Few times in recent memory have we lived through a moment like this one. Undoubtedly, it’s a strikingly perilous time with its combination of pervasive health risks, sweeping economic pain and complete uncertainty about what the future holds. Indeed, everywhere you look across the globe, the rhythms of everyday life have been utterly altered, leaving millions of people stuck in their homes and the fear of illness seems to threaten everyone.
We are told to observe social distancing guidelines when we most need each other. Perhaps that has become inevitable, as President Muhammadu Buhari said in his nationwide broadcast on Sunday, it’s a matter of choosing life over death. But anxiety has enveloped everywhere, the level of which we have not seen in our lives. There’s loneliness that also comes with its own health risks . It’s all because of the novel contagion called coronovirus(COVID-19)
But, as the horrors of the virus accumulate, there’s at least one bright side of the shutdown of most commercial activity and restrictions that are surely taking their toll across the country, especially in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, hope beckons. Maybe, because, as a renowned American cleric TD Jake said, “sometimes it takes a common enemy to create unity”. That is exactly what is happening in Nigeria today, as the private sector has formed a united front against the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s an uplifting story that shows how high-spirited companies and wealthy individuals are finding ways to connect with one another and support a common cause during a time of unprecedented crisis that has upended life in many countries around the world.
Indeed, since the first index case of Coronavirus was recorded in the country on February 27, the private sector in Nigeria has stood up to be counted by playing a starring role in supporting the government efforts to curb the global epidemic that has afflicted over 700,000 people, thousands dead, with Nigeria accounting for almost 120 of the cases and one death. One after the other, corporate Nigeria and concerned individuals have donated cash and pledged more support than their counterparts anywhere else in the African continent. Such extraordinary resolve is commendable.
From the commercial banks, to oil companies, and wealthy individuals, they are revealing an extraordinary sense of shared purpose in the face of a crisis never before seen. The roll call is long, but few will suffice here for now at least. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporatio(NNPC) and a coalition of oil companies in the country pledged a donation of N11bn, the United Bank for Africa(UBA) is committing N5bn to curb the virus in Nigeria and Africa, Zenith Bank, N23bn, Keystone bank, N1bn, Gtbank has donated 100-bed care centre. Chairman of Zenith Bank Jim Ovia, his Gtbank counterpart, Segun Agbaje, Herbert Wigwe, MD/CEO, Access bank, each contributing N1bn.
Not left out are oil magnet and philanthropists, Femi Otedola with N1bn, the richest woman in Africa, Folorunsho Alakija, N1bn and test kits and other materials worth hundreds of millions of naira, the richest man in Africa Aliko Dangote after an initial donation of N200million, is leading top bankers and the private sector coalition to raise more aids. Founder of BUA Group of companies Abdulsamad Rabiu has also committed a hefty N1bn to fight the virus.
Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the last general elections Atiku Abubakar whose son, tested positive for the virus, has pledged N50m for a start, while the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu is reported to have donated N200m to the Lagos State government to contain the epidemic. Also, Ministers are reported to have agreed to donate 50 percent of their March salary for this cause.
Where are members of the National Assembly -the Senate and -House of Representatives? Of course, we know where you stand. Personal and selfish causes. Not a surprise. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has donated one of his old residences for Isolation centre in Ogun state. Some churches are not left out. Some have provided ventilators and many more to support the current efforts. Altogether, these organizations and people, are defining us as a people, at a time when what we need is cooperation, not confrontation. As l said in this column last week, Covid-19 is a test of our national character.
All these wealthy philanthropists and organisations are proving that already, from their innermost hearts. We need more coordination for these generous donations and materials to yield expected results. We need, among other things, proper coordination and increased testing. This is the right time to rally around our government, because research has proved that when times grow bleak, people want to believe that those in authority are doing the right thing. That’s why in times of crises such as the one we are in, leaders almost always enjoy rising fortunes in opinion poll. But they should be careful and circumspect not to inflict grave economic pain on the people. This could be what the lockdown may achieve if care is not taken. How this moment will change us is if we learn the useful lessons from this common enemy.
We must learn from the missteps of those who failed to heed the early warning, as well as from those who have taken proactive measures and are succeeding in containing further spread of the virus. Italy is one bad example, but serves useful lessons for our government. The government of Italy has continually cut down budget for the health sector, resulting in poor healthcare system and the present high death toll more than any other country.
That’s why the emergency that the contagion virus requires has overwhelmed the government of Italy . They lack medical equipment, doctors and nurses, especially in specialised areas, including respiratory health system. This has a grim semblance of what is obtainable in Nigeria. The amount budgeted for the health sector in 2020 budget is only 4 percent of the total budget, while the amount so far released to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is about N8 per Nigerian. Plainly, our health system will not cope if there is a widespread of the disease. Therefore, this is time to put our money where our mouths are. Only adequate preparations can control tendencies to panic.