The Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry and prominent economists on Monday assessed the country’s economic situation and concluded that another COVID-19 lockdown would unleash hunger and malnutrition on Nigerians.
The groups stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH while reacting to a statement by the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, who on Sunday said the Federal Government was considering all options, including lockdown, to battle the second wave of COVID-19.
Aliyu, who lamented rising COVID-19 cases in the country, said the virus infected 6,000 people in the last one week, while 33 died of the disease during the same period.
According to him, Nigerians can avoid another lockdown if they adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures, including wearing of face masks and hand washing.
Recall that the Federal Government first imposed lockdown on Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory on April 27, 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. The lockdown, which started with the first phase in April ended with the third phase in July.
However, the PTF on December 17 said the country had entered COVID-19 second wave of the virus with a surge in the infection and deaths resulting from it.
As of December 4, 2020, the country had recorded 68,627 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 1,179 deaths.
But on Sunday, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control announced that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was 90,080 with 1,311 deaths.
Although the PTF coordinator on Sunday said government was considering all options, including lockdown, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Lagos on Monday, said government was concerned about increasing COVID-19 cases.
He, however, said government had not said it would impose a fresh lockdown to battle the second wave of the virus.
New COVID-19 strain more difficult to handle, says FG
The minister said, “On the issue of lockdown, I don’t think there is any time when the Federal Government has said it is going to have a second lockdown. However, the Federal Government is very unhappy that Nigerians are not adhering to the basic COVID-19 protocols of wearing face masks, of practising social distancing, of washing hands, of ensuring that they do gather in large numbers.
“If we do not do these, the surge will continue and with the new strain of COVID-19 which is becoming much more difficult to handle than the old strain, the Federal Government will continue to insist and encourage Nigerians to please obey the COVID-19 protocols.
We are aware of economic implications of second lockdown – FG
“The Federal Government is aware of the economic and social implications of a second lockdown but we want to call on Nigerians to help us, help themselves and help the economy, by adhering strictly to the COVID-19 protocols.”
The Director-General of MAN, Mr Segun Ajayi-Kadir, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said another lockdown would lead to hunger and malnutrition among Nigerians.
According to him, a fresh lockdown in the country will be counterproductive and worsen food crisis.
He stated, “I think the new wave of the COVID-19 infection is actually quite worrisome. While one must recognise that we need to be healthy to be able to work, there is the need to keep the economy afloat, and this consideration should mean that we need to be circumspective in terms of what the long-term plans are to deal with the virus.”
He said manufacturers had been discussing among themselves what could be the possible impact of another lockdown.
Ajayi-Kadir said, “Their take is that manufacturers will commit to ensuring stricter adherence to the COVID-19 protocols, and that it would be counter-productive to lock down the economy for the second time, especially because most people believe that COVID-19 is majorly responsible for the recession that the county has entered into.
“So, we may not be able to easily recover from another round of lockdown. I think the position government should adopt is that we should recommit to even ensuring stricter implementation and enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols such that industries are not locked down and they are able to continue to produce and make their products available in the market.
“The food crisis that will emerge from another lockdown could be better imagined.”
The MAN DG noted that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 lockdown and insecurity had limited food production and movement of food across the country.
He stated, “So, if we have another lockdown, the impact on the citizens in terms of hunger and malnutrition even for children could be too much for the economy to bear. Government may think of more ingenious ways to abate the spread and still keep the economy running.”
Another lockdown ’ll deepen recession, destroy businesses – Abuja Chamber of commerce
On its part, the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry advised the Federal Government against locking down the economy regardless of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the chamber, another lockdown will deepen the economic recession across the country and destroy businesses.
The President of the ACCI, Al-Mujtaba Abubakar, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the chamber was aware of the second wave of COVID-19 and had followed with keen interest efforts of the PTF to curtail the new outbreak.
Abubakar stated, “We, however, strongly appeal to the government not to embark on another lockdown. An economy in recession cannot in anyway withstand another lockdown.
“A second lockdown will deepen recession and further destroy businesses that are just recovering from the lockdown.
“Our suggestion to government, which is also generally shared by the organised private sector, is for the government at all levels to enforce the COVID-19 safety protocols.”
It said the real sector was involved in productive activities that could guarantee growth, employment, supply of consumer goods and inflow of foreign exchange.
Abubakar stated, “We recommend full implementation of the approved COVID-19 guidelines/protocols for small and medium enterprises and the manufacturing sector, while allowing production to go on seamlessly to bring the economy back to the path of recovery as fast as possible.”
The ACCI president stated that the government should allow manufacturing operations to continue. He said firms had built up stock and adopted international measures designed to work under the current environment.
Also, a professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sherrifdeen Tella, told The PUNCH that another lockdown was not needed.
According to him, another lockdown meant that the recession will be prolonged, worsening the state of the economy.
He said, “I don’t think we’ve got to the level of lockdown. As long as we observe protocols at every stage and at the federal level, that should do for now.
“Because some countries are locking down does not mean we should also lockdown. What we need to do is probably to restrict people travelling to Nigeria and out of Nigeria, but a total lockdown is not necessary.
“If we shut down the economy again it means that we’ll prolong the recession as it were. People should be allowed to observe the protocols and should be able to move around to do their businesses.
“This economy relies highly on small and medium enterprises and if we’re locking down, we’re locking them down again. That is going to have serious effects on our economy.”
A former President of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr Sam Nzekwe, said, “Nigeria has not recovered from the previous lockdown it did. Another lockdown will not be good for the economy because the economy is already fragile.”
He said the way the government managed the first lockdown was not okay because it affected the downtrodden who earned their living daily.
Don’t lock down again, economy already weak, LCCI advises FG
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Muda Yusuf, said the government should allow economic activities to continue as much as possible.
He said, “The economy is already very weak; the problem of unemployment is serious. The poverty situation is getting worse, and the only way we can fix some of these things is to allow economic activities to pick up because this is not a problem that palliatives measures can solve, given the structure of our economy.
“We have an economy that is almost 50 per cent informal – they live on daily economic activity. So, it should be the last resort, if at all. I think what is important is to ensure that we scale up the non-pharmaceutical measures.
But a professor of political economy and management expert, Pat Utomi, said the country should lockdown if need be.
In a response to one of our correspondents via text message, he said, “We are better alive. If the data suggest lockdown then we should. For the unique sectors, safety protocols can be adopted to avoid an economic meltdown.”
FCTA seals four parks
Meanwhile, the FCT Administration has sealed four parks and gardens for violating COVID-19 safety protocols.
Speaking to newsmen after the enforcement exercise, the Head, Media and Enlightenment, FCT COVID-19 Taskforce, Ikharo Attah, explained that the order to seal the four gardens for a period of two weeks was issued by an FCT Mobile Court.
The affected parks and gardens include Byuan Resources Ltd. Resort, Skychef Park and Garden, 7th Option Park and Leisure Service all in Garki II, and Eden Park and Garden, Utako.
He said the parks and gardens had contravened the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 regulations, regarding operation of bars, night clubs, and gardens.
Attah also revealed that about 12 people earlier arrested at the four gardens very late in the night, had been arraigned.
He stated, “We went out just before Christmas celebration and met some parks violating COVID-19 regulations and we did our operation.
“Because we are enforcement officers and not the judge, we arrested and took them to a judge through our prosecutor and the judge found them guilty. The judge gave those arrested the option of fine, and gave seal up order for the four parks and gardens affected.”