With the world fighting the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, every country is putting its very best to halt further spread of the disease as well as providing the required livelihood support to ease the tension among the citizens. In Nigeria, poor democratic governance is the major challenge hindering the sensitization against coronavirus disease popularly known as COVID-19.
Lack of quality representation and cordial relationship between the people and the government is bringing different dimensions to the process. The question that is always echoing in the mind of this author is: do Nigerians even believe that COVID-19 disease exists at all? This is because the significant population that occupies the country is left behind wallowing and struggling with abject poverty, unemployment, diseases and extreme hunger.
The government neglected not only the health sector but other sectors of the economy. In my interaction with Dan Sadi, a water vendor (Dan Garuwa), he said: “There is nothing like government in Nigeria since I am not benefitting anything from them. I can only hear from them whenever they need our vote so why will I even waste my time on the issue of coronavirus?”
According to him, government created the virus to get more money from the western world and oppress the poor, and I believe many people in Nigeria hold the same view with regards to the pandemic.
Based on international best practices against COVID-19, one can agree with me that an average Nigerian that is not enjoying the services of his state but listening over the radio that for instance, governments in other countries had packaged and distributed all forms of palliatives to their citizens, or the United States made cash payments of $1200 as COVID-19 relief directly to citizens accounts, regardless of whether the individual belonged to any political party, association, faith, working class, retired or not.
While here, government asked you to stay at home, with no constant drinking water or electricity, not to talk of bringing food items to your doorstep. Not only that, how many people are even living above one dollar per day?
I recalled what Hajara a widow left with nine children without N9000 to cater for the family said to me when sharing views with her on COVID-19. She said: “The palliatives are not for people like me because the government only helps politicians and other influential individuals, not poor widows like me.”
The continued widening of the gap between the government and the people has created mistrust between them before the emergence of COVID-19. Most people believe that people in power are interested more in taking care of themselves rather than the ordinary man on the street. And with this issue on ground, people are thinking that government is just using the pandemic to get more from the western world. A perfect example can be seen in social media comments of Governor Ganduje’s request for N15 billion from federal government.
Another angle of this gap is that the failure of the government to communicate to the people effectively on the pandemic especially at the grassroots level created a conducive atmosphere for the merchants of fake news and misinformation to mislead the people both on the existence of the virus and position of Nigerian government.
For instance, there was a purported video of COVID-19 patients in Kano isolation center, who claimed they were not infected with the virus, which went viral on social media platforms. Another horrible video was that of Gombe isolation centre, the place is becoming a dramatic stage with different scene every day. Another one was in Katsina, where the two sons of the deceased doctor who was reported to have died of the virus, appeared on Facebook video debunking the existence of the virus.
All these, and so many other instances, have created doubt and continue to fuel fears in the minds of the people on whether or not the virus really exists.
In as much as I blame some Nigerians for not believing the government, much blame falls on the government. No matter what Nigerian leaders will tell masses, they will not trust them. Nigerians have been dying for so long, as a result of contaminated water, preventable diseases, hunger and unemployment, so what do you expect from the people while they are experiencing worse things than COVID-19 in the country?
Until Nigerian leaders provide masses with good healthcare system, security of lives and property, sound education system, job opportunities for the unemployed youth which will draw people closer to government and its policies, the masses, especially those without democratic dividends, will never believe in COVID-19 or any of government’s policies. This is because the government has failed to perform its functions and thereby kept people away from their leaders.
• Idris Mohammed, a violent conflicts researcher and governance expert wrote from Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto.