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COVID-19 and Nigeria’s policy response: Celebrating WHO’s positive rating, By Isaac N Obasi

Boss Mustapha, Chairman of PSC on COVID-19

The news report on 14 August 2021 by THE CABLE newspaper that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked Nigeria’s response to COVID-19 as the fourth most successful in the world, is a very encouraging one that calls for celebration. The news of this positive rating was announced by WHO’s country representative in Nigeria,  Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo at the ‘event to mark the arrival of the first batch of 177,600 doses of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine’. According to Dr. Mulombo, “Nigeria was ranked fourth among the top ten most successful responses to COVID-19″. For more on this news report see https://www.thecable.ng/who-nigerias-covid-response-ranked-fourth-most-successful-worldwide.

This cheering news report passed virtually unnoticed except for the Buhari Support Organisation (a partisan political body) that made political capital out of it. But the success story goes beyond politics and partisan political celebration. The fact is that on balance Nigeria has done well in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and that WHO’s rating and commendation are well-deserved. 

For the past one year and five months (17 months precisely), this column ran a commentary on Nigeria’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other related issues. The column had without break followed the dynamics of Nigeria’s policy response – exposing its good, bad and ugly sides. The column also covered the citizens’ uncooperative attitude and behaviour towards the policy response. It is against this background therefore that this column is well positioned to make objective comments on WHO’s verdict on Nigeria’s response to COVID-19 pandemic. What follows now is a presentation of some the positive comments this column made on how Nigeria’s coordinating agency for the policy response to COVID-19 discharged its functions. 

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (now Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19) was established on the 9th of March 2020 as Nigeria’s coordinating institutional response to COVID-19. It is important to point out that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is a very active member of this body. The following positive comments made by this column were contained in different articles written in May, June, October and December 2020, as well as in April and May 2021. 

First, on May 4, 2020 while writing on ‘Task Force Model on COVID-19 emergency management’, this column said: 

With regards to the deployment of expertise to fight COVID-19, PTF has confronted this enemy with an extra-ordinary sense of commitment expected of task force members anywhere. Members have been visible even to a point of exhaustion and putting their lives at great risk. For those with a good sense of understanding of the PTF’s work, there is enormous intellectual and physical energy involved. It takes people who possess both qualities to execute the equally enormous tasks involved. It is highly commendable that the members of the Task Force have been able to discharge their functions in a sustained manner for nearly two months now (See https://sundiatapost.com/task-force-model-for-covid-19-emergency-management-2-by-isaac-n-obasi/).

Secondly, in the third instalment of the same article on May 6, 2020, this column commended the “PTF and other health bodies (Federal Ministry of Health, NCDC, WHO etc) for their remarkable demonstration of rare courage and professionalism in the war against COVID-19 in Kano State”. The combined intervention by these mentioned bodies (under the PTF) was in reaction to the health crisis that engulfed Kano state (with massive mysterious deaths) amid the claim by the Kano state government that the ‘mysterious deaths’ were not COVID-19-related. These health professionals risked their lives to do the needful and arrest the situation subsequently.

Thirdly, writing on ‘COVID-19 and Nigeria’s fight at the sub-national level’ on June 8, 2020, this column observed that: 

The PTF on COVID-19 which was established on 9 March 2020 is now three months old, and to its credit, it is still operating with strong drive, verve and commitment. In May while celebrating the two months existence of PTF (in a three-part series), this column made the point that a task force by its nature and design, stands the risk of losing its initial drive and verve if it exists for too long. It is gladdening to note that the PTF on COVID-19 is still operating with its initial verve and commitment since three months ago (Emphasis added)The article then added that ‘so far, the efforts of the Federal Government to provide support to governments at sub-national levels in the fight against COVID-19, is very encouraging and only needs to be sustained’ (See https://sundiatapost.com/covid-19-and-nigerias-fight-at-the-sub-national-levels-1-by-isaac-n-obasi/).

