COVID-19 Lockdown: An Open Letter to Governors on Unintended Consequences

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OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNORS OF 36 STATES

BEWARE OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: A WARNING TO POLICY MAKERS

Your Excellencies,

I want to begin this address by placing on record my acknowledgment and appreciation of your special efforts, exertions and labour in the midst of this trying period occasioned by a disabling pandemic and the challenges associated with it.

I acknowledge the fact that most of you have been doing more with less and, as the days ahead will show, even much more will still have to be done. It is in a period of crisis that true and genuine leadership emerges; it is a time of trial that separates the leaders from pretenders.

What distinguishes a Churchill from a Chamberlain is not knowledge or politics alone, it is also time. Time and trials reveal the measure and quality of the man.
This is your time, seize it and make the most use of it.

I challenge you to see this period as not just a test of Nigeria but also of your own leadership capacity and capabilities.

PURPOSE OF MY LETTER

The main reason for my letter concerns your Meeting of April 22 and the Resolution to enforce a two-week inter-state lockdown across the 36 states.

This agreement was carried by virtually all Nigerian newspapers and the Mainstream Media (MSM) and Social Media platforms. Just when the enforcement of this new lockdown will begin is what is not clear from the communique issued by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Chair of Nigerian Governors Forum.

If this “unanimous decision” by the Governors of another two – week inter – state lockdown is indeed unanimous and taken by all the governors then it is time to interrogate and pose some questions to that Forum:

*What expert advice informs your decision- making and who are these experts?

*How much history and historical knowledge, understanding from the past is involved or has been brought to bear in this decision-making and policy framework?

There have been pandemics in the past, much more terrible than this and we know what works and what doesn’t. How much of this knowledge is involved in this decision?

*Would there be any derivable benefits either on the long or short time from this policy or, on the other hands, should we expect terrible calamity resulting from it?

These are the questions we must find answers to before this policy goes into execution.

It is specifically for this reason that I now write to warn you that you are about to inflict terrible and unimaginable damage to this nation, its people, economy through a bad policy that is poorly conceived, historically- unwise and intellectually – unsound; and which is sure to be counterproductive.

A REVIEW OF STRATEGIES

In the last week of March ( March 29, 2020,) The President, Mohammadu Buhari imposed a 2 – week lockdown on Lagos and Ogun States and the FCT to curtail the spread of the COVID- 19.

Two weeks later when the lockdown was to expire he extended it by slamming another two weeks, which should expire this coming Monday, 27th 2020, subject to non- renewal.

Thus for 4 weeks Lagos and Ogun States, the industrial and economic capital of Nigeria has been shut stopping all economic and social activities within the period.

If this new lockdown by the Governors comes into effect then another two weeks blocking inter- state and possibly intra-state movement.

Already this policy intended to curtail and stop the spread of this virus has inflicted untold suffering on the masses in a nation where 70% are permanently locked down by poverty and where others are, if the truth were to be told, under- engaged, under- employed and under- utilised.

Mass hunger is now evident everywhere as people who are already facing challenges even at the best of times have no where to turn. Churches and organisations, Community/Town Associations that might have helped them through welfare schemes are under lock and key.

In some places banks are not working even for people to draw cash for essential items. And government who placed them in this precarious situation has not been forthcoming and their efforts and succour have been too little and too late.

The divisive, tribalistic and nepotistic trademarks of this Federal Government has also been clearly revealed for those still in doubt to see: While those in the Southern part who are under lockdown are crying for help and some are struggling to maintain their sanity; their northern counterparts are displaying raw cash distributed from Social Intervention Programs. In the same nation!

Hunger and suffering are just two sides of the same coin. There is another, insecurity.

Hoodlums, cultists, street gangs, urchins, touts and erstwhile party thugs who are unable to make their daily extortion and expropriation from motorists and others have been visiting homes to wreck havocs on the same people, already traumatised by lockdown.

All these are the price and costs, visible and uncountable that Nigerians have been bearing since the beginning of this virus.

