The extension of the lockdown was inevitable. President Buhari only affirmed the obvious handwriting on the wall. Make no mistake, it was a most difficult call to make – but it was the right call. I am not here to anesthetize the harrowing fact that most Nigerians in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT have to face another two weeks of a lockdown – especially those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who barely made it through the first two weeks, but at this point, we just have to be realists, not idealists.
So here are my thoughts on the current issue:
LGAs or MIAs?
Perhaps it’s too premature to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of local governments, especially at a time like this. However, given their role as the closest tier of government to the people, we expected more from them in terms of coordination of these palliatives. We can’t keep giving the stick to the center when implementation is largely done at the state and local levels.
The leaders at the federal and state governments seem to have good intentions but for some interesting reasons, it hasn’t cascaded to the ‘average Nigerian’. This is not the time for our local representatives to be missing in action.
Arming The Frontlines
It is great that we are celebrating our medical personnel at the frontlines of this battle. Whilst we commend them for their patriotism, we must realize that hope is not a strategy. It would be naïve and cruel to merely hope they will be fine without providing them with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and a commensurate hazard allowance. We need them alive as well. Them too be human beings!
Data! Data!! Data!!!
There is a popular saying in the tech community: “In God only we trust, every other person must provide data!” I believe that it’s not out of place to ask who the poorest-of-the-poor Nigerian is. Who makes the list for conditional cash transfers and other palliatives should be clearly stated because many poor people have lamented how they haven’t been reached.
The distribution process of these palliatives should be made clear so people can know when and where to get them. Let people see how it’s being done.
This new normal comes as a shock to many people and since they don’t have a reference point for it, they are not processing this in a safe way. We don’t just need people alive, we need them alive and sound. Some people don’t have the luxury of learning new skills right now; they just want to survive this chaos! The avalanche of news reports on this virus is assaulting the sensibilities of most Nigerians.
Remember this pandemic is similar to war and one of the fallouts of wars is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The only difference in this ‘war’ is that the enemy is invisible. However, on our part, we should cut down on how we consume information about this pandemic. A lot of organizations are already offering free counseling sessions and this is commendable.
Unfortunately, this lockdown comes with unintended consequences. Recently, reports of the activities of unscrupulous elements who have unleashed mayhem in certain parts of the country have flooded social media. Amateur videos of local residents having to stand guard at their homes to deter these marauders are quite disturbing and hard to swallow. If we are asking people to stay at home, they should get a general sense of security.
The protocols for engaging offenders of the lockdown in the affected states should also be revised to forestall exploitation and abuse. We know the relevant agencies are working round the clock to maintain law and order and we thank them for that.
Repurposing The Budget
It is sad that it took a crisis of this magnitude for us to realize the level of dysfunction in many sectors of the nation. It is even worse that this crisis coincides with oil wars in the international market which has seen both the demand and prices of oil drop significantly. Oil makes up about 60% of federal government revenue and a whopping 80% of our exports – we can’t mismanage the monies we don’t even have in the first place. Quite frankly, our political class needs to make some sacrifices for the greater good. It is nice that our legislators have donated part of their allowances to the fight against this virus but we need to do more.
We urgently need to prioritize and generally scale down on government spending, especially on the recurrent end. For example, we need to remove the huge funds allocated to certain renovations, vehicles, under-recovery, overheads, and other items and channel them to critical areas. The federal allocation to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the 2020 budget is a paltry N1.67bn. this needs to be reviewed and changed.
State Of The Nation
Whilst the states retain certain powers in a federation, the federal government should reach out to the states over their individual approaches – some of which are very questionable. Lagos and Abuja alone account for over 70% of the cases in the country, hence the measures there are understandable. Without following the exact template for these epicenters, most states should be advised to align with recommended practices by the World Health Organization – especially the halting of mass gathering. Else, they might unwittingly sabotage the national efforts and make this lockdown drag further.
In the movie, 300, Ephialtes, waxing lyrical about his rich pedigree and how he longed to redeem his father’s name by joining the battle, was asked by the king to stand as tall as he could. When he couldn’t, Leonaidas then tells him: “Your father should have told you that we Spartans fight as a single indivisible unit. Each person looks out for the man to his left and to his right. For that reason my friend, I cannot help you!”
Just like the president said, “…the irresponsibility of the few can lead to the death of the many. This is not a joke; it is a matter of life and death.”
We, as a people, need to unite in our resolve against this enemy while calling on those saddled with the responsibility of scaling up the government’s responses on the various levels to do the needful. It’s a novel virus for which there is no WHO-approved vaccine yet. Painful as it is, this lockdown is the most effective way of mitigating community spread.
Securing the bag is important but staying alive is ‘importanter’. This too shall pass!