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COVID-19: No Longer At Ease

COVID-19: No Longer At Ease
  • PublishedMay 3, 2020

By Olowogboyega Oyebade

Do you read novels, particularly of African Writers Series?  Do you know that two of such novels, namely, ‘the Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ and No Longer at Ease’ are a critique of the post-colonial civil service both in mufti and uniforms, which was expected to herald glory to the fatherland but chose ineptitude and corruption as emblems of national adulation?  Have you read “No Longer at Ease” a 1960 novel by Chinua Achebe?   Do you know that the novel is the second work of the author, a novel preceded by “Things Fall Apart” and followed by “Arrow of God”? Do you know that the book’s title comes from the closing lines of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi?  It goes:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

            Are you aware that the novel is about the dilemma of young officers  in Nigerian civil service genre? Do you know that Obi, the hero of the novel enjoys a refundable scholarship from his community promoted by the members of the Umuofia Progressive Union (UPU)? Do you know that he is sent to study Law in England with the hope of returning back to salvage his community from contemporary wreck and exploitation? Do you know that in England, without informing his sponsors, Obi switches from Law to read English Language and starts to attend parties to dance and to enjoy romance? Do you know that Obi returns to Nigeria after his 4-year study, arrives in Lagos and takes appointment with the Scholarship Board of the Civil Service? Can you guess hazard a guess of the maiden experience of Obi as he resumes at his desk? Do you know that he is offered a bribe by a man who is trying to obtain a scholarship for his sister? Do you know that Obi rejects the bribe? Curiously, do you know that the girl that needs this scholarship finds her way to visit Obi herself and offers voluntarily sexual favours to Obi for the scholarship, another offer Obi rejects?

Do you know that as a young civil servant, Obi starts to date Clara Okeke, a Nigerian woman who eventually reveals that she is an ‘Osu‘, (an alleged inferior caste as identified in Igbo tradition)? Do you know that Obi cannot marry her under the tradition of the Igbo people of Nigeria? Can you believe that when he stuck to his gun to show civilization, his own father opposes the move and his mother threatens to commit suicide if he goes ahead? Do you know that when Obi informs Clara of these events, Clara breaks the engagement and intimates that she is pregnant? Do you know that Obi arranges for procurement of an abortion for Clara which she reluctantly undergoes?  Do you know that  she suffers complications and refuses to see Obi afterwards? Do you know that in view of the paucity of salary and allowances of Obi, he has to obtain loan to fund abortion for Clara and other complications she suffers in the hospital? Do you know subsequently Obi sinks into debt as a result of his not being prudent and partly due to the need to repay his scholarship loan to the Umuofia Progressive Union and to pay for the school fees of his siblings and in part due to the cost of the illegal abortion?

Do you know that all these responsibilities that are beyond his means precluded him to attend his mother’s burial, a situation that throws him into depression? Alas! Do you know that when he recovers, Obi eats his vomit as he begins to accept bribes in a reluctant acknowledgement that it is the way of his world in the civil service of Nigeria? Do you know that the novel closes as Obi takes a bribe and assures  himself that it is the last one he will take, only to discover that the bribe is already a reflex action for him? Do you know that he is arrested, thus dimming the hope of a community expecting that his education will bring light to the community? Do you know that the civil service today is peopled with many Obi of this world, lured to kill a dream? Do you know each disappointment and failure noticed is punished with reforms popularly called the Civil Service Reform? Do you know that as it was in the Civil Service days of this metaphorical Obi, so it is now and there is the need to put a capital stop to it? Do you know that a new Civil Service Reform is underway at the Federal Level to rejig the system?  Do you know that it is the implementation of the Oronsaye Report? Do you know that it has an in-built mechanism of merging agencies, folding up parastatals, changing jobs, right-sizing and if possible down-sizing?  Do you know that we are victims of the system we create

Do you know that we must change our ways to reflect on things that will make our country to be great again? You care to know more about this?  Come along, please.

