By Charles Onunaiju
AT the start of the first working week of the year, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 took up full-page coloured advertisement in all major newspapers to issue a public notice that has absolutely nothing to do with general public. The advertisement is neither another new guideline nor even a re-statement of the old guidelines and protocols in the prevention and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as the PTF has rolled new protocols to contain the second wave of the pandemic, the public announcement contained in the advertisement that would have gulped millions of public fund did not contain a word of fresh directives.
The obviously expensive and certainly wasteful advertisement signed by Mr. Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the PTF, who also is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was an announcement of six-month travel restriction from January 1 to June 30 against 100 defaulting passengers due to non-compliance with the mandatory seven-day post-arrival COVID-19 test. The advert went ahead to list 100 purported passport numbers of 100 defaulting passengers.
In the first place the general public for whom the expensive advertisement was meant has nothing to do with it. Even if the advert was meant to shame the alleged defaulters, they were not even revealed to the public; therefore, the defaulters have nothing to worry about public opprobrium for their alleged delinquent and risky behaviours.
What would have strictly passed for government’s internal memo, directing or instructing relevant agencies to act, was turned into money-guzzling enterprise that depleted an already lean public treasury. Mustapha’s predecessor was kicked out of the office for a scandalous grass-cutting contract, but this public announcement that actually announced nothing to the public is even worse. The advertisement was plainly vacuous and completely informed nothing of relevance to the public.
To underscore its motive, the travel restriction announcement was already published in the newspapers as paid advertisement before even the relevant government agency was notified.
On January 4 (Monday), the same day that the advert was syndicated in many newspapers, the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, said that it has not received any instruction or directive on the travel restriction imposed on passengers by the Federal Government for allegedly flouting the mandatory seven-day post-arrival COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test.
Spokesman of the NIS, Mr. Sunday James, was reported by a national newspaper to have said that he has not received official communication in respect of the ban announced by the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
I leave to the guess of the discerning public of how and why a government agency most directly concerned with the enforcement of purported restriction order was not even informed before an advertisement was placed for a public that has really nothing to do with the announcement. In the first place, are the purported defaulters on the run and if they are, how could the publication of their mere passport numbers aid the public in apprehending them. They are certainly not on the run and not even wanted.
Enforcing their penalty of travel ban is strictly the prerogative of the Nigeria Immigration Service and perhaps other sister security agencies, and no full page advertisement is necessary to alert or direct them to their statutory responsibilities. How can the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, the purported administrative engine of government, need public announcement to communicate to government agencies.
Before anyone claims that the advert was meant to deter prospective or intending defaulters, the story of government’s hammer falling on defaulters of COVID-19 protocols is sufficiently newsworthy to be run by any credible news outlet and that would have more deterrent effect than over-bloated and opaque advert that only gulped public money.
The Presidential Task Force formed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 in the country has done more to orchestrate fear than articulate a better understanding of the nature of disease from our real existential condition.
Because they were initially and largely projecting apocalypse which never happened, most ordinary Nigerians have come to see the new protocols of the second wave of the pandemic as a pretext to further deplete the public treasury. The unnecessary but expensive adverts disingenuously placed as a public announcement will only strengthen such cynic view.
It is strange that a task force composed to address concerns of an outbreak of a strange disease has no scientist or an expert, which the country is not in short supply. Late last year, more than N30 billion was reported to have been expended in the containment effort of the virus.
However, if the pattern of expenses of the whopping sum of over N30 billion feature such frivolous spending like the advert in question, then the public was not served well by this presidential task force called to service at a period of national health emergency. The current Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 needs to be immediately disbanded, while a new one consisting of scientists and experts in the field of virology and public health should be constituted immediately.
And to clarify public concern about the anti-corruption credibility of the current administration, full and audited report of the money expended on the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures by the current PTF must be published for public scrutiny.
Onunaiju, a public affairs analyst wrote from Abuja