For over a month now, COVID-19 has steadily spread in Nigeria. To curb the spread while trying, frantically, to manage the situation on ground, you have declared a total lockdown in three states and admonished Nigerians to practice social distancing and self-isolation.
However, for many Nigerians, sitting at home is not feasible and a lockdown is just “the government’s way of punishing us” or “fighting against our religion”.
For the elite, it is the well-deserved break they have been praying for. Barely a week into the lockdown, many Lagosians are back on the streets, playing football, throwing street parties, having that ‘long overdue’ catch-up and generally having fun.
It is not a lockdown, it is a holiday.
Why is the Lockdown Not Working in Nigeria?
When Adamu went out to buy something at the market, he saw everyone wearing hand gloves and a nose mask. When he asked, they told him that “coro was in the air”. So he bought them too and started using them.
When Tanwa noticed that Baba Biliki down the road opened his shop a few days after the lockdown, she decided to ‘spit’ on Coronavirus by opening up her shop too.
Out of fear, Nkechi poured hand sanitizers into her kids’ bathing water and gave them two spoonfuls of hand sanitizer to drink – just to protect them from Coronavirus.
All these are happening because you, as leaders, have failed to bridge the huge communication gap between you and the people you lead. You have not gone all out to enlighten them about COVID-19. There’s a huge disparity between you and the the people who elected you – the people who you have the mandate to provide leadership and guidance to. And it shows.
If you knew a lot about the people you govern, you would realise that you cannot ask those who live from hand to mouth and depend heavily on daily income to ‘stock up and stay at home’ without communicating to them how you plan to feed them. You cannot send armed men to beat them up and throw them in gutters when they have nothing to eat.
The best form of communication you have done so far is to mount temporary taps and basin – with your face boldly printed on it – at the bus stops and instruct people to wash their hands as your camera clicks away. Did you tell them why they are washing their hands? Did you explain how washing their hands will reduce their chances of getting infected? Or did you do that so that, come 2023, you will have enough ‘achievements’ to brag about?
An average Nigerian on the street knows the name ‘Coronavirus’ but, at the same time, knows nothing about the virus – how it is being spread and how sitting at home can help stop the spread. So after a few hours/days of complying with the order, they are back on the streets because “na wetin, person no fit just dey siddon for house na. After all, na big man disease sef”.
This could have been avoided if you had communicated properly with the people.
Perhaps, for once, it should have been put into consideration that because 90 million people live in abject poverty, pushing out information on television, social media and radio is not enough if you want those who live in slums to know about the virus and its spread.
As the LGA chairman, you know the nooks and cranny of your community; have you mobilised people to move from door to door to educate other people about Coronavirus?
As a religious leader – who is educated and should know better – you should have told your congregation about the virus and how staying at home will help them this critical time. Rather than tell them the government is fighting their religion or you have an anointing that will save them, you should let them know that God is everywhere and will listen to them when they pray from their homes. If you had done that, perhaps we wouldn’t have people burning police vans and beating up taskforce officers.
As a House of Reps member, have you spoken with your constituency? Have you listened to them to know what they lack and how life can be made easier for them during this period? Do they have water, power supply, food, clothing, toiletries? Do they have enough funds to stock up their homes? Will they be secure in their homes? What are the laid down plans for emergency cases?
As the Commissioner of Health, what efforts have you made to update the people in your state about Coronavirus, the efforts made and the successes recorded? Are the people abreast of the latest COVID-19 news?
As you make announcements on radio and television, you need to be able to communicate effectively with those who have no access to the media. So while the educated and the internet-savvy ones are learning and following up on social media, televisions, and radios, the less enlightened ones can get updated information from you.
You know how the news of elections gets to the poorest of the poor in Nigeria? Exactly! That is the same energy you should use in spreading the news of COVID-19.
With these being done, when you tell people to sit in their homes and not open up their shops, they will comply, having fully grasped the gravity of the situation at hand and knowing that their chances of surviving this pandemic lie heavily on their compliance to sit at home.
Protecting the People
It is your responsibility, as a leader, to ensure that the people you lead are not massacred by a disease they know nothing about. This responsibility comes with leading by example and taking practical steps to ensure that this virus does not spread and infect more people. You could have avoided the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria if rallies had not been held and if you did not share food to citizens by keeping them clustered in one location – their bodies touching one another, their hands outstretched, no mask or other protective gears provided and the droplets from the sneezes and coughs from one person splashing into the lungs of everyone scrambling for food.
On Thursday, the Imo state governor commissioned the COVID-19 isolation centre. Present were lots of people celebrating the birth of a building. In the midst of a pandemic, and while we encourage
and abuse Nigerians to sit in their homes, organising an event is highly irresponsible.