Do you watch what goes on around you?  Have you heard the news?  Do you know that the Atlantic shoreline across the area referred to as the Gulf of Guinea and along the corridor of Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in Nigeria is witnessing waves carrying ashore dead whales, sea lions and millions of shoals of dead fish? Do you know that as we pass through the throes of this pandemic, things are no longer at ease in the seas and Atlantic Ocean bordering our country? Do you know that we must be worried by the development? Do you know that it is reported that on the body of the shoals of fish, swellings were sighted looking like a lesion or boil and when pricked something like pus would be excreting from it while the fish begins to rotten from the tail as against the head? Are you aware that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has commenced a scientific inquiry to identify the cause of the recent shoals of dead fish washed ashore along the Niger Delta coastline states and the agency also put up a warning to the general public, especially the fisherfolk in the affected areas, about the dangers of consuming or selling the dead fish to unsuspecting members of the public? Do you know that these shoals of fish are smoked in our riverineareas and are finding their ways into all our food chain? Do you know that this is the time to probe the sources of what we buy to eat? Do you want to know why?  Come along, please.  

Are you aware that Covid-19 had a fatal toll on workers last week as all workers in the world observed the International Labour Day at home? Do you remember that the day was to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on 4 May 1886 at the Haymarket when there was a strike action beginning on 1 May to back up the demand for the eight-hour workday?  Do you know that on  4th May, 1886,  the police acted to disperse a public assembly in support of the strike when an unidentified person threw a bomb that sparked off into the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; inflicted injuries to sixty police officers and several other civilians in the crowd?  Do you know that on 5th May, 1886 in Milwaukee Wisconsin, the police visited a reprisal attack on a crowd of strikers killing seven, including a schoolboy and a man feeding chickens in his yard?  Do you know that some labour leaders were arrested, tried and punished including death by hanging? Do you know that May Day is celebrated to honour these heroes that won for workers 8-hour labour per day instead of the former 18-hours of work per day? Can you see sanguine blows of Covid-19 that robbed workers of the celebration? Is there any hope in sight to celebrate the day in a better way and form next year? Then, listen to this!

Have you heard the news? In a report published Thursday 30th April, 2020, do you know that researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) stressed that Covid-19 pandemic is likely to last between 18 and 24 months, and till then all prescribed protocols must be kept to stay safe and alive? While ruminating over this tragedy, do you know that there is a ray of hope as Gilead Sciences claims to have seen “positive data” from clinical trials of its drug called ‘Remdesivir‘ as a Covid-19 treatment but the drug has not been formally approved to treat the virus, and U.S. health officials caution the data is not yet peer-reviewed to test its reliability?

Are you aware that things are no longer at ease, economically speaking, for our country as a result of the global pandemic? Do you know that the economy has a sharply deteriorated outlook which prompted both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings to cut Nigeria credit rating further into junk territory recently? Do you know that Moody however, held off from a downgrade and retained the country rating at B2 on 15 April, 2020  citing its low debt burden offsetting the risks from the twin shocks?   Do you know that as at the end of June 2019, total public debt of Nigeria was $83.9 billion which was 14.6% higher than the 2018 debt portfolio, a debt representing 20.1% of GDP, up from 17.5% in 2018?  Do you know that the domestic public debt as at June, 2019 amounted to $56.7 billion, and external public debt $27.2 billion? Can you now see why we were downgraded by the Rating Agencies? Do you know that recession is at hand and the only saving grace is to obtain loans to finance  the deficit and minimize leakages and wastes in the system? Do you know that merging of agencies is one of the ways fingered to lessen the pains?

Do you know that high poverty is  reflected by rising unemployment, estimated at 14.2% in 2016, 23.1% in 2018, and 33.5% in 2020? Do you know that real GDP growth is projected to rise to 2.9% in 2020 and 3.3% in 2021 depending on implementing the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017–20), which emphasizes economic diversification?  Do you know that COVID-19 and crash of oil price have aborted that dream? Do you know that an increase in the value-added tax from 5% to 7.5% to shore up domestic non-oil revenues had to suffer during the period of the lockdown and cannot yield the expected results under COVID-19 regime? Are you aware that it was reported on 16th April, 2020 in the Nigeria Economic Update (Issue 12) that between January and February, 2020,  Nigeria’s external reserves declined from US$37.2 billion to $35.5 billion, its lowest in 2 years?  

