COVID-19 Lockdown relaxation and the ‘Take Responsibility’ campaign, By Isaac N. Obasi

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Prof Isaac Obasi

The ‘Take Responsibility’ campaign being promoted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its systematic and aggressive fight against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic, has been running for quite sometimes now. Many Nigerians have been receiving text messages on this theme sometimes for more than once a day. The NCDC has also been using celebrities to promote this ‘Take Responsibility’ (#Take Responsibility) campaign in both the traditional and social media platforms. One typical example of the many messages under the theme reads: ‘COVID-19 is REAL: So many of our health workers are risking their lives to protect the rest of us. Take Responsibility. Be supportive…’ This is a very persuasive message that should invoke empathy and attractive overwhelming solidarity and support. The NCDC through the #TakeResponsibility campaign, expects Nigerians and residents in the country to join forces and to be proactive by taking greater individual and collective responsibility in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

But it appears that many Nigerians are not taking this message very seriously. Again, it appears that the full and rich meaning of the various messages under this theme are not properly understood and adhered to in the daily lives of the people. Sometimes some simple words with profound meanings are not fully understood for what they are meant to achieve in the daily lives of people. The ‘Take Responsibility’ campaign appears to be one of these often overlooked but very important advisory from the NCDC. 

With respect to a particular matter of public concern, a call to take responsibility can be made at a collective or individual level. Our concern here is the persuasive appeal for Nigerians to take personal responsibility in the fight against COVID19. But what then does personal responsibility mean in this very important campaign?

Ron Haskins in an article titled: ‘The Sequence of personal responsibility’ (Friday, July 31, 2009, published by The Brookings Institution) provided a very apt definition of the concept of personal responsibility for our purpose here. According to him, ‘personal responsibility is the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards’. He also rightly added that ‘personal responsibility also means that when individuals fail to meet expected standards, they do not look around for some factor outside themselves to blame’. The demise of personal responsibility he rightly concluded ‘occurs when individuals blame their family, their peers, their economic circumstances, or their society for their own failure to meet standards (See: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-sequence-of-personal-responsibility/). 

Taking personal responsibility in the fight against COVID-19 in this period of lockdown relaxation, applies to every one of us including the leaders and the followers. Indeed, taking personal responsibility is a call and a duty that every one of us must willingly be involved if this pandemic scourge is to leave humanity this year otherwise there is great danger ahead. Nigerians have not understood the ‘Take Responsibility’ campaign message and its passionate appeal. For sure, many people have not taken the new social and physical distancing behavior as the new normal that they must switch over to. Although old habits die hard, the new normal has come to stay. As we pointed out in an earlier write-up, the present frightening COVID-19 pandemic calls for a radical and far-reaching change of attitude and habits regardless of how deeply ingrained such habits are in our social life. 

The old habits of Nigerians are still driving them to move in their business-as-usual-mentality in every public place you go to. For example, right there in the Church service where people are meant to be spiritually alert and exhibit the mentality of strict obedience, they still do not remember the NCDC ‘Take Responsibility’ messages they have been receiving for some months now. Last Sunday, May 31, 2020, an officiating priest in an AIT aired Church service from Port Harcourt, was heard couple of times advising the worshippers to obey social and physical distancing protocols. Later on, he directed the Church Wardens to help enforce the social and physical distancing protocols. One could see that he was visibly worried that the worshippers were not obeying simple instructions in the Church, and you can then imagine what would happen when they are out of the Church compound. It is disheartening to observe how difficult it has become to control Nigerians even inside worship places such as in Churches and Mosques? 

Again, when you are in a super-market, as you want to pay, some people will come up in their usual bahaviour of trying to come close to the cahier not minding that someone is already there. They too forget the NCDC ‘Take Responsibility’ advice which they had received many times over weeks now. The new normal demands that Nigerians should imbibe the culture of following the queue religiously which is how they physical distancing requirement can easily be maintained.

Furthermore in one gathering of top officials of a federal ministry’s conference room last week Friday, May 29, 2020 in Abuja, people were sitting without remembering the NCDC ‘Take Responsibility’ advice. They were expected to observe the physical distancing sitting arrangement that should leave one seat free to separate people being close to each other. It took a very vigilant minister to order that people should respect the physical distancing protocol. It was then that people realised that pulling one seat back round the table created the physical distancing spaces required. Again, it needed the minister to make them realize that a new habit has to be acquired and put in practice.  

All these raise the crucial question of how to make people take personal responsibility. Is mere advice enough? What if appealing to the people fail? Should they be compelled to comply? How then should the desirable goal of the ‘Take Responsibility’ message be achieved in a period of lockdown relaxation?

My suggestion is that in this period of relaxed lockdown, if people refuse to take personal responsibility particularly when in a public space, they should be compelled to do so. Personal responsibility should therefore be enforced when moral suasion fails. For example, when people fail to follow a queue that facilitates physical distancing in any public place, they should first be advised or appealed to follow the queue, but if they refuse, other people there should insist that the right thing should be done. If the people still prove to be stubborn, the law enforcement officers or security personnel around the vicinity should be invited to enforce compliance. 

Personal responsibility is an act of willingness, but if it fails, enforcement should be the next level to ensure compliance. The relaxation of lockdown in worship places should not be abused in any way. Religious leader have personal responsibility to ensure that worshippers behave in the desirable new normal way of behviour.  

Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com      


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