Port Harcourt based veteran journalist, BEKEE ANYALEWECHI has written an open letter to Governor Nyesom Wike.

It’s a long  read but worth the time: 

An appeal to Governor Nyesom Wike - How not to begin a year

Dear Governor Nyesom Wike, 

Good evening and compliments of the season to you, your beautiful family and Government of Rivers State.

Your Excellency, 
We heard today that while you addressed a congregation of worshippers at a Thanksgiving Church Service in Ikwerre local government, you declared your zeal to impose another round of lockdown - we are yet to know whether it'd be total or partial - on residents over the spiking in the second wave of the novel coronavirus in Rivers State. 

Mr. Governor, thank you so, so much for your former and current wave of zeal to protect the State and its inhabitants from the virus. Even in the midst of flashes of unguarded zeal, we commended you for those efforts. We believed you exercised same in love of the State and in consonance with your patriotic zeal to fulfil your Oath of Office to protect lives and property of natives and immigrant population in Rivers State. 

But your Excellency, 

This impending second lockdown as early as January 2021 may be more injurious to Rivers' residents than more productive. Your Excellency, with your gracious permission I shall explain how.

In November, the Nigerian economy slipped into its second recession in five years as the gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter, and of course, Rivers State isn’t cocooned from the downturn.

Then the National Bureau of Statistics announced that the nation’s GDP recorded a negative growth of 3.62 per cent in the third quarter of 2020.

The country had earlier recorded a 6.10 per cent contraction in the second quarter.

In June 2020, World Bank Nigeria Development Update (NDU) published a report it titled “Nigeria In Times of COVID-19: Laying Foundations for a Strong Recovery,” in which it estimated that Nigeria’s economy would likely contract by 3.2% in 2020. This projection assumed that the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria would be contained by the third quarter of 2020 but added that if the spread of the virus became more severe, the economy would contract further. Before COVID-19, the Nigerian economy was expected to grow by 2.1% in 2020, which means that the pandemic has led to a reduction in growth by more than five percentage points.

Sir, that report noted that the macroeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would likely be significant, even if Nigeria manages to contain the spread of the virus. Oil represents more than 80% of Nigeria’s exports, 30% of its banking-sector credit, and 50% of the overall government revenue. With the drop in oil prices, government revenues are expected to fall from an already low 8% of GDP in 2019 to a projected 5% in 2020. This comes at a time when fiscal resources are urgently needed to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, the pandemic has also led to a fall in private investment due to greater uncertainty, and is expected to reduce remittances to Nigerian households, which in recent years have been larger than the combined amount of foreign direct investment and overseas development assistance.

Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, said in the report, “While the long-term economic impact of the global pandemic is uncertain, the effectiveness of the government’s response is important to determine the speed, quality, and sustainability of Nigeria’s(River’s) economic recovery. Besides immediate efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and stimulate the economy, it will be even more urgent to address bottlenecks(emphasis mine, Your Excellency) that hinder the productivity of the economy and job creation.”

The report shows that the human cost of COVID-19 could be high. Beyond the loss of life, the COVID-19 shock alone is projected to push about 5 million more Nigerians into poverty in 2020. While before the pandemic, the number of poor Nigerians was expected to increase by about 2 million largely due to population growth, the number would now increase by 7 million - with a poverty rate projected to rise from 40.1% in 2019 to 42.5% in 2020.

The report notes that the pandemic is likely to disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable, in particular women. Economic activities have been disrupted and women’s livelihoods have been particularly impacted. Over 40% of Nigerians employed in non-farm enterprises reported a loss of income in April-May 2020. In addition, the fall in remittances is likely to affect household consumption because half of Nigerians live in remittance-receiving households, of which about a third are poor.

“The unprecedented crisis requires an equally unprecedented policy response from the entire Nigerian public sector, in collaboration with the private sector, to save lives, protect livelihoods, and lay the foundations for a strong economic recovery,” said Marco Hernandez, World Bank Lead Economist for Nigeria and co-author of the report.

The report discusses policy options in five critical areas that can help Nigeria(Rivers State) recover from the COVID-19 crisis: (1) containing the outbreak and preparing for a more severe outbreak; (2) enhancing macroeconomic management to boost investor confidence; (3) safeguarding and mobilizing revenues; (4) reprioritizing public spending to protect critical development expenditures and stimulate economic activity; and (5) protecting poor and vulnerable communities(emphasis again mine).

Your Excellency, in August 2020, World Bank Poverty Team published a 12-page report, “The Impact of COVID-19 in Kano, Lagos, Rivers, and FCT Abuja: Results from the Second Quarter 2020 Labor Force Survey” which I should believe you have and must have studied same with yur Economic Team. That Report sir, doesn’t give any flavour of another lockdown. That report’s statistics shows the State and her population would be worse off under any fresh lockdown. 

Of key points in the report, Your Excellency, kindly note these –

· Food insecurity appears to be prevalent across all four states, but especially in Rivers and FCT Abuja where 79 percent of households (both emphasis mine) and 72 percent of households respectively reported having to skip meals since the start of the pandemic.

· Households in all four states are drawing down their savings and borrowing money to cover their living expenses, which may leave them more economically vulnerable and reduce their investments in human capital in the future(emphasis again mine).

Your Excellency, before I bore you, I do not know how much you know that majority of the people you govern are still counting their losses off your previous lockdowns. The Nativity Press lost some of its digital printing equipment including one of its 12-Feet digital Large Format machine. The company is yet bleeding from that upper-cut. Unlike in developed economies where small-scale businesses receive grants to keep afloat, the Rivers State Government has no practical incentives and support for struggling business outfits. Here, citizens provide every basic necessity themselves for themselves.

Dear HE,

Forgive my foolishness in this attempt to address you, a whole Governor, one of Nigeria’s richest and most powerful State Chief Executives, but I want you to yet take note of this part of the World Bank Poverty Team August 2020 Report – “Resonating with the notion that incomes remain vulnerable, food insecurity appears to be prevalent across the four states, especially in Rivers and FCT Abuja. According to the 2020 Q2 LFS, the share of households reporting that an adult in the household had to skip a meal since the start of the pandemic was 79 percent in Rivers and 72 percent in FCT Abuja, while the share of households that ‘ran out of food because of lack of money or other resources’ was 58 percent in Rivers and 67 percent in FCT Abuja. Although food security statistics are not strictly comparable between the 2018/19 NLSS and the Q2 2020 LFS,4 it appears that food insecurity has become more severe in all four states through the COVID- 19 crisis.”

What then is the capsheaf in all of these treatise?

Pray and sincerely ask God to speak to you on how to tackle this second wave of the pandemic in Rivers State.

Then, commission your economic and health teams, to apolitically and in non-partisan manner advice you on the best way moving forward.

Also, address the residents of the state in a broadcast devoid of draconian rhetoric but manure that speech with passion and compassion.

Then, invite them to work with your regime to tackle the virus. Woo them to win them. Lagos, Nigeria’s largest economy had yet to declare any lockdown. The Federal Government has not announced a lockdown but had only announced some measures to contain the spread. 

January is too bad a month to lockdown an already traumatised population which government offers no practical, absolute, state-sponsored cushion to their pains.

Your Excellency, 

Graciously forgive my eager appetite to address you, a Nigerian State Governor, but hold my mother liable. I inherited her idiosyncrasies which she inherited from her warrior-father who inherited his from his chief-hunter father.

God give you wisdom to do what is right but not to include to lock-in a people so periled, impoverished and traumatized.

Happy New Year, sir, in advance.