By Tonnie Iredia
One week after the relaxation of our lockdown policy, the consensus was that the conditions designed to make the relaxation a win-win situation were followed more in the breach. Everyone blamed the average Nigerian known for his or her anti-establishment posture which encourages cynicism and disbelief in what government says or does.
Unfortunately, blame-game players do not realize that nothing has changed in our environment to reverse the subsisting apathy. Why should people believe in government and her agencies which have remained notorious for speaking from both sides of the mouth? In truth, there are too many contradictions in our polity to confuse anyone including the so-called elite.
Nigeria’s official reaction to COVID 19 took off on a rough note amidst failure to heed early warning signals to proactively shut our airspace. This left us with overwhelmed weak public infrastructure. Till today, our political leaders are still bemoaning the lack of health facilities such as basic things like testing kits; yet the cost of thousands of kits is far lower than allowances of some privileged political leaders.
Some governors are still crying for help on the subject as if kits are in the exclusive legislative list. Why can’t governors source for kits? As for Nigerians stranded abroad, the chorus at the daily briefings of the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19, is inadequate bed spaces to isolate more people. Where are our hospitals?
Is the pandemic real? Perhaps the imposition of a lockdown underscored the expedience of safely staying indoors, but the palliatives for the downtrodden were hoarded by politicians. Only some factions of the ruling party in each state got anything thereby placing politics above the pandemic. In Ondo and Edo states with governorship elections this year, incumbent governors have been completely distracted from governance.
In Edo in particular, the issue of the moment is shadow party primaries in select locations in Benin City, the state capital and Abuja where some Edo power brokers reside. This compromised the COVID 19 protocols and the relaxation of the lockdown policy; leaving the average Nigerian to visualize the crass irresponsibility of political leaders while he is assaulted for going about in search of livelihood. In isolation centres in Gombe and elsewhere, hunger and lack of medical care are all that COVID 19 infected persons reportedly endure.
Happiness about likely future vaccines for the pandemic has been marred by reports that House of Representatives members were at the verge of turning out severe legal sanctions for those who might refuse to be vaccinated, notwithstanding that the vaccines are still inchoate. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila who explained that the rush to pass the law was informed by the obvious emergency, forgot to tell us why the legislators did not accordingly meet daily for the speedy passage of the bill.
Instead, they had a one day sitting where 70% of the work was done even before the members saw the content they were hurriedly passing. This failure of our legislators to pretend for once, to be essential workers did not help public perception of their bill. Besides, we know that the enormous powers the bill purports to confer on the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC, would, as usual, be usurped by a minister who by convention, would have omnibus power to control the NCDC team.
Nigerians who probably believe the pandemic exists also have ample doubts. How did Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State prevent the crisis from his state which has common borders with Abuja and states with several cases of infections and deaths? The story that he developed a protective magical ‘app’ is not as astonishing as his claim that NCDC has a predetermined figure which Kogi is unwilling to endorse.
So, are NCDC figures fake? Pity, no help from Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State who seems to share in Kogi’s magical powers. One of his aides even alleged publicly that their people received messages to accept COVID 19 positive status for a fee. The allegation which has been swept under the carpet merely punctured people’s confidence in government. It may not be swept out soon as Kogi reportedly ordered a visiting NCDC team to observe the 14days mandatory isolation before working in the state.
Elsewhere, many deaths are being attributed to different ailments described as mystery and sudden deaths. It is as if lockdown or not, many would still die, after all, highly educated people, medical workers inclusive, have died. If so, why would people believe in the lockdown?
Also not helpful, is the way law enforcement agencies turned the scourge into profit. The self-acclaimed power by the police to grant permits which exempt persons from the lockdown has largely compromised the protocols. At the same time, our banks ingeniously interpreted the relaxation guidelines.
Instead of opening all their branches with a 40% workforce in every branch, they chose to open only 40% of their branches thereby creating unmanageable large gatherings in our cities. Without holding the banks accountable, everyone is ascribing the fault to the unruly behaviour of their customers – a familiar practice in our clime of leaving the subject for the object of a matter.
Unfortunately, public enlightenment in Nigeria is exceedingly weak. Our mainstream media have no doubt done well in informing people about the pandemic, but to inform and to educate are not coterminous. A good percentage of people neither hear nor understand what the PTF says to us every evening in Queen’s English. Many educated people who can hear them cannot afford television sets just as many have no light to watch the beautiful sessions.
There was a whole week between the last Presidential broadcast and when relaxation of lockdown took effect. In other climes, that week would have been devoted to public enlightenment but in Nigeria, different authorities announced conditions for the relaxation on its eve with the caveat that anyone without a facemask would be prosecuted. So, some people heard about sanctions before what should not be breached. Indeed, many could not readily buy mask for as little as N200 having for long been impoverished by the state.
Some who got masks are not better at using them than they often do during elections by spoiling their ballot papers through ignorance. How to wear a mask, when and for how long, they do not know. Ironically, whenever a national issue like this evolves, the societal framework for reaching the masses – the National Orientation Agency NOA is usually ignored.
To the public, NOA is ineffective but all she gets in earnest is staff salaries. No funds to mobilize, enlighten and orientate Nigerians to assimilate and internalize public communication. I dare say that until this is done, the disparity in human endowments will continue to prevent Nigerians from getting the correct information and in the language they understand.
We need to do so and put all Nigerians on the same page especially during disasters, using the correct framework and its feedback mechanism to help government to fully appreciate the preferences and disposition of people. Otherwise, a new lockdown that is being touted for COVID 19 will make little or no difference.