Nigeria is sheepishly taking on COVID-19 in a frontal assault that might prove to be a catastrophic miscalculation. The Federal Ministry of Education has defiantly ordered the reopening of primary and secondary schools across the country. Millions of pupils are now cheap targets for the deadly virus.
The first cheap target for COVID-19 was presented three weeks ago by Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy. Pantami ordered the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to issue national identification numbers (NIN) to well over 164 million Nigerians within two weeks. The NINs are to be linked to the SIM card registration of mobile phone subscribers. NIMC only toiled to register 43 million Nigerians in 11 years.
The minister then ordered the network operators to block all SIMs without NIN after two weeks of the issuance of the directive.
Since that directive on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the human deluge at NIMC registration centres has persisted as millions of Nigerians scramble to beat Pantami’s deadline and avoid the disastrous blocking of their invaluable phone lines. Consequently, thousands in the surging crowd and some NIMC officials were apparently infected with COVID-19. The casualties from the two weak points opened by the federal government to the deadly virus is mounting. Even with very few testing facilities across the country, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria has crossed the 108, 000 mark. Death toll is sailing perilously close to 2, 000 despite inadequate count that does not record scores dying daily in Nigeria’s inaccessible rural communities and burgeoning urban slums.
The minister of education has joined his counterpart in communication and digital economy to dare a virus that is slaughtering 4, 000 people daily in the United States of America, despite the first class healthcare facilities of the world’s largest economy. No one knows how government can cope with the impending disaster that it inauspiciously exposed its ignorant people to.
Despite the devastating resurgence of COVID-19, government is inadvertently endorsing the primitive apathy of ill-informed Nigerians about the pervasiveness of the deadly virus.
The irony of the primitive apathy in the land is that very few believe in physical distancing and the use of face mask as protective measures against the spread of the deadly virus. Commercial drivers now pack passengers like sardine still at the 100 per cent social distancing transport fare increase that came into force in July 2020.
No one raises a finger in protest against this exploitation and reckless exposure to COVID-19.
Several weeks into the second coming of the virus, the mobile courts promised by Lagos State government to prosecute COVID-19 offenders are yet to be seen.
The level of official and individual apathy to COVID-19 is catastrophic. It has to stop if we must avert the looming disaster. The federal government should first protect Nigerians from the spread of COVID-19 by ordering an extension of the NIN registration deadline by six months to stem the human deluge at NIMC centers.
As important as the synchronising of NIN with subscribers mobile SIM registration is to Nigeria’s security, the human cost of doing it at such tight deadline in the face of a global pestilence is too dangerous to toy with.
Besides, the economic cost of adhering to such tyrannical deadline is loathsome. NIMC lacks the facility to assign numbers to 164 million applicants at the short interval demanded by Pantami.
The economic consequence of blocking millions of mobile phone lines at a time when the telecoms industry is the engine room of Nigeria’s economy is too catastrophic for contemplation. Even with the new registration centers opened by NIMC, the registration exercise is still horrendously slow.
Pantami claims that it takes five minutes to register a candidate at the centres. That is a pathological lie. When the network is friendly, registration takes a minimum of 30 minutes per person. Besides, it takes a minimum of seven hours in some frenzied days for an applicant to get his turn with the person doing the registration.
Applicants quicken the pace by bribing the officials with anything from N1, 000 to allow them shunt the endless queues. A 70-year old man lamented on Sunday that after three futile attempts, he was willing to pay N5, 000 to register.
The spread of COVID-19 and the mindless extortion by NIMC officials can only reduce if the NIN deadline is extended to shorten the murderous queues at the registration centers.
AYADE’S ‘ILLEGAL’ MAGISTRATES
Something is terribly wrong with Cross River state judiciary. Since November 29, 2019, when Justice Michael Edem retired as chief judge of the state, there has been four acting chief judges.
Edem recommended Justice Akon Ikpeme, his next-in command, as replacement. Ben Ayade, the state governor, rejected the recommendation for tribal reasons. That pitted him against the National Judicial Council (NJC), which tipped Ikpeme for the job. Ayade and the NJC are in a lockdown that no one knows how to settle.
Now the strange thing about Cross River state is the 29 magistrates protesting two years’ unpaid salaries right at Ayade’s gate. The protesting magistrates complain that the state judiciary advertised for magistrates and hundreds of lawyers applied. They were subjected to oral and written interviews.
Successful candidates were sent on months of induction course including weeks in Abuja. They were issued appointment letters and assigned courts to preside over. Unfortunately, they have not been paid for two years.
Ayade’s attorney-general contends that the appointments of the magistrates were irregular as the governor did not approve them. Now Justice Efiom Eyo-Ita, the fourth acting chief judge in one year, has withdrawn the protesting magistrates from service, thus putting a huge question mark on more than 2, 000 judicial decisions they took.
It is strange that a government would issue appointment letters to magistrates, train them rigorously and assign them courts to try and jail people only to claim that their appointments were irregular.
Besides, Ayade has exposed the state to grave danger by allowing the magistrates to operate for two years without pay. They would have offered their judgments to the highest bidder in exchange for the free service to Ayade. Ayade has grossly abused the constitution by holding back the pay of the judicial officers.
The governor has a penchant for cheating workers. Last year 300 labourers used at the state rice farms protested months of salary arrears just as Ayade bought 53 sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for local government officials.
Ayade should pay the magistrates and stop telling derisive stories about such sensitive appointments.