Papers

Statement from Risk Managers Society of Nigeria on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Akalonu

Risk Managers Society of Nigeria (RIMSON), is Nigeria’s premier Risk Management Professional Body. Established in 1985, RIMSON has remained committed to the promotion of Risk Management, with a view to entrenching it as a culture in the socio-economic fabric of the Nigerian Nation. RIMSON has continued to leverage its robust risk management advocacy machinery in pushing for regular cross-sectoral cooperation in the propagation of risk management education geared to a better understanding and resolution of national challenges such as COVID-19 and similar health emergencies such as Ebola and Lassa Fever as well as natural disasters like floods and landslides.

The stark realities of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the vulnerability and relative lack of preparedness of nations, occasioning regular reviews of strategies and existing frameworks in order to make necessary adjustments in the processes for tackling worst case scenarios. This is unarguably the position the world finds itself today and our dear nation is by no means an exception.

Our Body recognizes that the COVID-19 war requires the cooperation of all and sundry and that it is within our mandate as professional risk managers to contribute our quota towards reinforcing the efforts of government and its agencies. The fight led by our government is expected to control, manage and mitigate the spread and impacts of COVID -19 through the deployment of protocols, medical and health workers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical infrastructure. These efforts are worthy of commendation whilst also highlighting areas in need of optimization for ultimately winning the war and also in readiness for any future challenge. Our recommendations comprise additional risk management measures for containing the disease and for mitigating its debilitating impacts on the country across all fronts – economy, social, security and education etc. We share the views of Government and other concerned groups routing for national behaviour modifications which are necessary for winning this war. Hopefully, these behaviour modifications would evolve as the “new normal” going forward.

TEXT OF THE STATEMENT:

The Executive Committee and Governing Board of Risk Managers Society of Nigeria (RIMSON) have been following with keen interest the global and national developments since the COVID-19 outbreak in China and arrival of the index case in Nigeria on 27th February 2020. We have observed the efforts of Government and its agencies at mitigating the pandemic and would like to state as contained hereunder:

COMMENDATION

Risk Managers Society of Nigeria wishes to identify with the Federal and State Governments as wells as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and commend their efforts and achievement so far in mitigating the pandemic. We commend the performance of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.

We are inclined to commend the Buhari led government for its foresight in establishing the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in 2018. This singular effort has turned out to be prophetic against the backdrop of COVID -19 breaking just two years later. The ministry has turned out to be quite relevant to COVID – 19 although it is our considered opinion that it should be further strengthened going forward. It is also important to state that the Ministry should properly galvanize its subsidiary agencies such as NEMA and FEMA.

The announcement of special hazard allowances for frontline health workers has a soothing effect for the palpable pains inflicted on this endangered workforce in this critical COVID-19 fight which is far from abating. We also commend the life insurance cover announced for health workers, for which the Nigerian Insurance Industry has been praised by the President for fully paying the required premium. We therefore lend our voice in commending the Insurance Industry for this unprecedented gesture.

In identifying with and commending the progress recorded by Government so far, we state as follow:

1) The Presidential Task Force (PTF)

We commend Government’s proactive step in constituting the PTF with a mandate that has left the Nation in no doubt about its strategic role as a major coordinating force in this very important fight which our Nation cannot afford to lose. The strategic roles of the Task Force are not only responsive but also reassuring.

2) Presidential Interventions

These interventions, despite their consequential delay, command the requisite force of authority and leadership thus providing commendable direction for a coordinated national response, action-plan, and deep-seated understanding of the pathways for a successful onslaught against the pandemic. The following examples buttress our argument:

● The national broadcasts by the President, Muhammadu Buhari which announced critical measures, notably the closure of gateways into the country thus mitigating the nation’s vulnerability to the pandemic; lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States were key measures in the fight.

● The President’s subsequent announcement of a phased relaxation of the lockdowns after five weeks, have very wide implications majorly for safeguarding the economy from collapse and forestalling a double jeopardy. However, we should be mindful not to repeat the mistakes of 1918/1920.

