To avert community spread of the coronavirus, on March 29, President Muhammadu Buhari locked down the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states for 14 days.
On Monday, April 27th, Mr President announced the extension of the shut down by another two weeks to May 4th, 2020.
When the lockdown became partially lifted, the total number of days people in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states spent idling at home were 14 + 14 = 28. With another 14 days of partial lockdown from May 4th leading up to the 17th now extended further by another 14 days ending June 1st, Nigerians living in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states would’ve endured a total of 28 days of another partial lockdown. When full lockdown and partial lockdown days are added up, 28 + 28 = 56, the total number of days of full and partial lockdown in our country would be 56 days on June 1st.
Incidentally, 56 days of lockdown is not too much compared to the city of San Francisco, California, USA (home to Silicon Valley-Google, etc.) which has been on lockdown in excess of 60 days and still counting. That’s simply because the mayor of that city, London Breed choose to continue to lock it down as she is not taking any chances with the novel coronavirus. Since she is not ready to play Russian roulette with the lives of the highly skilled and valuable workforce that made the city their home, she has chosen to thread the thin line between life and livelihood by opening up businesses very slowly.
Apparently, the life of every Nigerian matters to President Buhari as well, hence at the onset of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he boldly shut down Abuja, the seat of political power and bureaucracy, plus Lagos and Ogun states, the industrial hub of Nigeria. By so doing, the federal government actually tried to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus disease, which is unprecedented in Nigeria. At first such a drastic measure of compelling people to stay home to avoid being infected by the virus through community spread resonated with Nigerians. Which is perhaps why some state governors of their own volition imposed similar rules in their states and the citizens welcomed the order wholeheartedly.
But as time went by, and with the lack of the promised care by government to the masses, Nigerians especially those that earn their income on a daily basis, became justifiably restless.
That’s because the worry of ordinary folks about how they were going to get the next meal when there is no income, was genuine.
And the subsequent two weeks easing of restrictions enabled Nigerians exhale. But with last Monday’s announcement by the Secretary to the Federal Government and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, that President Buhari has approved that the partial restrictions be extended by another two weeks, Nigerian masses are likely to be reticent about another two weeks of putting their lives on another go-slow.
The first go-slow became evident during the first full lockdown when characteristically, government authorities that promised the masses food, money and welfare after appropriating huge sums of money under the auspices of a powerful Presidential Task Force, failed to deliver. Suddenly, the echoes of the fate that befell Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – the unfortunate victims of Boko Haram attacks, for whose welfare government appropriated huge sums of money, but failed to render care as the bulk of the funds got embezzled by corrupt officials, started looming large. And as if history was repeating itself, the long suffering masses compelled to stay home are bearing the brunt of the go-slow which is a subterfuge for corruption. More so as the scandal surrounding the infamous ‘grass cutting’ contracts in IDP camps which rocked the presidency is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians.
That is perhaps what’s prompting the masses to wonder how the authorities- PTF and the newly created social safety net agency, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development are not be able to tell Nigerians the number of people-adults and school children that they are feeding, their locations and the cost? Even when the sum of money in excess of N600 million has been bandied to be the amount disbursed on a daily basis for school children feeding.
With such twists and turns, which are deliberate muddling tactics to create accounting confusion, the vulnerable Nigerian remain abandoned and unable to receive the promised food rations, as such, continues to bear the brunt. What is more, the public funds appropriated on their behalf by the privileged and powerful overlords end up not as food in the stomach of the masses, but swell the bank accounts of those disguising as their leaders, whereas in reality they are their tormentors. Why can’t the process be made more transparent by requesting for the services of accounting firms like PriceWaterhouse, KPMG, Boston Consulting, etc., which l believe would be willing to lend their expert book keeping services pro bono to PTF while ensuring that Nigerians are kept abreast of the expenditures.