Furthermore, in continuation of the June 8 article, this column on June 12, commended specifically the efforts of the Lagos State Government and the FCT Administration for displaying commendable verve and passion in fighting the virus without which the situation would have been worse within their areas. The efforts of other state governments (e.g. Rivers and Kaduna) were also recognised by this column.

Fourthly, writing on ‘COVID-19 and implementation of Nigeria’s Phase 3 ease of lockdown’ on October 2, 2020, this column wrote:

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.

The article also observed that:

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 equally 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. (See https://sundiatapost.com/covid-19-and-implementation-of-nigerias-phase-3-ease-of-lockdown-by-isaac-n-obasi/).

Fifthly, writing on ‘COVID-19 and ‘a week-like-no-other’ in Nigeria’ on December 18, 2020 this column (while commenting on the performance of the PTF for the period of its 9th months of existence) observed that:

For those who have been monitoring closely the coordination of the national policy response to COVID-19, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Mr. Mustapha, has been exemplary in leading from the front. He was always urging Nigerians to comply with the non-pharmaceutical protocols and he demonstrated his appeal through leadership by example. Although Nigeria performed less than satisfactory on testing, history will, however, be kind to Mr. Boss Mustapha and members of the Task Force for putting a good and courageous fight against COVID-19. Again…despite the fact that comparatively speaking, Nigeria’s low numbers on infections and deaths do not necessarily reflect reality, Nigeria COVID-19 policy response is on balance commendable. The Task Force on COVID-19 executed its duties with verve, enthusiasm, humility, simplicity, and honesty of purpose (as could be observed from the outside) as against lethargy, fatigue, and arrogance for which task forces are known in theory to easily fall into after a long period of existence. This is an informed humble opinion of this column but as they say, the jury is still out there to interrogate the objectivity of this opinion. (See. https://sundiatapost.com/covid-19-and-a-week-like-no-other-in-nigeria-by-isaac-n-obasi/).

Sixthly, writing on ‘From PTF to PSC: Nigeria’s COVID-19 coordinating policy response revisited (1)’ on April 23, 2021 (a year after the PTF was established), this column said:

The PTF started its work with intense passion and drive holding daily briefings to update the nation on the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although, it gradually scaled its briefings down to twice a week, it remained focused with strong energetic drive. Those who are familiar with the nature and operation of a task force generally know that such a body is not meant to last for a very long time if it is to accomplish its task effectively with passion and drive. During its existence, the PTF discharged its assigned task with a sense of urgency, passion and drive. Nigeria was able to build molecular laboratories in 52 federal medical centres and teaching hospitals across the country. (See. https://sundiatapost.com/from-ptf-to-psc-nigerias-covid-19-coordinating-policy-response-revisited-1-by-isaac-n-obasi/

Finally, writing on ‘Sustaining PTF’s dogged spirit in PSC on COVID-19’, the column said that:

Apart from financial matters on the running of PTF (which this column has no capacity to interrogate), the body throughout its existence performed (on balance) creditably well with zeal, energy and commitment. For example, it performed its risk communication function with precision and clarity (See https://sundiatapost.com/sustaining-ptfs-dogged-spirit-in-psc-on-covid-19-by-isaac-n-obasi/).

Given this dynamic (monitoring) assessment of the PTF/PSC and the consistent positive rating of it by this column, it did not come to us as a surprise that the WHO through its own monitoring mechanism arrived at the same positive rating of Nigeria’s policy response to COVID-19. In any case, even if critics lazily dismiss this column’s positive assessment as a public relations job for the PTF/PSC, could such also be said of WHO’s positive rating? 

Again, the truth is that this columnist has never had any contact with PTF/PSC‘s chairman or any member of the Task Force or its secretariat. For critics of the positive rating of PTF/PSC, it is important to note that there were many articles in this column that were critical of the government handling of the policy response to COVID-19 pandemic. The assessment was balanced.  

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].  

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