Have you heard the news that the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), suffered yet another blow, with the announcement of its suspension, as African countries struggle to deal with the impact of the coronaviruspandemic? Do you know that with borders closed and supply chain disrupted globally, the trade deal expected to kick off in 1st July, 2020  was suspended to allow countries to deal with the pandemic. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, can you believe that the AfCFTA is, by the number of participating countries, the largest trade agreement since the formation of the World Trade Organisationand its implementation would have formed  a $3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across the continent?  Do you know that Nigeria could have been a major beneficiary? What is the next desperate shore to save the situation?  Do you know that we need local and external loans to save us from depression with all its attendant malaise, including default in payment of salaries?

Have you heard the news? Do you know that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria resumed duty on Tuesday last week to give a speedy approval for President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow N850 billion for the government, a loan, which will be sourced from domestic capital market to finance projects and programmes in the 2020 budget? Do you know that in order to get it through, the lawmakerssuspended relevant rules to give speedy consideration and passage to the request? Do you know that the 2020 Appropriation Act provided for 1,594,986,700,544 of new domestic borrowing and N850 billion of new external borrowing to part finance the 2020 budget deficit of 2,175,197,885,232 only? Do you know that President Buhari hinted the Senate that things are no longer at ease in his letter when he wrote:

“However, recent developments in the global economic environment as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and the decline in international oil prices have made it less attractive to borrow from the international capital markets at this time. To ensure that there are adequate funds to finance critical projects and programmes in the 2020 budget I hereby seek the Senate’s approval that resolution to raise the N850 billion of new external borrowing in naira from the domestic capital market instead of from the international capital market. Presently, the conditions in the domestic capital market are favourable in terms of availability of funds and relatively low interest rates. This cause of action is deemed prudent given our current realities.”

As a further demonstration that things are no longer at ease with our economy, do you know that on 28 April 28, 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved $3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance under the Rapid Financing Instrument to support Nigeria’s efforts in addressing the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 shock and the sharp fall in oil prices? Do you know that the COVID-19 outbreak has magnified existing vulnerabilities, leading to a historic contraction in real GDP growth and to large external and fiscal financing needs? Do you know that the near-term economic impact of COVID-19 is severe while already high downside risks have increased?  Are you aware that even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Nigeria’s economy was facing headwinds from rising external vulnerabilities and falling per capita GDP levels and the pandemic—along with the sharp fall in oil prices—has magnified  the vulnerabilities, leading to a historic decline in growth and large financing needs?  Do you know that the IMF financial support will help limit the decline in international reserves and provide financing to the budget for targeted and temporary spending increases aimed at containing and mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic and of the sharp fall in international oil prices?

Do you know that the average cost of governance in Nigeria is believed to rank among the highest in the world? Do we now borrow only to pay recurrent expenditure as a country? Do you remember the disclosure over the implementation of both the Integrated Personal and Payroll Information System that over 23,000 ghost workers were discovered in the Federal Civil Service alone? Do you know that Nigeria deserves sound fiscal public management in this period of depression as we witness a chunk of our national resources channelled into running a government that is unduly large, leaving behind  minimal percentage for the execution of capital projects and the real sector of the economy?  Do you know that this is not sustainable? Have you not noticed that we run a bicameral legislature that is notorious for being the highest remunerated in the world?  

Do you know that as a way out of this peculiar mess of excessive spending on recurrent expenditure that became a huge elephant in the room, the GoodluckJonathan administration came up with the idea of setting up the Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the leadership of a retired federal civil servant and former Head of Service of the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye? Do you know that his report is not the first report on the matter?  Do you care to know more about other reports before it?  Come along, please.

Are you aware that as far back as 1975 during the regime of General Ramat Muhammed, government restructured the Federal Civil Service with a massive purge?  Do you know that under the General Buhari/Idiagbon regime in 1984, another purge was implemented in the Civil Service? Do you know that in 2000, there was the Ahmed Joda Panel White Paper on the Review, Harmonisation and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals which was not implemented? Do you know that a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) chaired by General T.Y Danjuma (rtd), in January 2011 recommended to the Federal Government  for “a more effective and optimal use of national resources,” and called on  government to restructure and rationalise the service to eliminate waste? Do you know that the Oronsaye committee was set up in 2012? Do you know that the Federal Government constituted the Review Committee led by the then Minister for Justice and AGF, Mr Adoke to review the work of  Oronsaye Committee and a third committee was set up by President Jonathan to review the public sector reform, headed by Ahmed Fika? Do you know that all these safety precautions were done to make the implementation error-free? Do you know that at the end of the painstaking assignment of OronsayeCommittee, it  recommended the scrapping of 102 statutory agencies from the current 263, abolition of 38 agencies totally, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to departments in the Ministries? Do you know that the report also recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils?  Can you believe that the report was submitted to the Federal Executive Council and a White Paper was produced?  Do you know that  theAdamu Fika-led committee was commissioned again by the Federal Government to review the report to ensure that the government was toeing the right path?