3) Strategic Role of The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
We spotlight the NCDC as a critical government agency which has become prominent and consistent in the COVID-19 fight. The NCDC has undoubtedly demonstrated leadership in coordinating and spearheading the gamut of critical national response including but not limited to case definitions, disease surveillance, identification and confirmation of COVID-19 cases, isolation, contact tracing and associated protocol measures. The role of the NCDC with regards to the establishment of a national network of standard molecular virology diagnostic laboratories as well as training and simulation of human resources to effectively man these laboratories is noteworthy

4) The following risk reduction measures of the Federal Government meet our expectations with room for improvement. These include:

● Phased decongestion of the correctional centers across Nigeria to forestall spread of the disease in the facilities.

● Decontamination of selected but strategic public spaces such as airports, markets, bus-stops etc.

● Improved border and immigration surveillance and security to minimize cross border transmission of the disease.

● Proper accreditation of private hospitals desirous of handling COVID-19 cases. This measure is a mitigant against poor case definition, poor treatment protocols and the infection of health workers with little or no training in the handling of infectious diseases.

● Discouragement of false COVID-19 cure claims, thus mitigating risks of self-medication in the country.

5) Worthy of mention and commendation is the exemplary role of Lagos State Government, especially in the handling of the country’s index case (a replication of its expert handling of the Ebola disease in 2014). The State by its commitment and forthrightness, provided the model for other State governments to adopt in the COVID-19 fight. The State also led the initiative in providing the necessary healthcare infrastructure such as isolation centres etc.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We believe there is still great room for improvement, both in strategy and policy formulation, as well as implementation. This is more so as the curve across the nation continues to trend upwards in spite of measures that have been taken so far. We have, therefore, identified a few focal areas which require closer scrutiny in the ongoing COVID-19 War.

We would like to recommend as follow:
1) COVID-19 is a serious reminder of the need for capacity and development of ALL essential institutions and professions in Nigeria. We must no longer fully rely on foreign institutions and professionals for our survival. Thus the need for adequate infrastructure for driving an improved and accelerated testing capacity which should be guided by the population of Nigeria in comparison to the tests carried out so far. There is also a compelling need to beam the searchlight on States with less than optimal compliance with the NCDC established protocols. Such States if unchecked and professionally guided may constitute weak links in the chain for a battle requiring that everyone pushes in the right direction.

2)The need for full data of ALL inhabitants in Nigeria (their origin, residence, all personal and professional data, etc.) and all information of value, has become exceptionally critical for security purposes, socioeconomic planning and for other important numerous reasons. The Nigerian Governments at all levels have the duty of accountability for every living soul in Nigeria, especially during national emergencies. In retrospect, perhaps, lockdown period was the best time for that activity, if it was properly pre-planned.

3)Need to improve social trust issues surrounding the distribution of COVID 19 palliatives. We also recommend less disbursement of physical cash in the face of abiding distrust and possible corruption of the agents of government. No efforts will be too much in trying to enthrone a more transparent process. Government may consider other additional credible channels for the distribution of the palliatives, including food items.

4) Closely related to (2) above is the need for strengthening the social welfare component of our national life. While commending the existing Social Intervention Programme (SIP) and the Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme, the operational register for reaching out to the poor and vulnerable during this emergency, should be improved upon. We also recommend a progressive improvement of the social welfare register going forward.

5) Whilst acknowledging the frontline role of the media in the fight, there is need for more stringent measures for stemming the tide of COVID-19 related fake news, especially in the news media. This will cascade into proper fear and panic management thus curbing undue trepidation and trauma among the citizenry. The NCDC has rightly canvassed a risk communication approach. It has been argued that fear mongering is capable of killing faster than the coronavirus.

6) Proper and professional handling and disposal of infectious disease wastes, especially from the hospitals and treatment centres now springing up in places which were not originally designed for that purpose. COVID-19 should be used as an opportunity to address fundamental health issues of the nation. The dirty environment and congested conditions in several residential areas, including markets are causal factors of several diseases including but not limited to malaria, typhoid, diarrhea, Lassa fever, etc. which have been responsible for moredeaths nationally than COVID-19.

7) Need to strengthen the national re-orientation machinery to achieve the following:

● Enhanced citizen buy-in on government programmes and agendas.

● Curbing civil disobedience by proper crisis profiling and management.

