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COVID-19: Memo to Nigerians

COVID-19: Memo to Nigerians
January 14
18:54 2021

If you are a Nigerian, who lives in this country and places any value on your life and the lives of people around you, you should start to take precautions against COVID-19. For starters, you must realise that this pandemic is real. Not only that, it does not care whether you are rich, poor, leader or led. The novel coronavirus does not consider whether you fly in a private jet or get packed in a danfo like sardine in a tin. It just spares no one.

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It accords no regard to one person’s ever sumptuous dining options nor ponders mercy on the watery garri bowl of the other man. It is the albatross that hits the white, the yellow and the black alike. It strikes the tall just as it does the short. It is only those whom the Almighty keeps and gives the wisdom to understand the signs of these times that live to tell the tale.

You should also take your destiny into your hands because those whom we have given charge over us seem overwhelmed, confused and conflicted in their handling of this matter. It looks like we all – leaders and led- sometimes, fly blind and at times, fly careless on this issue. Even though government, given the huge platform it has, often lays the blame at the foot of the people, it has not shown exemplary leadership. As a result, nearly every Nigerian is on their own and God for us all.

On Monday, I read a news report, which quoted the Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, as saying that the Federal Government MAY (emphasis mine) suspend the ongoing National Identification Number enrolment. I found this piece of information heart-breaking. That government is just contemplating a suspension of this needless exercise, (on which neither anyone’s life nor the immediate survival of our country depends), three weeks after it took off surpasses all understanding. Perhaps, there is an urgent reason for which this exercise should take place at this perilous time, but do the people even know this? And this is another failing of governance in Nigeria. Leaders here discountenance the importance of consensus building in the execution of public policy, mostly to the loss of the country. But I digress.

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The likely suspension, which is not even within Mamora’s remit is being considered after hundreds, if not thousands of people might have contracted the coronavirus from the rabid mingling that government’s sudden directive (one year after an initial announcement was said to have been made) on the exercise precipitated.

The mindlessness of the directive and government’s own lack of preparation for it were amply demonstrated by the strike action called last week, by employees of theNational Identity Management Commission.
These workers were protesting lack of tools and risk of exposure to coronavirus amongst other welfare issues. The dispute was resolved after representatives of government and the workers met. Everyone is now back on their beat. The workers registering the people, who have kept thronging venues across the country to avert government’s threats of the denial of a myriad of citizens’ rights.

Now, juxtapose that with the fact that the government of Lagos State, (which is the epicentre of the pandemic as well as the state that draws the most crowds to the NIN centres) has busied itself with the arrest of fun-seekers who patronise clubs and other such places periodically. Just picture the sad irony: government ignores, in fact, encourages hundreds of people to climb on each other in a bid to register for NIN while exerting energies on shutting down night clubs!

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The only other sadder irony than the above is the rhetoric suggesting that government is subordinate and at the mercy of some individuals and institutions. That government, the one with the authority to arrest the juju man and arrest his juju alongside, can no longer be government. We get these vibes from governors and even members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 all the time. When they are not blaming citizens for flouting the laws, they are laying the blame for the current wave of the contagion on institutions. For instance, head of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, was on Tuesday, quoted as attributing the rise in cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria to travels, reopening of schools, businesses and religious centres. The question that then follows is: Does any of these sectors operate outside the control of government?

This becomes more pertinent when we recall that all of these sectors were effectively shut down by government in the wake of the first wave of infections a little less than 12 months back. What new initiatives have been put in place to see that Nigeria controls the importation of coronavirus? Are there regulations being flouted by schools and worship centres at the moment? If there are, how many of these institutions have been brought to book in accordance with regulation and as a deterrent to others? Are we not sending children back to school now? Are there efforts to determine the status of teachers and students before we throw them back into these schools? I guess not. We are trusting God for safety or just taking the gamble at it!

Just before the end of last year, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo of the Lagos-based Trinity House, advised government to shut down churches if it would ensure public safety.Was this suggestion ever considered? And if shutting down all worship centres would be an overstretch, what has been done to curb the excesses of any of them? While one understands the political considerations behind the reluctance of leaders to go the whole hog against religious leaders, there is a greater charge to the people. Government cannot just continue to bark without biting thereby jeopardising the safety of the larger population.

Most frightening of all however is the tendency that Nigeria may go through all of this pandemic without exploring not one of the many opportunities it presents for national advancement.
Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities and some Vice Chancellors are currently engaged in an argument as to the readiness of universities to resume in spite of the second wave of the coronavirus.
Although the Vice Chancellors interviewed by The PUNCH indicated that their institutions were prepared for resumption, only a few of them talked about the deployment of technology for virtual learning.
It is indeed sad that these V.Cs, the National Universities Commission and the supervisory Ministry of Education did not utilise the unique opportunities of the pandemic and the last 10 months of ASUU strike to explore the provision of infrastructure that would enhance virtual learning across Nigeria. Instead of this, they are talking about sanitisers and handwashing for students in mostly overcrowded campuses where regular supply of water has been an everlasting challenge.

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There is then the failure of Nigeria to successfully commission research that can place the country on the global knowledge map of solving the coronavirus dilemma. As usual, the country is in the queue, begging cap in hand, to receive vaccines from the United Kingdom, the United States, China, India or wherever it comes from. But a more progressive country would have dug into the resistance, which has led to relative prevalence of the disease in Nigeria and funded research into how this could provide the world with solutions.

That would not only be an economic booster for the country, it would also be an image enhancer. But then, we are talking about Nigeria, a country, which only sees herself as one created to consume without adding value to the rest of the world. When you happen to live in such a country, you should realise that you owe your survival to God and responsibly doing what is right at the right time.

Adedokun [email protected]

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