The second go-slow is that although our country has been partially opened since the 4th of this month, the hardship occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, (relaxation of the rule or not) has remained a major source of discomfiture to the masses.
One of the evidences is the large queues of frustrated Nigerians in banks resulting in total disregard for social distancing protocols by the masses that throng the banks to withdraw funds from their account which is clearly caused by the wrong-headed policy of permitting banks to open only a few branches for operations. Given that the country is underbanked, what informed the decision to compel banks to make only a few branches available for the banking services to members of the banking public when the lockdown was partially lifted. ls it that it was not clear to the PTF that having been sequestered at home for about 35 days, there is bound to be pent up demand such that even the normal bank branch network would be stretched? Ordinarily, expectations that would here be a high turnout of Nigerians in banking halls would have been a no brainer, but as reflected by the ugly outcome of the policy leading to large crowds that failed to observe social distancing rules, to the detriment of their health and possibly at the risk of their lives, it would appear that such critical thinking is like rocket science to the PTF team. For instance, it took a local government official in Rivers State to disperse the crowds of long suffering bank customers that were pushing and pulling at each other to get attended to by the few bank workers that were allowed to be on duty. Without being told, such crowd of people together is exactly what the NCDC social distancing rule is against. And the irritation it generated has further spurred public angst against the banking institutions and Government.
In order to be people-friendly and to enable Nigerians keep to the social distancing protocol, banks should be allowed to open all their branches nationwide. In my considered opinion, there is no wisdom in allowing only partial operations of banks.
The third go-slow is the fact that the COVID -19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown of the economy has exposed the lie that most Nigerians now rely on the Automated Teller Machines (ATM).
The maddening crowds of Nigerians that turned up in banks for services when the lockdown was partially lifted exposed the lie. The truth is that those in the lower rung of the ladder of society who are ‘brave’ enough to open bank accounts, due mainly to the elimination of charges or the removal of minimum sum of money required for opening accounts, are now patronising the banks instead of keeping their money under their mattresses or buried in secret corners of their homes. But the reality is that they still dread the ATM alert debits from their meager savings accounts and therefore demur from subscribing to the service.
To endear themselves to the masses, banks should issue ATM cards without charge. I’m aware that the CBN recently directed that banks should not charge customers for the use of ATM cards in the same bank except in other banks machines. As a further improvement on that, I would like to recommend that bankers committee take it a few notches higher by agreeing to allow ATM card holders to obtain cash from all banks ATMs free of charge or reduce the charges. The incentive or motivation to deploy more ATM outlets by banks can be captured in incentives or rewards created by the CBN for those who operate more. That initiative would enhance the banking sector’s desire to recruit and capture more of the unbanked and underbanked members of society.
Go-slow number 4 is the fact that on the three days of the week that markets are authorised to open in a week, traffic jams are the order of the day. Consequently, the chaotic mingling of man and machine hinders the free flow of traffic, making social distancing protocols impossible to observe as commuters struggling to get on with life flout the rules by omission or commission.
In my media intervention of April, 21, 2020 published widely and titled “Covid-19 Pandemic: 8 Ways To Avoid Lockdown Leading To Breakdown Of Law & Order In Nigeria”, l proposed eight action plans that could be taken by Government to ease the lockdown. One of them is the need to re-introduce the system of allowing odd and even number registered vehicles to ply the roads on alternate days of the week.
It is a traffic management system that was adopted to curb traffic congestion in the major cities roads back in the days, and discontinued when sanity returned. Such an efficacious scheme could have been re-enacted by the National Assembly, NASS that’s presently preoccupied with promoting a strange law that would compulsorily mandate antivirus vaccination for all Nigerians, that the populace clearly don’t want, if the public outrage against it is used as a gauge for its desirability or otherwise by the critical mass.
