COVID-19: Random Musing over Lockdown

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By Joseph Ushigiale

The two weeks lockdown ordered by the federal government as a result of the novel COVID -19 pandemic ravaging the world today including Nigeria, leading to a forced lockdown in designated states like. Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ended last Sunday. After a careful appraisal of the effectiveness of the lockdown, it was extended by another two weeks by President Muhammadu Buhari who noted that given the stark realities unraveling on the ground, an extension was inevitable and imperative if the virus is to be contained.

The president, relying on statistics from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), noted in a recent nationwide broadcast to justify the need for an additional 14-day extension that “we had 131 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 12 States on 30th March 2020. We had two fatalities then. This morning, Nigeria had 323 confirmed cases in twenty States. Unfortunately, we now have ten fatalities. Lagos State remains the center and accounts for 54% of the confirmed cases in Nigeria. When combined with the FCT, the two locations represent over 71% of the confirmed cases in Nigeria.”

He pointed out that “Most of our efforts will continue to focus on these two locations. The majority of the confirmed cases in Lagos and the FCT are individuals with recent international travel history or those that came into contact with returnees from international trips.”

Furthermore, the president noted that “By closing our airports and land borders and putting strict conditions for seaport activities, we have reduced the impact of external factors on our country. However, the increase in the number of States with positive cases is alarming. The National Centre for Disease Control has informed me that, a large proportion of new infections are now occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. So we must pay attention to the danger of close contact between person to person.”

The lockdown that went into force since March 30, has thrown up a lot of questions challenging the government’s decision to opt for a total lockdown of some states without taking into cognizance the socio-economic peculiarities of the people including exposing a new dimension of official tardiness.

Locked in this argument on one side are those who believe that the government would have devised a more robust, pragmatic and proactive approach by adapting to the cultural traits as well as the socioeconomic realities of an average Nigerian. This group believes that since the government and the private sector can only provide few jobs for the people, the majority of these Nigerians survive on the streets on a daily basis.

Therefore, stopping them from plying their trades and locking them down over a period of time without the provision of meaning palliatives would provoke negative results.

Yet, others believe that the federal government must adopt the current standard global practice of locking down an entire state or country to stem the spread of the virus as was recently observed in Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, currently in the United States of America and previously in China.

The reality today, however, suggests that each country needs to study its peculiar nature and evolve appropriate policies that would be embraced by the people so that in the long run, the objectives could be achieved. There are several reasons why Nigeria should not adopt a one solution cures all approach to follow the standard global practice.

First, according to the president, the infections have moved from Nigerians who traveled abroad at about the period of the outbreak to the communities. Why would a responsible government allow this to happen with all the evident forewarnings from abroad? It is quite evident that the administration went to sleep and exposed the silent majority to what we are about to start experiencing shortly- explosion of infections in communities.

With daily information on what was happening in China, Italy, Spain, Germany and the USA, the federal government ought to have been prepared ahead by ordering the closure of the country’s borders and all entry points into the country. Since that was not done, it was expected that all incoming travelers from abroad ought to be screened and quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

Again that was not done because according to reliable sources, one of the president’s daughters was abroad. The federal government swung into action only after she was safely back into the country, by which time, a lot of damage had been done and hundreds of infected persons coming from abroad had slipped into the country and vanished into thin air with the virus.

Today, some of these people, have become the primary sources of the spread that is currently permeating the communities across the country. It is such tardiness that has provoked an investigation in the United States of America to unravel whether intelligence failed to provide intel resources highlighting any threat to U.S interests either internally or from abroad; also why the U.S government failed to act to protect U.S interest. While people are being called to account in the U.S., in Nigeria, government officials are carrying on as if the lives of vulnerable Nigerians do not matter.

Second, our officials are often quick to align with standard global practices only when they suit their purposes. From experience, standard global practices do not exist in a vacuum. They are products of deliberate consistent policies that lead to the building of a very strong institutional structure upon which policies are driven. Do we have such institutional structures in Nigeria? NO.

