IDEAS Radio 27 March 2020

COVID19 in Nigeria: IDEAS issues

Aghogho Oboh: Hello good afternoon to everyone.  Jacu Vacu wherever you may be.  I’m Aghogho Oboh, and this is the first day of the rest of our lives, like my friend will like to say.  And, at least in Lagos it’s been a frenetic week, frantic it’s been, as last minute shoppings, and last minute withdrawals have happened  just like the so real end to the movie, Corona virus, we’re going to have to deal with for the next week, at least the Governor said, two weeks rather, but for this show we’ll continue the conversation on the war against Corona virus for the next two hours on Public Square, where will begin the conversation with Ayo Obe … shortly.  And where we’ll have this discussion, looking at the IDEAS angle to the story.  And after that, briefly, we will have a look at … we’ll have a look at the economic side, Budget is the discussion we’re going to be having.  Sovereign Wealth Fund is something people have talked about.  Just may be, you know just may be … this is what people have asked the questions, what can we do with the significant volumes that saved Nigeria during the meltdown in 2009 are not available now, and so this time around Nigerians in dire need will be asking the questions where the monies will come from?  N3 trillion naira, the government’s talked about already, that they want to use to cushion the Corona virus and its effect.  Then Rotimi Sankore will join the conversation, analysis on public policy, from the global perspective to national and then local perspective.

Remember you can join the conversation on Public Square on social media handles on Twitter @PublicSquareNG, @NigeriaInfoFM, @ideasradiong, and … @RotimiSankore as well as @AghoghoOboh.  Any of those handles, you can join.

I’m Aghogho Oboh, and this …

[Trailer]

AgO: Alright, welcome back.  I believe we have Ayo Obe now on.  Hello!

Ayo Obe: Hi Aghogho, how are you?

AgO: Brilliant.  And the wonders of technology, I was a bit not sure whether we had connected.  But thankfully, Ayo is on. 

AO: Ok, we have, we have.

AgO: Brilliant, brilliant.  It’s a bit awkward, just being in the studio alone, Ayo, Rotimi and everyone …

AO: I know, I know.  It doesn’t mean that nobody loves you Aghogho, we’re just observing social distance.

AgO: This social distancing has run into several … several miles.  But, on IDEAS, which we, usually we will look at all the issues, especially, with the big issue being COVID-19, and the war against COVID-19 is what IDEAS is dealing with today Ayo

AO: Yeah, I mean, I thought that … because you may remember that we discussed it a month ago, at the end of February, and we talked about the issue of trust, and how, because we have an Integrity, Ethics, and Accountability deficit, that we have this trust deficit.  But I think that since then, events on the Coronavirus front have really moved on apace, if I can put it like that, in the sense that we seem to be having … on the one hand we have … it seems as though we have a good technical response in regard to the issue of tracing and treating people who have come into contact with Coronavirus carriers.  But on the other, we have these … questions at every level …

AgO: Right, right.

AO: I give one for example, we have the … you know we have a federal system.

AgO: Right.

AO:  And it seems as though we are not able to decide where the Accountability, or different aspects of the response to Corona virus lies.  And that may be because of the perception of lack of leadership.

AgO: And you see this spread across all the states, I see you have examples …

AO: Yes, for example we’ve got some State Governments are saying that people are not going to be allowed to drive into their states.  Others are saying … that it is only air traffic that is allowed or not allowed, although we should note that all the airlines in Nigeria, effectively … have ceased operations.  And there’s no surprise about that, because passengers don’t want to be cooped up with … 50 other people breathing into the same air, although we are always told that the air in planes is recirculated and so on,  But the question in exercising these powers … (and I should say that I’m indebted to people who have raised this, such as a Legal Practitioner by the name of Inibehe Effiong, and we’ve also seen articles by Ebun Adegboruwa SAN) and it may seem as though there is nit-picking, but … because as I said, we have this trust deficit, and while some people are saying: “No, this is an emergency!  We have to …” and I must admit that I felt that there should be powers, that it’s legal, but the question is, for the government to impose all sorts of restrictions on our movement and our gathering and on our assembling and so on.  But it … but serious questions have been raised about the need for it to be done in a legal manner.  And while people may say that … and as I said, I confess to having been one of them: “Why is it important that we should have a proper legal framework?”  It’s all about the Accountability issue again.  It’s not to say that law enforcement is wearing a halo when it comes to enforcement of laws.  We’ve all seen the terrible video of the police officers who thought that they were enforcing an order by the Lagos State Government to close markets, and instead of just going to close shops and close markets, they took it upon themselves to actually run riot and start destroying goods, with no authority.  Anyway, it’s said that the Inspector-General has taken responsibility, because he is Accountable for that behaviour.  ,And so, those officers are going to have to account for their actions.  But it’s a sign of the concern, that when the powers are not defined, then there’s a danger of their being abused and nobody even being able to say: “But this is what you are allowed to do, this is what you are not allowed to do.”  So I think that’s one of the problems that …

