Nigerian Government Response to COVID-19

I watched the news in disbelief last night.

While Britain and other countries made strong decisions regarding handling this COVID-19 outbreak in their nation’s, Nigeria’s president decided to call off Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings till further notice. What? In this time of war?

A nations leaders may not, cannot decide to stop meeting when decisions to affect life or death need to be made. They cannot now suspend their duties crippled by fear.

This is when we need them to meet, to deliberate and move the nation forward through this storm however trifling it may still appear to be on our own shores.

Are they abandoning their duty posts in this time of need?

Again, maybe the announcement to suspend their meetings is to set an example. On that same news roll, the communication minister sat before the press telling them that tougher measures will be announced yesterday or today.

So, maybe suspending FEC meetings was the beginning of the tougher measures. Maybe they want to set an example of social distancing, and greater, an example of alertness, and responsiveness to the outbreak.

I have two things to say about both scenarios.

First, a government which suspends its meetings due to fear implicitly sends a message of weakness, of helplessness, of defeat to the people.

If the strongest representatives of the people can no longer convene, it sends a message of collapse to the people.

I’m just saying, it’s an implicit thing. One people may not even be aware of. It just might be consistent with our fabric, with the observed strength, will, capability of our government.

We currently struggle when it comes to the most significant wars: terrorism, corruption, the infrastructure and maintenance gap, perennial politicization of the most sensitive matters.

But I digress. Let me visit my second point.

The president should not have suspended FEC meetings for any reason. The FEC meetings should have been announced to now continue via teleconferencing. Why do we have all of these technologies in the 21st century?

What we require does not even consist of any critical infrastructure we need to build right now. It is already there.

Or maybe security is an issue. Maybe conducting the meetings of the nation’s highest ruling council remotely, via technology might open the nation up to eavesdropping, espionage threats. Valid points, if those were considered.

But certainly government should be able to make teleconferencing for its own use secure. If they are unable to achieve that, then my suspicions, and the rumors about our actual situation are founded, and true. Enough said.

Let the government establish secure communications for itself.

Can we talk to indigenous tech companies to make this happen at the earliest possible time? (Should part of the $500m needed to modernize NTA be deployed here?)

And let the president send an update to the nation: the FEC will reconvene as usual via teleconferencing to continue to deliberate and steer the affairs of the nation forward.

Residents in Lagos and Abuja were advised to stay at home. Discretionary social distancing.

When life becomes sensitive, decisions cannot be left open-ended or to the whims or emotions. In time of merriment, different shades exist, but things quickly become black or white in life or death situations. This coronavirus situation is a black or white situation.

Dear President, please make up your mind and order your people to stay at home.

Britain had learned very quickly. Death toll rising, said to be in sync with Italy’s within the period of first detection, government was appalled to see people still congregating at social gatherings, visiting cafes, beaches and generally carrying on.

But the graph is going up and government is scrambling to avoid a repeat of Italy’s situation.

Now, compulsory stay at home except for listed essential services, no more gatherings of more than two. The government has also announced to pay 80% of workers pay for three months to assuage the hardship.

What can Nigeria’s government do?

  • Ask everyone to stay at home now
  • Slash government excesses
  • Draw funds from government treasury
  • Pool all those funds
  • Use 35% of the funds to scale up emergency and medical response to the outbreak
  • Redistribute remaining 65% to workers, public and private, for the next three months
  • Keep the economy going even if slower

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