The fifth go-slow is that it took Nigeria almost an eternity to look inwards for a panacea to the coronavirus disease. While dynamic and proactive African countries like Madagascar, Senegal, etc., were looking inwards for cure, our country egg heads in NCDC and NAFDAC and other health management agencies (experts typically in in copying and pasting) were busy watching satellite tv and monitoring the internet to see, hear and copy the latest approach by the scientists in the western world.
Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr Robert Redfield of the USA Centre for Disease Control, CDC somehow became sort of demi-god to the leaders of our medical science agencies who parade strings of degrees acquired from Western institutions, yet unable to think out of the box.
So much so that when hydroxychloroquine was undergoing clinical trial to determine if it can be an efficacious antidote for COVID-19, NAFDAC quickly mobilised a local pharmaceutical company to procure and stockpile the drug. I wonder what has happened to the stockpile, after the USA scientists declared hydroxychloroquine ineffective against coronavirus. What happened to the good old days when the association of alternative medicine was very boisterous in Nigeria with a wide assembly of herbal medicines? My guess is that with the advent of NAFDAC and its aggressive leadership under the watch of late Dora Akunyili as Director General, alternative medicine practitioners were bullied out of the market space.
I would argue that while mainstream and universally accepted solutions are good, it is always better to preserve local knowledge and culture even if it is just for the sake of the fact that it is bespoke. Take the oriental acupuncture which is commonly referred to as Chinese acupuncture. It originated from the Far East and it has been proven to be effective, but it is not universal and it is preserved as a heritage.
I can bet that most of us don’t know that one of the best anti-snake venom solutions in the world comes out of Gombe State in northern Nigeria. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. That part of our country is snake zone and in the bid to conquer their environment, over the years, Gombe indigenes were compelled to find a solution via an efficacious antidote to snake bites.
The approach that Gombe people took perhaps about a century ago is what Madagascar people applied by finding local remedy to the coronavirus via the dexterity of their local herbalists. Having tested and proven in their laboratories and on Madagascans that it is efficacious, it is now being exported to the rest of Africa, and possibly the world. In their usual way, the western world, using the World Health Organisation (WHO), another neo-colonial institution that is the equivalent to the World Bank and IMF used in manipulating the developing world, questioned the efficacy. But the very dynamic president of the Malagasy pushed back by sharing with scientists all over the world the formula and challenging the WHO to go test its efficacy in their lab.
Guess what, the Malagasy invented anti-coronavirus medication has not been scientifically disproved since then. At least up till now.
Long after Malagasy people deployed the medicine to save lives, perhaps the reason only one person has died in that country from coronavirus, Nigeria is just receiving a consignment of the medicine and NAFDAC is promising prompt testing for its efficacy in its laboratory, as if it should not have sort for and obtained that substance for clinical trial as soon as the news of its discovery broke.
Is it not a crying shame that the Federal Ministry of Health that receives billions of naira annually and is supervised by two ministers have been caught flat footed by the COVID-19 pandemic as health authorities seem not capable of stemming the tide of the spread despite the head start we had since coronavirus did get to Nigeria until about two months after it was discovered in Wuhan, China? In a country of 200 million people, how can it be said that less than 40,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in a period of at least four months since the pandemic broke in Nigeria via the Italian construction worker?
How could the best solution to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be the mantra of stay at home after over two months of the introduction of the shelter in place policy?
In an article titled “Emefiele’s Post COVID-19 Marshall Plan For Nigeria: Trick or Treat? “which l wrote and published on the back page of ThisDay newspaper of April 17, 2020 and other mass media platforms, l made a case that the anti COVID-19 policy that works for the industrialised advanced societies have been proven not to be useful solution for us in the developing world owing to the different socioeconomic dynamics prevalent in our different societies. And my argument is based on research coming out of Yale University School of Management experts who conducted surveys that produced that outcome. Yet, Nigeria seems to be mimicking the policy adopted in very highly industrialised regions like San Francisco, USA where the aim of the long lockdown is to flatten the curve in order to avoid overwhelming the medical facilities and thus save the lives of the highly skilled workforce in the very structured work environment, who continue to receive salaries even as they shelter in place and work from home.
