WHAT NIGERIA NEEDS TO DO IN ORDER TO OVERCOME CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC: A LETTER TO PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI, BY PROF. STEVE SINIKIEM AZAIKI
8th April, 2020.
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR,
A 10–POINT ADVICE ON COMBATING CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IN NIGERIA
The herculean task of curtailing the spread and havoc caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is something of huge concern to your administration and every concerned Nigerian, including me. This is attested to by the efforts so far made by the Federal and even State Governments to curb the spread, management of infected persons and cushioning of the socio-economic effects. Local and foreign organisations as well as individuals, have also made appreciable contributions to battle the scourge and give succor to Nigeria and its citizens.
On my part, as an individual and as a Lawmaker in the Federal House of Representatives, representing Yenagoa-Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency, I have not only made parliamentary input, collectively, to support the Federal Government to successfully combat the disease, but also donated prevention gears, educational materials and mobilised enlightenment campaigns in my constituency. These are aside collaborating to lobby for support from donors.
Your Excellency may wish to be reminded that in my earlier letter to you, dated 20th March, 2020, I lauded the efforts of the Federal Government and also suggested ideas for improvement in the battle against the pandemic. I also used offline and online media to put my ideas across.
Given that public opinion is individuals’ and groups’ opinions which coalesce into aggregate views of the majority of the people, thus a useful tool for directing democratic governance, I must appreciate that the Federal Government hearkened to some of the vital suggestions made in the public space. Among such suggestions were shutting down of airports; closure of all borders, even though a few might still be porous due to human factor among those manning such places. The advice that Mr. President as the leader and father of the country ought to address the Nation, on the pandemic, contrary to the position of your inner handlers that there was no need, also received your action at last.
This time around, Mr. President, and with the same locus standi, stated in the opening paragraph of this letter, I wish to send a 10-point advice as outlined below, for perusal and consideration if it so pleases Your Excellency, please:
1. All interstate lands, waters and air borders ought to be completely shut for two weeks, not only inter-country movements. This is coming on the heels of international borders being closed, but the shutting of interstate borders is presently limited to those of Lagos, Abuja, Ogun and Osun, even though some other states have also closed theirs. The closure of the borders bounding these states alone have not brought about effective monitoring of entry and exit points in some states. Although some states and their governors are enforcing closure of their borders, others are not doing so effectively. Thus, it is the place of the Federal Government to slam a complete restriction of entry and exit from the interstate borders in all states. Such an action might cause more hardships, but the allusion that a certain country, America or so, did restriction of international borders only and left interstate entry and exit points open, hence worsened the spread of the virus in that country, tends to make complete closure of interstate routes in Nigeria, necessary.
2. The Federal Government of Nigeria should be more transparent to the country and its citizens in the management of the present health disaster. Every case of infection by the virus, recovery or death of – low and high persons should be transparently made public, but with caution over privacy, Doing so, could make it easier for the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), task force against the pandemic at all the other tiers of government, treatment centres and health practitioners to be handy with information that would aid public enlightenment and management of the disease, to win public trust and support.
3. Palliatives from the Federal Government, meant to relieve citizens from the impact of the health crisis, would need to be properly channelled to the right persons. Distribution of monies and relief materials should be based on a clear definition of “poverty” and who a “poor” person is. This is important, considering the relative and situational application of these concepts, which meanings are often used for empowerment schemes in skewed ways for the benefit of unintended persons.
More over the $2.7billion CBN stimulus fund; $150million to be taken from the Sovereign Wealth Fund (for all tiers of government), besides $6.9billion loan being sought from the World Bank, IMF and other international financial institutions, would have to be properly accounted for by the implementers. This is because such social programmes are often seen as opportunities to starch away public funds. In addition, the funds to be used for the support schemes would take a big chunk of national resources, thus the implementation may have to be properly monitored against graft.
Monetary and material donations from local and foreign donors should in line with the accountability philosophy of the present administration under Your Excellency’s watch, be declared transparently to Nigerians so that everybody would know what was donated, by who, when, what quantity and total donations in monetary and kind values.
4. Such monies, materials and services from the Federal Government and the ones from donors, should be distributed to every state and every local government in the country, without political party or religious inclinations. They should not also be distributed to the hard-hit states of Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory alone, as planned. This is because states that are not having any case, or were not affected much initially, are in imminent danger and could later get their turn of the outbreak, as it is happening in other countries, and even in our country. For instance, at the time of writing this letter, Edo State had recorded 11 cases of infections.
