The reality today is that the coronavirus pandemic is crippling our economic capabilities, particularly those of the vulnerable and the poor. Regrettably, the most potent remedy has been said to be social distancing, which, experimentally, has been proven to be most effective staying at home. This solution has, therefore, given birth to lockdown mode in most parts of the world. Although I have been an advocate of total lockdown of Nigeria, the government, in its wisdom, has directed such lockdown in two states and the Federal Capital Territory due to the figure of confirmed cases and proximity. Fair enough, but, regrettably, this has been watered down in those areas for obvious and compelling reason of survival. All other manner of haphazard restrictions exist in other parts of the nation. I have hitherto addressed the anarchy involved elsewhere and hence will skip it.
Towards combating the pandemic, several donations in cash and kind keep rolling in. As at April 4, 2020, the sum of N19.34 billion has been raised by the Central Bank of Nigeria initiative. The source of the fund is said to be from great philanthropists of our land. The feeling out there, however, is that, apart from some few genuine industrialists and businessmen on the list, most of the other donors are products of state capture. In economic parlance, they are beneficiaries of state concessions, waivers, licenses and incentives. Little wonder, therefore, it is the Central Bank that is coordinating them: Ole lo mo ese ole to lori apata – it takes a thief to identify the footprints of another thief on a rock. This is not to say that they are thieves but proffering the fact that the CBN is in a vantage position or, better still, much more suitable to identify those capable donors that are able to part with crumbs of the privileged resources in their coffers. It is certain that the donation from the bank did not come from any appropriated amount in the budget of the country. It is also indisputable that where a government agency can make a donation at will as it has become the attitude of the CBN and some other government agencies for some time now, our fiscal practice definitely must have defied the Constitution by which all should be regulated. The rule of law definitely does not apply in a situation akin to what Socrates in Plato’s Republic describes as “justice of a band of robbers.” This, however, is just an observation and a brief description of the nature and source of the “philanthropic” donations, but this is not my destination, as I could ordinarily have fallen into the same category if privileged and have the knowhow, particularly recognizing the kind of rentier economy we are running. Consequently, I thank them for the kind gestures and pray, while hoping for sustainability, that more is done.
What agitates my mind, however, is how these great donors are oblivious of the state of our health facilities in the nation ever since, or are they just simply nonchalant? At least, it is incontrovertible that the rot that destroyed our health system did not start in one day and is not a sudden development. It is a product of several years of neglect and deliberate deterioration of medical facilities and impoverishment of medical personnel trained in this country but who are forced to seek greener pastures abroad and which has brought the popular lingo, ‘brain drain’, into our general malaise. One wonders what nation destroys its own health facilities in order to enrich medical tourism of another country. Today, as said earlier, multiple medical equipment and funds keep rolling in as donations towards the fight against the scourge. How do we rationalize the lackadaisical attitude exhibited by this group of ‘philanthropists’ prior to this pandemic? Could it be, as suggested, that it was because they had alternatives to the local health facilities, which, unfortunately, is now abruptly unavailable while the threat of total annihilation stares everyone in the face, irrespective of social status? The net effect is that they are now constrained to patronize these derelict dispensaries tagged hospitals; or because coronavirus has flattened every human being on a parallel curve, we are all now equal before the coronavirus? Or most likely in my view, they cannot afford to stomach the threatening stench of corpses littering the streets, the epidemics from which will negatively impact them and their relatives also?
Prior to this time, I was curious to know how many hospitals, beds, buildings, medical equipment or cash had been donated for the upgrade of the useless structures in Nigeria called public hospitals. The various hospitals, ranging from Aso Villa clinic, National Hospital, teaching hospitals down to the primary health facilities at the local government levels, have been in a perpetual prostrate state. I have not heard of any intervention, much more, a remarkable one, by most of these moneybags. Could it be now that there is no alternative for them, they are showing concern? I am equally sure that, with their ears to the ground, they probably have heard the message of the oppressed on our streets that a time is fast approaching when, if they do not find something to eat, recourse will be made to the wealthy and the privileged as their menu. A Yoruba proverb says: Ori o mo ibusun, Eda o mo ibugbe, ko ba tun ile ibe se (No one knows his place of death or his final resting place otherwise he would have prepared the place well). If our leaders knew that, one day, they would have no choice than to patronise our decrepit health facilities, they would have made them into international standards. Rather than engaging in medical tourism abroad, they would have invested in modern and state-of-the-art hospitals that would give treatment to the people at subsidized charges. Such hospitals would be available to the privileged too whose charges and bills could be used in subsidizing treatment to the poor. This would equally strengthen our medical tourism and offer of medical service to other countries. Nigeria is not poorer than Cuba that is now the greatest medical philanthropist for the whole world despite the crushing effects of economic embargo imposed on the tiny island country. Is coronavirus now a social leveller if only from the perspective of compulsory patronage of the same health sector by the rich, which was the exclusive preserve of the “privileged” poor prior to now? A number of these “emergency lovers of the people” can pool resources together to provide a health facility of the nature described above. The lesson for all of us here is that we must learn how to save for the rainy day and take care of our country.
A joke once rendered it that Nigerian politicians’ school their children abroad, invest abroad, seek medical help abroad, seek citizenship of other countries but in their wills, they never forget to specify that they should be buried in Nigeria: is Nigeria a cemetery? Interestingly, when our state captors and rentier capitalists patronize the medical facilities abroad, most of the doctors and nurses that attend to their medical needs are of Nigerian or African extraction.
The other subject of concern is the application of the fund raised so far. I heard from chairman of the federal committee, Boss Mustapha, that the funds raised by CBN and NNPC are being managed by the two federal government-controlled agencies. Where do they derive their competence to manage this fund? Is this not an affront to the presidential committee? My expectation is that such fund ought to be administered by the body with the presidential mandate to manage. Are these not government parastatals? They report daily the soaring of the fund but no corresponding expenditure. I would imagine how far N20,000 each to the poor could go from the N20 billion with the CBN alone. Using the BVN, any depositors with less than five thousand naira should benefit while the others can be addressed through their communal structures.
That is aside from the fund with NNPC. Somebody needs to normalize this. Beyond that, do they realize that once a kobo of public fund is mixed with any other, public account is required? Where are the legislators on oversight? I hope they are equally not in mute mode?
Lastly, although there is a measure of anxiety around the various donations being made for the combat of coronavirus, some of which I read in The Punch newspaper of 3rd and 4th of April, 2020, and also the reaction of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission to ensure probity and accountability in the spending of the fund, I hasten to plead with our philanthropists not to be discouraged by such fears and for everyone to donate their widow’s mite in any form, shape or style they prefer. One thing I can assure them is that the God of coronavirus still remains on the throne, presiding and watching over those who might want to divert the funds meant for the protection of humanity. Without placing a curse, anyone that does so will reap bountifully the wrath of the same God.