‘COVID-19 Pandemic is a Wake-up Call on Nigerian Youths’

Armstrong Tope Akintunde

Kayode Fasua discusses the ravaging COVID-19 epidemic, stressing the roles he believes the youths should play in bringing the society back on track with Mr. Armstrong ‘Tope Akintunde, an All Progressives Congress chieftain in Ogun State and a strong supporter of Governor Dapo Abiodun

Being a young politician, what roles do you see the youths playing in combating the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic?
We are all in a very critical phase of life in the global sense of it. This is a disease that cuts across all races, cultures, ages, religions, classes, genders; just mention it. We are all exposed to a pandemic that had, since its outbreak, defied any known solution. But be that as it may, God created man and gave him the power to control his environment. That to me shows that as a people, we can collectively fight against any enemy, seen or unseen, if we are all sincere and resolve to achieve our collective goals.

When you say the roles youths should be playing in combating Coronavirus, I was tempted to ask myself; “What has the government been doing to empower the youth?” That is the salient question. It might sound a bit radical but that is the reality. You see, as it has been said repeatedly in many fora, this pandemic has exposed our ineptitude-our ignorance, greed, unpreparedness, lack of any meaningful ideology, large-scale corruption, insincerity and I can go on and on. Yes, the youths should rise up and do something to save the community, the nation and the world at large, but at what expense? To me, this COVID-19 ‘episode’ is a blessing in disguise. It will open our eyes to quite a lot of things and would make us stand and demand our fundamental rights.

It will also awaken and re-awaken the sense of responsibility in every sector of our daily and national life, and make us prepare better for any future occurrence. Right now, the youth, being the engine room of a nation’s development, should be at the forefront of the advocacy of enlightening and educating the people. They should channel their time, energy and initiatives towards getting the best out of this predicament, and contribute their quota in the fight against the dreaded disease.
But this also comes at a price: the youth should be empowered in every sense so that they have that sense of responsibility and belonging within the society. Look at what happened in Lagos State. At the beginning of the lockdown the so-called ‘One Million Boys’ started harassing innocent people-maiming and killing, all in the name of lockdown simply because they do not have any means of living and everybody was at home, hence they resorted to daylight robbery. It is that bad. Take a look at the case of Kano State too where ignorance, non-challance and many years of neglect have institutionalised the Almajiri system, to the extent that they do not see any reason why people should stay at home.
What I am driving at is that, the youths have, for long, been neglected and in the aftermath are the vices and uncompromising stands constantly being exhibited by many of our able-body youths. A lot rests on our youths at this crucial period and the only solution is to get them involved in policy-making, so that they too can contribute their own quota towards meaningful development.

What can you say about the activities of the Ogun State Government under the leadership of Governor Dapo Abiodun in alleviating the challenges faced by the people during this lockdown period?
Actually, like I said earlier, we are in an abnormal period where things were not going as they ought to. Everybody and every facet of life is affected by the pandemic and government as an institution is hard hit and governance itself is not spared. The irony of the whole scenario is that the bulk of the fallout is on the government. Right now, it is as if all aspects of governance is at standstill. Everything has been stalemated and all focus have been shifted on combating the virus and making the people safe. The state government is trying its best possible in setting up isolation centres and getting on top of the situation by mobilising medical personnel and also engaging the security agencies to enforce laws guiding the spread of the disease.
I also give kudos to them for alleviating the challenges in the provision of palliatives and other essentials. Again, credit must be given to the sensitisation activities of the government in the media and other information dissemination channels. We must not also forget the prompt action taken on fumigating public places all over the state, which has greatly put the spread of the disease at bay.
One thing we must also commend Governor Abiodun for is the relaxation of the lockdown to ease the effect on the masses. Although this comes with the risk of possible  exposure of the people the more to the disease, but since the government cannot afford to lock down an economy which is being sustained by small-scale businesses, it is only wise that he gave the order and provided windows when people can briefly go out and take care of their needs before returning to their various bases.

With all these, can you say there has been tremendous improvement in the battle against the pandemic?
Definitely yes. The battle against Coronavirus is being fought from all fronts and thank God, the people are getting more informed and knowing more and more about the disease. The government, starting from the Federal Government to State and Local Government, have collectively risen to the occasion. What I can only observe is that equipment for testing people to ascertain their status are still in short supply, which makes it a little difficult to know the actual number of people that have actually contracted the virus.  I want to believe that there is a lot of carriers of the virus out there who are not aware they are harbouring it.
In the same vein, there are some people who are still ignorant of the disease and believe it is just another way of ripping the government off. This will pose a lot of challenges to the government, the health workers and the community, and the nation as a whole; because people are sceptical about submitting themselves for test for fear of being stigmatised. But, in all, I can still say we are not doing badly, especially in Ogun State, with its proximity to Lagos State which is one of the epicenters of the outbreak.

What is your advice to the youths in the quest towards building a virile and progressive nation?
The youths are very essential in the development of any nation. A nation is as great as its youths are. Don’t forget this category of people form the largest percentage of the population and so has all the powers to influence its growth, development, progress, or otherwise. Unfortunately, many years of military misrule, aided by the civilian kleptomania, has disorientated the youth, many who now think of cutting corners to achieve their mundane goals without necessarily thinking of sweating for it. The rot in the system has eaten deep into the psyche of the youth and that is why many are into anti-social and illegal activities. Things should not be allowed to continue this way. To save the nation from self-destruct, we need to act fast. We need an urgent and complete overhaul in our value system and discourage the get-rich-quick syndrome that is the order of the day. The youths should remember that they own tomorrow and whatever they do now will be the direct consequences of what they expect in the nearest future.