As I contemplated title options for this piece, my primary concern was the meaning it would convey; particularly as the media is awash with the Covid-19 pandemic. Could an ill of a global dimension/ magnitude be construed as a giant? On the contrary, the development giants, our target group, have always been with us although asleep. They are a vulnerable group. Better referred to as a Nation’s Greatest Asset, they constitute the well-known, well-referenced but least recognized & acknowledged group in the economy. Due to their constitution or circumstances, they are a group that is more prone to danger and steady deterioration, if succour does not come and promptly too. Does this explain why we are revisiting them now? They are a community with huge control over, and determinant of the development of a nation based on their mere numerical strength and could be classified as a nation’s most powerful asset. Neglected over the years, the sleeping giants have become monster-cogs in the wheel of development in most countries, particularly the developing ones. Among the constituents are pregnant women; lactating mothers; infants & children, particularly under-5s; the aged; the sick; the immuno-compromised individuals; the able compelled into disability and the real disabled across the land.
In my presentation, “Saving the Vulnerable in Crises” on the 2009 World Food Day, of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Nigeria, I focused largely on food crises and financial meltdown. Today, the crises have assumed a higher dimension, with every sector posing a problem, despite efforts of the incumbent administration in Nigeria to repositioning the economy.
There are also greater challenges such as the need to scale the development ladder and to confront global hunger by 2050. The Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations which measures the critical indicators of development — life expectancy [measured mostly by long and healthy life & infant mortality], education, knowledge and a decent standard of living — ranked most developing countries low with Nigeria among 77% developing nations of African origin. Nigeria is the world’s 12th largest producer & 8th biggest exporter of oil, with the 10th largest proven reserves; yet over 35% of its population is buried under the poverty line. It’s low rating on the HDI, regardless of its abundant resources & earnings, shows that development is not a function of figures. Figures could be misleading yet we have continued to embrace them as reliable indicators. Development is not in budget figures; not a factor of an amount earmarked and or spent, most of which we know leak into private pockets, others applied to wrong use. Rather, development is of targets focused and reached and persons affected, particularly the greatest at-risk-people. It is a factor of which correct development programs and strategies adopted and targets really reached and how much welfare is duly impacted and well-being achieved. A budget of figures is a budget of exclusion.
Also, development is a factor of how many people have been released from the prisons of hunger, poverty, sickness and, other afflictions. With the majority of Africa’s population in captivity of economic reversal, new strategies and urgent actions are needed to scale this huddle working against human existence.
Suddenly there is the Covid-19 global pandemic. Experts described it as the worst crisis since the WW11 with the origin and real cure unknown. What is more disturbing and frightening than addressing an issue whose cause and real cure have remained elusive? The only thing known about this disease is its determination and zeal to cut across populations with massive and unprecedented fatality at a rate hitherto unknown. Statistics show it’s on the increase in most nations; and studies reveal the COVID-19 targets the poorer and those with underlining health issues. What is more accentuating than poverty and education induced health issues, particularly malnutrition where the body is stripped of the ability of its ability to defend itself against the invasion of diseases.
On their own, the vulnerable community might not push or define themselves, but when neglected assert themselves by their negative impact on development and that is when they turn monstrous. This stretches as long as attention is denied them. Most countries have all through the past been moving in vicious circles; excluding the very target essential for and critical to development.
Experts observe that the major distinguishing factors between countries with high HDI and those with low HDI lie in the ability to prioritize the vulnerable group and make them a crucial target of development. Countries that realize this strength and powers in good time prioritize them as a major target of development, through integration that ensures inclusion into the economic system by providing for their essentials sustainably. In presentation and action, ‘the countries define the vulnerable sector as a critical sector’ and work around this accordingly.
Vulnerability increases the usefulness of this group in national discourse and strengthens their relevance. Indeed, they determine the pace of development. In his 20/80 principles, writing on business development and the need for focus, Richard Koch discussed the vital few versus the trivial many. However, the reverse is the case in national development where the emphasis is on the critical/vital many and trivial few. The difference is in the profit-making machinery of the business and welfare provision in development.
I believe the biggest litmus test for change is the number of people at the base which the program of the government clearly and truly touched. It is counter-intuitive to think we have been moving all this while without these groups; that is, they were collectively overlooked over the years despite having more impact than any other group on the economy. Granted we are operating an economy of continuous increasing challenges, re-prioritizing our goals with increased attention on this group will launch the nation onto the path of sustainable development.
The government must realize the risk of continuing in the same pattern — in the face of new global challenges, anticipating development without the key drivers — and is implementing policies and programs towards change. But a lot still needs to be done, and nations need to re-strategize to accormodate the impact of this massive challenge, particularly with this crisis which is furthering and deepening vulnerability. Thanks also to the restriction on movements, attendant lockdown, shut down of major businesses, factories and industries, and the consequent drop in oil prices which is the major source of revenue for most countries. Frightening!
We must re-appraise the economy and be ready to make sacrifices and take strategic and innovative decisions given the present situation. We must approach development holistically as a collective national issue; re-thinking our priorities and resetting our goals; re-evaluating our structures, re-tuning our strategies; re-defining the basic components of development, and aligning them appropriately. There is also the need to redefine the basic ground rules and re-organize the fundamentals that drive our economy. It is never too late to begin anew! It is always tough but that adds audacity or vitality to change. The change must be backed by the courage to achieve national goals at all stages, particularly now. This should be one of those programs which do not seize to exist with governments or political parties in power; and where no major changes are made except improvements.
There is a critical need to scale through these crises with a greater percentage of the population.