Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, was, last Tuesday, unequivocal in observing that the country had to make an urgent decision in its fight against COVID-19. Complaining that a lack of responsibility and reluctance to comply with health and safety guidelines had permeated Nigeria and threatened the gains the country had recorded in checking the spread of the coronavirus, he sounded almost rueful that the lockdown was lifted. To lend credence to his verdict, he revealed statistics that affirmed an exponential rate of increase in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, and said citizens must play their part.
Said Mr Mustapha: “Our failure to take responsibility threatens the gains we have recorded, which is not good for our large population. Let me give you a vivid picture of how this virus has spread across our nation by timelines: April 16,442 cases; May 16,5621 cases; June 16,17148 cases. We really have a choice to make and it is urgent. We use this opportunity to renew our call to the medical practitioners and hospitals not to neglect other diseases and ailments because of COVID-19.”
His agitation is understandable, and his position can hardly be faulted or dismissed, as Nigerians indeed observably romance the virus, flirt with its transmission process, and dare it to do its worst. Citizens and their leaders make bold and daring appearances on the broadcast media daily violating social distancing and ineffectively positioning their facemasks either on the chin or on just the one ear. In fact, in Edo State, where Governor Godwin Obaseki appeared more concerned than most governors and had gazetted regulations aimed at keeping the virus at bay during the electioneering process, Nigerians have been treated to a shocking display of carelessness. The governor, upon defection to the People’s Democratic Party, appeared in the middle of a raucous crowd paying no heed to social distancing and the use of a facemask.
However, Mr Mustapha omitted one key element in determining the factors that have contributed to the disturbing spread of the virus. While he has noted the increase in infection, he has not done the same with the increase in testing. At the end of March, there were 139 recorded cases of infection with two deaths, while the number of tests conducted were unknown. By the end of April, the recorded cases of infection had risen by 1290% (1932 cases), while deaths had climbed by 2800% (58), with a testing total of 15759. May 31st saw an increase in infection by 426% (10162 cases), increase in death by 395% (287 deaths) and increase in testing rate by 305% (63882 tests). This month alone, infection rate has increased by 117% (22020 cases), deaths have risen by 89% (542) and testing has been increased by 88% (120108).
Before coming to a decision or a suggestion concerning a second lockdown, Mr Mustapha and the PTF must help establish whether there is a correlation between increase in testing and virus prevalence. They must also help the country understand why the death rate, though still small by world standards, is still way higher than, say, Ghana’s. And, they must also not fail to help the country understand why Ghana, which had a higher infection rate than Nigeria in the early weeks of the pandemic, has now been outpaced by Nigeria, despite the former easing lockdown earlier than Nigeria.
If the country were to go into a second lockdown at a time when its economy is leaning towards recession, then the government has its work cut out for it. The nature of palliatives distributed during the first lockdown and the manner of its distribution invited ridicule from Nigerians home and abroad. The country’s financial might cannot match those of the western world, yet even they are not amenable to the idea of locking down the country and economy anymore. To the contrary, they are lifting lockdowns against their better judgement. Moreover, there were high chances of the virus spreading while the palliatives were handed out due to the volume of people thronging disorderly at static locations where they were shared. It was cringe-making.
Every decision needs to be carefully thought out and planned, with proper focus on the losses likely to be suffered, as well as the gains to be enjoyed. While Nigerians must step up and display more responsibility, the government needs to justify the responsibility reposed in it to make and enforce policies for the peace, order, safety and best interest of all Nigerians.