The question to ask is how well have these measures succeeded in curtailing this epidemic? Four weeks is a fairly long enough time in the life of a nation to review whether a policy has worked, is working, or likely to work.

It is fair to ask ourselves: how has this policy of quarantine or lockdown work in the last 4 weeks? Is there any improvement or progress in curtailing the virus?
Let the statistics speak for itself:

BEFORE LOCKDOWN

As at March 24, 2020:

* Lagos: No. of cases: 29

* Abuja: No. of cases: 8

* Nigeria: Total number: 44

(Source: www.hrw.org)

AT LOCKDOWN

As at March 29, 2020, (when the lockdown was imposed)

Nigeria : Total: 65
Deaths: 2

( Source: WHO, see http a//: www.who.into.doc PDF)

TWO WEEKS INTO LOCKDOWN (AS AT APRIL 16)

Lagos: Cases: 232
Abuja : Cases: 58
Ogun: Cases : 9
Oyo : Cases : 11
Nigeria: Total: 407
Deaths: 12

AS AT TODAY SATURDAY 25/4/2020

We have the following figures according to NCDC:

Lagos : 657
FCT : 138
Ogun: 35
Oyo. : 18
Nigeria (Total): 1095
Deaths: 32

[Source: The Punch newspaper online 25/4/2020]

The above figures speak for themselves and need no elaboration. The statistics itself show convincingly that either it is not telling us the truth or something is not working. Not only has cases multiplied in the locked states, it has multiplied astronomically.

Unexpectedly, the states where citizens are free to go about their business and observe the conventions have far fewer cases. Oyo despite its refusal to lock only experienced marginal increase compared to Osun where it has multiplied.

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This is why I seriously urge you to rethink another proposed 2- week lockdown.
If it is not working, is it likely to work now with another two weeks?Lagos has been locked for almost four weeks now, still it is leading in the number of sufferers and new cases.

More Lagosians have fallen and gotten this virus since the lockdown began than any other state. In eight out of the twenty Local Councils in Ogun State this virus is spreading; yet the state is under lockdown.

Conversely Oyo State where there is no lockdown and where people go about their business but maintain the conventions and necessary precautions has one of the least cases in the Southwest.

So the question should be asked, the million dollar question: DO QUARANTINE WORK?

DO QUARANTINE WORK?

Do quarantine or lockdown really work? Has it ever worked to stop any virus or epidemic? I regret to tell you that the answer is negative. Quarantine cannot stop the spread or growth of any virus or epidemic once it has entered a nation and has begun its progressive march across the length and breath.

It is instructive that even the World Health Organisation, WHO in its strategic objectives did not recommend total lockdown of an entire nation or state.

In its Strategic Objectives it encourages nation to “interrupt human- to – human transmission including reducing secondary infections among close contacts…”

It also canvasses public health measures such as “rapid identification, diagnosis and management of cases, identification and follow-up of contacts, infection prevention, control in health care settings, implementation of health measures for travelers, awareness- raising in the population and risk communication.” [See www.who.into.doc]

Notice that even WHO did not recommend a partial or total lockdown of any state.
“Do lockdowns work?”, I ask you this question again. THEY DONT.

This is where History, Medical History, Pandemic History can be of help to us – if we are ready to learn.

If there is one thing made clear from past history of plagues and pandemics, if there is a fact which even the people of the past tried to leave for us about how to fight a pandemic it is that we should never tried a quarantine or lockdown because they won’t stop the virus, yet they will inflict massive disruption – economics, religious, social etc – that will be difficult to recover from.

It is not enough to conceive policies that are brilliant on paper and academic. Once in a while we should examine what history has got to teach us about those policies to improve their quality.

QUARANTINE AND HISTORY

COVID-19 is not Nigeria’s first encounter with a plague or pandemic. And it is not the world’s first encounter. How much of the lessons of the past is guiding us or our decision now?

