Policy Alert, a non-governmental organization working to improve economic and environmental governance in Nigeria, has called on the Nigerian federal and state governments to immediately roll out plans for addressing the needs of the poorest Nigerians in view of ongoing lockdowns and partial lockdowns occasioned by the Corona Virus pandemic.
A statement issued this morning in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, and signed by Chimezie Anajama, the organization’s Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Lead, noted that the impact of Covid19 on the economy will be worst felt by the poorest of the poor, hence the need for specific interventions to address their needs at this time.
It stated: “While governments at various levels implement lockdowns or semi-lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus, we must not forget that it is the poorest of the poor that will bear the brunt of widespread restrictions in movements in various states and the Federal Capital Territory. Governments at all levels have to design specific interventions for those Nigerians living on the margins of the economy, those who live from hand to mouth, who eat only what they can scrape out on a daily basis. That segment of the population will suffer multiple vulnerabilities at a time such as this. They are also the ones without any access to basic healthcare and they are the ones who cannot contemplate sanitary precautions against Covid19 because of overcrowded habitats. Unfortunately, these are the millions of Nigerians who would rather risk infection than die of hunger.”
Anajama added: “In designing economic responses to the Covid19 pandemic, therefore, we call on Nigeria’s federal and state governments to recognize that nearly half the country’s population lives in extreme poverty. So governments at all levels need to adopt an inclusive approach that does not leave behind the poorest and most vulnerable among us.”
Possible economic options and social protection measures, according to the statement, could include direct cash transfers for informal workers, the elderly, orphans, grants for micro and small businesses, tax holidays for companies providing essential services, Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds for essential goods, and even a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
“The Federal Government should also consider welfare incentives for health workers as part of the overall economic coping mechanisms in response to the pandemic” Anajama continued. “Nigerian health workers are nothing short of heroes given the bare and challenging environments in which they work and this is the time for governments at all levels to show that they matter.”
She added: “Many countries affected by Covid19 have activated some form of economic stimulus or social protection policy for their more vulnerable populations. Kenyan legislators and executives, for example, have demonstrated their commitment to social inclusion by slashing taxes on essential goods and services and voluntarily reducing their salaries by between 80 percent and 20 percent, in order to make provisions for their populations at the margins. Covid19 is a test of our solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in our society and we are waiting to see if Nigeria’s leaders will pass this test.”