AgO: Still staying on the issue of federalism.  In the last hour or so, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, was speaking, and he was asked a question about the sort of actions the states had taken, that some have taken  limited numbers to 50, you know, different numbers here and there, and  he said “Very soon, the Federal Government will come up with a national position on this.”  What would you have preferred?

AO: I mean what’s?  I mean come on Aghogho, you yourself know that: What is ‘very soon”?  We’re in the middle of an emergency.  And the emergency started the day because as I said, we discussed this programme, this issue a month ago, and the reason why we discussed it was that that week, the last week of February, was when we had our first confirmed case.  … And so the idea that … and that confirmed case by the way, was found to have infected another Nigerian, somebody who had not travelled.  Ok?  So the idea that the Ministry of Health … it’s something as far as I’m concerned, should have been worked out between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice (who has to draw up the necessary regulations and legislation), and  the National, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.  These rules and regulations are not rocket science.  So it … so that is not good enough.  On the other hand … we who are in Lagos, we tend to be a little bit spoiled.  But you will remember the case of the lady who arrived from abroad, and she felt ill, and she was in Enugu.  And the government, the State Government just did not seem to be prepared in the sense that the staff just heard: “Ah, that this person may have Corona virus!”, and they put the person in a place that was really not fit for use, and nobody attended to her, she did not test positive for the virus, but she was not treated for the condition which made her ill!  And very sadly she passed away.  So I think that those are the sorts of things where State Governments need understand that they are responsible for establishing and maintaining Isolation Centres …

AgO: Absolutely, absolutely.

AO: … and for also training the staff who are going to be there, and equipping them so that they don’t have to feel afraid to handle or to shun, or to maltreat the people who are admitted to the Isolation Centres.  Why?  Because of course, if people fear to go to the Isolation Centres, then the whole business of tracing is not going to … is not going to work.

AgO: Very true, which is a key component of the entire war against COVID-19 in the country.  The heart of the matter Ayo, with respect to the Accountability issue, it appears that some of the improvement in testing is being tied to a donation by Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma.  There’ve been questions on how this got to Lagos first, and then was moved to Abuja, whereas Lagos is the epicentre of the COVID-19 cases going on.

AO: Well, I’m not able to say … I mean certainly we saw materials that had been donated, being taken out of Lagos and we were told that the Nigerian Air Force was lifting them to Abuja.  Whether it was the entirety of the donation, I don’t know.  I also don’t know, to be frank, whether Lagos … because the Lagos private sector and the Lagos State Government have been more … on point, if I may use the expression, in responding and tracing and testing, than maybe some other parts of the country have been, and it may be that we have sufficient in Lagos and more needs to be taken to other places.  And I think it’s important to say that, because I did listen to the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, and he was emphasising, because you know, there’s been this sort of – again a trust issue, “The reason why we don’t have a lot of cases is because we’re not doing enough testing”, and this is … going around all over the place.  And what the Lagos State Commissioner for Health was emphasising is that: “We don’t just test for your peace of mind.”  And in fact the World Health Organisation, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, had also emphasized that what is needed at the moment are aggressive measures to Find the people, Isolate them and then to Test them.  I mean, even South Korea which had recorded a very good result …

AgO: It sort of flattened the curve

AO: … is not just going out and randomly testing everybody.  It’s done a lot of testing because it’s done a lot of very expensive tracing and then testing contacts, so it’s not to say that everybody who is …  they just go out on the streets and start testing everybody, so I think we need to understand that.  At the same time however, I think that if the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is giving us the data about the number of cases and the number of recoveries, the number of deaths, it ought also to give us data about the number of tests that it is carrying out, so that we don’t … we’re not sort of just telling ourselves that … because there’s a lot of chatter   I appreciate that social media is not the world, the real world at large, but there is a lot of chatter, and  I see it on Twitter, I also see it on some WhatsApp groups, and the chatter is that we can’t trust the figures that the Government is giving us because we have … we’re not testing enough people.

