Immediate past Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony Sani has said that the federal government was not proactive enough to stop the spread of coronavirus by keeping the nation’s borders open in the wake of the pandemic. He also said the 19 northern governors have misfired by taking uncoordinated steps in finding measures against the spread of COVID-19.
In an electronic based interview with NOAH EBIJE, the ACF chieftain argued that if the governors had adopted simultaneous lockdown, the spread of the virus from one State to the other would have been minimal.
He noted that as the situation is, nobody can say that the federal government and indeed, the northern governors have done enough to curb the spread of the disease in the country.
Do you think both the state and federal governments have done enough to curtail the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria?
As long as the progression of the covid-19 from coronavirus is following the global patterns and trends-and has not been stopped-nobody can say the federal and state governments have done enough. One can only say they are doing their best within the limit of resources available to them and capacity of the government to curb the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Northern states are seen as the most vulnerable to coronavirus. What is your advice to northern governors in this regard?
Yes, Northern states are more vulnerable to the covid-19 from coronavirus as a result of poverty, unemployment and ignorance. My advice to the northern state governors, therefore, is for them to make the choice of containment and mitigation to be in an appropriate balance between the need to save lives through uniform lockdown at the same time for the same duration, say,14 days in order to curb the spread of the virus and the need to preserve livelihoods such as businesses, occupations, employment, etc. And given the fact that unless every state is saved no one is saved of the covid-19, considering the virus started in one corner of the world called Wuhan in Hubei Province of China and became pandemic, it may be necessary for the Northern states governors to introduce uniform lockdown and restrictions at the same time for the same duration of about 14 days. This will make it possible for the covid-19 to manifest itself in all infected people in Northern states and enable a more informed strategy of containment and mitigation. That will avoid a situation where individual efforts by the governors that are not uniform will be wasted efforts amid inter state travels that can bring about resurgence in states which have curbed or prevented the spread of the virus.
I believe the sacrifices, which come with discomfort and inconveniences for 14 days are much easier and cheaper than the agony of burying our compatriots till God knows when, if we do not act appropriately now.
You would recall it was refusal of President Trump to act in good time that has turned out to be very costly for America. Also if the FG had used the index case of 27/2/2020 and closed the borders, banned flights and introduced national lock down at the same time for the same duration, it would have changed the course of the coming and spread of the virus into Nigeria. No sacrifices are too much if they would help curb the spread of the virus, since the thought of the effects on our health services, on humanitarian status and on the economy are too dire to contemplate should there be transmission through community contacts.
Many Nigerians have blamed government officials and businessmen who traveled abroad for contracting and bringing the virus into the country. In this wise, some people are saying these international travellers needed to be on lockdown more than the entire citizenry. Do you agree?
This is no time for blame game, considering what I had said earlier and the need for all governments of Nigeria to be on the same page and come together and live up their synergistic potential against collective challenges for common good. I said the FG made the initial errors of not closing borders, of not banning flights and of not introducing a uniform lockdown across the nation at the same time for the same duration soon after the index case of 27/2/2020.The FG also erred when it did not screen all the returnees of foreign trips at the ports of entry between the time of index case and the time selective lockdown was introduced. That accounted for the influx of those with the virus that is responsible for the current status of covid-19 in Nigeria. And since the FG has realized its mistakes and has realized its bearings, I think Nigerians should not dwell on former things but to support the government’s efforts at containment and mitigation.
Many victims of the coronavirus had been cured and discharged from Covid-19 hospitals. Do you think they will ever overcome the stigma?
There is no need for stigma precisely because the covid-19 is not due to irresponsible behaviors of those infected. All that is required to do away with any stigma is proper enlightenment of the public by the appropriate authority.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, individuals and corporate bodies donated billions of naira to the Federal Government. Do you think most Nigerians would indeed benefit from the money?
The Presidential Task Force has said they are yet to get the money either from the private sector or the government. And even when they get the money, it is for the purpose of financing and upgrading of our public health, of testing of suspected people with covid-19, of procuring protective equipment for the health workers and for financing of other logistics requirement like contact tracing, etc. Given the fact that it is a matter of life and death, I do not expect the PTF and NCDC to pilfer it but use it for the benefits of all Nigerians.
Other countries released billions of dollars to their citizens to cushion the effects of stay at home policy. But here in Nigeria, it was loaves of bread, cups of rice and beans distributed among the citizens. Do you think Nigerian government is fair to its own citizens?
It is good policy and actions to help the very poor with some palliatives needed to cushion the effects of lockdown and restrictions. But this depends on the revenue profiles of the government and the price of oil that is the main source of revenue to government. I hope you know the price of oil has collapsed. As a result, all our governments are in financial straitjacket. The governments cannot be expected to give what they do not have.
How do you react to the amount of money said to have been shared so far compared to the number of beneficiaries?
What is 2.6m Nigerians compared to 200m Nigerians most of whom are poor? Or how far can N5b go among Nigerians who are truly poor? And what can N20,000 do for a family man? Even though the government is trying its best, we must be realistic and come to terms with the reality that the money is simply not there for the palliatives. As a result, Nigeria has to think the unthinkable out of the box in order to make desire possible and then actual.
Some people even saying that a government that could not finish distributing voters cards in two years, has suddenly shared billions of naira to 2.6million Nigerians in less than 72 hours. How do you feel about this?
There is a world of difference between distribution of voters cards which people had to be persuaded to come over to INEC and collect and payment of stipends to people. Just consider the federal government pays many of its workers salaries worth billions of naira every month. This is because nobody needs to persuade people to come and collect money.
While I agree that democracy without viable opposition is a sham, I think Nigerians deserve opposition as a viable alternative, and not to make fault finding a permanent mission.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha said he was stunned by the quality of prisons and hospitals in the country. What is your reaction to this?
May be the SGF is new in Jerusalem. But now that he knows, we hope there will soon be some difference in our public health and prison services for performance.