Playing Nero while Nigeria burns

We received with consternation and utter disappointment, the presidential statement to the Nigerian public by President Muhammadu Buhari confirming the indefinite continuation of lockdowns that governments [both federal and states] have imposed on most Nigerian cities and states purportedly as a reaction to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, from his statement, the president appears not to understand and appreciate the futility and ineffectiveness of lockdowns as a panacea for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in an economic and social environment such as ours. Secondly, the president’s statement betrays a complete failure to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health emergency but more appropriately a multi-sectoral challenge, with grave implications and threats to not just the public health but the livelihoods of citizens.

So, to depend, as the president says he is going to do, only on the advices of the “scientific advisers” for the determination of whether and when to lift the restrictions on movements, is to say the least, most ill-advised. As experts in similar climes as ours have argued, complete lockdowns in and by themselves cannot and will not solve the challenges that COVID-19 has unleashed. Indeed, the lockdowns themselves may even compound and worsen the incidence of both contagion and spread by, for instance, weakening the immune system through worsening malnutrition, the herding together of masses of people in congested residential spaces which is what you find in most of our cities and towns, and the overstretching of rudimentary health-care facilities and infrastructures.

In these circumstances, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) calls on the federal and state governments to urgently review the strategies they have so far adopted to confront the COVID-19 pandemic with a view to fashioning out more effective, appropriate and sustainable approaches to managing the coronavirus challenge. In more specific terms, the PRP calls on those public institutions to consider adopting the following responses amongst others; review the lockdown orders restricting movements with a view to relaxing them to allow citizens to go about earning their livelihoods in an orderly and supervised manner; procure, subsidize and massively distribute face masks to the public and make the wearing of these compulsory in public spaces until the pandemic is over.

Government should urgently procure testing kits and make them widely available so that members of the community with individuals suspected of showing symptoms of the disease can have easy access for testing; reopening of the public services while maintaining social-distancing in the work-place and commercial operations. Government should stop the wasteful if not fraudulent texting by NCDC reported to have cost the government over N1 billion and divert such scarce resource to building the much required testing centres in and out of towns and cities; immediately probe the fairy tale distribution of N20,000 each to 2.6 million Nigerians in four days as a means of confirming what happened and as important strengthening the distribution capacity of the Ministry of Humanitarian Services and Disaster Management before engaging them to handle further distribution of palliatives to the needy Nigerian population.

Government should also eliminate police and military brutality coming from the enforcement of the lockdowns reported to have cost the nation more harm than COVID-19 and resort to counselling and even fine as seen in the jurisdictions we have borrowed our COVID-19 strategy. Mr President, please save our people eating from the dust bins. Finally, it is our belief in the PRP that for President Buhari to continue with the present fixture of lockdown and restriction of movements in the face of the overwhelming evidence that point to the inappropriateness in our specific circumstances and social realities, would be tantamount to playing fiddle while Rome burns!

Alhaji Bello is the National Chairman, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP)

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