COVID-19 and fate of sceptical political leaders (1), By Isaac N Obasi

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The untimely and shocking death of two East African controversial leaders one at 61 and the other at 55, is an unforgettable lesson in the misuse of Godly faith as well as a total disdain for science which itself is a gift and a power given to man by God himself at creation. The death of coronavirus (COVID-19) sceptic President John Magufuli of Tanzania on 17 March 2021 at the age of 61 years, and the earlier death of another COVID-19 sceptic President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi on 8 June 2020 at the age of 55 years (both of which shrouded in controversial circumstances) demonstrated a clear case of pushing scepticism beyond limit. 

Scepticism we wrote in this column on 10 July 2020, is all about doubt. And as a philosophical concept and a school of thought, it is not inherently bad. Science itself thrives on scepticism and intellectual curiosity. In actual fact, scepticism and inquisitiveness are major drivers of scientific discoveries or inventions. The problem of scepticism therefore depends on its type and not just scepticism in general. 

Late President of Tanzania John Magufuli (

Consequently, on the one hand, a rational sceptic will stop doubting when there is overwhelming evidence that clears such doubt. On the other hand, an irrational sceptic will maintain his/her doubt (for example over an existence of something) even when the evidence is very clear. An irrational sceptic is not evidence-driven in his/her approach to issues, unlike his/her rational counterpart. Sometimes driven by ignorance (knowingly or unknowingly), an irrational sceptic continues doubting in a bid (perhaps) to maintain his/her ego. We have seen cases of irrational scepticism over coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic across the world. 

•Late President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza   (

Former President Donald Trump of the United States of America (USA) led the way, while the President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, and President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, were his notable disciples from South (Latin) America. In Africa, late Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and late Tanzanian President John Magufuli were the two notable COVID-19 skeptics. For me here, all these five leaders share one brand of political ideology and practice in common and that is ‘reactionary populism’ borrowing from Jeffrey Sachs and Roberto Unger’s concept in their Lecture Series titled: ‘From Reactionary Populism to a Progressive Alternative’. Again, all of them were infected by COVID-19 disease, with three surviving and two others dead.     

The mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Trump administration had in the past received serious attention in this column and so was that of the Brazilian President Bolsonaro, who is on record to have appointed the fifth Minister of Health recently since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Like Trump, the Brazilian president not only demonstrated a disdain for science and allowed political considerations to drive his actions, he was also unperturbed by the soaring COVID-19 fatality figures in his country. His actions and inactions made Brazil to have an unenviable record of 3,780 deaths in a single day (i.e. Tuesday, 30 March 2021). On the same date, Brazil recorded a total number of 84,494 new cases. The health system is already over-overstretched if not completely overwhelmed. Here was a president who called coronavirus a “little flu”, a “media trick” and said in 2020 that “strong measures” were “unnecessary”, and NOW he was few days ago signing an executive order to spend 5.3 billion reais ($918) to fight the coronavirus (See after he had led many to death by his early mismanagement of the pandemic. Although this bold action is very belated, it is never too late to save the lives of Brazilians who are presently and seriously at risk. This Bolsonaro-induced fate of Brazilians could have been averted early in the fight against the coronavirus in 2020.

 But one unmistakable aftermath of Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 scepticism is that his political future has been damaged seriously. Right now, he is facing a serious political crisis and his fate hangs-in-the-balance. Like Donald Trump, it is doubtful if Bolsonaro will come out of this political crisis unscratched. 

As for the Mexican president, Andres Obrador, he told Mexicans in 2020 that “they shouldn’t fear COVID-19”. And despite warnings from global health officials, he continued to hold political rallies, kiss supporters, request that Mexicans go out shopping to prop up the country’s sputting economy during a global slowdown. He told them  “Live life as usual”, and “if you’re able and have the means to do so, continue taking your family out to eat”, which according to him “strengthens the economy”. President Obrador’s comments made Alex Ward to warm as early as 28 March 2020 that “Mexico’s Coronavirus-skeptical president is setting up his country for a health crisis” (See That predicted health crisis is right there now.

Following Obrador’s actions and inactions, Mexico is one of the most COVID-19 devastated countries today with 2.23 million cases. And details show that it recorded 4,683 new cases as of 30 March 2021 with a seven-day average of 4,267 cases. Details also show that it recorded a single day’s death of 801 as of 30 March 2021 and also a seven-day average of 512 (See JHU CSSE COVID-19 Data). 

However, the latest news report revealed that “Mexico has published revised figures indicating that the number of deaths caused by coronavirus is 60% higher than previously reported. More than 321,000 people are now believed to have died from covid-19…thereby placing Mexico with the second highest number of COVID-related deaths in the world after the US” (BBC News in a report titled ‘Covid-19: Mexico revises coronavirus death toll up by 60%’, 28 March 2021). This is the fate of Mexicans caused by one man’s total disregard for science and driven by his stubborn and irrational scepticism. Like Trump and Bolsonaro, Obrador is alive after carelessly leading others to their untimely death, and like them also, his political future will continue to hang-in-the-balance.   

The late Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and late President John Magufuli of Tanzania were not lucky to be alive like the trio mentioned above. This subject will be completed in the second installment by God’s special grace.

Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].