What really is institutional structures? To answer the question, again let us go back to the developed economies like the U.S to illustrate this point. As soon as the pandemic broke in that country, President Donald Trump announced a stimulus package including palliatives for Americans, their businesses, etc, to cushion the hardship that would kick in from the lockdown. That could only be possible because of the availability of dependable demographic data showing clearly the percentage of people who need help, narrowing down to states and precincts. In that way, there is no ambiguity, every transaction is transparently executed with no room for officials to cut corners.

Back home, the federal government announced a N10 billion grant for Lagos state and another humongous amount for Special Intervention Programme (SIP). Unlike in developed countries, it is tales of woes from one community to another. Palliatives and the money have suddenly disappeared into thin air, stolen and embezzled by greedy public officials. The reason is simple: without a strong institutional structure that shows you who is vulnerable, where they reside and all the demographics distribution in the country, there would be no equity, transparency or good corporate governance in the delivery of democracy dividends.

The result as of today is that because the so-called federal government palliatives have been hijacked and have failed to impact on those that they were targeted at and the pangs of hunger ravaging as a result of the lockdown, there is a break down of law and order. In Surulere last night, the police had hectic time fighting off the surge of self-styled 1,000,000 Boys, a group of miscreants that are constituting nuisance and have been a major security threat because of its members’ exploits in arm robbery, carjacking, and sundry misdemeanors.

The government has so far responded with force, ordering more armed policemen, soldiers, and other security forces on the streets to confront these hunger-induced street kids. Since when have bullets, guns and brute force replaced food and the basic necessities of life? Where is the government’s human face in this hour when the majority of the people are in dire need of government intervention? Has the government left them with any other choice than to resort to self-help to keep body and soul together? I do not think so.

As we are at it, my attention was drawn to Buhari’s directive to a committee he set up and headed by the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo to chart a new course for the country post coronavirus. Well, I think the effect of this pandemic is far-reaching than the mandate Buhari has given Osibanjo. In my mind’s eye, I can visualize a new world order that would transform the world in so many ways. I strongly believe that an experiment is ongoing while the entire world is on lockdown. I also believe that there is an unseen eye monitoring our behavioral patterns the outcome of which would be used to create a new world order.

Now, you may disagree with me but our president has inadvertently started this silent revolution. During the week, a picture was published showing the president conducting a meeting with his executive council members via teleconference or Satelite if you like.

In the near future, through new technology, countries would have no choice than to embrace lean governments, reduce wasteful expenditure in office and residential accommodation, abolish needless junketing abroad.

The shocking truth is that soon we are going to find out that all the so-called investment in infrastructure would be money gone down the drain because new ways of doing things would overtake us simply because we failed to visualize and anticipate the future. For instance, how do we cope with driverless cars on the roads we are currently building or operate the future’s unmanned trains on our present single gauge rail system?

Imagine what the country would save from a lean government where government businesses can be conducted from any part of the country or the comfort of your home through secured protocols driven by fast internet data. The yearly budget for the running of the seat of power would be saved, the presidential fleet would be obsolete and of no use. The president can be remotely treated through telemedicine in the comfort of his home without moving an inch and the billions budgeted for the Aso Rock clinic which has no panadol would be saved.

Also, imagine what can be saved if the National Assembly has to adopt disruptive technology to conduct its affairs without physically convening. There would be no billions budgeted for the renovation of the national assembly complex, no constituency projects, no budget for residential quarters, exotic cars, etc. It would be a new dawn that would herald part-time legislation.

In the private sector like banks, there would be inevitable financial inclusion and banks would shift from the current model to a new one driven by technology. No tellers, no banking hall, staff would be reduced to the barest minimum and essential staff only.

The manufacturing sector would be upgraded to adopt robots that would replace man. An online business would perhaps be disrupted by the introduction of drones that would take orders and deliver at a customer’s doorstep. That is how every part of the economy would be impacted at the end of the pandemic.

Therefore, the federal government should get serious and begin its post-pandemic strategy by interrogating how the inevitable arrival of disruptive technology which would be driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning impacts us as a country.

How do we position to join the global community in this journey, what needs to be done and how? What is the time frame and at what cost? Of course, there is no time to waste because the time is obviously now.