Children on the Grass, Nigeria’s COVID19

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A child said what is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands, how could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. —Walt Whitman

SARS-CoV-2 or COVID19, now declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, has begun to wreak havoc in large parts of the world, with other parts waiting in anticipation. We are in a real struggle, which needs total mobilization; a struggle that needs to put life first and leadership must show up. We will only win this struggle – if people are united and disciplined if governments earn respect by their actions. Nigeria is not an exception!

Long-term quarantines and shutdowns have taken place in large parts of the world, certainly in Europe and North America, but increasingly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Economic activity has already begun to shudder to a halt. Estimates of the net losses are not possible to make, and even the major international institutions are adjusting their numbers every day. The total losses are – as yet – beyond calculation.

In the United States, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced Friday that 100 percent of non-essential workforces are now required to stay home, calling it “the most drastic measure we can take” as he said the entire state of New York was “on pause.”

Cuomo acknowledged businesses will be forced to close; families will face a severe financial strain, and he announced a 90-day moratorium on all commercial and residential evictions to try and ease the immediate burden. But if all of these measures save just one life, the governor said, they are worth it

Cuomo projects peak infection is still 40-plus days out. By that point, New York state could need 110,000 hospital beds, more than double its current capacity, and more than 37,000 ICU beds. Right now, the state has 3,000 of the latter. Can we read this again as Nigerians!

The governor also said that he has considered altering other, non-medical buildings to become places where more people could be treated — whether it be for COVID-19 or otherwise. Cuomo said in an interview on CNN that he has explored using the Javits Center in Manhattan and college dorms on Long Island as temporary or pop-up hospitals, adding that those backup hospital beds will be necessary. 

So on Friday I watched as the school behind my house braced for closure, the circular announcing Schools closure had circulated over the night and not many parents were aware and sent in their wards, I watched as the kids played. I was at the market too, no social distancing, no one was monitoring the parks, a very sizable amount of mass gathering was still going on everywhere.

Less than 0.0001% of the population were wearing any protective mask or hand gloves, while the washing hands culture is managing to fall in place and a few public places had hand sanitizers, this is one pandemic that Nigeria cannot afford in any way, in any ramifications, we are not ready, our children are on the grass.

I would not be drawn into the opposition and ruling party drama of whether the President should address the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic or not, I am not going to be involved in the political economics of our Central Bank’s N1trillion largesse with no direction, many of us already know the direction.

But herein lies my kick in the butt, in a national emergency, the president has many legal authorities, has access to the expertise of all kinds, most of which are adequate to and for the job. But President Buhari’s men are inadequate to do the job. He is a president who either lacks familiarity with how government works at any level (or has been made to look so)—especially the federal government and especially during a crisis. This is a harsh comment, and without sounding rude, and I am sincerely most apologetic in penning these words, the president who either systematically fires people from their jobs; those who have relevant experience or refuses to fill critical jobs across government. The result has been on full display during this administration, the coronavirus pandemic if it does decide to berth in this clime: chaos and incompetence will be deadly, as our children play on the grass.

Imagine an alternate scenario—one where a group of bureaucrats from the Federal Government, National Council compromising of State governors had been able to walk the talk in the last five years, there would be a list of things the president should do to get ready for a pandemic. “Coherence on problem-solving comes from the top.” The people have lost faith in the top of all cadres of governance in Nigeria. And our beloved Mr. President has done very little to inspire that confidence.

In Plateau State, for example, there is no provision anywhere to cater for a 50-person emergency for a population of approximately 3million+ and as it is in Plateau so it is in many Nigerian states.

The Buhari administration deprived themselves of needed expertise through its methodology that has not yielded results, whether it is in the security architecture or the nation’s economy. And the turnover in the ranks of Buhari appointees has been so extensive and so unprecedented that they have few experienced government servants running major departments, and in cases where there has been consistency, an idiotic efficiency has been witnessed.

Obviously, no one expects a president to go into office knowing the ins and outs or the authorities in a piece of legislation or expecting a downfall in the economy but for a group that desired power, we should expect our president to preside over a nation where people have extensive knowledge of all parts of the government and can provide to him, at a moment’s notice, the full range of options available to a president confronting a national emergency of any type.

Unfortunately, this is not the president we have. This is not so because from the days of the military, to the PDP era, and now the APC, things have changed and still remained the same. In perspective, there is need to understand that in the light of all the official drama, The federal government based on the 2020 budget, put N2, 000 per Nigerian to provide for the healthcare of each of the estimated 200 million Nigerian. This is according to the meagre N427.3 billion proposed for Healthcare in the proposed 2020 which as at this month is still paperwork and may even go down as oil price drops too.

You may not understand what this means, it means the salaries of all health workers in the Ministry of Health, the fuelling of the ambulances and the generating plants, the rehabilitation and or construction of new hospitals, the drugs for Malaria, Polio, Child Vaccination, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, HIV/AIDS and of course cancer diagnosis machines are all part of the budgeted amount. The list continues to even health research, training and health promotion. And we say that we are ready if Uncle Corona decides to pay us a full visit?

The good thing is that hopefully and quickly at some point, this crisis will pass. As we move through it, let’s seek not just to create jobs that can sustain families and communities and promote broad-based economic well being, but to use this as an opportunity to X-ray our health sector and systems—not simply return to the status quo or else the damage will be unthinkable, albeit—only time will tell.

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