COVID-19 lessons from CBN interventions

In a way, the COVID-19 pandemic has come as a force majeure. As a consequence, the country’s large appetite for importation of everything under the sun has been temporarily suspended and the wish is for it to be permanently suspended. Although we may not all have noticed this, it is gratifying that in the short run, the country is being forced to look inward for sustenance in food supply, essentially. Gradually, all the foreign rice brands are vanishing from retail outlets yet the consumption of rice has not stopped. It has not even reduced and we can at this point legitimately thank, first, the Nigerian farmers for protecting that food window against the Coronavirus onslaught. We should also thank the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for all its pre-COVID-19 initiatives to increase, especially rice production in Nigeria.  

Some of the interventions across board have been noticed here – long before the advent of the deadly pandemic. They include the Anchor Borrowers Programme, the 41 items that do not enjoy forex support, the current CBN initiative to support the creative sector, the ongoing initiative to support pharmaceutical industry and the health sector, etc. As it can be seen from the way this pandemic landed like a bolt from the blues, it does not take forever for the rainy day to come.  If these preparations had not been in place, the country would have been badly drenched in a worse pandemic – hunger, which cannot be medically fixed. This is why hay is made when the sun shines. No doubt, the observable gains in food production and the corresponding capacity to stay off food importation would have been impossible in the middle of a pandemic. The armour is worn before the battle, not in the thick of it.

Doubtless, the CBN and allied agencies should be applauded for this. We should add that the set of interventions that has relatively rejigged the agriculture sector should be replicated across board to ramp up other areas of the economy. For instance, the real sector in Nigeria is actually not real. And to make it real, a surgery is required. We need to deploy into it, the same measures that may look painful in the short term but most beneficial in the long run. Many observers have frowned on the extra-legal role of the apex bank for some time. The frustration of the CBN, which has to overlap too often into fiscal responsibilities to safeguard the currency and the economy from sliding in the wrong direction, needs to be noted for its relevance. This should not be a surprise package: Nigeria has been in perpetual emergency and we cannot restrict roles and hope to significantly move forward at this time. The letter of the law of the CBN is well known but the spirit of the same law can make of the thing work together for the common good. The concern should be doing the work and not how it is done or who does it – at this time. 

We do not need to restate here that COVID-19 is an eye opener. It has opened us to all the fault lines in the management of the political economy. However, since seeing is believing, it is now left for us to take advantage of the pandemic to prove that there can be prosperity indeed in adversity. For instance, an economy is brewing alongside the pandemic. Producers of face masks/shields and hand sanitisers are sprouting in all major cities. We can even start from here to continue the gospel of the CBN on the all-round advantages of local production. When the Coronavirus started, the so-called surgical face mask, which is not reusable/renewable sold for N1000 per one. Hand sanitisers were for only the rich. But faced with possible extinction, the people have mobilised themselves to fight back with innovation. This should be the dominant national spirit even after COVID-19. It is now left for the CBN to deepen and spread its interventions even as we call on the fiscal authorities to create all the enabling instruments for the emerging new order. 

This is the spirit and the message we should not ignore: We must learn to curb our taste for foreign goods.  In the production frenzy that follows the new spirit, we can only call for standardisation of processes such that what is produced remains good and competitive. We also call for utmost transparency in the disbursement of all intervention funds by the apex bank so that national objective is achieved in all instances without anyone crying for justice and fairness.

The country cannot get it wrong with local production. In fact, the point cannot be over-emphasised with the new wave of nationalism globally. Today, Americans including their President are thinking America first. Europeans and their leaders are thinking Europe first. Nigerians and their leaders cannot be different and think somewhere else first before thinking Nigeria. Nigerians must think Nigeria first in food consumption, clothing, medicals, education, technology and even air travel. It is the only way to go. And as nations take steps to safeguard themselves and adjust to what has been described as the new normal, the lessons of the pandemic should not be lost on us: any nation that does not think first of itself shall die even without a pandemic. This complements this newspaper’s conclusion the other day that while globalisation triggers our orientation toward thinking globally even in finding solutions to the COVID-19 challenge, we have a responsibility to act locally.

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