● Sustained campaign to educate and reorientate Nigerians on the efficacy of behaviour modification, especially in times of national emergency. For instance, not many Nigerians see COVID 19 as a war in which every citizen has a stake and responsibility by showing understanding without placing government under undue pressure for their own survival.

● Related to the above is the need to educate Nigerians on the place of history in better understanding and assessing present realities. If the Nigerians who think that COVID-19 is a hoax are aware of similar pandemics like the Spanish flu of 1918, their disposition towards COVID – 19 would be different. Therefore, emphasizing history as a vital component of national education has become a necessity for placing many national issues in proper perspective. The lessons of the 1918 Spanish flu which was a pandemic which killed many Nigerians could be quite instructive today.

8) Deliberate sponsorship of local research on critical national needs. This should develop local capacity, especially in the manufacture of essentials such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other equipment such as ventilators and indispensable medical consumables. It is expedient to evolve a national strategic stockpile of these essentials.

9) Proactive measures for mitigating inevitable post-COVID disruptions such as:

● Economic downturn
● Job losses
● Food insecurity
● Crime upsurge
● Gaps in the education sector
● Increase of orphaned children and widows
● Psychological trauma etc.

10) Need for a new risk-based template for our national budget planning and implementation to refocus the long neglect of critical national infrastructure in budgetary allocations. As risk management professionals, we propose a re-examination of the MDGs and SDGs by the federal authorities for a deliberate risk appraisal of our national score-card in respect of critical goals surrounding focal national needs which have suffered huge neglect over the years as have now been exposed by COVID 19. Water, shelter(housing) electricity, education, health etc. come to mind here.

11) Need to build a more resilient post COVID-19 national economy, deriving from the longstanding over dependence on oil. The present all time low pricing of crude on the global oil market begs the question on the age-long need to diversify the economy to unearth and refocus other productive areas such as agriculture, mining, information technology, etc. The present COVID 19 realities have literally rubbished the 2020 budgetary appropriation. This is not the first-time oil price has put pressure on governance but the present COVID – 19 induced quagmire is unprecedented.

12) Need to support research in alternative medicine in order to encourage and standardize herbal cures which have been in existence. Even though the Federal Ministry of health has a department of alternative medicine, not much is heard about its functions.

13) Proper and adequate funding of medical research in our universities including making the University Teaching Hospitals centres of excellence. Our benchmark ought to be the likes of Johns Hopkins University.

14) Proper management of governance issues such as political opposition and biases, blame games, elite conspiracy/compromises etc. Proper risk management would mitigate the degeneration of such issues into crises situations which do not augur well for our national development. Some of these are avoidably playing out in the present COVID-19 war. Some State Governors are reportedly singing discordant tunes in a situation requiring unity of purpose. This scenario smacks of lack of cooperation and collaboration between Federal and State Governments.

15) We offer the following useful risk-based tips which we believe many corporate organisations and individuals may already be deploying in the face of gradual easing of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States:

● Corporate organisations should not compromise the health and safety of their employees at the expense of recouping lost revenue during the lockdown. This is the time to leverage the lessons learnt from the lockdown in terms of deploying more technology by accelerating remote forms of work such as virtual meetings, alternation of staff physical presence at work/ working from home, acceleration of remote forms of financial transactions.

● Need to activate and improve on business continuity measures to reverse the deep negative growth occasioned by COVID -19. This will guarantee long term business survival and sustainability.

● For the individuals, it is time to take responsibility for personal safety and survival of COVID-19. This should translate to a lot of discretion and discipline in ensuring that all the safety protocols are not thrown overboard. The individual should develop his/her personal protocols such as: Stay at home if there is no compelling reason to go out; Wear your face mask if you must step out; Avoid frivolities such as acts which do not add value to one’s life etc.

CONCLUSION
The nation is at war with a brutal invisible enemy. And to win this war against this savage, all hands must be on deck and all stones turned. This is the time for us to unite as a nation irrespective of religion, ethnic biases and political leaning. Great work lies ahead.

SIGNED:
RAYMOND AKALONU, FRMN,
President/ Chairman of Governing Board,
RISK MANAGERS SOCIETY OF NIGERIA ( RIMSON)

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