The saboteurs and the unbelievers
Federal and state governments need to be more serious in enforcing the regulations aimed at chaining COVID-19. It is a matter of life and death. No nation can joke with that. The co-ordination between the federal and state authorities appears ragged at the moment. I thought the primary responsibility of the presidential task force was to act as the national co-ordinating agency in ensuring that states observe whatever regulations are issued by the federal authorities based on the informed advice of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. This does not appear to be happening. It is the wrong road to victory over the virus.
I had warned in this column before that allowing the states to act independently in the way they are doing now would be chaotic and defeat whatever regulations are put in place to save us as a people. I am afraid, this is exactly what is happening now. Each state governor appears protective of his powers to decide what happens in his state. This is a federal system after all; it guarantees each governor a measure of autonomy and independent action within his state. There is an urgent need to pause and see if 37 centres of power, each asserting its right to do as it wishes, in tackling COVID-19 represents a logical, co-ordinated and determined national battle against the killer virus. The time is now.
The news continues to get worse on the pandemic front. More and more people are being infected by the virus. On May 21, the NCDC reported new cases had brought the total number of those infected to 6,677 with 200 deaths. This virus does not intend to show mercy or become history soon nationally or globally. In the face of this escalation, Bauchi, Cross River and Bayelsa have lifted the ban on places of worship. Is this defiance or foolishness?
Our anti-coronavirus war faces at least four critical challenges. The first is the resistance by the state governments to make the federal authorities fully own the battle against the virus. Its capacity to assume full powers over the nation and make the state governors its foot soldiers is undermined by the state governors who appear unwilling to yield to superior authority.
The second is the comprehensive sabotage of the restrictions on inter-state movements. Travellers tell harrowing stories of the police rendering the restriction order a nullity by taxing motorists at the numerous checkpoints. You pay, you pass. That the law men have turned this into a money-making opportunity at our collective expense is no small challenge for the government. There is a huge problem when those statutorily charged with enforcing the law breaks it at the sight of Naira notes. How the federal and state authorities can ensure even a 30 per cent compliance with the inter-state movement restrictions is anybody’s guess.
The third challenge is the counter-productive behaviour of religious leaders who continue to mislead their congregants about the virus and its reach. Some of them do not believe it exists and preach this to their followers – the poor, harried men and women, who give the little they have to support the lavish and opulent lifestyles of these sleek liars who promise what they cannot deliver – heaven. They pressurise some state governors to reopen places of worship even when they know it is not wise or safe to do so. The governors bend rather than allow themselves to be divinely broken on the say-so of the preachers. If they are truly miracle-working men of God, let them demonstrate it by making COVID-19 history now. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome even reportedly chided fellow pastors for allowing the governments to shut down their places of worship, as if being a pastor makes him anything but a bible-wielding exploiter of the poor.
A few days ago, the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, complained that Oyakhilome’s LoveWorld Television Ministry aired false and “potentially harmful statements” about the coronavirus and the new 5G. Part of the sermon on the network claimed that 5G was the cause of the pandemic. Said Ofcom: “Another report during the programme suggested hydroxychloroquine as a ‘cure’ for COVID-19, without acknowledging that its effectiveness and safety as a treatment was clinically unproven, or making it clear that it has potentially serious side effects.”
According to Ofcom, “the sermon included unsubstantiated claims linking the pandemic to 5G technology as well as claims which cast serious doubt on the necessity for lockdown measures and the motives behind official health advice on COVID-19, including in relation to vaccination.”
Our own broadcast regulatory agency, NBC, should wake up too and stop the pastors from spreading the poison of ignorance in order to keep the collection plates full.
The fourth challenge comes from people in responsible official positions who speak of the virus as if they have problems with common sense. On May 7, the governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, chided everyone for creating panic and fear about the COVID-19 spread in the country. He told the federal health team sent to the state that “there are so many merchants now marketing COVID-19 as if that is our priority.”
I should think it takes a wise politician not to know that saving lives was, is, and shall always remain mankind’s priority. When I read the governor’s statement in which he also told fellow Nigerians to be “courageous enough” to tell COVID-19 to return to China from whence it came, I was torn between taking him seriously as a political leader and admitting him into my red book as an alawada comic relief.
Bello was serious about his contempt for the killer virus and the global panic that attends it. He would not let the team do its work and they returned to Abuja the next day. He once claimed that the state had developed an application for containing the virus. Mercifully, he has since denied it. But here is what he told the health term that showed his courage and leadership when all of us are quaking in our under wears: “We should be courageous enough to say that COVID-19 has no space in Nigeria. Not by taking samples. You have over 2,000 across the country. What are you doing with them? You have released over 400 or 500, what did you use in treating them that cannot be publicised because we call it war.”
He accused both the NCDC and WHO of inflating the number of deaths from coronavirus to create panic. After all, he said, as of May 7, COVID-19 had killed fewer people (107) than Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, road accidents, hunger, malaria, heart attack and Lassa fever. He said that state governors too were claiming high mortality rates in their states in order to receive funding from the federal government and other donor agencies.
This guy is for real. I find his solution to the virus entirely gubernatorial, as in progressive thinking. He recommended that we all summon enough courage to tell COVID-19 in English or Chinese, to return to its home country, China. That’s it would take to bid good-bye to Covid-19. I am yet to know of a state governor with such a profoundly sound solution to the pandemic. As usual, I look on the bright side because if COVID-19 packs up and leaves, we would no longer need doctors and hospitals. Our only weapon would be the courage to tell diseases to return to their countries of origin or die. Lucky people, Kogi, for having such a man as their governor.