In 1918 during the Great Influenza Epidemic the colonial officials experimented with the idea of quarantine, exactly as this government is now doing. Churches and all places of public assembly like schools and offices were closed.

Movement was curtailed. Despite all these the virus spread across the nation especially the South. By the time it was through 250,000 southerners went down with that epidemic’s. The lockdown failed.

In the same year in a bid to curtail the same strain of the virus in Lome, Togo being occupied by then British soldiers, a total lockdown was imposed.

All the sufferers, 57 of them, and their likely contacts were quarantined and all forms of transport to Lome were locked by the military. Despite all these by October, 1918, the Influenza was spreading in Lome at an alarming rate.
The French authorities tried this method again in the then Upper Volta with the same results if not worse.

Ghana had one of the worst mortality rates per population in the epidemics of 1918 in sub- Sahara Africa; yet it was one of the few places where quarantine was so effectively enforced.

At last the colonial officials admitted that lockdowns or quarantine do not work; they only cause disruption. This is a fact and is documented in history. [ See David K. Patterson, “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 -19 in the Gold Coast,” The Journal of African History, Vol. 24, No.4 ( 1983), pp.485-502 ]

It was the same in South Africa.
There was no African nation where the enforcement of quarantine or lockdown on an entire population succeeded in totally stopping a pandemic.

As in Africa so too in America. To enter some American cities in 1918 you need a medical certificate attesting to your medical fitness. Despite this the plague was not stopped and hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens went down with that plague.

If these policies did not work then is it likely that they will work now? If a lockdown of cities failed to stop a pandemic in 1918 and in 1348 when men were not as modern and sophisticated as today, is there any likelihood that a lockdown of an entire state and nation will succeed in a day when men are more restless than ever?

In a place like Lagos with its density and pressures and its many internal road networks is it possible to enforce a total lockdown? People will still move about if not in the day, then in the night.

An inter- state lockdown will be difficult because people will find means to reach other states using footpaths, other internal road networks.

The worse thing is, at the end, it may be a self- inflicted injury because it wont flatten any curve or lower the pandemic and it wont mitigate it. On the other hand it will damage the already weak and stressed economy and it may lead to recession and ultimately depression.

This is why I support Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade’s position who has spoken through his assistant that “another lockdown extension will spell doom.” ( Vanguard 24/4/2020) It could spell more than doom.
You will do well to listen to him.

There may be other consequences. Civil Disobedience is one; open revolt is another or outright defiance. If you think that you are so popular with people that they would love you more than their own souls, then you are seriously mistaken.

I shall come to this shortly.

THE WAY FORWARD

I now move to concrete and specific issues about how to combat this enemy and challenges on our hands.

1. WALK TO THE BARKING DOG

What then is to be done? COVID- 19 is a barking dog and is currently barking not only at Nigeria but the whole world.

When a dog barks at you what do you do? To run is to make matters worse; and you understand why lockdown is a wrong policy. It is like running before a barking dog, which would make it to pursue you further.

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On the other hand when a dog barks at you, you walk boldly against it and shout at it to keep quiet. Then it retreats.

COVID – 19 is an invasion, it is an enemy and as such you fight it like you fight every mortal enemy. How do you fight an enemy? Not by running into your houses and locking your door, you go out against him and meet him ” fire for fire.”

Lockdown solves nothing, it is trench warfare, defensive warfare and it is a mistake to engage in defensive warfare with an enemy that is deadly and already in your territory; an enemy that does not respect Armistice, ceasefire or boundaries, cold and ruthless, and which has nothing to lose.

COVID-19 will not be defeated just by locking down even if you lock Nigeria for the rest of the year. It will be defeated by looking for the cure and applying it to confront this disease.

However, while a solution is being sought there are other containment measures and positive steps and schemes that could be employed to defeat this enemy.
If we are fighting a war how much weapons and forces do we have as at today?

