In this exclusive interview with Emmanuel Akaolisa and Chikamso Okoye of The News Chronicle, Professor Isaac Nnamdi Obasi, a professor of Public Administration and author of “NIGERIA’S POLICY RESPONSE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC”, gives insight into the chronicling of COVID-19 advent in Nigeria and around the globe, from policy formulation to response, comparative analysis of COVID in different countries and steps for the future
TNC: Good day sir, we congratulate you on publishing this great book. It’s like an encyclopedia on the COVID experience in Nigeria. So we would like to ask, why did you write this book? Coming from a professor of public administration and not a medical doctor, it’s very interesting, why did you write Nigeria’s Policy Response to Covid19?
Prof. Obasi: Excellent question, thank you very much for having me. It is expected that those who will first of all attempt to chronicle what happened are those in the medical field, but we also know that this is a multi-disciplinary issue, as well as interdisciplinary, depending on how one looks at it. For us in the social and management sciences, policy is very central to COVID-19 pandemic management, and I felt that as a policy expert, it is important for me to approach the COVID-19 pandemic and Nigeria’s response from that perspective and let those who are in the medical and allied field focus on the technical issues involved.
The book is important because we have seen in many countries, especially developing countries, that you may have all the technical knowledge and resources, but without good leadership, nothing will work. So that’s where policy comes in – professionals who drive good policies, those who will bring out the vision that can move and enable the mission to be accomplished. So I felt that it’s important we zero in the politics and increase the policy just as how Ebola was managed, you recall that Ebola was managed very professionally by technocrats in this country, and we succeeded.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came, I decided to start an online column in a newspaper and followed it from the point of the policy response. I was writing it as it was evolving. Immediately the lockdown was imposed, I started writing and observing every single day for two years until February 2022 and by then COVID-19 was virtually a non-issue in many countries except China and some other countries at that time. That was the basis for my following it. And I love doing original research.
TNC: Prof, you know, up till today, a lot of average Nigerians still don’t believe that COVID-19 actually hit this country. I mean we saw NCDC’s reports on death tolls and all, but many people still think that the Nigerian government kind of made up the story to collect their own share of palliative allocations from international bodies. So I need you to clear the air and shed more light on the reality of Covid-19 in Nigeria.
Prof. Obasi: This is a very important question because it is also part of the issues I raised in this book. In fact, I gave a vivid example of someone I met who saw me wearing a face mask and asked me “Hey, Prof. Why are you still wearing a face mask?” I told him COVID-19 is real, he said, no, it’s not real, and that it is a scam they’re using to siphon money. As far as I know, COVID-19 was a reality, not just in Nigeria, but everywhere in the world – the US, China, Brazil, and Italy, a lot of people died, so, it was a reality. But we were particularly lucky in Nigeria and in Africa too, because of perhaps our tropical weather, our experience with malaria and the drug that goes with it.
There are aspects of chapters in this book that also address that fact, skepticism – people doubted it. One of the lessons I also talked about was that citizens’ cooperation is key to an effective policy response. They were very skeptical, and if people do not cooperate with the government and technocrats because of skepticism, definitely, it will create more problems.
TNC: Based on the policy execution, was there a problem with the followers or the leaders, in the implementation of the policy, just as you said about skepticism?
Prof. Obasi: It was very well seen on both sides, referencing Part 2 of the book which I called “Nigeria’s COVID-19 and Nigeria’s Atypical Governance Challenges”, I flagged up trust deficits – the citizens did not trust their leaders, citizens did not trust that what the leaders were doing warranted co-operation. So that was a big issue. It was written that both the leaders and the citizens experienced problems in the management of COVID-19. Part of it was also the fact that the so-called public officials were not obeying the protocols, so the followers did not see any point to believe the issue was a reality. But nonetheless, Nigeria followed COVID-19 management professionally and of course with science unlike in some countries like in the US where under Trump, they followed politics instead of science.
TNC: Rounding up, what message did you intend to pass through the book, what do you intend that the book achieves, like the value you want the book to have in the society?
Prof. Obasi: The lesson learned from Ebola Virus helped form a good solid foundation for embarking on Nigeria’s Policy Response to COVID-19 Pandemic. The experience and policy response to COVID-19 in Nigeria needed to be documented, and it’s the work of scholars like me to do it. I know that NCDC, the Ministry of Health and so on may have their own side of the story, but for academic research purposes, this book would serve just that purpose. The book would be made available for academic research, health institutions and government officials. Documentation is important, so I felt the need to do it so it preserves what could have been ordinarily forgotten by the memory.
Policymakers at times come into office without adequate institutional memory, so if they have something like this book to show that this is how it was attacked in the past, the things done through policy, they can replicate it if there is another epidemic. The book would teach people what they should do in situations like this – the protocols, both medical and non-pharmaceutical protocols, and interventions.
The book has comparative value. We did a lot of comparative analysis between Nigeria and the US, and we saw where Nigeria, in fact, for the first time, did something much better than the US could do. But of course, you know the reason – Trump was using politics and self-interest, but in our own case, we were driven by science and national interest. And again while Trump tried to emasculate politicians and technocrats in handling COVID-19, in Nigeria, the government allowed the technocrats to drive COVID-19 policy response. And we saw people like Dr. Chikwe of the NCDC then, doing his work tirelessly, it was not a surprise to anyone that the World Health Organization recognized and gave him a high appointment. That’s to show you that Nigeria actually did confront COVID-19 with a better and more relevant policy response. But it all boiled down to this idea of allowing technocrats, professionals who have the know-how to handle issues, less of politics, in issues that should be handled. If Nigeria has fewer politics meddling in ordinary things that should be driven by technocrats, things will be better.
TNC: We have come to the end of the session for now. It’s been a very wonderful and exquisite moment. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure.