This column congratulates Nigeria on the occasion of the celebration of its 60th Independence anniversary. To celebrate a diamond jubilee is not a mean feat, even though Nigeria’s potentials are far from being tapped to the benefit of all. It is our hope that Nigeria will rediscover itself and move on the path of true greatness built on the solid foundation of equity, justice, peace, unity and progress. This we, however, believe will easily materialise when the quest for domination of others and its concomitant fears (both of which are terrifically palpable today) are considerably diminished in our political and societal spheres.
The celebration of Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary yesterday (Thursday, October 1, 2020) with pomp and pageantry at the Eagle Square, Abuja, may give a wrong signal that all is well in this period of economic hardship and coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic emergency. Although it was very courageous (as it demonstrates that Nigeria has been able to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 to warrant such a huge gathering and elaborate celebration), but the truth is that it was a risky event given the fact that we are still in a period of the pandemic.
Watching the activities on television (particularly the various parades and gathering of many non-dignitaries standing and watching the ceremony without observing the physical distancing protocol), one may likely go with the impression that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But COVID-19 is far from being over as we are still in the Phase 3 ease of the lockdown.
For those who may be behaving now as if all is well, we are still in the Phase 3 ease of the lockdown, where some businesses and service providers, as well as entertainment and religious activities are either on total or partial lockdown. Some activities are only allowed to operate at 50% or less capacity. For example, worship centres are still not operating at their full capacity.
In addition, wedding and burial ceremonies are still regulated and are in some states fined heavily for any violation of the order prohibiting large gathering of people. In Rivers State for example, violators of Government Orders regulating burial and wedding ceremonies are under a very heavy fine running into million(s).
So, all these suggest that we are still in an abnormal situation created by COVID-19. No matter how the Eagle Square Independence anniversary event is rationalised, those whose business activities are suffering as a result of the lockdown will not fully understand what is happening. Some will definitely see it as the usual hypocritical mentality of ‘follow what I say and not what I do’. They are more likely to perceive the activities differently from the official point of view.
Generally seen therefore, the event gives the wrong impression that Nigeria is out of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. This is purely a case of mix-messaging and may be considered counter-productive to the commendable risk communication efforts of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. It may also pose a challenge to the effectiveness of PTF risk communication strategy as well as the way and manner it manages the Phase 3 ease of the lockdown at a time schools are reopening.
Lest we forget, historically speaking, Nigeria’s national response to the COVID-19 scourge has been very commendable regardless of some challenges. To say otherwise is to deny reality or be economical with the truth given the enormous sacrifice the members of the PTF on COVID-19 and the entire health workers have been making since the outbreak of the virus.
Again, lest we forget, Nigeria’s national response to COVID-19 pandemic started early and effectively with the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19) by President Muhammadu Buhari on 9 March 2020. The PTF on COVID-19 is Nigeria’s coordinating institutional and policy response to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic emergency. This body was given the responsibility “to coordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”. The body which is made up of 12 members drawn from various ministerial and disciplinary backgrounds as well as from a development partner is chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha. It is, therefore, perfectly in order to expect the PTF on COVID-19 to see that any government event complies fully (and not partially) as happened in the Eagle Square Independence celebration event. It is true that the dignitaries wore their face masks and observed the physical distancing protocol, but many of the non-dignitaries standing and watching did not comply fully. This is dangerous as anybody could a carrier.
The establishment of the PTF on COVID-19 was a milestone on the journey of Nigeria’s national response to COVID-19 pandemic. The PTF has maintained a steady, strong and commendable verve in the discharge of its duties since its creation. As a task force, it exceeded the expectation that it would likely suffer fatigue, lose focus and ultimately lose commitment if it exists for too long. However, the PTF has lasted over six months (and still counting) given the three months presidential extension to last to till December, 2020.
Another milestone in Nigeria’s early national response to COVID-19 pandemic was the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari of the immediate release of a N10 billion grant to Lagos State, which was then (and for a long time) epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria to enable it increase its capacity to control and contain the outbreak. Also, the President announced the immediate release of a N5 billion special intervention fund to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to equip, expand and provide personnel to its facilities and laboratories across the country. The Federal Government also gave N5 billion to Kano State following the mysterious and alarming deaths that occurred thereafter. Furthermore, the Federal Government gave N1 billion each to over 30 states to help them fight the COVID-19 scourge. By these and other numerous policy measures, the Federal Government of Nigeria, clearly demonstrated some level of seriousness in fighting COVID-19.
With these commendable interventions and many others in the fight against COVID-19 so far, it would be wrong at this Phase 3 ease of the lockdown to give mix-messages regarding the needed strict compliance with the non-pharmaceutical protocols. It is very important to emphasise that this Phase 3 ease of lockdown is a very risky and precarious one as it requires very clear and strict focus in its management.
Any mistake may lead to a resurgence which will be very difficult for us to manage. With schools reopening in many states, people are likely to think that things have become normal when they begin to see large gathering of people in events organised by the government ignoring some of the important non-pharmaceutical protocols. Since Nigeria in our view has done pretty well in its national response to COVID-19, it is important that all hands must be on deck to complete the fight of stopping the spread of this ravaging coronavirus. Once more, congratulations to Nigeria at 60.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org