COVID-19 and mega rallies and protests, By Isaac N. Obasi 




When politicians campaigned during the Edo and Ondo governorship elections recently held on 19 September and 10 October 2020 respectively, little regard was given to the observance of the non-pharmaceutical guidelines and protocols issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for stopping the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ravaging the entire world. For instance, the issue of crowd management during the rallies was entirely neglected even when the politicians had promised to organise their rallies in compliance with the NCDC guidelines.

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As the first two pictures of campaign rallies below reveal, the politicians, at best paid lip service to the NCDC guidelines. Little did it occur to them then that our youths who formed part of the mammoth crowd at many of the campaign rallies held in different parts of the two states, were watching keenly. The impression the youths got must have been deep and lasting.

There is little doubt that the youths must have gone away with the wrong impression that the fight against COVID-19 was no longer an issue to worry about. But even if it was, there was neither enforcement nor penalty for non-compliance by the politicians who operated in their business-as-usual-mentality. Regrettably, the risk communication messages regularly sent out by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the NCDC during the period of the campaign appeared not to have yielded the desired attitudinal and behavioural changes.

Mammoth crowd at PDP political rally in Edo State, 2020 (Courtesy: Nairaland Forum & Picture by eseosa77(m)
Mammoth Crowd at APC Political Rally in Edo, 2020 (Courtesy: NaijaNews.com)

Again, when the Federal Government of Nigeria celebrated the 60th Independence anniversary on 1st October 2020, our youths watched the crowd that gathered at the Eagle Square, Abuja, the venue of the colourful event. Although, the organisers observed the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols with respect to all the VIPs that sat at the arena, but such could not be said entirely of the large crowd of other people at the event. There was a large crowd made up of security forces that took part in the parade, some people who performed cultural dances and displays at the ceremony, as well as others like journalists who covered the event in a crowded vantage position. Even though on balance, the event was not a complete violation of the COVID-19 guidelines, the youths who were watching it would likely go away with the impression that things had become normal with respect to gathering of large people in public.

Cultural Troupe on display (with large crowd at the background) during the 60th Independence anniversary on October 1, 2020, at the Eagle Square, Abuja (Courtesy: thisdaylive.com…)

Based on these two cited events that occurred between the months of September and October, it was not surprising to see a mammoth crowd of youths under the #EndSARS protest, showing a total disregard for the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. Looking at the two pictures below, they give the impression that Nigeria is no longer fighting the battle against COVID-19 pandemic which presently is still killing thousands of people in the United States of America, Brazil and India, among many other places. Europe for example, is presently witnessing its second wave which is not only devastating their economies, but also causing tensions between the people and their governments with respect to the imposition of more restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. This goes to demonstrate that a total disregard for the COVID-19 social distancing protocol by the #EndSARs protesters, in pursuit of their constitutionally guaranteed rights of peaceful protest, was a dangerous risk that could cause incalculable harm to public health and people’s socio-economic activities. Nigeria cannot afford a second wave of the virus.

EndSARS protesters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, (Courtesy: https://www.aljazeera.com/… Benson Ibeabuchi/AFP)

 

#EndSARS Protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos (Courtesy: Quartz Africa via qz.com/africa…)

 

It was in this regard that Mr. Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, while reminding the nation of the negative health impact of the #EndSARS protests, warned of the danger ahead as the protests would likely lead to a resurgence of the virus, which Nigeria is gallantly fighting to flatten its curve. As a way of advocacy, it is germane to provide more details on the remarks made by Mr. Mustapha at the national briefing on COVID-19 held on Monday, 19 October 2020 by quoting him directly.

Cautioning that the youths protest would lead to rising cases of infections, he said: “I can say it authoritatively that with the ongoing protest across the country, in the next two weeks the cases of COVID-19 would have increased. Each and everyone that attended the protest and did not put up any form of protection is likely going to spread the virus. When people contract the virus during the protest gathering, they will go back home and spread it.”

This is one of the reasons why we must be extremely careful when we congregate because when you gather together in such an atmosphere where people don’t wear face masks or maintain the social distance you are creating a potential opportunity for carriers to spread the virus.

Continuing he also said: “So far we have done pretty well as a country but this protest is like a setback and we must avoid a situation where we will have a resurgence. Countries that thought they have overcome are dealing with the second wave. We are extremely lucky as a nation and we should be careful of any situation that can warrant the second wave.”

 

Reacting in like manner as Dr Anthony Fauci, US top infectious disease expert’s description of Trump’s White House event in which he unveiled his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Mustapha aptly described the #EndSARS protests as a “a super spreader event”.

This is the nation’s worry and rightly too, but a greater worry as far as this column is concerned, is a deep reflection on why the youths in such a huge number would show a total disregard for the guidelines and protocols meant to keep them alive. Put differently, why would the youths show far greater interest in their #EndSARS cause, than in respecting the NCDC guidelines meant to protect their precious lives?

For too long, the youths have found life meaningless, helpless and more regrettably hopeless. If hope at least existed, many of them would show patience. But in the absence of hope (and on top of it, the government through some of its policies, continue adding salt to injury), then it becomes difficult to dissuade them from participating in such protests in a period of COVID-19. Anybody who finds him/herself in some of these youths’ situation could probably behave the same way. This is a serious psychological issue which should give the Federal Government a food for thought. Our youths need meaningful jobs where they can make their careers and start meaningful lives.

Although such stop-gap job opportunities as SURE-P, N-Power, public works in 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs), are good as temporary interventions, the government should look more towards creating job opportunities through rapid industrialisation of the economy. Our manufacturing capacity has to be stepped up in reviving the economy.

 

Secondly and lastly, the Federal Government as a matter of urgency should democratise job opportunities in all its agencies than what presently obtains where ONLY (except by God’s help) the family members, relations, and friends of the highly politically connected and privileged members of the ruling class (in and outside the government) are the ones who can be employed in highly paying Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government. As it has been observed elsewhere, #EndSARS protests should not be literally interpreted for it has long become a metaphor for the governance injustice plaguing our country. If it is a fact that many of our meaningfully employed youths did not participate in the #EndSARS protests even when they identified with its CAUSE, it goes to confirm the saying therefore that: an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

POSTSCRIPT

Reward and Punishment for good and bad managers of COVID-19 pandemic

This column heartily congratulates the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, on her landslide re-election in office ‘after swift handling of pandemic’. This column notes that as an outstanding manager of COVID-19, she deserved to be resoundingly rewarded with a re-election. Keen watchers of the management of COVID-19 pandemic across the globe are indeed proud of her. This column wishes her a very successful second term in office.

The same cannot be said of bad managers of COVID-19 who deserve to be resoundingly punished for mishandling the pandemic. The first candidate for such is President Donald Trump of the United States of America, who deserves to be punished in the forthcoming 3 November 2020 presidential election. Rejecting President Trump in the November election is the first step for the US towards reclaiming her lost leadership position in the world under Trump. Indeed America is not just on the ballot, its soul is. This column wishes America well.

•Obasi, a public policy expert, is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com      

 

 

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