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‘COVID-19 pandemic should serve as wake-up call for Nigeria’

Udeogaranya

Chief Charles Udo Udeogaranya is one of the youths that took advantage of the Not Too Young To Run Act 2018 and sought to take over the mantle of leadership of the country from President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2019 general election. In this interview, the former Lagos State chairman of the defunct African Renaissance Party (ARP) and former chairman of Lagos League of Political Parties (LLPP), says the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for the country to get its acts together and make good use of its resources. He supports the gradual easing of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states but urges Nigerians to strictly adhere to the preventive measures advised by medical professionals.

How would you evaluate the Federal Government’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country so far?
I want to believe that the Federal Government is doing its best to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country, but unfortunately, their best is not good enough. 

When you ask a nation of about 200 million to stay home, good and responsible governance suggests that you make provision for sufficient palliatives distributed to all Nigerians evenly without being nepotistic about it. You also embark on a proactive local and international search for remedies for and cure of the pandemic as we see in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Senegal and Madagascar. But that was not and has not been the case with Nigeria. And so, once again we have performed poorly.

The distribution of palliatives is one area that many Nigerians are not very satisfied with, just like you mentioned. Having observed the pattern of the distribution, what underlining adjustments do you think should be made going forward?

Demanding for adjustments is like asking a leopard to change his spots. Most Nigerians are aware that the distribution of palliatives by the Federal Government followed the same pattern of every appointment and distribution of public offices since May 29, 2015, that President Muhammadu Buhari took overpower. So, there is nothing new or strange about it; it’s the trademark of this administration. But it is highly condemnable as Nigeria belongs to all of us and therefore government incentives should be evenly distributed to all people of Nigeria without fear or favour.

There are fears that the easing of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states could be counterproductive. Do you think the government acted in haste?
It wasn’t done in haste but you have to look at it from two perspectives, mainly economic reasons and sustenance of government. Those are the reasons a lot of governments around the world have started testing the waters by partially easing lockdowns, although not based on scientific evidence that suggests so. It’s mainly based on economic reasons and sustenance of government. Remember, there is a limit to everything. If you hold the people down too long without palliatives, the tendency of non-recognition of the government and its rules and regulations will set in. That is called anarchy.

In our own case in Nigeria, please recall that those who have died out of clashes with security agencies and robberies prompted by the lockdown and other related issues seemed to have surpassed that of COVID-19 casualties. If they have enough palliatives at their homes, loyalty to law and order would be high; but since the opposite is our reality, easing of lockdown is inevitable or they will do it by themselves and it was already happening. 

However poor and unreliable our demographics are, it’s reasonable that after six weeks of lockdown with virtually no sustainable palliatives for citizens, in addition to non-high records of casualties compared to other nations of our population size, there should be easing of lockdowns with high preventive measures seriously taken by the citizens.

Do you think sending non-indigenes back to their states of origin under any guise as some states have done is a right step to take under the present circumstance?
Our constitution does not recognise the non-indigenes status and so it would amount to propagating what does not exist. But I take it to mean asking citizens to return to their various states of residence.

Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution is very clear. It provides that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.” Also, Section 42 provides that “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject.”

Now, irrespective of the provisions of the constitution, in a pandemic, the usual practice is to freeze movement and quarantine everyone in their places of residence in order to curtail the spread. People in Kano State should remain in Kano State, regardless of their ethnicity and so to people in Lagos State. The virus doesn’t move by itself from place to place rather people move the virus by moving and travelling. Therefore, under no guise should states be allowed to move citizens from one location to another.

The outbreak of coronavirus exposed the rot in the health sector. With the recent admission by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) that the government didn’t know that the situation was so bad, what steps do you think they should take to reposition the sector going forward?
Times without number, many Nigerians have requested our National Assembly to enact a law that will ban every Nigerian government worker from receiving medicare overseas. The thinking is that this would force them to invest in our health sector. So, before COVID-19, there has been a huge outcry over the poor state of our health sector but it went unheeded.

When I was running for the presidency during the 2019 general election, I made it clear that though statistics may not be available, many Nigerians had died when they shouldn’t; many Nigerians became impaired when they shouldn’t; many had suffered in severe ways due to medical negligence, poor-equipment of our hospitals and also hospital malpractices in Nigeria. I made it clear and unambiguous that until our medical practitioners and health care facilities, both private and public, render 100 per cent professional services, incessant foreign medical trips by the elite and monumental loss and damages to average Nigerian medicare seekers will continue.

In a bid to conserve resources to combat the pandemic, some state governments reduced the salaries of political office holders and even public servants by 50 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. What is your take on that?
Majority of our state governments can’t pay salaries as at when due. Yet they are allowed to continue to exist and squander our limited commonwealth by running over bloated governments with multiple aides and advisers. How does the reduction of their salaries affect combating COVID-19? It’s regrettable that after nearly 60 years of independence, we are still behaving like clueless toddlers with no intention of amounting to anything. COVID-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for us to get our acts together and make good and meaningful use of our existence and resources. 

The country is headed for a recession following the effects of coronavirus on the global economy. What critical steps do you think the government should begin to take in order to minimise the impact on Nigerians?
We would be lucky if it is a recession but I think the country is headed for depression if you look at the crisis in the oil market, which is our main source of income. However, as bad as the case may be, the Nigerian government needs to encourage local manufacturing companies, especially in the agro-allied sector, to ensure food security in the country. The government should come up with a robust plan to subsidise its production costs. It can do this by granting them various degrees of tax incentives. This is essential to ensure that Nigerians ease through the impending hardship and other basic necessities of life.

You contested for the presidency in 2019. Assuming you won and is the person at the helm of affairs today, what would you have done differently in the fight against coronavirus? 
I would have ensured that palliatives are evenly distributed, except to Nigerians who exempted themselves and as well encouraged donors to do more than they did with special government honours. I would have encouraged rewarding research projects on effective prevention and curative measures locally and internationally. I would have strictly locked down all densely populated states and cities like Lagos, Kano, Onitsha, Port Hacourt etc and widened express cargo logistics services to render services to citizens during the lockdown period. I would not allow the Central Bank to devalue the naira at a time the demand is at the lowest and thereby throwing panic in the business environment.

What do you think should be Nigeria’s focus post-COVID-19? 
Production, production and production. Yes, local production for self-sustenance. That is the way to go!

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