AgO: Is it such an uphill task when you hear government officials during the press briefing saying: This war against COVID-19 isn’t just for the government alone, it also involves the people.”?  And if you get donations and we have funds and revenue being thrown in fighting COVID-19 to say that we trust in how these monies are being used rather, but unfortunately, if you take the poll outside, most people do think that most of those donations of monies, don’t get to the people who eventually need them.

AO: Yeah, I mean that … how do I put it?  I don’t want to … I can’t fault the sort of daily technical briefings by the Ministry of Health and the …

AgO: NCDC.

AO: … Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and the Director General of those … bodies.  But I think that we would be deluding ourselves if we don’t understand that there is another narrative out there which can only be addressed by transparency at every level.  And so, if, for example, we hear that the Chief of Staff has tested positive to Corona virus, and then the rumour mill goes into overdrive … do you understand?  “He’s being flown to Lagos!”, “He’s being flown … smuggled abroad!” … This and that is happening!  And all we hear from the State House is … and even the rumour that the, you know, about the President, and what we hear from the State House is: “Later, that we are coming in with our response later”, or instead of just coming out and being upfront with the people.  It’s not that we have to … As I’ve said on my Twitter feed, it’s not that I expect the President to be like Boris Johnson or Donald Trump.  In fact Donald Trump, arguably has done more harm than good by insisting on taking centre stage in the fight against Corona virus.  But, I see that there are a lot of … because we have to remember that not everybody is glued to social media where conspiracy theories … I mean, these different … quarrelling, complaints and all the rest of it goes on.  We have to remember that a lot of ordinary people, actually, when their President speaks, they believe him.  So while the the belief is out there at the moment: “Ah! Na rich man disease o!”  “E no dey for Nigeria, no be Nigeria disease o!”  and all of this, that … when you see the President sitting there and telling you, or even debunking some of the stories and rumours.  I didn’t think it sounded very … I don’t think it was a very useful excuse, to start talking about the President’s style, because everybody, in fighting this disease, is going to have to make an adjustment in their way of life.

AgO: Yeah, I mean huge sacrifices.

AO: It’s not just those of us who are working from home, are able to work from home; those who are not able to work from home.  They are going to …  As I said a month ago, we’re asking a lot of – when I say “a lot of people”, I don’t mean ‘many people’, I mean that we are asking them to sacrifice a lot, and we and those in positions of authority should be ready to sacrifice a little bit of their privacy, their comfort zone and so on, so that they can win back our trust.  

AgO: Absolutely.

AO: And we don’t want to see donations not being explained.  … There’s been a lot of cynicism, that those things will not be seen being sold on the streets of markets in Nigeria.  That’s not a good look for Nigeria.  I appreciate that  it’s a national pastime all over the world now to abuse our leaders about Corona virus, but I think that they need to put in, they need to go the extra mile, develop a very thick skin and step up to the plate.

AgO: Alright.  So final thoughts on this one Ayo, to bring the IDEAS segment to a close.

AO: … Thank you.  … I would just say that I’m just one of those staying at home.  I think we need to understand that the job is indeed not just for the government authorities, we all have to try and do our part, especially about trying to educate those who may be sceptical about the disease and … but I do think that … we may not be able to do a lockdown in the sense that people just cannot stay at home.  But we have to have  a system in place whereby people who are unable to earn money – and  the group is growing because of the general closing down of the public space – we have to have  a system whereby people who are not able to earn will be able to be fed.   I see that the Lagos State Government has asked: Do we want a lockdown?  It’s also asking, it’s also making available, or preparing to make available these resources, but that really needs to … we need not to abuse it, as citizens, but it also needs to be an absolute obligation that the government needs to meet.

AgO: Alright, we’ll leave it at that.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe.

AO: Thank you, and I leave you back in the Public Square.  It’s unfortunate that I can’t talk to Rotimi at the same time because he’s working from home, but I hope that your technology will allow to step up to the plate in future.

AgO: Yes, and we can have a conference call.

AO: Ok, Take care, and stay safe.

AgO: Alright.  So … IDEAS happens every week at this time.