Osun state currently has 20 recorded cases of Coronavirus and Akwa Ibom has 5 recorded cases, it is time for governor Adegboyega Oyetola and Udom Gabriel Emmanuel to show exemplary leadership skills by taking measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus in the state. Declare a lockdown and provide the things the people will need to live comfortable lives during this period.
Whether or not the virus has spread to your state, Local Government Area or community, you have the responsibility of protecting the people you govern, and this protection encompasses food and water, good power supply, job security, security against violence and abuse, sexual abuse, businesses, tech security, financial security, and so on.
What is the plan for your constituents when they start losing their jobs? What is the infrastructure in place to help small and medium businesses? What is your plan to ensure that traders are able to stay afloat during and after this pandemic? Will they still pay tax even when they have been shut down? What of your people who have collected loans with the plan of funding their business, will their interest rates be paused until this is over?
What is your plan for security? When you demand a lockdown, there’s a higher chance that robbery will shoot up, what is your plan to stop this? What of people who will be locked up with their abusers and forced to live with abusive partners and parents, how can they get help from you? Are there emergency numbers people can call if anything happens? Will they get a response? What is your plan for those who have no homes? Will you leave them on the streets or provide shelter for them?
These are some of the issues you have to consider as a leader.
Education is also a huge factor.
All over the world, education has not been halted. From online courses, lectures, and video calls, students are still learning. In Nigeria, ASUU is on strike! And many of our lecturers do not even know how to make use of the latest technology. Long-distance learning is hardly functional and aside from students ‘wasting away’ during this pandemic, this ‘break’ is a huge setback on their snail-paced academic journey.
What have you, as leaders, done to ensure that students – from primary to secondary, and tertiary – are not idle and can still learn from the comfort of their homes?
Feeding the Poor
Days ago, when the Federal Government of Nigeria said they had “identified 11 million ‘vulnerable people’ across the 35 states and a conditional cash transfer will be given to the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country”, Nigerians raised their noses to one side in distrust. That is because you have not done much to earn their trust. To start with, who are the poor and most vulnerable Nigerians? How were these 11 million people identified?
For a country that has no solid database and has not conducted a census since 2006, how did you arrive at this number? The minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Umar Farouq, also said that 2.6m households have so far benefited from the N20,000 Coronavirus palliative issued by the federal government. How did these people get the relief materials? How were they picked? What criteria was used to pick the vulnerable?
She also said that the 2.6m households are from the FCT, Nasarawa, Katsina and Anambra states respectively. Why are residents in Nasarawa, Katsina and Anambra being given cash when they have no case of Coronavirus and the states are not on lockdown? Is it not prudent to save this money until there’s a lockdown in those states? If you must share the money now, why not start from Lagos that has the highest number of infected persons?
How did these people get the relief materials? How were they picked? What criteria was used to pick the vulnerable? What was the method of disbursement? How were these 2.6 million households reached within 48 hours? Who shared what?
Bear in mind that 2.6 million households getting 20,000 each means 52 billion Naira has been shared!! Also bear in mind that in Nigeria, only 71.79 million own a bank account – out of a population of 204,828,079. This means that these vulnerable people have no bank accounts. So how did 2.6 million people get this money so fast – within 48 hours?
This obvious misappropriation of funds is one reason why Nigerians do not trust you, their leaders, when you talk.
Perhaps it is time to recall statisticians – who are now marketers in the bank, social media managers or makeup artists – and give them the opportunity to put into practice what they have studied in schools. Nigeria needs to have a solid database. The people need to know who is getting what and why! Your inability, as a leader – in top and smaller positions, to create jobs and provide an enabling environment for your people to practice what they studied – or what they truly love is costing the country a lot.
That is also one reason why today, as virologists and microbiologists all around the world are trying to cook up a solution to COVID-19, in Nigeria, most virologists are already selling wigs and working in ‘NEPA office’. Perhaps if Nigeria had invested in them, we might not have to wait for western countries to come up with a solution to this pandemic.
As you read this, we’ll also keep you abreast of what is happening in Warri and some parts of Lagos. This lockdown period is not the time for armed forces to dehumanize Nigerians ‘caught’ outside. Recently, a man was killed by soldiers in Delta state on the second day of the lockdown – instructed by the state governor. If this continues, perhaps Nigeria shall have more humans killed by cocky, half-trained and power-drunk armed forces before they are killed by COVID-19. Keeping Nigerians safe is not the same as bullying them.
As you read this, we beseech you to carry out swift actions in ensuring that the people you lead are well informed about the current situation of the country and are given all it takes to live comfortably and safely during this lockdown.