IF WE MAKE TOUGH CHOICES, WE CAN EMERGE FROM COVID-19 BETTER AND STRONGER

Nigeria must see the COVID-19 crisis as a platform for change. The radical uncertainty of the challenges we face must compel us to reset,  rethink,  reinvent the way that we deliver public services and strengthen the social contract between citizen and state.

On Friday, May 29, 2020, the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) in Partnership  with the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, convened a Webinar  to discuss ‘Covid-19 and Oil Price Crash: Nigeria’s Tough Choices’. The Webinar was attended by hundreds of participants from Nigeria and beyond to consider and proffer solutions to the unique challenges posed by the pandemic at a time when Nigeria has to contend with the ~50% crash in global crude oil prices.

Participants acknowledged Nigeria’s prompt emergency health responses and fiscal/ monetary interventions which have bought the country limited time and space to prepare for the lasting impacts of the pandemic. They also noted that due to decades of neglect, Nigeria’s public health system would struggle to deal with the growing national health pandemic with deleterious effects.

Nigeria will have to rethink its policy priorities, spend smarter and generate new sources of revenue in order to fix its chronically weak public healthcare system as  well as reinvent its social contract with Nigerians to prepare them for the ongoing lasting changes to society, which we call the new normal.

A robust, constructive, and open debate resulted in a number of recommendations which if well implemented would positively transform Nigeria.

Participants and their views

Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Founder & Chairman, Africa Initiative for Governance

 

“I see the crisis as a platform for change. I think the opportunity that COVID-19 has brought for Nigeria is the opportunity to reset, rethink, re-architect and reinvent so that we can spend smartly and generate more revenue to deal with this pandemic and other health issues.”

Professor Sir Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

“We are dealing with a period of radical uncertainty, and there is no guidebook to follow. Countries are learning as they go, and leaders must test solutions and be willing to rapidly scale them when they work.”

Dr. Folasade Yemi- Esan, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation

We must put in place a technology-driven public service. Going forward, we must proactively put in place structures and mechanisms to digitize all administrative processes to ensure improved and seamless running of government business. Public servants must, therefore, prepare themselves for the new workplace that will  emerge post COVID-19.”

His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

“We should stop spending money importing most of the staple food we eat. The whole value chain of agri-business, from making the instruments up to the food on the table – we can pay attention to  these areas for employment, job creation and wealth generation.”

Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives

We have to focus on creating and generating wealth, we have to look at our small businesses  and the middle class and find ways to support  them”

Dr. Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EFI) at the World Bank Group (WBG)

“It is very important that the short-term measures to respond to the health emergency are accompanied by comprehensive policies to boost long-term growth, including by improving governance, business environment and expanding investment in education”

His Royal Highness Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Former Emir of Kano

“ We cannot afford our current cost of governance, we must take a hard look at how   we can make the resources we have work better  for us. One way to do this is to re-allocate resources. I t does not have to involve retrenchment. If we decide we want to spend 30%  of the budget on education, there is no reason why we cannot retrain all those graduates in the Civil Service and move them into education.”

 

Recommendations

  1. The “lockdowns” introduced to flatten the curve have starkly exposed the reliance of government on manual processes and physical presence to deliver public and services. We must take this opportunity to transition the public sector into the digital age, automating government processes, and services and making them available to the public using proven delivery channels such as mobile phones and the internet.
  2. We must recognise that our cost of governance is too high especially when compared to other countries in the worldwithsimilarlevelsofincomecapita. Expense reduction is essential to enable us create budgetary space sustainable nationaldevelopment.
  3. To break the cycle of failed promises by successive governments to Nigerian citizens, we must Introduce robust, simple and transparent performance management in the public sector that enables citizens hold government to account.
  4. To scale up the delivery of basic public services, we must adopt innovative public-private sector partnerships so that even whilst public sector revenues are constrained, funding can be mobilised from private sector sources to finance the provision of education, basic healthcare and public services.
  5. As we transition to a modern 21st century public service delivery model, we must redefine the jobs that we need, reskill our public servants and refocus them to sectors of relevance and impact. Reform does not have to mean job losses. We can use our human resources to achieve better and vastly improved outcomes.
  6. We must mobilise our citizens to be active participants in this process of national development to take collective action. By improving transparency demonstrating increased efficiency and value of public services, we can strengthen the social contract between government and citizens.
  7. We must recognise that Nigeria’s most important resource is its 200 million (and growing) citizens. By eliminating the market failures that constrain their we will unleash economic growth at the level Asia has enjoyed for 30years.

Recommendation

Specific interventions

Bring the public sector into the digital age

  • Digitise core governmentprocesses
  • Provide digital products andservices
  • Harness the value ofdata

Reduce expenses

  • Eliminate non-essentialexpenses/allowances
  • Prioritise Investments in RevenueGeneration
  • Adopt remote workingpractices

Improve performance management in the public sector

  • Establish credible performanceindices
  • Reward starperformers
  • Automate appraisalprocess
  • Hold service providersaccountable

Scale up the delivery of public services

  • Invest in and develop digital infrastructure
  • Innovative Public-Private partnerships address marketfailures

Redefine jobs, reskill employees and shift personnel to sectors of value

  • Undertake mass training and reskilling of public servants to enable them move into agricultural and healthsectors
  • Build a generation ofDigital

workers e.g. Call Center employees

Mobilise citizens to take collective action

  • Be proactive withcommunication
  • Demonstrate that our public leaders are making sacrifices
  • Showcase improvement in publicservices

Enhance public sector revenue

  • Eliminate subsidies
  • Transparent licensing, permits and auctions to attract privateinvestment