It’s understandable why this year’s May 29 went unnoticed. Shola Oyeyipo writes
Economists say ‘Ceteris Paribus’, meaning everything being equal, but everything was not equal last Friday, May 29, 2020, the commemorative date after Nigeria returned to democratic rule 21 years ago on May 29, 1999. The date was devoid of the usual colours of celebration.
It was the day former President Olusegun Obasanjo returned as a civilian president of Nigeria, putting an end to several years of military interregnum and relentless anti-military campaigns and protests.
Though now overtaken by June 12 as Democracy Day, at the federal level, May 29 was usually marked by the convergence of large number of Nigerians, particularly supporters of the ruling party, at Eagle Square, Abuja, while states also celebrate the day at specified places.
It is an event often characterised by pomp and celebration. The president, in his address to the nation, will reel off the gains of his administration, give the people message of hope and assure them on government initiatives targeted at improving the lives of the people.
On the other hand, the civil society, also seize the occasion to celebrate heroes of democracy as well as point out laxities in governance and areas requiring urgent intervention, same as the opposition.
However, the 2020 May 29 Celebration was totally colourless. Except for those keeping good track of dates, most of the people couldn’t even remember what day it was. Why so? The reason is not far-fetched, the Coronavirus pandemic had taken its tolls on all aspects of human existence, Nigeria not excluded.
As at May 29, this year, with over 5.5 million people infected, no fewer than 360, 000 people had died from the disease, which started in December 2019.
Still without a cure and spreading fast, countries across the world implemented lockdown, which compelled citizens to stay at home. There is also social/physical distancing and quarantine, all these are designs intended to mitigate the rate of infection from person to person.
Churches and mosques, schools, hotels, restaurants and other non-essential businesses had since been closed down. It is illegal to gather in a group larger than 10 people in many parts of the people.
Nigeria is having its more than fair share of the pandemic. According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), confirmed cases as at Thursday, May 28 stood at 8,915. Out of that, there were 182 new cases. Only 2,592 had recovered while there are still 6,064 active cases and about 259 people had died from the disease condition.
These statistics is very scary. The fear of it is making a lot of people all over the world to modify their ways of life – nobody wants his or family infected by the presently cureless virus, hence, hardly will people risk gathering to celebrate Democracy Day. That is coupled with the fact that the government herself, which is enforcing lockdown rule, would not think it was wise to gather people.
While there are several other yardsticks through which government performance could have been evaluated on this year’s May 29, if everything had been normal, however, considering that governance and businesses have been negatively impacted for the batter part of the first half of the year, the administration is better assessed on how it is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In a March 24 report by a Forbes reporter, Andrew Wight, titled: ‘What The US Could Learn From Nigeria’s Response To The COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak,’ the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government got some accolades for curtailing the spread of the deadly virus in the over 200 million people country.
Then he compared the over 15,000 deaths in US as at then to about two dozen in Nigeria, but even now the country has not done too badly. About two months after, with 259 death compared to over 100, 000 deaths in the medically sophisticated US, it means the president, through the 12-member Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus led by the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, is doing something commendable. Recall that Nigeria recorded its first infection on January 28.
The reporter traced Nigeria’s ability to manage the situation to capacity built over the years while addressing diseases such as Lassa fever and Ebola.
The Lagos, Ogun, Enugu, Abia, Sokoto, Kaduna State governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have all shown exemplary leadership and responsive governance as well. Their efforts at complementing the central government at this trying time must not go unnoticed.
They should be commended and encouraged to do more to save more lives, and the states that are lagging behind must be encouraged to borrow a leaf from their counterparts that are blazing the trail in helping their citizens weather the storm.
It is however important to remind the federal government that even if Covid-19 did not allow the usual celebrations that come with May 29 in 2020, Nigerians will still assess the government performance in the areas of security, poverty alleviation, education, healthcare provision, infrastructural development and other development indexes that mark up good governance after the pandemic is over.