“We are at war!” That was the cry by the Government of Spain in response to the on-going coronavirus pandemic a few days ago. Similar declarations characterise the attitude of the Government of France and some other countries in the global battle against COVID-19 pandemic. Our world has never been so connected as we have it today. In the history of mankind, no health challenge has caused so much disruption to the global system as this virus. The situation in Nigeria has already assumed a disturbing dimension with several top government officials infected and many more observing self-isolation.
While the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD) commends the efforts of the Lagos State Government and the Federal Ministry of Health in providing leadership and good example at this critical time, we believe that government at all levels can and should do more. Nothing could be too much to save the life of every Nigerian citizen. While we commiserate with the families of those who have lost their beloved ones to this disease across the world, we urge the government to do everything possible to save the lives of those already infected and provide adequate facilities to protect other citizens from becoming victims.
This is not the time for politics. The health crisis calls for unity and leadership. At a time like this, while citizens are expected to stay united and support the leadership of the country, political leaders, on their part, are expected to stay above the partisan fray, rally the citizens against this common enemy and communicate hope through their words and actions. A major lesson in history is that, sometimes, the worst times bring out the best in the people. We, therefore, appeal to the nation’s political leaders to show uncommon courage and selflessness in dealing with this crisis.
NDD urges all political leaders, elected and appointed, to stay in touch with their respective constituents and provide true leadership to their people. They should spearhead the nation’s biggest public health campaign across the country. It is in their best interests that citizens observe the preventive measures in their respective constituencies and areas of influence. Besides, as may be applicable, they could facilitate the provision of hand sanitisers, ventilators, face masks, protective gadgets for medical personnel and other medical essentials as part of their constituency projects. Along with this, the Ministries of Information across the country and relevant agencies of government with the support of the media should provide timely information to the citizens. By all means, we must all rise against fake news while profiteers and agents of fake news must be made to face the law.
As a way to bring hope and help closer to the people, we are recommending that, as may be practicable, government should establish more isolation centres and make efforts to have at least one such centre in every Local Government Area in the country. Local Government chairmen, as the closest executives to the people, should have the mandate to coordinate activities at the local level. Besides, government at all levels should provide a special welfare package for all essential service providers who are involved in the battle to combat this scourge. It is also important that the government urgently considers making provision of basic needs like food and health service available to citizens who may be vulnerable while they comply with the order to stay at home.
While recognising the fact that the government alone cannot deal with this crisis, NDD strongly appeals to leaders of religious groups, market and trade groups and the organised private sector to adhere strictly to the various orders of the government on social distancing and observance of basic hygiene. We equally call on Faith-Based and Civil Society Organisations across the country to prepare their members to serve as volunteers to help at this unusual time. Following the recent good gestures by some men and women of goodwill and several corporate organisations in Nigeria, we want to encourage more multi-national organisations and high net-worth individuals to support government’s efforts in all ways possible as part of their civic and social responsibility.
In the same spirit, we want to urge the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to suspend its on-going industrial action. While we appreciate the genuine grounds for ASUU’s action, we wish to implore the body that there is time for everything. Negotiation with the government can resume when this health crisis is over. Nigeria’s most important body of experts cannot stay aloof while the nation deals with this unusual health challenge. If anything, the university lecturers should lead from the front through patriotic efforts in research and timely public policy interventions.
A major lesson that this unfolding crisis has taught us is that the nation has not been smart enough to invest in those basic things that matter most when every other thing in life fails. This crisis has exposed the gross inadequacies in the provision of basic social and physical infrastructure in Nigeria. Ill-equipped hospitals, out-of-date public education system, poor power supply, poor and pricy internet access, non-existent social security programme, lack of reliable data about the citizens, among others, provide real challenges as the nation strives to overcome this disease.
Against this background, NDD calls on the Federal Government to declare a state of health emergency in Nigeria. This is necessary to provide the government with the chance to rally the citizens, take more urgent steps to combat the pandemic and resolve the challenge within the shortest possible time. Wars and battles come in different ways. The whole world is already at war with coronavirus.
May God heal the world. God bless Nigeria.
*Dr. Abdul-Wasi Babatunde Moshood,*
*_Director of Public Affairs_*