The Board of Trustees and General Assembly of ActionAid Nigeria following its 12th General Assembly meeting held virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has deemed it fit as citizens of the nation and as active agents of change to make the following comments, observations and recommendations on the State of the Nation.
While we recognise the efforts of the current administration to move the country forward, particularly at an unprecedented time when the world is battling a pandemic, we wish to observe as follows:
- The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has made some significant strides in combating the COVID-19 pandemic; however, there is complacency and laxity in terms of adherence to the guidelines on the gradual ease of the lockdown order, and a spike of the pandemic could be devastating in a country of 200 million people. Also, the relocation of street children (Almajiri) by state governments to their home states with no clear-cut plan on safeguarding and managing their needs will be counterproductive.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of our health sector at all levels; long years of neglect and low investment in public infrastructure, including health and education has made Nigeria more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Same applies to the agriculture sector, where hunger and food scarcity looms as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.
- Insecurity and Gender Based Violence remain major concerns, especially with the dusk-to-dawn curfews, lockdown, and stay-home order across major cities in the country. The heightened level of poverty, hunger and underdevelopment in the country is further compounded by insecurity.
- The conduct of security agents during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially reported cases of extra judicial killings, intimidation, harassment, brutality and other forms of misconduct has left so much to be desired and is therefore condemnable.
- Public borrowing in Nigeria has not created its desired impact on the economy; the increase in public borrowing has not translated to tangible development, as unemployment and poverty continue to increase.
- The proposed “Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020” violates fundamental human rights and promotes abuse of power and is therefore unsuitable in a democratic environment like Nigeria.
- The current arrangement whereby the states cluster cap in hand at Abuja every month end to collect federal allocations is no longer sustainable, and the need for restructuring is now more evident.
- The resolve by INEC to pilot e-voting in 2021 is commendable, as the COVID-19 pandemic has proved that e-voting is possible in Nigeria with increasing reliance on the cyberspace for formal and informal sector operations. This further buttress the need for electoral reform and true independence for INEC.
- Nigerian Researchers are not relenting in their search for a cure and vaccine for the COVID-19, despite the fact that government is yet to respond to the concerns raised by the group.
A. Covid-19 Response:
i. To combat COVID-19, Nigeria needs to intensify actions on clinical and preventive measures. Testing should be scaled up and physical distancing advisory should be implemented to the letter.
ii. Nigerians are advised to stay safe by obeying all government guidelines and regulations on the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to restrictions on interstate movement. Reported and clandestine movement of persons from certain parts of the country to another is highly discouraged.
iii. The Federal, State and Local governments should develop and include a coordinated approach to manage the relocation and welfare of street children in the local, state and national COVID-19 response strategy. There should be adequate space for the children in their holding locations with guaranteed safety, shelter, physical distancing, sustainable feeding and testing for COVID-19. Beyond COVID-19, northern state governors should start to conceptualise ways to fix the Almajiri system by intensifying the campaign for parents to take responsibility for their children, while articulating a robust plan that will keep children off the streets for good and reintegrate them in formal education.
iv. The Federal Government should publish the names of all donor and beneficiaries of government palliatives to promote transparency.
B. Socio-Economic Response: Increasing budgetary allocation to the Agriculture, Health and Education sectors are no longer negotiable if Nigeria is to recover fast from the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence has shown that increased investments in these pro-poor sectors have strong impact on poverty and inequality reduction, while simultaneously creating employment opportunities. Agriculture employs up to 80% of the population, especially in the informal sector, where the majority of the small-scale food producers are women farmers. Financial inclusiveness should be encouraged through increased access to credit for the small-scale farmers.
C. Legislative Response: Lawmakers should partner with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to redraft the “Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020” and replace the oppressive clauses in the proposed bill with provisions that guarantee human rights and privacy in access to healthcare as well as measures to empower the Federal Government to unlock emergency resources in health pandemic situations..
D. Electoral Reform:
i. INEC should be empowered to leverage technology in conducting free, fair, safe and credible elections by amending its enabling Act.
ii. INEC should have financial autonomy to effectively administer and manage the electoral process, instead of depending on the government for release of funds for elections and other related matters.
iii. Another important area to be amended is the timeline for determining post-election matters, which is 180 days. This can be amended to within 30 days if technology is adopted.
E. National Restructuring: Restructuring is expedient now that oil prices continue to nosedive with increasing frequency of instability over the past decade. If the country is restructured, States will be empowered to explore opportunities for Internally Generated Revenue to drive their development needs.
ActionAid Nigeria is a national non-governmental, non-partisan, non-religious, civil society organisation, and an affiliate member of the ActionAid International Federation with presence in 45 countries. It works in solidarity with people living in poverty and exclusion to achieve social justice, gender equality and poverty eradication towards achieving a just, equitable and sustainable world in which every person enjoys the right to a life of dignity, freedom from poverty and all forms of oppression.