WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
The figure is climbing and growing. Though, we may pretend to ignore certain realities and resign to posterity to be the judge of behaviours that took us to where we are right now. We knew the virus was ravaging nations; we knew it was just a matter of time for it to get to us if we fail to do the right thing yet we chose not to do the right thing. It was a choice we made; as usual, played politics with national safety. We knew people shouldn’t freely be allowed into the nation without proper processes, yet 90 percent of cases of infected persons today are individuals who stepped into the country at different times with the virus without detecting or appropriately managing them to protect the nation.
We were the same people who boldly took to the media to label the first few cases in the country a lie and conjecture of certain individuals to defraud the nation. We rather take the chance to score some cheap political points and discredit some political enemies, even at the expense of the nation.
Then we were nonchalantly organising rally, party congresses and assembling crowds when we should be enforcing social distancing and isolation. We freely allowed community spread of the virus within the country. We didn’t learn anything from Italy and the USA; these two nations were too proud to believe they could be ravaged by the virus, at least not until it became uncontrollable; and today, their wish could be more than they had done things differently.
If we had effectively manned our borders, airports and work in unity from the onset, what would have happened is simple: we would have stranded the virus in Lagos, contained it and exterminated it from the country. That was what we were able to do in 2014 when Ebola virus was ravaging the globe; there was no opposition party more interested in politics at that critical time to undermine efforts to save the nation. It was a common fight and we succeeded at stopping the virus at Lagos.
With above 130 recorded cases, it is now difficult to ascertain our real disposition to the growing scourge. The widely reported recent political and religious gatherings with flagrant disregard to simple, definite instruction from the authority as well as politicians and individuals with recent travel history, and who have refused to comply with necessary procedure, have definitely plunged the nation into a situation where making reasonable forecast about the extent of infestation in the country becomes difficult. If the cases in Oyo state were as a result of the PDP rally led by the state governor (who recently tested positive to the virus and remains asymptomatic) in defiance to federal instruction, then we might only hinge on hope to assume the event has not cultivated community spreading of the virus in the state as well as various states of attendees. The same reasoning is applicable to the reported 50 thousand congregated assemblies at a certain church in the same week.
At this point, we are already dealing with the possibility of an uncontrollable spread of same magnitude as the USA and Italy; considering our massive population, compounded disunity, flagrance for disobedience of constituted authority and limited healthcare infrastructural capacity to handle large scale situation.
So, now that we have gotten to this point, what is the way forward? With no known cure in sight and the veracity of spread of the virus, it has been globally agreed that the first reaction should be an attempt to halt the capacity of the virus to spread. It is only when we achieve this that the mortality figure is likely to remain low.
And the only feasible way to stop the virus from spreading further as at now is by preventing contact with infected individuals; and as long as we don’t know who is infected or not, then we must assume that every other person is a potential carrier of the virus and stay far away as much as possible. That is the concept of social distancing and the ongoing global lockdown of nations – physically and economically.
I don’t think there is any way around that position; neither do I think Nigeria has any peculiarity that could exempt us from taking the same course to protect ourselves. I have seen opposition to the national order for self-isolation and lockdown. I have heard the question, “Is self-isolation the best for Nigeria and Africa at the moment”? This hesitant position, like many other similar ones, is an emotional positions that fails to realise that there are moment in life when safety of our lives and those of our dear ones is paramount; a moment when first consideration is not our welfare but our safety; a moment when we all would be and should be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good of the nation.
As long as we all realise that at the moment, there are no secondary or alternate solution to the problem at hand; that we, individually and collectively, remain the greatest weapon to fight the coronavirus; by literarily obeying instructions dished out by designated institutions and authorities, we would together, sooner or later, win the war against this pandemic and return our nation to normalcy.
This position is not in any way ignoring the untold inconvenience the citizens would be subjected to in the next 14 days and as long as the situation tarries. We all know and the government is equally aware that though the social distancing and the stay-at-home order is non-negotiable, but beyond the necessary, is also the necessary question of how would the people survive the lockdown.
It definitely would be difficult for the mass population of Nigerians to survive beyond few days of the ordered lockdown; of course families would not be locked up without resources for sustenance.
We all know that there are tens of millions of Nigerians who live on daily pay and earnings from petty jobs; we know there are millions of self-employed Nigerians who are already grounded across the country. We know there are parents who would in the next few days run out of money to put food on the table for their children because they couldn’t go out to work and we are not ignorant of the agony, devastation and humiliation of parents seeing their children go hungry.
And I seriously believe the governments at all level are not so removed from the masses that they are not aware of these realities; and I also believe that the government would respond immediately to ease the burden of the common Nigerian men and women. Or else, we might end up in a rowdy disdain for order; a situation where citizens would prefer to die of coronavirus instead of “Coronahunger.”
It is overtly necessary that the federal and state governments, in response to the current reality of the pandemic and the ensuing non-negotiable order for social distancing that necessitate lockdown of normal gathering and economic activities in the country, design an active way to sway the fear and panics of the citizens and in all ways possible cushion the total effect of the necessary actions on the citizens, and most especially the vulnerable members of the society.
