In response to a question asked, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, highlighted her plans to digitize the Nigerian public sector and reduce waste so it can serve its purpose as the engine room of government.

The event ended with closing remarks from Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Prof. Ngaire Woods, reiterating the need for the government to take actions and implement policies to improve the country’s situation at this time.