The noisome pestilence codenamed Covid-19 is still ringing its fatal bell. Death still stalks the nations in mortal swagger. Science is still a learner at its feet. Technology still takes tutorials under the ghoulish shadow of the teeny virus. Clampdown. Lockdown. Social distancing (and social dance-stancing for those who still find the nerves to dance). Stay-at-home. Self-isolation. More lexical contraptions are coined to ramp up the terror quotient and mortal motif of a virus writ large.
I write this in great hope that in a matter of weeks, the very last droplets and traces of the virus would have left the earth. I write this in great expectation that all the nations of this afflicted world would be healed in days, weeks. But I also write this in deep pain. Since Tuesday when the Presidential lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun took effect, I have closely observed another level of pain in Nigeria. The lockdown has exposed the extreme poverty in the country and worse yet, it threw up the darker side of governance at all levels.
In all my years as a journalist spanning all the key editorial duties – proofreader, reporter, line editor, News editor, editor and publisher – I have never come any closer to the level of insensitivity of government to the people as I have seen under the command of this new global commander-in-chief: Covid-19. The unpalatable verdict is that the Nigerian government is blind; blind to the tears of the people, blind to their distresses. Totally ignorant of the level of hellish poverty that assails the populace.
And it’s not something to heap the blame on the frail shoulders of the Buhari government in spite of his manifest incompetence. Previous governments helped to create the dynasty of poverty that has now morphed to a Frankenstein under this government. The Buhari government and the shoddy handling of the Coronavirus scourge only helped to activate the nation’s hitherto latent poverty well. Now, it spews forth like a water fountain at full pressure. Truth be told, there is grave poverty in Nigeria. I once kicked against the profiling of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. I once railed at those who in full consciousness branded the most populous black nation of the world as the global leader in the poverty index. I was wrong. Poverty resides here, in our midst, in our homes, in marketplaces.
Aside exposing our huge poverty burden, covid-19 also exposed the cluelessness of leadership, particularly the Buhari leadership. How can any responsible government, at any level, ask residents to stay at home for two weeks without a thought on what the people would eat? For a plague still without a scientifically proven cure, staying at home might prove a masterstroke to flattening its curve and subsequently taming it completely. But in other nations where such stay-at-home orders were decreed into effect, succour was provided for every citizen, not for selected persons; a selection process fraught with ethnic bias and political prejudice.
Staying at home as a form of distancing and isolation is desirable at this time, but it would only be meaningful if the people have steady electricity; have running water in their homes and above all, if they were financially empowered to stock up ahead of the lockdown. The reality is that many homes do not own generators that can power their refrigerators. Nobody will stay at home that is as hellish as the covid-19 plague. Staying at home, hungry and hopeless, is a recipe for domestic dispute and violence. If domestic violence surged in western nations with all their comfort during this lockdown period, you cannot possibly imagine the Armageddon it would brew in Nigerian homes if the lockdown was effected as decreed.
Nigeria should seize this opportunity to reset her social security mechanism. Using the conditional cash transfer register to reach the so-called poorest of the poor Nigerians is faulty. That scheme remains one of the biggest scams being traded by this government. The social investment programme (SIP) of the Buhari government is as fraudulent as the SURE-P scheme of the immediate past government of Goodluck Jonathan. Both are poorly managed money guzzlers that served the interest of very few poor but enhanced the purses of their elite administrators. The template of the SIP should never be a consideration and model for distributing money in the instant case of covid-19 plague. Never!
In the context of current stay-at-home order every Nigerian household, not the fraudulently generated list of SIP beneficiaries, should receive help. In the whole of my community, Isho village in Ubulu-Uku, Delta State, we are still to find one person that benefited from the SIP. Meanwhile, it’s a community just like any other rural community elsewhere that houses a good number of indigent persons including the feeble and the elderly.
This is a special moment in time. Our approach and solution must be creative, inclusive and void of partisanship. Distribute the relief materials quietly through households or using the Bank Verification Number (BVN) to make cash transfers to the banked. The remaining unbanked persons will be easier to sort out. This is the only way not to waste billions of naira and achieve nothing.
The primitive manner officials of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management are sharing cash to the so-called poorest of the poor in crowded places defeats the essence of the lockdown, isolation and social distancing. None of these precautionary measures is observed in all the viral footages obviously released to the public as a proof that something is being done.
The distribution of relief materials by officials of Lagos State government is even worse. In most cases the process is disorderly and riotous without regard for social distancing. If materials are shared in this rowdy manner across the state and across the country, forget it, we would have surreptitiously spread the virus within this period only to begin to count the cost in the post-lockdown days. If any state or the federal government truly wants to care for citizens during this period, they should share the cash and materials in just the same manner they share electricity bills, tenement rates and other instruments that serve the interest of government.
Let nobody fool you. Government knows where you live or work. If in doubt, just commit a crime in Lagos and run to your village, the anti-crime officers will nab you there. Government knows our bank accounts, BVN, and others totems of identification. If truly government wants to give us money, it sure knows how to get to all of us. It can copy the template of electricity distribution companies, DISCOS. The same way we are served electricity bills quietly without fanfare, should be the same way government should donate relief materials to Nigerians. The attendant drama and fanfare are uncalled for. Government should give Nigerians this day their covid-19 allowance.
By the way, asking military personnel to join in the enforcement of stay-at-home order is condemnable. We don’t need them on the roads. They should be withdrawn forthwith and redeployed to the frontline in Borno State. Slapping, clubbing and beating people is not part of the brief.