Matters arising amidst COVID-19

By Khalifa Musa Muhammad
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Not for ourselves alone are we born – Marcus Tulius Cicero

Today, the main topic of discussion globally is COVID-19. This is an infectious disease caused by a virus that can be transmitted through droplets from the nose or mouth. This disease has neither vaccine nor a cure and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). So far, the preventive measures are: social distancing, frequent hand washing with soap, use of hand rub (sanitizers) and face mask.

On 27 February 2020, Nigeria recorded its first COVID-19 case. By 9 March 2020 President Buhari had constituted a Presidential Task Force (PTF) to tackle the spread of the virus. Fast forward to 9 May 2020, Nigeria has recorded 4151 cases. Our health system is comatose and the spread of this virus can easily overwhelm it if care is not taken. Nigeria’s healthcare is in terrible shape. Our leaders never really cared simply because they could always travel abroad for better medical attention. To even get centers for testing the novel virus has not been easy.

On 22 April 2020 testing of the virus was suspended in Kano which is Nigeria’s most populous state. It was until 28 April 2020 that testing resumed in Kano. With the rapid rise in cases in the country, six days were wasted to get the lab back to work. The reason why the Kano situation is very scary is that the index case was alleged to have visited numerous places and interacted with people. This has been followed by mysterious deaths in the state linked to COVID-19. The lame duck, lackluster and lethargic showing of the state government, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and federal government shows how unprepared we can be.

With no testing centers, presumed unconfirmed positive cases and rise in the number of deaths; the confidence, cool and calm in Kano people were threatened by fear and panic. To rub salt in the wound, it was alleged that the state COVID-19 task force could not function because some of the members had been infected.

The state government could not do anything to restore confidence in the people of Kano. For the umpteenth time, the governor shot himself in the foot. No thanks to the bribe taking videos, the 2019 gubernatorial polls and dethronement of the revered Muhammadu Sanusi II amongst others. The mismanagement of the situation and bad public relations is pathetic.

Surprisingly, Kano has rich and influential individuals with at least four universities not to mention other tertiary institutions that can contribute to tacking the pandemic. How come the governor did not rally around such resources at his disposal to make things better? After so much pressure on the mishandling of the Kano issue. By 5 May 2020 Kano has three testing centers with capacity of testing more than six hundred samples in a day.

In Kaduna, amidst the pandemic the state government imposed lockdown to curb the spread. This is commendable. An Imam and a pastor flouted the directive and were sanctioned. The Imam did not know that it is wrong for someone to eat garlic or onions and then go to the Mosque.

As at 5 May 2020 Kaduna has had 65 COVID-19 cases from almajiri repatriated from Kano. This callous action by the Kano state government is disappointing, dismal and doleful. In Islam, during an epidemic it is advised that we should neither visit nor leave infected towns. Now Kano has compounded the situation for Kaduna.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has adverse economic implication. Kaduna State government had to slash 25% of the salary of some workers. This is worrisome considering the fact there is hike in prices of commodities. The marriage of lockdown and salary cut will likely produce hardship.

Lagos is the epicenter of the virus in Nigeria. The active cases in Lagos are over a thousand and much of the spread has been attributed to community transmission. On 4 May 2020 the lockdown in Lagos was relaxed partially. Regarding how the virus spreads, fear is gripping Nigerians on the possibility of wildfire spread. A study by a team from Yusuf Maitama Sule University Kano has projected the possibility of having 868,700 and 919,000 cases in Lagos and Kano respectively by mid-June and early July if the restriction is relaxed completely.

This is a difficult moment for Nigeria: the poverty capital of the world. People are now caught up between the fear of hunger and COVID-19. Pilfering is now the survival technique by some individuals. Provision of welfare and security of citizens is the utmost priority of the government. Government should ensure that sharing of palliatives is transparent so that the bulk of the vulnerable benefit.

Hoarding of goods is now the order of the day and prices have risen exponentially. Just like how NCDC is at the forefront battling the dreadful COVID-19. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) should also be striving to curtail the rapid rise in prices of goods and services. The control of prices is in the exclusive legislative list of our constitution. So the PTF should have sub-committee that will work hand-in-hand with FCCPC and state governments to fight the inhumane act by the misguided individuals that hoard goods and inflate prices.

The executive at the federal and state levels need to pass executive orders to ameliorate sufferings. Furthermore, the National Assembly and state legislatures should expedite action on passing laws and resolutions that will support the respective executive arms. Like the seizure of hoarded goods and then distributing to Nigerians. Any individual that makes life difficult for Nigerians at this moment is an enemy of the state. Government should not hesitate to prosecute such persons.

There are ample Nigerians that do not believe in COVID-19. We have seen videos making the rounds were individuals are willing to see and hold COVID-19 patients. The National Orientation Agency should liaise with traditional rulers, stakeholders and clerics on sensitizing Nigerians on the virus.

Non adherence to the preventive measures by individuals contributes to the rapid spread of the virus. With no vaccine and cure, our best bet is still the lockdown because of its diffused benefits. The production of soaps, face masks and sanitizers for easy access to every Nigerian is our collective responsibility. We have the highest poor people in the world and at the same time there are wealthy people in Nigeria. We should endeavor to share with the poor to alleviate poverty and save lives.

COVID-19 has badly hit economies globally. Countries will go into recession and depression. This will give room for massive lay-off. Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on crude oil whose price has sharply declined. No wonder the federal government and some state governments have not fully paid April 2020 salary. The whole issue of this pandemic is disheartening, depressing and disturbing. Nigeria must start strategizing on post COVID-19 for the betterment of the nation. All hands must be on deck.

Khalifa Musa Muhammad is the Research Officer of Kaduna Youth and Community Development Volunteers. He can be reached on twitter @MalamWiz

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