It is the responsibility of the government to douse tension, prevent unnecessary, criminal manipulation of helpless Nigerians by unscrupulous elements who are already lurking around to rob or dispossess them of their valuables. A prominent traditional ruler was reported to have claimed he has the cure for the virus without forwarding his remedy for clinical trial. When statements like these are made by leaders with education and traditional authority without being cautioned by health regulators, it often emboldens tricksters to follow suit, including some in religious circle. Traditional rulers are to be enjoined to inform Nigerians in their respective domains of the need to keep proper hygiene and to observe the stay-at-home order. NCDC or any other adhoc body for that purpose needs to repeatedly sensitise Nigerians to not fall victims to tricksters and that whoever has any herb or oil that could cure the virus should send them for medical trial; and failure to do so is nothing but an attempt to defraud.
It would also be the responsibility of the government to coordinate effective compliance to all orders of the government as measures towards breaking the spread of the virus in our nationwide. This measure we all know for sure is the only measure needed for our protection and preservation as at now, in the light of the fact that there is no known cure for the virus.
Like I mentioned earlier, poor and struggling Nigerians must not go hungry. We must recognise that access to food by the citizens will become a major challenge during this period, hence there should be designated food vendor programs for each and every city and community across the nation during the lockdown. It is not an impossible program to execute.
The food distribution program, if considered, should make use of some of the closed primary and secondary schools compound as food sales outlet, where the food vendors are allowed in, arranged in a safely manner and buyers are coordinated to avoid crowding. These locations and that of other groceries around the cities should be fumigated and sanitised regularly at the expense of the state and the federal government as there ready, certified virus killer in the market that can be purchase. A task force should be in place to coordinate and control inflow into the food sales centers. The food sales center should be well spread to prevent crowding.
Also very necessary is the need for the government to make a conscious effort at controlling prices of major food items across the country; already, things are getting out of hand, prices of food items are skyrocketing. The government must find a way to respond to that development and ensure that more burdens are not placed on the people by vendors. This is the time to explore the ‘koboko-inspired price control’ all over the country if need be. One way to achieve this objective is for the government to literarily become part of the market by setting up a pricing board to effectively set ceiling prices for major food items, it could also set up table in designated markets and sell product at normal prices to force compliance from others (this involve the government representation purchasing the items in large quantity from the suburbs).
Information is critical at this moment in time. Failure of the government to spearhead the information dissemination process would lead to uncontrolled propagation of lies and framed up propagandas. Already, we have heard of a team going about and claiming to be from the government and using the information to rob and defraud people. It is advised that states should established information desk that would spearhead information dissemination and interrelations with the citizens. The information desks should organise and undertake the sensitisation efforts of the states for the duration of the pandemic, enlist the collaboration of media partners drawn mostly from the existing FM stations and Television Houses in the states, coordinate daily situation report from the office of the state governor on the COVID-19, design, together with the partners, a daily program that would attend to the citizens need for information on the COVID-19 situation and allay the fears and panics of the citizens.
Recently, the American government announced its interest to hire medical professionals willing to relocate to the U.S as a result of the pandemic. They are already experiencing shortage of manpower in the sector; and they are not alone in that; in the next few weeks, if we couldn’t bring the pandemic under control we will need all the hands we could get across the nation, in all our isolation and treatment centers. It is sacrosanct that we trigger an online recognition, identification and registration of medical practitioners all over the country including the unengaged ones to create a pool of volunteers that could easily be gathered in the eventuality of an explosion of the virus. This pool will easily be drawn on to provide needed medical and associated service in the eventuality of a mass spread of the virus in the city.
The pool should contain medical doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, microbiologists, biologists, biochemists, dentists, medical technologists, laboratory scientists, safety officers, clinical psychologists, food nutritionists, and other health related practitioners.
In addition to directive to effect conditional cash transfer to vulnerable Nigerians in the president’s recent address, I will recommend that all bank accounts of individual above the age of twenty three (23) years with a deposit below an agreed amount should be credited with monthly stipends until the window is over.
Back to our responses to the rising pandemic; I have been perturbed that even at such a critical time as this, we still could not draw the line between national interest and personal interest. We still as much as ever throw political tantrums, strategise to segregate the people along party line and increase political relevance of certain individuals and group. It is only in Nigeria that at a critical time like this, a one-time respected group like the Afenifere and also the opposition party would be more interested in criticising the president’s speech when they have not prescribe any antidote to the national menace. This is happening only in Nigeria; other countries have shelved differences to fight the virus on a common front.
Down to the common citizens, we have proved to be a nation of difficult people. Imagine Israel, a nation of less than 10 million people but with more than 3000 cases of coronavirus and all we are hearing from the country is a concerted united fight; but here in Nigeria, with about 200 million population and less than 150 cases and our responses have been disgusting and littered with aroma of hatred, disunity and desire to use it for unholy personal ends.
Instead of being interested in finding solution to the problem, we seem to be more interested in insulting the president, criticise all efforts from the government, and prefer preoccupying the country with the issue of presidential address as if leadership is all about making speeches.
And if we don’t stop and retrace our actions, we should be expecting a replay of history. It was our errors in 1918 that led to the death of 2.3 percent of our population to Spanish flu pandemic.
How can any Nigerian at this point derive satisfaction by disseminating divisive information? One lives in the U.S but see everything wrong with Nigeria’s management of the pandemic. They say nothing about the country where they live; where deaths including that of infants are occurring daily in all the 50 states of the nation. The same America that suddenly realises it does not have enough testing kits and ventilators; the same America where doctors and nurses are reusing consumables.
Finally, to Nigerians, the next few days, definitely would be our trying period. Let us for the sake of ourselves, our families, loved ones and the nation, altogether, pay the needed price for the health and safety of our country.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria (Always)