HEALTH FACILITIES/ MANPOWER

Due to long neglect of the health sector we do not even have the minimum requirements to face an emergency that will soon be on our hands. Our hospitals and medical facilities are now even, in some cases, worse than “mere consulting clinics.”

The General Hospitals are under equipped and understaffed and soon may be overwhelmed.

According to Nigerian Medical Association, total number of registered doctors is 40,000. For a population of almost 200 millions that boils down to physician – to – patient ratio of 1:2500 as against the 1:1000 recommended by WHO. This is a challenge.

When you also add that we have 1.8 million people in internally- displaced population and another 7 million in dire. need of urgent life- saving assistance due to malnutrition, diseases, you see a clear picture of the challenge facing us.

Soon there would be increased maternal cases and baby boom as a result of increased pregnancies and unplanned babies due to millions of active young men, husbands and pretty wives now forced together at home, 24/7 due to lockdown.

Which hospitals will take care of these? This is one of the Unintended Consequences that will soon hit this nation in the next nine or ten months to come.

SUGGESTED CONSIDERATIONS

I suggest the following:

* Since we are presently short staffed in the health sector we should first increase the number to meet the emergency:

1. Invite retired but still active doctors and experienced nurses back to public service.

2. Recall all NYSC doctors who are presently at home due to closure for emergency services. They can report in their home state.

3. Since universities are presently closed, invite all Final Year Medical students and even semi- final, since they are already Clinical and on ward rounds they know a lot and can be kitted and equipped for at least minor cases so that the experienced doctors will face the dire cases.

In 1918 America faced with shortage of medical doctors due to war had to resort to this. And it worked.

4. Establish new facilities with basic things to alleviate pressure from special centres thus reducing traffic and risk of infection.

5. One major lesson from past epidemic’s and even the present is that the poor usually suffer and are ready victims much more than the rich.

Why? Because the rich has access to good food, nutrition and thus with a strong immunity to resist any plague. The poor has not.

Thus one way governors can reduce this virus is to make access to good food easier at reduced prices for the masses. More than ever before they need good food and balanced diet today than at any time. This will do wonders.

In 1918 it was found that prisoners in Ghana survived at a better rate ( 7.8 death per 100) than villagers in their huts ( 10 deaths per 100).

Why? Because prisoners had access to balanced meal thus had a better immunity to fight the plague compared to the poor villagers on mono diet.

It is sad that government has not provided anything in terms of sustenance for the people and does not bother to find out how they live except to contemplate another extension of lockdown. Of course when you are locked up in Government Houses eating choice food and drinking vintage wine with your wives and concubines you are not likely to know that someone is suffering. But you should know, it is your duty to know. Else you are a pretender not a leader.

This is why another lockdown at this time without addressing how people will eat or find their daily food is both insensitive, callous and wicked.

ALLOW WORK TO RESUME IN PHASES

Nigerians are faced with two mortal dangers now: a ravaging pandemic and an economy that is troubled.

Most people and government have been worrying at the former but we should take thought at the latter. Covid-19 is not a terminal disease and people have recovered from it.

But has anyone consider the danger that will befall Nigeria if the economy collapses? Covid-19 is escapable and surmountable but hunger is not amenable to any drug ever manufactured by man.

There is truth in Mahtma Gandhi’s saying: “Not even God will appear to a hungry man except in the form of bread”.

In the process of fighting Corona virus we should be careful that we do not expose Nigerians to the other virus – hunger virus.

This will be more deadly because it could lead to revolution, end of democracy and the enthronements of fascism. Remember Germany, remember France. A word to the wise is enough.

I will therefore suggest that work should be allowed to begin in phases. First let the Food / Agriculture chain begins.

We are already in raining season and farmers cannot go out to plant what will Nigerians eat next year? Plagues have been known to lead to famine. In 1348 the Black Plague led to famine in many parts of Europe; this must not be allowed to happen here.

Then let the Service industries begin operation – banks and financial institutions.
Then the Schools can resume and so on.
In all the places citizens will follow the conventions by wearing face masks, maintain social distance, hand washing with sanitisers before entering any public places etc.