Do we need a rocket scientist to enlighten us about the fact that our circumstances in Nigeria is the exact opposite of San Francisco’s?
We have little or no health care system that could be overwhelmed and the majority of our workforce are in the informal sector, so they are not earning any income in any structured way but rely on daily paid jobs.
How can such people willingly follow the order to stay at home like their San Francisco counterparts with no means of sustaining their livelihood? Perhaps, in anticipation of the likely flouting of the renewed partial lockdown order, the latest presidential announcement on May 18 directed the security forces to enforce the order, while cautioning the personnel to respect the human rights of offenders.
With their penchant for being overzealous, the security forces are likely going to remember the enforcement part of the order and cleverly suffer collective amnesia with respect to the caution to avoid human rights abuse by subjecting the already traumatised Nigerian masses who dare to break the rule to extreme torture.
It is such cruelty to fellow human beings by security forces that prompted me to write an article titled “Nigeria: Is The Military Strong Only Against The Weak?” The essay was published in the Guardian newspaper of 26th October, 2017. In it, l wondered if the Nigerian security forces are powerful only over the weak. To underscore my point, l chronicled the Nigerian security forces trademark of sorrow, tears and blood, to borrow a phrase from the late music maestro Fela Kuti’s hit song.
So much about the go-slow approach to combating COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Let’s dwell now on the possible go-smart ideas with the hope that the authorities would be humble enough to heed simple advice and adopt some of them.
Firstly, it is a welcome relieve that we have started looking inwards by receiving the Malagasy antidote for coronavirus. Another cheering news is that the CBN Governor (Emefiele again) has offered intervention funds to local researchers (pharmacist Maurice Iwu claims to have a remedy) who are keen on creating local remedies. Clearly, both initiatives are go-smart approach to combating COVID-19 pandemic.
The next go-smart approach would be for every Nigerian to act as if the next person has the contiguous COVID-19 disease and as such do everything possible to avoid community spread by observing the social distancing protocols.
I align with information minister, Lai Mohamed in his recent comment that at least 90% of Nigerians are aware of coronavirus and the risk to lives that it portends, so the challenge now is in getting the masses to adopt the hygiene protocols or lifestyle that scientists recommend as effective preventive measures. In other words, we have got to try to get used to the new normal, which is that an invisible enemy, coronavirus, is on the prowl and we have to find ways to outmaneuver it. Without a cure for COVID-19 so far, except the measures such as social distancing and sheltering in place introduced to curb the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918, the entire world continues to be at the mercy of the very deadly disease.
While social distancing is an excellent measure, sheltering in place seems to me like an unfeasible concept simply because it is unsustainable if applied over a long period. That’s especially so because scientists have pointed out that the prospect of finding a vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months ahead. Therefore, restraining people from going to work and compelling them to remain at home is also life threatening, since hunger which it engenders, can kill too.
Put succinctly, on a long term, the socioeconomic consequences of sheltering in place can be equally devastating. That’s perhaps the reason that USA President Donald Trump warned that care should be taken so that the cure would not be worse than the disease.
To prevent Nigerian masses from being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, which the option of staying at home without food and going out in search of food and risk facing death threats from coronavirus disease or death in the hands of overzealous Nigerian law enforcement agents really is, food and money must be put in the hands of vulnerable Nigerians.
It would definitely be a go-smart approach, if government can wrap its hands around that. Some people have advocated paying money directly into the accounts of the vulnerable ones using their BVN and contracting established food vendors and hotels to supply them food in their known locations. lndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did direct cash transfer in his country, why can’t we do it here?
Another go-smart option would be mobilising and combining the public and private sector funds contributed towards combating the coronavirus to provide succour for the most vulnerable in a coordinated and concerted manner. In my estimating, both humanitarian initiatives seem to be working at cross purposes and overlapping in their functions, which is unproductive. They should complement each other.
