BY SHAKA MOMODU (THIS REPUBLIC)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record and no matter what some persons might think or say, I will continue to say that there is total lack of leadership in all aspects of our national life. The current leadership of our serially forsaken and immeasurably betrayed country is more interested in its own welfare and self-preservation. The security of lives and properties is low on its list of priorities. It is for this reason that our country is at the bottom of the ladder of human development. Things are going wrong in Nigeria; problems seem to be coming from a bottomless pit.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to the outbreak of the dreaded Coronavirus disease in the country remains a shameful dereliction or worse still, abdication of duty. Despite early warning signals and the gift of time to prepare and take preventive measures to protect Nigerians and minimise as much as possible the risks to the population, this incompetent and aloof government failed to take decisive preventive actions. Instead, it left the country’s borders and airspace wide open for potential carriers of the virus from all over the world to enter our country. Now we are facing a potential national health emergency that our derelict healthcare system can’t cope with.
From one, two, three and at the last count, 12 cases of positive carriers, who might have mingled with more people than we have the capacity to track down and isolate, the danger to the general population has now increased several-fold. The question is: why did the government display so much lethargy that it took it so long to restrict entry of travellers from high-risk countries into Nigeria? From the date of the first index case to the growing number of positive tests for Coronavirus, why did this government not see the need to take this virus that is burning through the populations of several other far more advanced countries more seriously?
We are watching how other countries with better equipped healthcare systems are struggling to contain, mitigate and combat the spread of the virus. We are seeing the extreme measures being taken by the advanced nations. Instead of taking urgent proactive measures to fortify the airports, impose travel restrictions from high-risk countries and unveil a comprehensive plan to address the pandemic, the president was asleep at the wheel, while his lieutenants played politics with the health of Nigerians.
At a time of global health emergency, there is no one to show leadership. The president has so far failed to talk to Nigerians like other world leaders are doing on a daily basis to reassure their people while rolling out a raft of measures to deal with the crisis in their respective countries. All Nigerians get from Buhari is radio silence. The president has not felt the need to address the people he governs about the virus. He has not reassured a fear-gripped country. He has mismanaged and failed to take preventive measures with the gift of time we had. He failed to learn from the mistakes of other nations. We must lay the blame for the present situation on President Buhari and his government.
It is baffling to any sane person why Nigeria adamantly refused to restrict flights from countries where the virus had become prevalent until the situation took a turn for the worse. Smaller African countries with more purposeful leadership took more proactive measures that Nigeria refused to take to protect the health of its citizens. Our incompetent leadership only felt the need to act after the virus appeared to have gained a foothold in the country. Now it is spreading and there is not one to turn to.
You see, the United States wasted no time in imposing travel restrictions on China which is one of its biggest trading partners in the world. The whole continent of Europe which is America’s ally was placed on total flight ban into the U.S. as soon as it became the new epicenter of the rampaging invincible enemy. Countries are taking extraordinary measures, even war-time measures never thought possible in the modern era in efforts to contain the spread of the virus and keep their populations safe, viz. borders being closed, public transportation, pubs, hotels, cinemas, schools, parks, etc, are being shut down around the world.
The virus is causing unprecedented disruptions in global supply chains, a sharp reduction in crude oil prices, turmoil in global stocks and financial markets, widespread cancellations in sporting, entertainment and business events, ban of large swaths of movements of persons in many countries, and intercontinental travel restrictions across critical air routes in the world. The impacts have been tremendous with serious adverse implications for key sectors, particularly for the oil and gas, airlines, manufacturing, trade and consumer markets, etc.
The Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia took immediate proactive actions as early as February 27, by temporarily suspending entry of foreigners for pilgrimage and tourism purposes, preventing travel to the country’s holiest sites over fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus. It recorded its first case on March 2. Compare that to Nigeria which recorded its first case on February 27 of an Italian who arrived two days earlier before developing symptoms and yet did nothing,
Even after the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the virus a global health pandemic on March 11, our government didn’t feel the need to scale up its preparedness of what was clearly once in a lifetime health threat to the world’s population. The WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom had warned that “in the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries to climb even higher”. And now, the warning lights are gradually turning red. The world health body also declared categorically, “Countries must take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, built around a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimise impact.”
But what we have seen over the past couple of weeks is a president and his government that are sleeping on duty. Nothing matters to them except the politics of who gets what and how. While Buhari has failed to speak on the global health pandemic, he was billed to attend the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to decide the fate of the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole before the meeting was put off, few hours to its commencement.
It is saddening that Buhari has been missing in action in the face of a national emergency. He has remained mute. There is no hope he will ever speak on the Coronavirus. There is no one to rally the nation to national self-preservation. No one to reassure a fearful people like other world leaders are doing, no one to rouse and lift the national spirit in the face of a deadly attack by an unseen enemy. Even as officials of his government are struggling to fill the void of the President’s dereliction of duty, there is no denying the fact that it is his aloofness to pressing matters of state, that has been the hallmark of a man who swept to power in 2015 on the change mantra.
His persistent cold, seemingly unconcerned attitude and lack of empathy towards victims of tragedies continue to sour the national psyche. With each new record silence, is a mortifying emblem that degrades our collective self-esteem. Buhari is just too detached and absent from the realities of his peoples’ daily existence, especially at a time like this when many are in need of a father-figure president.