From the first reported case of an Italian who flew into the country in February, the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Nigeria had reached 174, with two recorded death as at Wednesday, April. The figure, experts say, however, does not reflect the true picture of Nigerians already infected with the deadly virus, which according to them, must run into hundreds. This is largely due to the country’s high density, huge population, communal living and general lifestyles vis-à-vis the very easy ways the virus spreads.
Confirmation of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed Mohammed; Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde and son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar among high profile victims of the disease and virtual daily rise in reported cases from states have triggered panic among Nigerians of a looming health disaster that can unleash casualties, pains, hardship and suffering of unimaginable proportion the country would not be able to control. The fear is further underscored by the country’s doubtful preparedness and capacity to cope in the event of a full-blown outbreak that will test adequacy of diagnostic kits, drugs, epidemiological control centres, other health equipment and facilities for managing patients.
Worse still, the authorities have failed to be proactive and take a cue from other countries earlier affected or yet to be affected in fighting the rampaging virus. Government displayed a most reprehensible lethargy and negligence, allowing indiscriminate entry from foreign nationals including those from worst-hit nations, even as it failed to put in place strategic measures and provide necessary facilities to prevent the disease from entering the country or at least contain it, if it inevitably did.
Government only woke up from its apparent slumber and began taking decisive steps almost one month after the index case was reported, and only after public outcry and as statistics of incidents disturbingly began to rise.
We view government’s lukewarm attitude and late response most inappropriate and condemnable. It showed utter contempt and unconcern for the citizens. For instance, it is incomprehensible that while Canada, US, France, Britain and other European countries and few in Africa were shutting down and had long restricted international flights, Nigerian airports remained open to international traffic until the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) finally ordered them closed by midnight of Monday, March 23.
Although the CBN has now injected a N4.6tr economic stimulus while government at various levels have rolled out other measures including shutting schools, institutions, banning social gathering and religious assemblies, mobilizing health resources, reducing staff physical presence at workplaces and intensifying public sensitization campaign, there is no gainsaying the fact that these moves, as laudable and crucial as they are, came a tad late. The question must be asked: Why wait until the nation had an emergency on its hands when it was clear a pandemic had already penetrated? Even in the current arrangements, one could see evidence of sloppiness. Why, for instance, did some later cases such as the index case of the Italian before them not detected at the airports but only after they had slipped into the country? How do we trace all the people they had contact with?
With vaccines or cure yet to be discovered and various developed and often sympathetic countries busy trying to save their citizens and economies from the scourge, Nigeria would appear to have dug and fallen into a hole from which it would be difficult to rescue it.
Moving forward, Newspeak believes that our present predicament should be a wake-up call on the Nigerian leadership to invest more in the health system. It is unheard of that there are only three Infectious Disease Hospitals (Abuja, Edo and Yaba, Lagos) with the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan and Redeemers University (RUN), Ede lately added in a country of Nigeria’s size and a population of almost 200 million! The Federal Government must immediately set up more in others of the nation’s six geo-political zones, while the state governments replicate this in their respective states. Government must overhaul our emergency response and management machinery to be more proactive, efficient and effective. Instead of the fire-brigade approach that has hitherto defined our response to emergencies, the authorities should consider providing infrastructures that could easily be deployed for effective response. For example, some wards/sections of the major government hospitals in major cities with airports such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kano could be converted into facilities for quarantining suspected or confirmed cases. Private hospitals will be willing to volunteer if called upon. Those charged with fighting the pandemic must eschew all forms of corruption and selfishness by ensuring probity, transparency and accountability in all the dealings and not see their charge as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of Nigerians’ lives.
But more importantly, government must go beyond issuing to ensuring enforcement of restriction orders aimed at protecting the public against the virus.
And on this score, we urge Nigerians to learn to show consideration for the rights of their fellow citizens by complying with the rules. News that some notable Nigerians ignored the ban on religious assemblies and directive for travellers arriving the country to observe a 14-day self -isolation is disturbing. All hands must be on deck if we must defeat the virus and salvage ourselves.
Newspeak applauds efforts of some governors in containing the pandemic through their proactive measures.