The fear of Coronavirus or Covid-19 is now the beginning of wisdom. Its effect on human life is no longer as important as the collective effort to find a solution to this pandemic attack. Also, the symptoms of Covid-19 are no more news to a large number of people globally. The treatment also has not escaped quite a large number of charlatans and their victims, starting with me, that continue to gulp herbs made of Neem tree leaves, (otherwise known locally as “ewe dongoyaro”) every other day. The whole world has been screaming from one corner of the globe to another starting from China where the most lethal effect of the outbreak first registered itself before it moved to Italy, Iran, United States, United Kingdom, etc.
Africa has not been left out. Knowing that we are arguably the weakest when it comes to medical health and unarguably the people with the largest share of world ignorance and the private owners of gullibility, it tarried for a while before arriving at our national boundaries. Its decision to arrive Nigeria late was probably borne out of the recognition that we have the most porous borders with not less than 109 routes entering northern Nigeria alone. It definitely would be less costly to enter Nigeria anytime it chose to do so as it finally found out. It is interesting to note that notwithstanding the state of public information on casualties recorded in other nations as a result of Covid-19, many Nigerians still believe that the virus is a myth and, if it exists at all, it targets the rich and comfortable as it has a lot of consolation for the Nigerian poor who have suffered enough as a result of poor governance and hence does not want to add more to their woes.
Some believe that the temperature of this part of the world would not allow the virus to survive and hence it must die of a natural cause. They forgot that places where the virus has impacted, like Los Angeles in the US or major cities in Australia, also have high temperatures. Many think it is a veritable source of jokes and lots of music have been waxed to celebrate its arrival. While the knowledgeable are mourning and crying, the ignorant are jubilating. One promising outcome, however, is that after the pandemic is addressed, our politicians might realize the need to take care of public health, public education and all other necessary utilities for collective existence. It is clear that no one has anywhere to run to for medical treatment abroad and we are all in this mess together. The joy of the poor, therefore, is in anyway not totally misplaced. Their centuries of agitations are being attended to by a pandemic that admits of no distinction like the violence of war.
The discussion here centres around the response of governments to the pandemic, particularly Lagos State. While someone somewhere proclaimed that his state is the only state mentioned in the Bible and hence his people are protected from the scourge of Covid-19, some others are imposing dusk-to-dawn lockdowns. We have those shutting their borders and others restricting influx and exit from their states. I have, however, consistently been following the various steps of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; “charity begins at home” is the conventional saying. I, therefore, will concentrate on Lagos State. My home and city of Lagos is not spared at all of this pandemic. We are ranking far first ahead of other states in Nigeria, with over 82 reported cases as at now. It is not in my character to be sycophantic at any point in time but this time around, I cannot but speak out on the management and responses so far by the Lagos State government under the able leadership of Sanwo-Olu and his team. In Yoruba language, there is the saying that “yinni, yinni, ki a le se mi si (adequate acknowledgment gives fillip to better performance).” It is in this context that I have chosen to commend the pragmatic way the governor and his team have been responding to the challenges.
“Unlike a couple of other states that have been totally draconian in their approaches, the Lagos State governor has been demonstrating balance between compelling, realistic steps and the humanitarian needs of the people. Inasmuch as there is need for total lockdown, the implications are being appropriately weighed against the existence and welfare of the citizens. Commendable is the regular and encouraging daily communication undertaken personally by the governor with the residents of Lagos State. Yes, he has commissioners who ordinarily would be expected to be talking to the people, a situation of this nature requires the man elected himself not to abdicate his responsibility but be heard by the people who elected him. To the people, his countenance, body language, empathy and overall appreciation of their existence really matter. Knowing that we’re fighting a deadly, unseen enemy, the governor ordered that 70 per cent of civil servants should be working from home, the bulk of whom constitutes levels 1 to 12. This was after immediate closure of schools and some other public spaces to stultify the spread of this most dangerous virus. The government has also embarked on sanitization of bus stops and parks normally patronized by the less privileged who must utilize public transportation, a common receptacle and conduit pipe for spreading the virus. The state government has announced a total fumigation and sanitation of the entire state. It is also encouraging the organised private sector to follow suit without being arrogant about it.
All decisions taken by the government so far have been done in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The campaign for reducing number of people in a social gathering to not more than 50, and, later, 20 with social distancing as a government policy of mandatory application among the populace first took root in Lagos, from where other states are copying and implementing with the ferocity it required. A number of churches and mosques with recalcitrant bigots had to be shut down over the last weekend, while some event venues had to be raided to disperse recalcitrant residents. This has brought about prohibition of social events and closure of a number of places of mass gathering, while permitting essential operations and even expanding them in order to bring them nearer to the masses.
Respect for human rights, unlike false imprisonment being imposed on the people in Rivers and a host of other states, and absolute closure of borders in some states, has earned this government some good measure of public appreciation. A few days ago, food provisions for 200,000 households were put in place. The first law on infectious diseases was signed by him to provide legal framework and backing to steps taken and to be embarked upon in the future. This clearly positions him as a rule-of-law governor.
In light of the foregoing, it is clear that all the steps taken so far are not only considerate of the people, but also substantially respects the human rights of the people, particularly corporate citizens. The governor continues to exhort the people to respect the directives in the interest of all. Essentials are being brought nearer to the people by further establishing neighborhood markets. The government, recognizing its inability to fully financially support the system, particularly in the face of the recent explosion that has displaced a large number of people, has been treating the threat of Covid-19 largely in a most civil way.
One remarkable thing about the governor is his ability to listen to others. He is ever receptive to suggestions, which he implements after exhaustive interrogation. I recall recently after the gas explosion his responses, which a PDP chieftain in Lagos State could not resist by giving kudos to the Governor Sanwo-Olu for his humility and receptiveness to other people’s opinions, unlike some other government officials who wear arrogance like a badge all the time. By implementing sensible suggestions made by others, Sanwo-Olu is worming his way into the hearts of many critics. He reaches out to people who can make meaningful contribution to the development of the state.
A cheering piece of news is that at least eight Covid-19 positive patients have been discharged, having fully recovered. This is an achievement that proves that infection by Covid-19 does not amount to a death sentence. A cheering news for the citizens and that which will encourage others who probably want to hide their status to definitely come out as Covid-19 is after all an ailment and not a stigma. In spite of all, the battle is not yet over. We are not sure we have not just started. The government must not get weary of the need to still step up the game until this monster is defeated.
The nature of Lagos, as an attraction to all Nigerians of different tribes, faith and professions, calls for a consistent and sustained campaign towards defeating coronavirus. Available facilities and equipment must be multiplied to meet the increasing needs of the state until the disease is finally defeated. The state government needs to make incentives available to health personnel, too, particularly those in the various other hospitals than the isolation centres. An excited heart stimulates the desire for better performance.
The communication channels should be kept open, while the populace should give the government all necessary support to end the virus. Government officials are definitely at work 24/7 in order to make our stay at home quite productive and effective. They desire our cooperation to overcome the deleterious virus that is threatening human existence.
However, I strongly recommend the offset of all energy costs incurred by households in Nigeria for one month by the Federal Government to encourage the stay at home advocacy. As recently hinted by one of the brilliant members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Jimi Benson, this is not likely to be beyond the sum of N60 billion. My other thoughts on appropriate measures to be taken are already interrogated elsewhere. As Gov. Cuomo of New York rightly situates it, this is not a sprint but a marathon.