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COVID-19: Yari and the VIP mentality across our airports

COVID-19: Yari and the VIP mentality across our airports
July 15
20:55 2020
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On Wednesday, news broke that Abdulaziz Yari, former governor of Zamfara state, allegedly failed to abide by the protocols in place to ensure safety of passengers and staff at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, just one week after local flights resumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said Yari “refused to adhere to the protocols and procedures put in place by the federal government through the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 by forcefully pushing away an officer of the environment department when he insisted that his luggage must be disinfected.”

According to NAN, the former governor said the officer who approached him should have known he is a VIP. Although Yari is yet to give his own side of the story, the VIP syndrome is not a new thing in Nigeria where most public officer holders have the mentality that they are above the law and must be worshipped.

Interestingly, barely 48 hours ago, a senate committee was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to emphasise on what Yari is being accused of. The committee on primary healthcare and communicable disease led by Chukwuka Utazi went to the airport to assess the measures in place to ensure the safety of passengers and workers as flights resumed while Nigeria continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the oversight which was organised by the Nigeria Health Watch (NHW) as part of its advocacy for sustained epidemic preparedness which it started since 2018, Utazi spoke of how some travellers submit themselves to due process outside the country but suddenly outgrow same whenever they arrive in Nigeria.

“Last time, it made headlines when some people who came here upon return from travels and, when subjected to security checks and similar things, molested our staff. And we don’t allow that, it is not done,” he had said.

“Most of these people who travel and who come back here to harass our staff behave very orderly in all the countries they come from. But once they return to Nigeria, they feel that our staff are not supposed to enjoy the same treatment the staff they met from where they are coming from enjoy. 

Utazi (left): Defaulters of airport protocols must be dealt with

“All the staff working here who are working for the federal government must be respected. They have the seal of authority of the president of this country. And they are seen as staff of the country, no matter which level, from cleaner to the highest person here.”

The senator also said a directive has been given for security to be beefed up at the airports “so that if there is anybody who is not complying, we will ensure such a person is taken out and handled accordingly.”

But who will arrest Yari and prosecute him assuming he is guilty? Who will bell the cat to send a strong signal to other vee-eye-pees in Nigeria who need to be reminded that COVID-19 is no respecter of status. In fact, the disease seems to have found a way to repay bad with bad considering how the experience of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro — who continuously downplayed the risk of the infection — played out.

Unfortunately, we were all witnesses to when, in March, Abba Kyari, late chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, raised an alarm that some members of the national assembly are refusing to subject themselves to the mandatory screening for COVID-19 at the airports. We have also heard stories of senior government officials refusing to be treated at designated isolation centres and choosing hospitals of their choice at the risk of other patients. How many of these VIPs have been made to face the music when they default? Your guess is as good as mine.

SO, HOW PREPARED IS FAAN TO ENSURE SAFETY COMES FIRST?

During the oversight function, FAAN authorities detailed how various measures that have been introduced as COVID-19 becomes the new normal, even if temporarily. “No one is allowed entry without face masks and their bags properly sanitised,” Sani Mahmud, FAAN’s regional manager in charge of northern operation told the delegation during a tour of the airport premises.

“Social distancing is properly enforced and, as you can see, hand sanitisers are placed at every strategic location and thumb-printing machines wiped after each use.”

He added that flight schedules have been adjusted to ensure that not many flights are being boarded at the same time to make sure the seats at the boarding hall are properly cleaned.

“We want to make sure that the seats are cleaned after each flight, so with the new schedule, we won’t be having much flights taking off the same time,” Mahmud told the delegation when asked about measures in place at the boarding hall and in the aircraft.

“Once each of the flight arrive, we have people that have been trained to clean the cabin before the next passengers board and we also have people in-flight that have been trained to provide medical services when there is need for such.”

PREPARING FOR THE NEXT HEALTH CRISIS

But for COVID-19, a certain Nigerian governor would have currently been abroad, receiving medical attention — if you talk say na number one citizen, na you sabi. Hospitals across the country would have most likely not gotten the funding they are getting now, while health facilities including isolation centres and molecular laboratories would have been “VISION only-God-knows-when”.

When current pandemic is eventually over, how prepared is Nigeria to tackle the next health crisis? What public and policymaker awareness initiatives are in place to ensure citizens are not taken by surprise and left stranded? What are the measures being introduced at the federal and state governments levels to ensure adequate epidemic preparedness? Or are we going to enter panic mode, struggling to get funds at the right areas and in the right time?

Nigeria must not wait for the next ‘COVID’. The next health crisis is almost certain and governments at all levels must have a sustainable plan to ensure an adequate response.

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