Timely Warning for a Groaning Nation

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Muhammadu Buhari

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has graced us with his second national broadcast within two weeks, with regards to the complexities and intolerable disruptions that trail the surge and spread of the novel Coronavirus disease, COVID-19, it is important we highlight the critical notes of the moment as the nation hunkers down, hoping for the end of a second two-week isolation.

Admittedly, it makes sense to extend and expand the lockdown… yet the possible indefinite period inserted into the footnote of President Buhari’s speech, which still foretells a further period of agonising do-nothing-but-watch-NCDC-rising-template-of-calamities, is distressing… even when, deep down our frightened hearts, we suspect that there is some merit to it.

However, on the heels of bare-faced stealing, robberies, maiming and killings the few days just after the extension of the lockdown, around Lagos and Ogun states, one is worried about the underlying eruptions searing just beneath the surface. These staccatos of criminal violence were supposedly triggered by extreme unemployment, police/army high-handedness, creeping hunger, lack of access to funds to stockpile foodstuffs, and many other legitimate reasons.

Of course, nothing justifies criminality and lawlessness. However, the government, at all levels, must roll up their sleeves… creatively design and sensibly deploy impactful palliatives and “anti-depressant” measures to quickly cushion the viral effects of the current self-imposed joblessness, frustration and idleness…in our national bid to de-escalate the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

We now see in bold relief the sorry consequence of our eloquent and long-lasting inefficiency, corruption and maladministration. Our major worry should be the wastage of human capital, also known as unemployable and uneducated army of Nigerian youth, who are rearing to express their mindless anger and violence on anything in their sights… Not even excusing poor Nigerians who are equally choking under the weight of governmental neglect and corruption. Yet, anarchy and wanton destruction is not the answer to our sundry problems.

Miscreants whose daily “hustles” have been cut off by the lockdown, and are now terrorising our streets, should be identified, hunted down and taken off the streets. The Nigerian police, though stressed and inadequate as they seem now, should brace up, and bring order and tranquility to our communities. Lest the barricades be flung wide open for frustrated and angry law-abiding citizens adorn themselves with the garb of vigilantes, usurping the power and associated excesses of law enforcement and crime prevention.

The people and government officials who are vested in the success and survival of Nigeria must act quickly to prevent anarchy, and acts likely to escalate the crippling devastation that we basically fear from Coronavirus.

And to the political and economic class, this is the time to step up, and be counted on the side of the ordinary people of Nigeria. This is not a window to misappropriate or siphon badly needed resources. Or inflate costs of consumables, or create artificial scarcity.

I suspect the air this time will nurture curses and ill-will that will spontaneously hit the roof of complacent carpetbaggers and wheeler-dealers in swift and riotous tidal waves.

Let our rulers and leaders be vigilant, proactive and responsive to the wailings and worries of the vulnerable and the poor amongst us.

Just this once, let us act like human beings.

One Lesson From Coronavirus

One of the revelations of COVID-19 in these climes is the abject lack of ideology almost 60 years after independence. We do not know if we are capitalists, or part socialists, part welfarists. We are not sure if communalism to us is same as communism… while our idea of humanism is often confused with idealism. All the “isms” get us so thoroughly misbegotten that everyone who finds himself in power, at different levels of the power grid, foists his or her pet-projects and fancy phrases on us… experimenting with all sorts of Brentwood philosophies, Harvard inspired gobbledygook… and all that arcane theories.

That is partly why COVID-19 met us grossly unprepared to meet the needs of a mere three states in so-called lockdown… where businesses, trades, professions and other commercial activities are grounded, and yet our health-inspired self denial should not be a death sentence or self-inflicted punishment. This is the first quandary: how do we stop people from working or earning a living, yet are expected to obey the restriction order of government, stay safe for their own sakes, and maintain a level of sanitary conditioning, while being manageably well fed? That is a stretch for the best run economies, talk less of a tactless entity.

Even if we have the means as a nation, which is doubtful, to assuage the basic needs of most Nigerians in 37 geographical entities, we hardly have the composite data, the political spunk and sustainable infrastructure to help the needy and vulnerable in moments of extreme anguish.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk, recently stated that the Federal Government had biometric details (I suppose) of about 11 million Nigerians considered vulnerable in 35 states. In a country estimated to be bursting at the seams of 200m, that figure from Farouk is not only laughable, but flies in the face of the suspected 20 million inhabitants of Lagos alone; not to mention that of other two “quarantined” locations, Abuja and Ogun State.

The paucity of sterling administrative and political engineering of Nigeria in the past 50 or more years has become evident in our inability to cope with emergencies and other social distortions. Our police personnel and soldiers are grossly incompetent in effecting restrictive measures… they are barbaric in correcting and coercing violators…some people have been reportedly killed in bloody skirmishes. Our governments are indecisive or unimaginative in pre-enforcement modalities…they are insensitive and negligent in the forceful seizures and wanton destruction of uncontaminated goods and foodstuffs, in a nation cowering in widespread hunger.

The big picture of our national circumstance is sometimes captured in the following sentiments: we lack nothing, yet we have neither…a beggarly waste of space in a land frothing with dynamism and creativity.

If Coronavirus does not reset our thinking and trajectory, as a nation and a people…I’m afraid, nothing will, not even a greater pandemic.