The fight against Covid-19 is getting tougher by the day. In this interview, one-time Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, mocked those who rely only on medical treatment abroad at the expense of public health institutions, saying they are home now to face the music. He, however, commended the Nigerian medical personnel for the good work they are doing to contain the spread of the dreaded disease.
For the first time in the recent past, some well meaning Nigerians across tribal, religious and party lines recently donated money in hundreds of billions of naira to support government’s fight against COVID-19. How sustainable is this new found unity?
I only pray that our hope for sustained unity will not be shattered. For example, you find out that on Fridays, Muslims go to mosque in their thousands to worship. You cannot ask the Christian faith to be doing their service online, while Muslims in some parts of the country are observing their Friday prayer. That is very dangerous. I pray that our new found unity will continue is a manner that will be beneficial to the people of this country. As we are now, Nigeria is set to move to a greater unity. And that makes me to be very glad. This disease is killing people and we don’t want our people to die. But for goodness sake, let’s create a level playing field for all religions.
That sounds more like a religious bias. But you are also aware that the security operatives are doing their best to ensure compliance to the directive. In Katsina State, for example, the Muslims who defied the directive were promptly dispersed by the police.
(Cuts in)…you are right. All I am saying is that the government should ensure compliance to any measure put in place to contain this pandemic because this disease doesn’t know colour, religion or race. We are even lucky that our casualties are not as many as casualties in other parts of the world. But we should be very careful because if we allow it to bloom pass what we have at present, it will be too dangerous for this country and a lot of people will die. We don’t want that. I hope and pray that government will apply adequate measures towards this pandemic.
How would you react to the comment made by Prof Wole Soyinka that the lockdown declared on Lagos, Ogun and Abuja was unconstitutional?
I have not been able to read what he said. The only thing I heard about is that somebody said he was going to roll a big drum to block Ibadan-Lagos expressway. I believe whatever is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Let them apply the same rule to all parts of the country and make every part safe and secure. You don’t restrict movement of people in one part of the country and leave some other sections to move around. That will be too bad. They should make sure what applies to Tom, applies to Jerry.
What is the lesson for the leadership to learn in all of this particularly as regards the state of public health institution?
Honestly, all of us should support the measures being meted out by our government particularly Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, and my Governor in Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola and all of them. We must support them to improve our health institutions. It has been proved that our health institutions are as good as any other institutions in other parts of the world. All those who are going on medical treatment abroad now know that they could get better treatment at home rather than going overseas. And that is why I don’t want us to miss any golden opportunity of uniting our country at this period of Coronavirus pandemic. We must not miss this lesson by ensuring that we come together to confront this monstrous disease.
To put you in a proper perspective, are you saying that our public health institutions are in line with best standard in the rest parts of the world?
If we expose our medical personnel, they will do their best. But we have not exposed them and that is why those who neglected our health institutions, those who should have jettisoned staying abroad are now facing the music at home. Honestly speaking, our health institutions and those who man them are doing very well. My appeal to them is to make sure that their best remains their best. There are certain parts of the world where they don’t have the kind of resources that we have and their health institutions are working well to meet their challenges. This disease knows no colour. And that is why we must improve our health institutions. If we expose our medical personnel, they can compete with their counterparts in any part of the world. But since we have neglected our health institutions, those of our past leaders who have been compelled by this disease to jettison staying abroad are now facing the music. They know, if they remain there, they are not going to get enough care. I have full faith that if they improve our health institutions and expose our medical personnel, they will be able to do well. Those who fail to put our health institution in a good shape are learning in a hard way now. Even if they go to Paris, London or the US, they will first of all treat their own people first. That is why I will appeal to every one of us to support what government is doing at home. This pandemic has thought us enough lessons. But if you think you want to carry your problem abroad, you can go ahead at your own peril. I will rather preach inward revolution so that we make our health institutions better and make our country greater.