Getting Nigerians Back to Work

16
Ring True with Yemi Adebowale, Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; Tel: 08054699539 (text only)

Ring true
Phone number 08054699539
Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

Coronavirus is definitely not a pun. I agree that there should be a degree of lockdown to tackle this evil. However, I don’t agree with the total lockdown imposed by the federal government in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. There is also a total lockdown forced on some states by their governors. Complete lockdown can’t end COVID-19 in months; for me, Coronavirus is another form of fever that will remain with us for a long time. The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, agrees, saying the virus will be around for a long time. Government should impose what I call tactical lockdown and expand access to testing, isolation and treatment. We should swiftly embrace a broader rollback of the lockdown without harming the war against COVID-19. This will even give us a better result if implemented with commitment. I will go into this in details later.

We have already created a monster with the ongoing total lockdown. We will be creating a bigger one as the total lockdown persists. Already, there is hunger, unemployment, violence by hungry people/delinquents and frustration in the land. These kill faster than COVID-19 and will slay more Nigerians than the virus. This is because we operate a “chop as you go” economy. It is pertinent to balance the risk of this virus against these other monsters. Most people must go out daily before they can feed. It is only in government ministries, departments and agencies that people get paid without working. Of course, our over-pampered political office holders at all levels will also get paid for not working. It is not like that in the private sector. Factories that are not producing are not paying workers forced to sit at home. Businesses that have been stalled by the total lockdown will not pay sedentary staff locked at home.

The so-called COVID-19 palliatives for the weak and exposed people are still not getting to a large number of people. The states are struggling with their intervention programmes; governors are still not reaching a large number of exposed people. The Social Investment Programme of the federal government is not doing better. It’s a big flop. The SIP disbursements aimed at assuaging the plight of poor Nigerians against COVID-19 have been abysmal, while most of the beneficiaries are largely ghosts. I remember the leadership of the National Assembly telling the Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Farouq, that the SIP must be urgently reformed to genuinely impact on lives.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan recently voiced concerns during the encounter with Hajia Farouq: “I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN. In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out.” Well, things have not changed and will most probably not change in SIP’s mode of operation while COVID-19 lockdown lasts.

Total lockdown in an under-developed country like ours destroys the people and the economy.

We can’t afford to adopt fully this lockdown strategy of the Western world. There is already so much frustration in the country; we have to ease restrictions on businesses and the economy. In these organised Western systems, the palliatives are logically dished out. No fuse, no stress. For example, in the United States, any adult that did not earn up to $100,000 in 2019 automatically gets $1200 stimulus credited to his account. There is also $500 stimulus per child in a family.

In the United Kingdom, full time workers in the private sector will be paid 80 per cent of their wages by the state for the next three months. Part time workers, self-employed workers and businesses are also getting some help from the British government. That’s how a decent government can retain human beings at home without risking hunger, lawlessness and massacre. In these Western countries, people can afford to be fully locked without having to worry about what to eat. Nigerians can’t just be locked with no cash, no foodstuff and their source of revenue shut. There will be a natural resistance. Some will be bloody as we are experiencing in some parts of Lagos and Ogun states. Here, hungry people are walking into homes in search of food and money, and attacking people. Some shops with food are being forcefully opened. Criminal gangs are going about in Lagos and Ogun communities, stealing and maiming. We have also started witnessing protests in places like Delta State, where Sapele women came out angrily and in Anambra State. Security agents are not helping matters. In the last four weeks of enforcing the lockdown, they have gunned down 23 innocent Nigerians across the states.

Evidently, we can’t practice a decent total lockdown. So, Nigeria has to partially open the economy and allow people to return to work while applying “tactical” lockdown. Offices and factories can operate with prescribed strict social distancing; highest level of hygiene with adequate protective wears. Public transport will also adopt these strict measures. With tactical lockdown, mass gatherings like religious services, sports, festivities and bars will remain suspended. Schools at all levels will remain shut. Local and international flights/inter-state movement will remain suspended.

Tactical lockdown should be accompanied by expanded access to testing, isolation and treatment. All tertiary and accredited private health institutions should be involved in testing, isolation and treatment; and these should be free. Of course, with tactical lockdown, the weak will still be exposed. There should be pragmatic stimulus for them. Some people have talked about using BVN to reach out to exposed Nigerians in the towns and cities. This makes sense. People with less than N5000 balance in their accounts should have at least N20,000 credited to them and not a miserable N5000 being speculated. Credible community leaders/Community Development Associations should be used to hand out cash to exposed Nigerians in rural areas.

Fellow African country, Tanzania, has partly adopted this tactical lockdown. The result has been impressive. In fact, the World Bank Group applauded Tanzania’s unique approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic and thanked President John Magufuli for not duplicating policies implemented in advanced countries, as pasted by some African countries. It described Tanzania as one of the best examples that considered the best for its political economy and well-being of the society in rolling out anti-COVID-19 measures.

