Political leaders at the federal level and in states may have been trapped between the rising cases of COVID-19 across the country and the need to extend the painful lockdown that has brought untold hardship on Nigerians, JOHN ALECHENU writes
Leaders across the globe are today faced with the task of taking tough and often unpopular decisions in a bid to protect the lives of the people they govern.
This is even more so in a developing country like Nigeria with an ever-growing population.
A Plateau State-based political scientist, Mr Pam Davou, said the coronavirus pandemic had exposed Nigeria’s leaders at the national and sub-national levels to the reality of leadership in an ever-changing world.
According to statistics released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, as of Friday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the country stood at 1,095 with 208 persons treated and discharged, while 32 deaths have so far been recorded.
The centre projects the numbers will increase as it ramps up testing nationwide in the coming weeks.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), faced with the reality of the danger posed by the spread of the disease, ordered a lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states, for an initial two weeks.
This was later extended by another two weeks, which will expire on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Observers are however of the view that the President’s action will pale into insignificance if he does not get the buy-in of power blocs such as the Northern States Governors Forum.
The Chairman of the forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, had, after an online meeting with his colleagues recently, announced that the region (which, according to population figures released by the National Population Commission, is home to the largest number of Nigerians) could not afford a shutdown because of the onset of the rainy season.
The forum argued that shutting down would adversely affect agriculture, which is the mainstay of the region. States were subsequently advised to adopt measures that best suited their peculiarities.
However, available records indicate that, the world over, governments, including those of powerful nations like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, China, South Korea, Spain and Iran, have locked down 4.5 billion people, representing over half of the world’s population, in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation has identified shutting down cities as one of the best ways to break the chain of infections. This is without prejudice to the fact that countries’ economies are taking a hit.
A Plateau State-based political scientist, James Robert, explained that it would “take the will of political leaders to take informed tough decisions to stop the spread of this virus.”
He therefore enjoined state governors and others who put political considerations ahead of the health of their citizens to have a rethink.
While epidemiologists and related health experts argue in favour of an extension of the current lockdown, labour unions, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, have warned of a possible breakdown of law and order, should an extension be approved.
In a letter addressed to the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, the National Chairman, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said, “As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of coronavirus, loss of income and accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and death.”
The NLC appears to have found a friend in some governors who have refused to totally lock down their states.
Such governors are of the view that the long-term economic impact of a shutdown is incalculable and, as such, the best way to approach the issue is for citizens to be encouraged to wear face masks, observe social distancing and respect the dictates of basic hygiene.
A community physician and health systems economist, Prof. Chima Onoka, in an article, “…hunger will kill us before the virus does”, expressed the opinion that, while the NCDC focuses on the health component of the response, the social services and humanitarian sectors need to prepare for an imminent problem, that is, citizens flooding into the streets, not with dead bodies, but in search of food and sources of livelihood.
According to him, doing so will require the activation of unique, context-sensitive strategies now, and not at the end of the lockdown.
Onoka also explained that, in many Nigerian cities, only the elite and part of the middle class are on lockdown.
He further said, “The poor may even be more than we know, given that Nigeria is ranked 152 of 157 countries in the World Bank’s 2018 Human Capital Index. Also, 43 per cent of Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed.
“Most Nigerians are uncertain of an income this April and the months ahead. The middle-class citizens, currently consuming their business capital, may have very little left at the end of April, and many will need the freebies for the poor.
“At the household and country levels, economic indices have gone awry. Hospitals are shutting down, with entire staff getting isolated after exposure to COVID-19.”
Onoka equally observed that deaths and severe diseases from confirmed cases had been less in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African and developing countries.
This, he observed, was due to the fact that the continent has a comparatively lower proportion of the elderly population, most of whom live in rural areas, far away from airports, the major source of importation of the virus.
In an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, an Abuja-based development economist, Mr Basil Enwegbara, said life would not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He argued that a lot of adjustments must, of necessity, be made by government, especially at the federal level for the economy to rebound.
According to him, without being told, Nigerians must now come to terms with the fact that dependence on oil is no longer a sustainable economic option. This, he argued, should cause a rethink in policy and execution.
Enwegbara said, “First, the 2020 budget must be reappraised in the light of today’s reality. The price of oil in the international market should serve as a wake-up call; we have over time paid lip service to the diversification of the economy. Now is the time to match words with action.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria can also not afford to continue with this multiple forex regime and its support for the naira against the United States Dollar, there is no other way.”
A social health worker with expertise in community health, Mrs. Grace Daniels, said, “Life as we know it today is likely not to be the same after all this is over. The workplace, health care delivery, social interactions and even human habits will experience major adjustments. More and more people have discovered they can now hold meetings, attend lectures and even do concerts without physical appearance at the venue.
“However, for most ordinary people, especially in developing countries like Nigeria, it will take time for these changes to take effect. The butcher and the women who sell onions and vegetables will still practise their trade the way they have always been used to and because people have to eat, they’ll still sell the old way.”
Similarly, a public affairs commentator, Abraham Idoko, said, “We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect different results.”
“We will expect that our leaders will put health and safety above political considerations,” he added,
Idoko advised that basic infrastructure such as power, health care delivery and social security should be in place before prolonged periods of lockdown can be considered.
The, National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, while speaking on the issue said, “Over and above the technicality of our COVID-19 response, those advising the president are not taking into consideration our social context about 85 per cent of Nigerians rely on their daily earnings which involves going out of their homes.
“To adopt wholesale methods that work in better organised societies like the western world is to court disaster. To ask people to continue to stay indoors, government has a responsibility to at least provide basics for the poorest of the poor.”
Speaking in a similar vein, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, expressed the view that the social contract entered into between those in leadership positions and the led presupposes that social amenities that will justify the existence of such a contract should be in place.
Meanwhile, the 36 state governors, after a virtual meeting last Wednesday, proposed that the President should impose a two-week total lockdown.
In a letter to the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the control of COVID -19, Boss Mustapha, the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi said, “Please refer to the above subject matter to our teleconference meeting with Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) on Wednesday, April 22.
“Recall at the meeting, it was agreed that the NGF articulates the issues that would want to be included in the next presidential pronouncement on COVID-19 so as to have a uniform and coordinated policy on COVID-19 at both the national and sub-national levels.
“Subject to Mr. President’s approval, the NGF would want the following incorporated into Mr. President’s pronouncement: Inter-state lockdown excluding movement of essential supplies such as foods, beverage, medical and pharmaceuticals, petroleum supplied and agricultural products.
“Internal free movement but with restrictions on large gathering and assemblies, overnight curfews, lockdown of fights and compulsory use of face masks/coverings of the public.”
Buhari is expected to take a decision on Monday night, when the current lockdown ends. Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see whether the President will adopt the governors’ proposal or relax the lockdown.
Analysts believe this is a major decision that will define quality of governance and leadership at the centre and states.
Source: PUNCH NEWS