COVID-19: TIME FOR LEADERSHIP

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The President should mobilise the country against the deadly viral disease

Within the past 48 hours, there had been a spike in the number of new cases of Coronavirus infection in the country, including Abuja where doctors in public hospitals had been on strike. That the new cases are coming at a time the Italian who was first diagnosed with the virus had recovered and discharged from the Lagos centre where he was being treated, should worry the authorities. More disturbing is that most of these new cases are Nigerian nationals who had recent travel history to the United States, Canada and Europe where the virus has been raging.

However, what is most regrettable is that Nigeria still has failed to demonstrate a concerted approach in its preparedness to cope with a clear public health emergency. As the cases increase, citizens are left in the dark on many subjects: availability of test kits, protective gears, hospital bed space, stockpile of essential drugs, etc. There is even no indication that the federal government has tried to mobilise the nation’s huge human asset of medical experts to assist in this emergency. Instead, the nation’s desperate cries for reassuring leadership in an hour of distress has been met with presidential silence and abuses from officialdom.

Since President Muhammadu Buhari has shown a lack of willingness to lead a national response to this health emergency, some charlatans are seizing the space. The Governor of Abia, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu is waxing spiritual, leaving the people at the mercy of his ‘prophecy’ that just like Ebola and Monkeypox, Covid-19 will not get to his state. Yesterday, there were still large congregations in many churches across the country because there is yet no rallying point on how to deal with the unprecedented situation.

We must commend Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State where the first index case was recorded before some other detections last week. He and members of his team have been proactive in dealing with the menace. Even the Governor of Taraba, Mr Darius Ishaku, who left his state last December and had since been holed up in Abuja for the past three months returned home last Thursday to lead the Coronavirus response. “We don’t have test kits available here in the state and we must prioritise personal hygiene to avoid the virus”, Darius said, as he announced a ban on handshake in Taraba upon arrival.

That the country is going through a difficult period as a result of the pandemic is no longer in doubt. With oil prices badly hit, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has had to devalue the national currency that is on downward spiral at the black market. Prices of essential drugs like paracetamol and that of other commodities are going up. Ironically, our national recourse to prayer and divine intercession may not serve us now that churches and mosques have been shut.

Unfortunately, the Senate resolution which called on President Buhari to address Nigerians on the health crisis has riled his handlers. “Populist advocacies such as the one accusing the president of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational”, said Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu. Yet the synergy which states ought to exhibit at such a moment is absent as some governors show either ignorant aloofness or pathetic helplessness and indifference since there is no direction from Abuja.

It would appear that the Villa cannot read the mood of Nigerians who feel let down at a most critical period. But it is not too late for President Buhari to change course and rally the country in the fight against Covid-19.