BY Oseloka H. Obaze
It ought not to be a hard sale to convince anyone, that try as we may
and have, Nigeria is well behind the emergency response curve required
for tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, now is the time to escalate
the national resiliency level holistically, and in an unfettered manner.
Luckily, we have global response examples, best practices and lessons
learned to borrow from, as well as mistakes that should be avoided
My assessment of this matter in non-partisan and purely from the policy
and complex emergency response perspective. First, I believe that those
who are against shutting down non-essential public and academic
institutions are wrong. They are putting their economic considerations
first. We must be aware, that whatever economic of financial losses we
incur nationally in our preventive efforts, will ultimately pale, when
compared to eventual national losses, if we fail to mitigate the spread
of Covid-19 expeditiously.
Here is the painful reality. Nigeria now has a total of 27 cases of
coronavirus in the country. Covid-19 infections in Nigeria will
extrapolate exponentially. For now we seem comfortable in orchestrating
containment. The spread of infections will eventually rise because of
indiscipline, our fluid form of urban and rural transportation, lack of
societal control regimes and structures during emergencies, poverty,
compelling need to fulfill sustenance and hierarchy of needs at any
cost, poor national safety net, illiteracy and poor national orientation
in compliance with public orders. Furthermore, we seem to be allowing
our success in managing the limited scope Ebola outbreak to induce a
false sense of response capabilities.
The wide distrust gap that exist between the national population and the
government is a critical factor. If we must sell fear and use shock
therapy to induce compliance with preventive measures, now is the time.
That may be the only way to guarantee the escalation of our national
resiliency to the required level. Federal and state cooperation will be
imperative, beyond setting up the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19,
and the National Economic Council meeting intermittently. Our national
leaders must also lead by example; first by personally exhibiting
publicly, the value of social distancing. That is not happening yet.
There are some other biting realities we must contend with. What, for
instance, is the acceptable national casualty and fatality threshold.
Will we accept hundreds, thousands or millions before the blame game
starts. For now, fate has been kind to us, but I suspect it won’t be
for long. We, as a nation will eventually overcome the Covid-19
challenge, but the costs and fatality rates will only be mitigated, if
we act proactively and expeditiously.
I have commented elsewhere on the prevailing challenges. My point of
view remains unapologetically consistent. I’m not into dooms day
scenarios, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Bearing in mind that
Nigerians including traders, fuel vendors, contractors, consultants and
even healthcare providers tend to profiteer from crisis and emergency
situations, the federal government must take the lead. We must have a
strict Presidential Executive Order on hoarding and price gouging. That
order must also be enforced. Various states might have some comparative
response advantages in terms of finances and social and health
structures; but this is time to collaborate and not compete.
Decentralization will work best and help overcome the red tape and
bottleneck approach, associated with all efforts, policies and finances
coming out of Abuja.
So what to do? The healthcare providers need more support. But we must
have structured and uniformed response units at the state level. The
reactive responses so far are grossly insufficient for the scope of
impending complex emergency and crisis that could be cataclysmic for
Nigeria. At the state level, we must to start setting up centralized and
localized testing and holding spheres, as well as quarantine areas. The
National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and it’s state
counterparts (SEMAs), military and para-military agencies and all first
responders should now be on “Code Yellow” operational mode across
the nation. Our national prevention advocacy is disjointed. Television
and Radio jingles and handbills in various ethnic languages are not
reaching the critical masses out there. This explains the recent cases
of chloroquine overdoses, by those self-medicating. It also explains the
lackadaisical response to social distancing. We need to escalate public
awareness preventive measures advocacy process. Such campaign should be
national in scope.
We must also marshal all available national financial resources required
to tackle this pandemic. Announced Federal Government response funding
and Central Bank intervention support of N50 billion soft loans to small
businesses are worthwhile. Likewise the announced CBN increase in its
intervention by another N100 billion in loans to support in 2020 the
health authorities and ensure that laboratories, researchers and
innovators work with global scientists to produce vaccines and test kits
in Nigeria to prepare for any major crises ahead.
Yet, I have, even at the risk of sounding unrealistic advocated that FGN
should as a matter of urgency release at the minimum, N74 billion
directly to the 36 States, the FCT and the Nigeria Centre for Disease
Control (NCDC). I stand by that recommendation. The resources
recommended might seem outrageous, but Nigeria has expended far larger
amounts on less critical national security matters. I remain convinced
that not responding robustly and expeditiously now, will ultimately cost
Nigeria more, financially, materially, morally and certainly, in terms
of human casualties.
Covid-19 challenge to Nigeria, will demand collective national
leadership that is assertive and robust. Nigerians need to see President
Muhammadu Buhari and VP Osinbajo personally leading that campaign.
Presently Nigeria is on the lower rung of the COVID-19 spiraling totem
pole. The extrapolation and increase will definitely come, if lessons
from Iran, Spain, Italy and US are anything to go by. Our demographic
mosaic is much more diverse and equally much more susceptible. Our local
population will involuntarily shift from epicenters of infections, and
in doing so abet the spread. The crisis high-point will come if and when
we are eventually required to lockdown cities, towns and communities. We
must, therefore, contemplate what our contingency sustenance plans will
be for city and rural families in terms of healthcare, food, finances,
if we arrive at the critical juncture.
From past experience, some, including bureaucrats, policy makers and
consultants, have exploited moments of dire national emergencies as
means of getting rich quick. It happened in Niger Delta and in the North
East, and even the 2012 flood disaster. Yet, we should not allow such
experiences from stopping the federal government in releasing the funds
required to combat this pandemic robustly. States can’t go it alone
and should not pretend to be ready, when they know they are not. We must
escalate our national resiliency now. We must seize the moment.
Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult, is former Secretary to the Anambra State
Government and a former U.N. official.