Prior to April 1, 2021, Nigeria’s coordinating institutional response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19). The PTF on COVID-19 was established on 9 March 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari “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 Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, was appointed chairman of the 12-member body drawn from various ministerial and disciplinary backgrounds as well as from a development partner.
By its operational design, the PTF was created ‘as a scalable structure with various Working Groups assisting it at the operational level’. Its three-fold major objectives were to: (a) advise the President on the national response to the pandemic; (b) assess the needs of State and Federal Governments, and liaising with the private sector and multilateral partners to mobilise needed resources; and (c) carry out accreditation of Isolation and Treatment Centres nationwide. And to refresh our minds, its elaborate mandates are as follows:
- Provide overall policy direction, guidance, and continuous support to the National Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the NCDC, and other Ministries and Government Agencies involved in response activities, and ensure their coordination towards a single set of national strategic objectives.
- Enable the delivery of national and state-level outbreak control priorities which include;
- Effective and safe treatment centres to ensure capacity to manage outbreaks
- Coordination of National and State Emergency Operation Centres
- Response commodities for case management, infection prevention and control, diagnostics, etc
- Sensitization and awareness campaigns for the general public on prevention measures and response activities
- Diagnostic laboratories and deployment strategies
- Review and make approval recommendations for implementing country-wide or regional non-pharmaceutical interventions if and when needed; such as school closures, suspension of large gatherings, implementation of social distancing, flight limitations etc.
- Provide recommendations for the provision of direct funding and technical support to states and local governments to strengthen their preparedness capacity and mobilise human, material and financial resources from within and outside the country for effective national and state-level preparedness.
- Define targets and monitor the progress in the delivery of these targets to meet the minimum requirements for a satisfactory performance and use this to advise the Presidency on the overall national response to COVID-19.
- Coordinate Nigeria’s engagement with other countries’ bilateral and multilateral bodies, international organisations to share lessons, best practices, and technical assistance.
- Keep the public abreast of strategic progress with Nigeria’s response, and emerging developments regarding preparedness and response (See About the PTF https://statehouse.gov.ng/covid19/).
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. As an ad hoc body, the PTF was created to last for six months. However, as we all know, the ravaging effects of COVID-19 made it to last for about one year, enjoying two presidential extensions of three months each, first from end of September to end of December 2020, and subsequently to March 31, 2021. However, during the first week of April, 2021, Mr. Boss Mustapha announced that following approval by the President, the PTF on COVID-19 has been transformed into a Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19.
He also said that after considering its report, the President approved the following: That the PTF will transition to a Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, effective from April 1, 2021, with a modified mandate to reflect the non-emergent status of COVID-19 as a potentially long-term pandemic;
That the structure of the PSC shall reflect the new focus of the response with a targeted approach on vaccine oversight, risk communication, international travel quarantine processes and sub-national engagement; and That the tenure of the Presidential Steering Committee shall last till 31st December, 2021;
The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) would: maintain the present constitution, functions and strategies of the PTF; be supported by a slim technical and administrative structure. The current National Incident Manager (Dr Mukhtar Mohammed) shall formally take over from the National Coordinator and function as the Head (Technical Secretariat) and member of the PSC (See for example news report by the Punch newspaper, 6 April, 2021 via https://punchng.com/covid-19-ptf-transforms-to-presidential-steering-committee/.
During its existence, the PTF discharged its assigned task with a sense of urgency, passion and drive. Since this column had assessed its performance in the past, it suffices to state that under its guidance, Nigeria was able to build molecular laboratories in 52 federal medical centres and teaching hospitals across the country. Other accomplishments include provision of isolation centres, provision of personal protective equipment, supporting key agencies in the fight against COVID-19, provision of 10 ICI beds in each of the 52 federal medical centres and teaching hospitals, supporting states and the Federal Capital Territory with the sum of one billion naira each to help fight COVID-19 with the exception of Lagos and Kano states that got N10 billion and N5 billion respectively (See for example Vanguard newspaper, Thursday, April 22, 2021 https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/04/how-we-spent-covid-19-funds-so-far-fg/).
One major question raised by analysts since the announcement of the transformation of PTF to PSC, is on whether there is a difference between the two coordinating institutional frameworks in the fight against COVID-19. Put differently, in what ways would the PSC on COVID-19 operate differently from its predecessor PTF? Is the change in nomenclature from PTF to PSC merely cosmetic in nature? Again, is there really a good reason for the change in name? These are questions that would be looked into in the second part of this piece next week by God’s 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].