Like COVID, social and economic challenges also mutate

When the whole world was about to heave a sigh of relief on the progress it has made in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a new deadly variant has emerged on the bloc, further threatening the fragile recovery in economic and social stability.

Trade is threatened; travel bans are gradually resurfacing. Work and productivity are once again coming under attack all over the world. Tourism is once again coming under the hammer, just when it is about to rise from the bruises of COVID-19. Human life has once again come under a new strand of peril because health specialists are saying that the new variant is deadlier than what we have known about this disease.

COVID-19’s mutation to the killer variant, Omicron, is a lesson to Nigerian leaders on problem identification and management. It is a sharp rebuke on leaders who manifest complacency in dealing with problems when such problems begin to show signs or raise their heads.

It shows how dynamic a social and economic problem can be, mutating with time from a basic isolated issue to a broad-based macro issue. More often, Nigeria’s social and economic issues mutate fast, as policymakers neglect issues until they escalate. The tragedy of most public policy actions is not necessarily the lack of policy response, but the lag in the timing of such responses with respect to when the problem is identified and time governments set up committees, which meet several times and then make recommendations.

When such recommendations are submitted to the governments, the authorities, in turn, set up more committees to study such recommendations and in turn make their own recommendations. The process could be long and clumsy and by the time the process is completed and action is taken the initial problem that was identified would have festered. By then the problems would have become more complex, and in some cases, the proposed solutions would have been overtaken by the complexity of the situations, as the issues would have mutated into something deadlier, undermining the relevance of the solutions being proposed.

The coming of COVID-19 in late 2019 jolted the world’s health, social and economic systems. It differentiated the regions of the world into those who were ready to respond and a larger majority that had no clue whatsoever about what to do.

The major consequence of that was that the world proceeded to solve a general problem from a position of differing abilities. Many regions of the world have been unable to procure a reasonable quantity of the COVID-19 vaccines, as a result of which large percentages of their populations have been unvaccinated. Now, given the disparity in the vaccination rates, quite large numbers of people are exposed to the pandemic, and that has had quite serious implications for the world.

With such a large number of unvaccinated persons across the globe, the simple implication was that the world faced the possibility of a resurgence of the pandemic. This has been quite adequately confirmed by the three or four resurgences that the attack has made across the group.

This is the challenge that public policy has and continues to grapple with. Problem identification and solution are critical elements in the management of social transitions from one level to the next. As the world currently panics over the emergence of Omicron, so is Nigeria saddled with the resurgence of problems that continue to undermine the country’s social and economic stability.

As if the secessionist agitation is over, the government seems to have forgotten about the matter. The Niger Delta has been relatively stable but the endemic issues are still very much alive. The faster our response to issues the better for us. Why would it take the government panel 12 months to submit a report on a burning issue and perhaps another 12 months for another panel’s consideration of the report? By the time Nigerian policymakers respond to issues, it’s almost a waste of time because the issues have mutated to something completely different, possibly requiring a new study and in the Nigerian way, a new panel of inquiry and committee consideration.

If the government had taken a firm and speedy response to the Boko Haram incidence, perhaps the story would have been different. Similarly, if the clash between herdsmen and farmers was given a timely and effective response, the bandits would not have had a chance to capitalise on the malaise, divert attention and establish their criminality against herdsmen, farmers, and the broader Nigerian public.

But the people must also get their fair share in the unfolding tardiness and its consequences. Whilst Nigeria is trying to catch up on COVID-19 vaccination, the world may be moving towards addressing the new variant. As the world is struggling to move to the next level in responding to this latest variant, our civil servants are struggling to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 that we have known and are still struggling with. They are responding to a threat by the government to go hard on them if they do not get vaccinated.

While the formulation and implementation of policies are clearly the government’s responsibility, it is also a fact that the negative attitude of the members of the public, who are the real beneficiaries of such policies, sometimes constitutes an obstacle to the government’s moves. No doubt, this has played out in this case of COVID-19. There has been indeed a discernible negative response to the government’s actions on the pandemic. A situation where the government has to threaten citizens for them to be vaccinated against an obvious danger to life is condemnable.  

The cost of sloppiness in policymaking and implementation, no matter the cause, can be very high. Let’s act fast on our national issues. And let us act NOW before they mutate to more deadly issues.

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