In addition to that, the SERAP proposition that government should adopt the Namibian concept of halting further purchase of vehicles for public officials in the presidency and ministers so that the funds saved can be plowed into fighting COVID-19 pandemic, appears like a go-smart approach too that government should consider.
No matter the optics we use in assessing the crisis, to defeat coronavirus, vulnerable Nigerians must be protected by the powerful who must rally around them by providing them with basic food without which they may not be able to conform to the rules of safe distancing or sheltering in place that is the bulwark for the protection of the entire society. In this case, the dictum injury to one, injury to all, rings true and must be operationalised.
It is an existential reality that when individuals are diagnosed with cancer, they are placed on chemotherapy treatment; when diabetes is diagnosed in a patient, he/she is advised to adopt a particular lifestyle that prevents his/her condition from deteriorating, and an Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases sufferers and autism patients are compelled to learn how to live with the ailments. They are never advised by their doctors to shelter in place by taking cover at home. So why are Nigerians being compelled to stay at home as a strategy for defeating coronavirus disease?
Now, I’m not unaware that the aforementioned health conditions are not contagious like the coronavirus, but dying of hunger at home before the disease kills us is certainly not a go-smart idea.
So, I’m suggesting that we act like our forefathers did in the western, southern and eastern hemispheres when after creation, perhaps after Adam and Eve were chased out of the wonderful and safe garden of Eden (as the Bible teaches) they found themselves in harsh environments. Records have it that our forebears were living alongside wide animals like carnivores such as lions, tigers, wolfs, pythons, anacondas, etc., as well as exposed to treacherous weathers like bone crushing snow, etc. As time went by, they eventually conquered their environment through the taming of the wild animals or chasing them into the deep wild and clothing themselves in animal skins to enable them stay warm in the snow.
Such innovative moves are obviously go-smart initiatives that are the stepping stones and building blocks or foundation for mankind’s current existence.
What’s more, Covid-19 pandemic has been characterised universally as a war being waged by an invisible microbe against human beings.
And l don’t think that we have to be reminded that when wars are wagged, children, aged men and women as well as the infirm are encouraged to hunker down at home, while the young and virile men, and sometimes women go to the war front to engage in the battle with the enemy.
It beats me hollow that all Nigerians are being asked to face the current war by literally hiding under our beds at home. That’s contrary to the go-smart idea of tooling up the healthy, virile and hardworking ones to go out there to work. It could be such that while the antidote/vaccine is being developed by expert scientists amongst us, the rest of us can put our hands on the deck and continue to row the boat-of-state so that the economy does not sink, while the weak are sheltering in place, until the development of the vaccine against coronavirus materialises. Developing an efficacious vaccine against Covid-19 pandemic in my view would be the equivalent to the creation of the atomic bomb that was exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan by the USA that ended World War II, simply because the coronavirus seems to be inflicting as much damage on mankind than the world wars given the unprecedented changes that it has wrought on society. Recall that the Olympics was never postponed during those wars.
In conclusion, allow me illustrate my final point with the weather.
When it is raining, we wear a rain coat or use an umbrella, when it is sunny, we use the umbrella as a shade from the sun rays and if it is snowing, we wear warm clothing to protect ourselves from being exposed to the sometimes hazardous weather elements.
Today, and in the foreseeable future, it’s wise to realise that unlike the inclement weather elements that we kit up appropriately to protect ourselves from, COVID-19 pandemic is a disease that can kill very fast. And as such, coronavirus is now the rain, the sun and the snow that we must protect ourselves and loved ones from being exposed to by following and observing NCDC social distancing rules, wearing face masks in public places strictly and practicing hand hygiene zealously, because staying alive or being dead is really dependent on how well we internalise these protocols.
Need l say more?
–Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, and a former cabinet member of Delta State Government, sent this piece from Lagos.