ColumnsNigeriaOpinionNigeria and the COVID-19 Pandemic Problem

A proper leader delegates functions and expects specific tasks to be accomplished by his appointees.

—Dr. I. D. Onwudiwe,

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus, which has metamorphosed into a global pandemic and claimed many lives worldwide. Nigeria, our beloved country, is not immune to the danger of this respiratory tract infection. We have lost many prominent citizens—from the former Chief of Staff to the President and to other politicians—university personnel, and, of course, a multitude of worthy citizens whom we have nothing to read about.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on July 18, 2020, there have been nearly 14 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The United States is the leader in the number of reported cases. However, according to Johns Hopkins University and the WHO, in Africa, South Africa exceeds all of the other nations with 324,221 cases and 4,669 deaths, followed by Nigeria with 34,854 cases and 769 fatalities. Ghana is third on the list with 26,125 cases and 139 deaths.

The pandemic is persistently penetrating the world’s communities, taking lives at an alarming rate. The nations of the world are working to find solutions; however, the most promising vaccines to date are still in their embryonic development stages. While the world awaits for a reliable treatment, communities must pay attention to the measures provided by the WHO that are meant to slow and prevent contamination or infection with the disease. Despite all odds, Nigerians are happy people. The agencies and authorities must educate our people about the danger of the disease and the little things they should do to prevent the spreading of the virus.

It is excruciating to read and hear about our citizens suffering and dying from the COVID-19. It is even more agonizing to know that they are dying in a society that lacks adequate healthcare systems, which were supposed to be appropriately equipped in order to provide the COVID-19 infected people with proper health care. The plight of the poor and the unemployed populations has deteriorated even more from the pandemic. Impoverished Nigerians suffer from the insatiable appetite of the powerful. Elite Nigerians steal billions of naira from the national treasury, and money budgeted by Abuja to help during the pandemic is siphoned into private accounts, leaving the imperfect and surplus populations in a state of anguish and desolation.

I have recently been following the National Assembly’s investigation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) corruption syndrome, an office established by the federal government to help develop the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The billions of naira allocated annually for this program could be used to rightly govern a small country. However, the federal government consistently appoints political friends to head the NDDC, resulting in cyclical looting of funds with impunity, fake contracts, and advanced deception tactics that have become commonplace. The region continually fails to benefit from an excellent program designed to improve people’s lives in infrastructural development and health facilities.

While it is always a novelty to blame the government, some of Nigeria’s problems are probably not generated from the center.  Indeed, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was successful because he delegated power to his lieutenants to manage America’s affairs. Do Nigerians expect President Mohammadu Buhari to oversee every project and program daily? A proper leader delegates functions and expects specific tasks to be accomplished by his appointees. In our case in Nigeria, once political haunters or denizens are appointed, their mandates deviate from the president’s policies. Their goal is to find ways to steal and loot the country dry from the earmarked budgets.

Quality of life would improve significantly if the allocated funds were used for the construction and equipment of modern hospitals, other health facilities, and other vital infrastructural developments such as modern bridges in the area. These political lackeys and treasury raiders should be ordered to repay all that has been stolen. Nigeria could, indeed, better shield its citizens from the COVID-19 menace if budgets were utilized to improve people’s lives.

The best practice would be a policy initiative that puts the citizens first.

The NNDC example serves as a small-scale version of all the regions of the federation. In all the areas, as well as in the center itself, money appropriated for the nation’s management is misdirected. States also have a responsibility to improve the health conditions of their citizens. The best practice would be a policy initiative that puts the citizens first. A personal policy of purchasing buildings abroad and siphoning Nigerian money into foreign accounts is a dysfunctional undertaking. We must use our money to build health facilities that will accommodate Nigerians’ health needs.

Considering the high number of reported deaths from COVID-19 in many other countries and compared to the surges in infections in many of those nations, Nigeria has, so far, been relatively lucky. However, the government cannot afford to become complacent. Perhaps our comparatively low number of deaths are due to the counting, detection, testing, and reporting methods employed by Nigeria, and our young population. Rather than being confined to nursing homes and retirement institutions, which is a relatively common practice in Europe and America, our grandparents generally reside at home with their families. While malaria is a debilitating disease, conventional treatment modalities and knowledge of the disease and the availability of drugs may have also helped Nigeria slow down the COVID-19 death ratios. If the president of the United States could take chloroquine with all the available intelligence, then there must be something relatively good about the drug related to COVID-19 prevention. Quick action by the federal government of Nigeria and the states to implement lockdown rules helped the country manage the pandemic. Unquestionably, the order to wear masks should continue until there is a cure or prevention for the disease. Our borders must be monitored more intensely. The WHO’s policy report and recommendations regarding the washing of hands and social distancing are necessary and should be adhered to. Finally, it is vital to develop indigenous cures while being mindful and knowledgeable of other global findings and treatment methods that work.

It is vital to develop indigenous cures while being mindful and knowledgeable of other global findings and treatment methods that work.

I must underscore that the most harmful thing that could happen to Nigeria would be it becoming an epicenter of the pandemic because the various states and communities lack the adequate capacity in their hospitals and other health facilities to handle a significant rise in COVID-19 cases. To stem the disease’s spread, the federal government must allocate block money to the various states for surge capacity strategies, including upgrading hospitals and treatment centers everywhere in Nigeria. It is a known fact that Nigeria has weak health systems that will exacerbate the problem if there is a fresh surge. Other relevant ideas may include hiring more healthcare workers, such as nurses, doctors, and counselors. Functional electricity capacity, effective water systems, and an increase in the number of beds, medical protective equipment, and vehicles for transporting patients are essential. A COVID-19 pandemic czar could be appointed by the president to prevent budgeted funds from being diverted for private use. If the government resolves some of these concerns, it would be beneficial, because the spread of the disease may engender other security risks. Here, my argument is to prevent the radicalization of youths due to the pandemic’s impact on joblessness. Perhaps issuing checks to the poor in the form of a stimulus package, like those provided in Mexico and the United States, would go a long way toward helping the underprivileged.


■ Dr. Onwudiwe, a Professor of Criminology at the Texas Southern University is on the EDITORIAL BOARD of  the WAP

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