COVID-19

Experts often douse the post COVID-19 enthusiasm by saying that the world will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts often douse the post COVID-19 enthusiasm by saying that the world will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are at the end of a current era and beginning the other,” they say, “so adjust your plans and adapt to a new normal.” I admit, that starting this article with cynicism is not often the conventional way to draw attention to an article, but then, what is conventional these days? 

In reality, I don’t often resist the post COVID-19 theory. What I find interesting is the generalisation of that statement. Would the whole world change? Or some part of it? Change is relative and I often wonder if this is statement is true for a country like Nigeria. This article describes my perspective when I look through an urban paradigm especially the Lagos metro hub. 

This whole thing was triggered by the recent lifting of the lockdown in Nigeria. I found interesting the convincing emails from financial institutions describing how they will resume operations. Quick arrangements to get people enrolled into the possibility of social distancing at the bank halls. I see entrepreneurs – ever so die hard – ready to press ahead, politically and socially compliant. Right down to our very enthusiastic sole entrepreneurs on our highways, with their wares, soft drinks, gala (sausage rolls) , chasing after vehicles, flustered, sweaty and physically fitter than I will ever be after a full dedicated year at the gym – to collect a single N50 payment and which is equivalent to a puny $0.3. When I look at the burgeoning traffic and the fierce determination on the faces of drivers and the lost vacant look on the passengers – I say to myself, who says the world will not be the same post COVID-19? We definitely did a springback with amazing precision in Nigeria! 

This is not to say that there is no awareness of COVID-19 and its dangers. Not at all! People have shown amazing agility in responding to this challenge. Lagos is already awash with producers of tools for protection – face masks, hand sanitizers. Taxi drivers have spare masks to lend out to passengers. Enthusiastic and compliant. And to many, as long as you have the face masks, we should be fine. Like a trader in our wonderfully open market said to me, “as long as you get mask, no wahala!” Never mind wearing it or making sure it meets the appropriate standards. 

On this face of it, Lagos is still Lagos and Nigeria is still Nigeria. Nothing changed. Not even the pain of a COVID-19 death changed anything. A short month spell away from economic activity only amplified our reality – that is – the underlying desperation to generate livelihoods for short term survival. From the unemployed to the employee and then from the employee to the small business owner, there is a thriving rat race to survive. 

Our party-loving culture was ripped apart when we saw the ugly reality that though we are classified as middle income, having 70% of our population living under $2 a day, means that we are not only a poor nation, but could be at the brink of starvation. The panic shutdown showed Nigeria’s lack of preparedness in its human development sectors – health, education, food security and how frail our dependency on oil production was. For decades, we have had these data as neon pointers to our weaknesses. We have run big circles around what we need to do – plans, policies, guidelines – to guide our way out to a more developed prosperous status for our people. But year on year each of these sectors were grossly underfunded and deteriorated over time. 

But this is not news. The ace of this pandemic is the realisation that it was also a leveller of playing fields. The pandemic spread showed no discrimination between rich and poor, individuals and countries, white or black, even religions or developed and underdeveloped. People became simply humans. The world became a clean slate for a start over and the time off gave many the opening to develop new habits founded on human values like kindness, family, communication. While indoors, the value caused a fresh emergence of technological tools to facilitate these values. It is said that these are tools needed for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which the pandemic has forced us to recognise. The age is characterised by a faster-paced advance in technology. 

Now that we find ourselves at the cusp of a new era and the new levelling field, many countries have the opportunity to redefine their development after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The opportunity being presented to every country, is a blueprint to cross to the next level fourth industrial revolution. The principles of this blueprint is simple. First, people are the solution not the problem. The current pandemic is a good example. People and not institutions are the key to reversing the pandemic when they comply with public health measures. People are the solution to restarting an economy that is no longer built on the production of oil but on creativity, innovation, enterprise. Without them whole economies shutdown. And with the challenges of the pandemic is the realisation that to get people working again, they need the basics to survive and the right conditions to thrive. They need education for critical thinking, access to water, healthcare, good housing and food security. 

The second lesson is: leadership is central to everything. The pandemic has threatened everything we hold dear – family, businesses, customers, government and economy – and has left many uncoordinated and in panic. A decisive smart, empathetic leadership is needed now more than ever. One that harnesses values that not only places people at the front and centre of development, but inspires their capability to create and crowdsource the solution to the pandemic. Leadership that is radically transparent and builds trust. Its happening already, countries race to find (and patent) a vaccine in record time, demonstration of uncommon kindness and giving to the more vulnerable and the emergence of unexpected leadership in parts of the country like Lagos State’s stellar actions. Crises does not build leadership it reveals it. 

Back to Nigeria, without doubt we have an enthusiastic and enterprise driven population. A people ready for creativity and innovation. However, leadership appears missing. Given news reports from different parts of the country – the accusations of data manipulations and neglect in Gombe; the growing infections in Lagos and the shrouded controversies of the pandemic in Kano; surreptitious vaccination bills – has ensured that a fair amount of panic and incoordination remain in place. Accusations and counter accusations of corruption, mismanagement of donations and perceptions of lacking data transparency continues to raise distrust. Too few are the stories of roadmaps to a thriving future or plans or immediate action towards decisive action in education, water access or housing. Fewer still are the stories of hope – efforts to harness innovation and actualize youth creativity to solve our local challenges and meet basic needs. 

In my opinion, the question of change after the COVID-19 pandemic is not a question for Nigeria. The question is not whether Nigeria is ready to embrace a post COVID-19 era, that era will come regardless. The real question is what change will Nigeria have embraced after the pandemic? How would we have articulated our values and what leadership exists to ensure that opportunities are leveraged? What foundational leadership values for a fast-emerging future has been put in place? To use a quote from Peter Ellyard, “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made; and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” 

Who says the world will change post COVID-19? I don’t know about the world, but I am certain about one thing, change does not just happen in the future, it begins now. From where I stand, if the foundational values for development are not put in place now, then we will have missed an opportunity for change after COVID 19 in Nigeria. Take action and inspire leadership: forward until a leader gets ideas to move us to a changed Nigeria after COVID-19. 

Dede Kadiri is passionate about people and Africa. What drives her is the opportunity to impact on lives so that people experience a new and heightened performance level for themselves, their organisations and countries. As a writer, leadership coach and analyst, Dede has applied her skills to contribute to development shifts across the continent.

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