COVID-19, Nigeria, and the realities, the changes…

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is not far away, there are changes, is Nigeria ready, great country, great people, poor people, and very fragile nation. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it can be hard to see more than a few days into the future. It’s as if we were wandering around in a dense (and deadly) fog.

Some commentators are predicting that this will change the way we live; one even predicts that it will “change us as a species.” Perhaps, but in what way? We will certainly remember this time for the rest of our lives. At least briefly, we will appreciate the smaller things in life a bit more. But will it really change anything fundamentally, for the long-term? If so, how?

The devastating consequences of COVID-19 around the world—including in the advanced economies and Western democracies of the United States, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany—demonstrate the vulnerability of some of the most stable states to the systemic disruptions caused by an unanticipated pandemic. If some of the strongest and most stable states in the world are vulnerable to COVID-19, the most fragile ones—most of which are in Africa—deserve special attention.

State fragility remains one of the most critical challenges on the global agenda. As of 2018, 1.8 billion people lived in fragile contexts. That number will increase to 2.3 billion by 2030 and 3.3 billion by 2050. A complex set of causes—political inefficiency, social issues, economic disparity, internal and external conflicts, and natural disasters—have contributed to the persistence of fragility in general, and in Africa in particular. Fragile countries could be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, given weak state capacity and the inability to ensure the most fundamental functions of territorial integrity, security, and basic public services—constituting a breach of the social contract.

For decades, the international community has tried to find effective solutions to end fragility. However, progress has been limited, as illustrated by the current state of fragility around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic gives new urgency and a new context to all perspectives. Whether we are bridging the gap between policy intention and implementation or looking at strengthening private sector or giving support to the work development workers do, either as WASH experts or Peace Practitioners.

In Nigeria, the need to bridge the gap between policy intention and implementation cannot be overemphasized. As most of our policies aiming to end fragility have failed because the political economy of policy implementation was not sufficiently taken into consideration during policy formulation. Based on analysis of previous attempts to address state fragility, it is clear that the alignment of sufficient resources—including aid, foreign direct investment, and tax revenue—with fragile states requires comprehensive consideration of the political economy of implementation in the contexts of individual states. For example, as Nigerians are trying to practice social distancing, and lockdown measures in the face of COVID-19, the nation does not have the resources (financial resources, administrative capacity, and human capital) to implement them successfully.

Bridging the gap between policy intention and implementation under such circumstances will require pro-poor policy interventions to address immediate challenges such as food insecurity, lack of water and sanitation (since handwashing is critical), low social protection, lack of social assistance for the most vulnerable, and limited direct cash transfers are the realities on the ground.

The truth is that poor communities cannot isolate because of hunger. Over 60% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and therefore do not have the money to stock up on food. Promised welfare payments, may become a mirage considering the decreasing price of oil and the program itself mired in controversies. Anger from local communities resulted in crowds of people gathering to protest, furthering the risk of transmission in a country where only about 41% of the population has access to basic handwashing facilities.

But when people suggest, “things will never be the same,” they’re talking about something deeper, about how we live—about our habits, norms, and ways of living. For parents, teachers, and students, it’s possible that some aspects of schooling might not go back to the way they were before. And I dare ask where does Nigeria stand in this equation.

With COVID-19, schools are rapidly changing the basic way they do their work. Some have become old-fashioned correspondence schools, with the vast majority of interaction happening by written mail. Others have tried to recreate the school setting online using digital tools like Zoom. Others are in-between, directing students to online tutoring and practice programs, and posting videos. Most people think that they just want to get things back to normal. That makes sense. After all, the schools didn’t do anything to cause the crisis. So, why change them?

It is rational to think that way; the schools didn’t cause the devastation, so why change them? Yet, change they will. First, crises force us to adapt and then change. In the current crisis, COVID is forcing parents to be teachers and forcing everyone—students, parents, and teachers—to adapt to online learning tools.

This is not to say that all the online tools are very good. Many are not. But consider the following: Suppose a teacher tries three online tools during the crisis. She likes tool A, dislikes tool B, and is indifferent on tool C. This doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for mass transformation, does it? Well, if the crisis had never happened, the teacher would never have known about any of these tools and wouldn’t have used B or C anyway. The key is that the teachers (and perhaps students and parents) now want more of A, and that could be transformative.

Our adaptations have indirect effects that lead to other changes in ways that were not intended. In the current crisis, the shift to online tools may also have indirect effects.

In applying the above logic to several policy areas that I’ve seen discussed recently in the context of coronavirus. The first two topics—online tools and fully online learning—are the ones that come to mind first. The rest are potential long-term shifts that might fall more into the “indirect” bucket.

With the above where is Nigeria, a nation where her education is in total crisis, from strikes to dilapidated structures, and none existing facilities, how many Nigerian universities have fully functional computer labs, or 24 hours free wifi in the school vicinity. How many of our schools have been able to power just the school premises?

All our drama, instructing the television authority to go educational, or setting up E-learning is not an order and compliance matter, but a case of the capacity, facility and human resources, something we lack obviously. Our ghosts may be coming back to haunt us after the post-COVID-19 because the truth is that we have not bridged the gap between policy intention and implementation in regards to our educational sector. What will the Nigerian school system look like after COVID-19—Only time will tell?

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