With 32 COVID-19 confirmed cases, three deaths and five recoveries, Tanzania, unlike other African countries, has not locked down businesses and its citizens. The country has not also closed its borders but initiated strict testing and 14 days quarantine of all arrivals from abroad. The World Bank report warns of catastrophic consequences to sub- Saharan countries that have copied and pasted anti COVID-19 policies of Western countries.

I also find a piece titled, “Why lockdowns may not be the answer in Africa,” published recently by bbc.co.uk, instructive. The piece, authored by Alex de Waal and Paul Richards, contends that lockdowns may be simply unworkable in Africa. They wrote: “It is clear that each African country will have to design its own response, suitable for its own need. Only a few African countries, such as Rwanda and South Africa, have the capacity to administer a centralised strategy…If basic livelihoods cannot be secured, a comprehensive lockdown is not practical. Poor people will prefer the lottery of infection over the certainty of starvation. African countries cannot close its fresh produce markets or people will starve.

But market goers can readily work out how to reduce the risks of transmission, through measures such as better hygiene, crowd control, and physical barriers such as polythene sheeting at point of sale.”

The writers urged African leaders to involve ordinary people in choosing the solutions that will work for them and to also explore local variants of isolation, movement restriction, contact tracing and quarantine.

I guess this is why Northern governors are opposed to a total lockdown of their states. They argue that “total lockdown of the region will come at a very high cost since most of its citizens are farmers who need to go to farms since the rains have started.”

So, the federal government should not extend the current total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. The growing resistance by the people might throw the entire anti-COVID-19 war into crisis if pragmatic actions are not taken. My prescribed “tactical lockdown” should be cuddled in the interest of the masses and the economy.

A Word for Tukur Buratai

My dear Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, I have spent quality time reading your remarks, while speaking to My dear Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, I have spent quality time reading your remarks, while speaking to troops at Ngamdu Special Super Camp in Borno State on April 13, during the Easter celebration. You vowed not to return to Abuja until the war against Boko Haram is completed. Was this not the same Boko Haram you told Nigerians had been defeated about three years ago? I can still remember you presenting Abubakar Shekau’s flag and Quran to President Buhari, as a symbol of the victory. Well, at least it’s now clear that the war is far from over. Your speech to the troops was quite inspiring after relocating fully to the North-east to oversee the whole operation in the theatre of war. I heard you telling the troops at Ngamdu Special Super Camp that you regretted the insurgency had lasted for too long but gave assurances that in no time, Boko Haram would be defeated.

You declared to the battle-weary troops: “We are here; we will not leave this camp until we substantially degrade these criminals. God willing, we shall be there with you, no going back once we commence. We will be with you in the valleys, on the hill, in the jungle, in the river and so on. As I speak now, we have some elements providing us necessary intelligence and once we start, no going back. We are here and we will make sure that we get ourselves properly motivated, properly equipped and I assure you will have the best of time.

“We want the best out of you. We need your courage and determination. I want you to have at the back of your minds that Mr. President is solidly behind you. We have already started getting the consignment of what we require for us to handle these insurgency and terrorism. It is a matter of time and a very short time.”

Beloved army chief, you have to go beyond these verbal assurances. The truth that must be told is that these gallant soldiers are poorly motivated and poorly equipped. This situation has been very bad under your command. It’s not enough telling them that you had started getting the consignment of requirement for handling the terrorists. You must deliver quality equipment and quality motivation. We’ve had so many incidents of soldiers protesting against poor equipment. The morale of our gallant soldiers is low because of the failed military leadership. I will never forget a scene at the Maiduguri airport few years back when soldiers resisted posting to the war zone over a number of genuine issues. Most of them have over-stayed on the war front, contrary to the professional standard. There are also issues with tactical air support for your ground troops.

The war against Boko Haram has been on for too long. It’s going to be 11 years this year.

Many see you as a major hindrance to the war against the terrorists. You have stayed for so long with very little result to show. I also see you as a major problem. Many believe the big boys in the military don’t want the war to end because they are benefitting from it. I also hold that very strong feeling. I sincerely hope that this time around, you will prove us wrong. I am hoping that you would truly not return to Abuja until the coldblooded Boko Haram fighters are decapitated. Nigerians are tired. The pain in the North-east is unprecedented. Close to a million people in this area are languishing in IDP camps. They can’t go home because their villages and towns are dominated by terrorists. Thousands of innocent Nigerians have been killed, with thousands of women turned to widows and children to orphans. An estimated 2000 soldiers have been killed by the terrorists. Buratai, you must end this madness this time around. Just do it.