Again, the states not yet hit-hard by the virus or have not got any incident at all, are also suffering the state-based and national restrictions and stay-at-home orders. This is in addition to the fact that the lockdown of the cities of Abuja, Lagos and Abeokuta on which the political and commercial lives of other states also largely depend on, will have trickle-down effects on many states.
Globally, Nigeria and all its states mainly depend on importation of goods from China which got the first hit of the scourge. This too, and the global fall in the price of crude oil and gas, have serious and lasting effects on Nigeria’s monolithic economy. Therefore, Nigeria, its states and local government areas, especially those in the Niger Delta, which is the highest producer, would suffer lasting effects of the pandemic, economically. Furthermore, every state also has its share of psychological trauma and sociological effects of the disaster, thus need commensurate support to cushion the impacts.
5. The daily fear of spread of the disease and the short-run and long-run socio-economic and psychological impacts demand regular information, two-way communication; explanations, assurances, empathy and comforting of the citizenry by the Federal Government, personified in Your Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic, as some governors in the country are doing, and as leaders of other countries are also doing. Therefore, I humbly suggest that Mr. President finds time to willingly talk to the people in a timely manner in order to avoid any lacunar. For example, the aspect of ordering school feeding to continue, portrayed the delay in speaking to the nation, because schools had already been shutdown. Alternatively Sir, the task of routine communication about the pandemic, could be assigned to Vice President Yomi Osibanjo.
6. Heroes and heroines of the battle against COVID-19, and their families deserve motivation and honour, dead or alive, for standing up patriotically to save, even though it is their professional obligation. Pre-exposure and post-exposure preventive and treatment facilities and care are vital for health or para-health workers and volunteers involved in the war against COVID-19. Special daily monetary allowances; three months pay as you earn (PAYE) tax holiday; 30% upfront salary and special promotion for outstanding personnel, would be in order for committed workers and volunteers.
7. Let me restate my earlier suggestion that private property owners, should donate spacious buildings, for instance, hotels, conference and event halls as testing, isolation and treatment centres, since the huge cost of building emnergency facilities as China did, would not be easily met by Nigeria’s government.. Requests might therefore be put across to owners of such facilities.
One big lesson from the present health disaster is that, we must begin to take building of infrastructures more seriously. The Federal Government and even states, should begin to plan towards revamping the health sector – build more hospitals, health centres, laboratories and provide more equipment. Educational sector also needs to be repositioned to provide manpower for the health and other sectors. Potable water projects should be massively executed to boost heathy living because, water they say is life. The huge national funds and donations geared towards the combat of COVID-19, could help to provide such amenities, to give the people a new lease of life, if not that immediate actions are needed to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic.
8. The conventional security operatives deployed to enforce the orders of the Federal and State Governments are as reported in the media, throwing caution to the wind, by not keeping to the mandate and adhering to ethics even in this period of COVID-19 scare. The case of threats to rape and infect women in Warri with HIV, attests to this. The alleged killing of a petrol attendant at a filling station in Abia State, by a security officer is another case. The Government needs to caution the security personnel who are instilling more fear in the people already taken siege by health crisis.
9. In fighting against COVID-19, it is also my candid advice that focus should not be lost on the other aspects of insecurity that the country has been combating. Every effort should be made or reinforced to maintain security in all parts of the Country in order not to let opportunists carry out more crimes against law-abiding citizens.
10. The current health crisis affords a good opportunity for Nigeria to get concessional debt reliefs from foreign creditors. Nigeria therefore, needs to plead for such. But, receiving such gestures, would depend on how funds will be transparently utilised in combating the present scourge, how resources will be equitably distributed without discrimination and how human dignity will be maintained by the Federal Government.
Your Excellency, I am confident that the Federal Government presently under you, as the anticorruption champion, would find it necessary to consider my candid ideas so far presented. It would be earnestly important to step up efforts to stop the spread of the virus; judiciously apply national funds and donations; communicate proactively with the citizens; fairly distribute resources; protect the people; reward heroes/heroines, as well as revamp infrastructures through law-backed long-term development plan to catalyze long-lasting development in health and other sectors. These and other measures are useful ways to achieve the interim goal of defeating COVID-19, as well as achieving long-term development goals to protect the country ahead of any future misfortune like we presently find ourselves.
While the above propositions are expected to receive attention, I pray God to grant you, the Government and citizens more wisdom and courage to overcome the current situation, and plan ahead for future challenges, to improve standard of living of the people.
God bless Nigeria!
PROF. STEVE SINIKIEM AZAIKI, OON
Member, Federal House of Representatives