Are you aware that the report contains virtually every aspect of Nigerian public administration including education? Do you know that it includes compulsory and free education from primary to junior secondary schools for all school-age children in the country; the need for stakeholders including the National Council on Education to make tangible efforts at revamping the fallen standard of education; the need for state governors to be engaged through the National Economic Council to drive the desired change process; professionalism of teaching; need for practisingteachers to undergo in-service training to enable them garner renewable teaching license to mention but a few? Do you know that the report canvassed that  appropriation of funds for the management and development of schools should be allocated to such schools directly rather than being ‘warehoused’ at the Federal Ministry of Education; Universal Basic Education

Commission and State Universal Basic Education Board?  Do you know that the report recommended the restoration of a strong Inspectorate Division that would facilitate the improvement and maintenance of standards in service delivery? Can you see that the report is just not about the Civil Service but an x-ray into the issue of cost-saving due diligence in service delivery in Nigeria?

Have you heard the news? Do you know that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the implementation of a report submitted by the presidential committee on restructuring and rationalization of federal government parastatals, commissions and agencies as disclosed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, ZainabAhmed?  Do you know that the a former Head of Civil Service, Stephen Oronsaye had led a seven-man committee set up by former President Jonathan to identify civil service inadequacies? Are you aware that the committee had then noted that the “rationalization of agencies, parastatals and commissions would have human dimensions and cost implications”? Do you know that the Committee was inaugurated on 18th Aug., 2011 and mandated to complete its assignment and submit its report within eight weeks? Do you know that at the time that the Committee assumed duty, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory) in the country?

Are you aware that one one common feature of some of the previous reports is the relationship between the parastatals and their supervising Ministries/Offices? Do you know that the Allison Ayida Report (1995) referred to the ‘Administrative Guidelines Regulating the Relationship between Parastatals and Government-owned Companies and the Government’ to buttress the point that Ministers should not function as chairmen of Government-owned agencies? Do you know that the Ahmed JodaCommittee (1999) declared that the challenge of ministerial interference and bureaucratic control must be eliminated in order to restore the effectiveness and efficiency of parastatals in the delivery of service to the public? Can you recall that the Joda Report hinted that there was lack of managerial competence in some of the parastatals as well as incompetence of some Boards? Do you know that the Committee noted with dissatisfaction the challenge posed by the large size of the boards of the parastatals, most of which had over 10 members? Do you know that the over 800-page report contains recommendations unanimously adopted by members after wading through volumes of submissions and enduring lengthy presentations, lively and frank interactions, detailed analyses and robust debates?

Do you know that at the time when the report was submitted, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory) in the country and the report recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161?  Do you know that at present, the number of federal agencies has increased and it is estimated to be close to 1,000? Do you know that the new Presidential Committee lamented that after 12 years of the White Paper on the Ahmed Joda Panel Report on the Review, Harmonisation and Rationalisation of Federal Government

Parastatals, Institutions and Agencies (2000), some parastatals and agencies, which government had decided should either be scrapped, commercialised, privatised or self-funding, are still receiving full government funding, which runs into billions of Naira, thus ballooning the cost of governance? Do you know that with the huge number of agencies, one would expect Nigeria to be functioning on auto pilot but  thereverse is the case? Do you know that the implementation will involve the National Assembly the amend some legislations and the judiciary?  Do you know that the three arms zone must agree on a common ground on this implementation to make the going easier?  Do you know that as civil servants, we must shun the corrupt idiosyncracy of Obi as a civil servant in No Longer at Ease and decide to fulfil the dream of our society and the call of our education? We appreciate in no small measure the good heart of the Governor of the State of Osun for finding means, despite acute shortage of fund, to pay all workers full salary during this period of lockdown.  The statement of Plato cuts in:

“We must decide what manner of men we shall be and what call of life we must follow.  This is the greatest problem of the world.”

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