Nigerian sceptics must have been thrown off-balance by American President Donald Trump’s telephone chat with his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, in appreciation of his (Buhari’s) modest handling of the coronavirus epidemic. Trump also promised to assist Nigeria with various equipment like ventillators, very scarce and in urgent demand by many countries hit by the virus.
Trump’s gesture is remarkable from a man not known for appreciating anybody but himself or any other country beyond the United States. Even at home, Trump is never himself until he claims to be the best that ever happened to the country, irrespective of the chequred legacy of his distinguished predecessors like Presidents Franklin Roosevelt. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Kennedy. Be it war, economy, diplomacy, politics or sports, Trump rates America first in the world. Nobody compares to him except himself.
For such a man, therefore, to appreciate the efforts of the leader of another country in the worldwide war against coronavirus, something in the realm of achievement must have happened. Still on Trump’s home front, he is under barrage either for not doing well or for doing too little too late to contain coronavirus. So wrong-stepping had Donald Trump been that his re-election prospects are no longer unchallengable. Ironically, Trump’s acclamation of Buhari came at a time sceptics are having a field day on Nigeria’s conduct of the war against coronavirus. Luck or personal effort or both must have won the honour for Buhari.
Otherwise, what is undeniable is that, in the battle against coronavirus, Nigeria, so far, is holding its own against the national disaster generally presumed would have consumed the country by now. Luck might have saved the country owing to Nigeria,s tropical weather, the only poison known, so far, for coronavirus. Despite this (and much to the discredit of the sceptics) is the efficient combat-readiness of federal and (particularly Lagos) state government with emphasis on preventive measures through a well-co-ordinated unprecedented enlightenment of even the most illiterate segments of every part of Nigeria. Buhari refused to be stampeded, a gamble which, till now, is paying off.
Of course, the battle is not yet won and might even not have started. But it is certain that, owing to combined government efforts (amid false alarm, exaggeration, rumour, etc), Nigeria is alert for and/or against coronavirus. For what is not appreciated at home, foreigners, international organisations and institutions are better judges in terms of relief for economic disaster, real or potential, caused by coronavirus.
Aspects of such relief are debatable. A fresh loan of over $3 billion from International Monetary Fund (IMF) is too frightening for comfort. From less than $25 billion foreign reserves inherrrrited on assuming office in 2015, Buhari built up the foreign reserves to almost $45 billion within four years. Admittedly, uncontrollable factors like sharp drop in oil prices depleted the otherwise solidifying financial base. The present foreign reserve is just over $30 billion. The latest IMF loan is only one of the many in the pipeline all along, local and foreign. Eventually, the sum total cannot be comfortable and no heavily indebted nation can freely assert its independence or even finance its ever-widening development profile. In place of independence will emerge subservience or indeed servility to creditor nations on vital international issues.
Advocates of foreign loans are ever quick to marshal their points, which are not entirely tenable. According to them, in today’s economic world, it is the mark of a nation’s credit worthiness to even merit foreign loans. Quite ego-boosting. Surely, not with the notorious squandermania of Nigeria’s public office holders.
Obviously buoyed by America’s acclamation and widening, if scattered, public protest against the seemingly indefinite lockdown, federal and state governments had no choice than to relax the over-one-month anti-coronavirus curfew. Buhari’s dilemma on the issue is currently a worldwide phenomenom, with people’s restlessness to resume business, economic and social activities. Britain, United States, Spain, France and even Italy are experiencing people’s revolt against indefinite shutdown. The bitter truth, however, is that, while the anti-coronavirus curfew cannot be for the dead, equally, only the living can earn a living. In short, any national shutdown, subject to occasional review, is worth the sacrifice in everybody’s interest.
On the completely negative side, the desperation over coronavirus has been exploited by some state governments – specifically Kano and Rivers – to violate the fundamental human rights of helpless Nigerians. Under Nigerian constitution, any citizen has the right to live in any part of the country. Neither will such citizen be subjected to any form of discrimination on account of being potential for the spread of any epidemic and/or being from another part of the country. No matter the panic, every Nigerin must be treated equally.
Rivers State government deported residents to their respective states of origin, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and the North for allegedly having the potential for spreading coronavirus. Meaning what? Any indigene of Rivers State with the potential of spreading coronavirus can lawfully spread the epidemic on that account? Or to where will they be deported? If Rivers State indigenes resident in Sokoto or Borno were deported from those states back to their states of origin on the ground of having the potential for spreading coronavirus, what would be the reaction of other parts of the country?
It is even more absurd and unconstitutional for Kano State government to deport even almajiris. President Buhari must, therefore, perform his duty to protect the rights of all Nigerians to residency in any part of the country and against discrimination. Till 1991, Kano and Jigawa constituted a single Kano state and all residents, including almajiris, were resident in (that) Kano State. Must the fact of a Jigawa State excised from Kano State render almajiri indigenes of yesterday’s Kano State ineligible for permanent residency in Kano State on accountof being indigenes of today’s Jigawa State? Is Nigerian constitution such a worthless document, such that cannot gurantee permanent residency for a citizen as he may choose?
Should all other states be illegally deporting non-indigenes, that would be a recipe for eventual disintegration. Last time, Lagos State government deported beggars in Mainland (Kano Street) to the North, and those described as vagrants back to Anambra State. The matter was severely criticised in this column, as Rivers and Kano states are today being similarly criticised for deporting our fellow citizens to their purported states of origin.
The National Human Rights Commission exists to to enforce our constitutional rights when unlawfully violated, as in the case of Jigawa almajiris and indigenes of Anambra, Ebonyi and northerners deported from Rivers state.