By Boladale Sodiq O.
It is no longer news that the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a devastating effect on the world. Since the outbreak of the virus on 31st December, 2020 and the subsequent declaration by the World Health Organisation on 11th of March, 2020, that Coronavirus has become a global pandemic that required serious and urgent medical response, much of human existence has been affected. At least over two hundred thousand people globally have lost their lives to the pandemic despite the measures being taken by governments in different countries. Many more deaths are even expected to be recorded in days, weeks and months to come, as scientists continue to grapple with the task of inventing vaccines and possibly drugs that can help stop further spread of the disease and provide cure for the millions of persons infected.
Economically, the impact of COVID-19 (another name for Coronavirus) cannot be overemphasized. The United Nations Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD) put the economic global cost of COVID-19 at about US$2 trillion in 2020 alone. According to the Worl Trade Centre, global merchandise trade will collapse this year by between 13 and 32 per cent – in raw numbers, that means a fall of between US$2.4 trillion and US$6 trillion, from US$18.89 trillion in 2019. This is apart from the alarming number of job losses already being recorded. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 6.7 per cent of working hours, or 195 million full jobs will be lost worldwide in the second quarter of 2020 alone. According to the Centre for the Study of the Economy of Africa (CSEA) the pandemic is placing up 8 million jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector at risk, with travel crashes and cancellations expected to continue.
Nigeria is not left out in this spiraling downward turn of event. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 the country’s government was still battling to bounce back from the sharp decline in oil price in 2014, as its GDP growth was staggering around 2.3 per cent in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised Nigeria’s GDP growth rate to 2 per cent in the face of even lower oil prices and limited fiscal space. This is worsen by its debt profile which remains very high.
Nigeria Slashes 2020 Budget
President Muhammadu Buhari in December, 2019 signed the 2020 budget of 10.50 trillion Naira bench-marked on a crude oil price of US$57 per barrel and a production of 2.18 million barrels per day. However, with the outbreak of Coronavirus and its consequent effects on global oil market, the government was forced to review its proposal downward. President Buhari cut down 2020 budget by over N320 billion Naira and proposed a new budget of 10.27 trillion Naira.
The new estimate which has been passed by the national assembly is pegged on oil production capacity of 1.70 million barrels per day and a benchmark price of US$30 per barrel. Also, the revenue projection for the budget is now 5.08 trillion Naira from the initial approved amount of 8.41 trillion Naira, which is about 39 per cent cut, while fisical deficit increased to 5.18 trillion Naira from the initial 2.2 trillion Naira, expected to be financed through fresh borrowing of 4.43 trillion Naira as against the initial borrowing plan of 1.59 trillion Naira.
The negative impact of COVID-19 is also felt in terms of the rising statistics in unemployment. In 2019, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported that the unemployment rate was at 23.1 per cent. But, the Minister of Labour and Employment in the country, Chris Ngige projected that the unemployment rate would hit an alarming 33.5 per cent. Experts believe, the private sector would suffer more, with the manufacturing industry which relies largely on importation of raw materials, the aviation sector and tourism industry worst hit.
The United Nations in 2017 estimated that there were 1.24 million Nigerians in the diaspora. This is doubtlessly a huge source of income to the country. A research by PricewaterhouseCoopers Limited (2019) on migrant remittance flows, shows:
· Nigeria accounts for over third of migrant remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa. This flows amounted to US$23.63 billion in 2018, which was higher than US$22 billion in 2017 and represented 6.1 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2018.
· The 2018 migrant remittance translates to 83 per cent of the Federal Government’s budget in 2018 and 11 times the FDI flows in the same period.
· The diaspora remittance inflows was also 7.4 times larger than the net official development assistance (foreign aid) received in 2017 of US$3.4 billion.
· Migrant remittances to Nigeria could grow to US$25.5bn, US$29.8bn, US$34.8bn in 2019, 2021 and 2023 respectively
In addition, a snap shot of the Nigerian Diaspora reveals their resourcefulness; Nigerians constitute a league of first class medical doctors, nurses, health professional in the US, Europe and the Middle East. They also top as Information and Communication Technology experts and engineers found in about 500 companies in Europe and the US (Dozie, 2019). There are also countless Nigerians who are making great impact in the academics. They abound in all fields of study in various universities across the world. Nigerians also constitute leading entrepreneurs and technocrats making wave in the globe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has however set the Diaspora community at a huge risk of losing their economic and residential status. Consequently, the homeland is now at a receiving end, hoping to welcome a significant numbers of her educated and resourceful diasporas whose financial remittance has helped sustain its economy.
The Return to Motherland: Expectations and Prospects from Diaspora Partnerships for Nigeria
The Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with Nigerian Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) has directed all its missions abroad to compile a list of willing Nigerian nationals who wished to return to their home country as a result of the surging COVID-19 threat. Recently, a number of Nigerians were repatriated from neighboring African countries in reaction to the pandemic. These all attest to the return call by the homeland and insecurity that await the African Diaspora community. The fate of Nigeria appears to be a case; a country that is yet to leverage her Diaspora knowledge, wealth, and networks for its growth and development.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel as there appears to be prospects for a post COVID-19 Nigeria economic recovery having effectively engaged her Diaspora for her development and prosperity. For this to materialize, some essential steps need to be taken.
First, the government and the economic actors need to dislodge themselves from the euphoria of Diaspora remittance and challenge themselves to fully understand the structure of the Nigerian Diaspora, what they can effectively contribute, and how they can utilize their contributions for development. In recent times, there has been a lot of encomium on the inflow of Diaspora funds into Nigeria as if that is all the Diaspora community can avail the nation. Perhaps, the aftermath of the COVID-19 might change the paradigm. Hence, we need to look more inward.
Second, Diaspora returnees of various countries have generated significant economic growth for their nations. For example, the Indian Diaspora returnees created ICT revolution in Indian; China Diaspora returnees built a competitive China economy and technologies. Major telephonic tech companies in China are Diaspora returnee investments. More so, the South Korean Diaspora returnees initiated the South Korea shipping industries that ushered in the nation’s economic and technological boom (Dozie, 2019). It is important to note that the Diaspora returnees of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore were significant catalysts in development of these countries. However, while it is crucial to incorporate the Nigerian Diaspora to provide the much needed human and financial capital for economic development, we need to first put into context the demography of the Nigerian Diaspora, its networks and capacity as it relates to skills and the exchange of their access for the benefit of homeland. By access we mean the access to resources, entrepreneurship, socio-economic and political power in the host country for the development of the homeland.
Lastly, in view of the existing realities of the Convid-19 pandemic, this appears to be the best time for Diaspora involvement in the transformation and development of the homeland through active participation. There is the urgent need for developmental partnership between the homeland and its patriotic Diaspora community in the areas of direct investment, infrastructural concession, education, training and development, tourism, healthcare and agricultural revolution. The government and its relevant institutions must create the enabling environment that will encourage and sustain Diaspora engagements. Nigerian Diaspora might be committed to contributing to the economic growth of the country either for perceived social, emotional or financial rewards. However, the Nigerian government must be ready to connect and sustain their engagements for long time benefits.
Edited by: CABS (Center of Africa Broadcasting System) Editorial team