/A national conversation: Mapping Nigeria’s response to COVID-19

A national conversation: Mapping Nigeria’s response to COVID-19

by Bashorun Randle

The upsurge of rage by those who are aggrieved by our collective ineptitude and abdication of our responsibilities in tackling the Coronavirus epidemic “Round One” caught many of us off-guard.

Matters were not helped by the somewhat cavalier attitude of the Government initially – it was the malcontents and doomsayers in a conspiracy with the opposition who were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill!! Besides, the Government actually issued an official statement that challenged the hue and cries over Coronavirus while Malaria, Lassa fever, HIV, and other diseases had been killing thousands of Nigerians annually without much fuss from the agitators and detractors. Clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, the government had been caught on the backfoot. Since then, the entire effort has been driven by the strategy of “Catch-up”.

Now is the time to tally the score.

As a chartered Accountant and Management Consultant, for over fifty years, I have been dealing with Risk Assessment and Risk Management. As regards the Coronavirus pandemic, we appear to have mistaken the symptoms for the disease.

What comes to mind is the 1944 novel: “Dangling Man” by the Jewish-American author Saul Bellow. Its central character who is from Chicago had been wailing to join the Second World War which raged from 1939 to 1945. He wanted to go to war, to certain death, because it would give his life meaning. Until then he was just waiting.

“Post-covid, lawyers must pinch government, educate and encourage it to provide basic amenities for Nigerians, so that they can minimally comply with the WHO protocols, which our own various governments have adopted”

In our case, the prevailing crisis has provided the cue and perspective for the weak and the poor who are devastated that it took the Coronavirus epidemic to expose the rottenness and decay in our healthcare system or whatever is left of it. Secondly, how come it is the poor and weak who have been the worst victims in terms of infection followed by loss of their jobs/livelihood and eventually death?

Evidently, there are two Nigerians – one for the elite and another one for the rest. Clearly, what we are dealing with is a systemic problem.

The statistics, however, suggest that it is not a straight forward contest between a seemingly callous elite (seemingly lacking in care and compassion) versus the underclass. In between are the bandits and pirates as well as the vultures.

Ironically, (and painfully so) in terms of sheer numbers, the number one slot on the league of virus belongs to Boko Haram!!

It was my grandfather Dr J.K. Randle who had direct experience of the Spanish Flu epidemic which raged in Nigeria between 1918 and 1919. At least 21 million people (some estimates claiming up to 50 million) worldwide died from the disease over a 12-month period, becoming one of the world’s worst short-term demographic disasters. The disease was introduced into Nigeria by passengers and crews who came into Nigeria via ships from foreign countries affected by influenza.

Coastal ports like Lagos were the primary focus of the spread of the disease. There were reports that Lagos lost close to 100,000 of its population between September of 1918 when the pandemic was introduced to Nigeria and December of the same year. Its spread to the hinterland was facilitated by improvements in transportation technology. Neither maritime quarantine nor the isolation of patients checked the spread of the disease.

Experts claim that about 500,000 Nigerians, out of a population of 18 million, died in less than 6 months, and it is believed that between 50 and 80% of the population was stricken. The pandemic drained the nation’s productive capacity and caused an unprecedented food scarcity which took years to recover from.

In 1908, Dr Randle along with Dr Akinwande Savage; and Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford (of the Gold Coast) founded Nigeria’s first political party, The People’s Union. That was long before The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons was founded in 1944.

Now, we have almost 200 million Nigerians who are eagerly awaiting our response to the second wave of Coronavirus pandemic which is only a matter of time.

In the meantime, a commentator on social media has suggested that we should start by dumping the current National Anthem “Arise, O Compatriots” and revert to the old one “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” because bus conductors having distributed face masks in order to entice passengers to insist on collecting them back as the passengers alight. They then proceed to hand over the “second-hand” used masks to the new batch of passengers!!

Apparently, some banks did the same thing during the lockdown. Lockdown or LUCKDOWN, we must survive.

Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN literally shook not only the legal profession but virtually all other professions (medicine, accountancy, architecture, engineering etc.) to the foundation when in “The Nation” newspaper of May 26, 2020, he disclosed that some junior counsel earn only N25,000 to N30,000 and many of them had not been paid for three months.

He added: “Now, is it not the duty of government to provide this minimal amenity for the people? Using law as a means to foster social justice, the first thing lawyers should demand from governments at all levels is the provision of running water, all over the country, as what we have and use as running water in Nigeria today, majorly comes from boreholes which are sunk in the homes of rich Nigerians.

Do we have functional public toilets in any of our major cities or in most parts of Nigeria? We cannot decree social distancing in the absence of provisions of housing facilities for the lower and middle cadres of Nigerians, most whom live in crowded apartments, and in some cases where you have not less than 10 people in a room or flat.

Post-COVID, lawyers must pinch government, educate and encourage it to provide basic amenities for Nigerians, so that they can minimally comply with the WHO protocols, which our own various governments have adopted. These protocols are taken for granted in all developed and a good number of developing countries.

They do not constitute a privilege, but a right. It should be a reawakening to both the government and the legal profession. Through the instrumentality of the Nigerian Bar Association [NBA], we should remind the government, ask the government, interface with government, that these are the basic amenities that they have to provide, without any further delay. It is then that we can thumbs up that we are combating coronavirus, preventing a reoccurrence of it in future.”

Also, in “The Punch” newspaper of May 30, 2020, Chief Adebayo Alao Akala, the former Governor of Oyo State prescribed a strange vaccine:

“We need a Nigerian who is slightly insane to lead us.”

Regardless, we must seriously reflect on why it took the lockdown and “Panorama Programme” on CBC to reveal to the entire world that in parts of Ajegunle in Lagos State, as many as six complete strangers sleep in one room at night only to be replaced by another lot during the day!!

We can only pray that our failure to care for the weak and the poor, as well as the arrogance of power, does not trigger our downfall.

Source: Businessday.ng