Nigeria cannot be locked indefinitely. We are already behind and the economy is really bad with oil now selling at $1 per barrel. We should not worsen already bad situation.

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On no account should the economy be allowed to enter into depression because everyone will suffer for it and democracy will be the first victim. Remember the Second Republic; from the day Shehu Shagari announced Austerity measures in 1982 his days and the days of the Second Republic were numbered. Let us learn from history. The economy matters, much more than corona virus.

LET CHURCHES REOPEN

You may find this difficult to believe but we need the churches at this time more than at any time. History vividly confirms the power of Faith to surmount any obstacle or hindrances.

With Faith and Hope people have survived epidemics, Holocaust, wars, Gulag, Siberia, kidnapper’s den etc. This is why religion matters and both History and Contemporary Experience and Research attest to the power of Faith.

I have critiqued contemporary Nigerian Christianity and Church probably more than any other person in this generation, that is when you talk of real critique traversing theology, structure, messages, doctrine, orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

But I cannot deny that the Church even in her weak form serves a powerful purpose in society. There are three reasons why we need the churches at this time:

1. Through fellowship it will provide emotional support, hope and faith for members to go through this struggle ahead of them.

2. It will be able to help the needy especially their members through Welfare schemes since government has abdicated this responsibility which its lockdown has created. This would reduce the pressures from the populace because their rich members will succour the needy.

The Nigerian Church can do a lot in this regard to save us from the massive humanitarian crisis that is coming. Why did Britain escape a bloody Revolution, the fate of France in the 18th century?

Because the Methodist Movement and awakening provided welfare schemes that helped the poor and thus were not as bitter and vengeful as those of France.

Since government cannot provide food it should allow the churches to at least take care of their own members. To refuse to give food to hungry people and still prevent those who will is wickedness of the most extreme form.

3. Not all Nigerian Churches have lost spiritual purpose and power.

There is still the 7000 that has not bowed their knees to Baal. Never underestimate the power of Faith and the enormous spiritual potential as a result of the churches lifting their voices to God in prayers.

In 1918, the Aladura did wonders with prayers as they moved from house to house in Ijebu- Ode praying for sick people due to epidemics with great results.

Their counterparts in Ghana, the Faith Tabernacle did the same. It was only this Praying Movement that could handle the sick with astounding results as a result of prayer, when even colonial officials and medical facilities failed in the face of a strange pandemic. 1918 shows that God still answers prayers and Prayers work when every other things fail. What I am saying is not fantasy, but a fact that is documented in history.

The paper to read is [ Adam Mohr, “Capitalism, Chaos and Christian Healing: Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Southern Colonial Ghana, 1918-26.” Journal of African History, 51 (2011), pp. 63-83. Cambridge University Press, 2011]]

Let the churches reopen immediately with members observing the conventions. Nigeria now needs her churches more than ever before.

Same with mosques.

LET SOCIAL LIFE BEGIN GRADUALLY

With all the above in place let social life begin, gradually. Weddings can take place with only 10 or 20 people present.

Funerals can take place with 15 or 20, relatives only. During the 1918 Influenza epidemic America limited funerals to only 15; but it did not forbid it.

The great danger of social dislocation must be avoided and of driving a wedge between society through this virus. Life will eventually return to normal and restoration must not be made difficult after this.

A WARNING AND AN APPEAL

So much attention has been devoted to the Corona virus that we have forgotten about other vital issues and more pressing concerns.

Even WHO has not recommended a total lockdown because of the economy knowing the symbiotic relationship between health and work. Instead it has requested nations to ” minimize social and economic impact through multi – sectoral partnerships.”

The United Nations warned this week that the world faces multiple famines of “biblical proportions” in just a matter of months warning that corona virus will push another130 million to the brink of starvation.

We are about to face a famine of “biblical proportions” but we have no Joseph to man our economy and national planning. So how many of these 130 millions will be in Nigeria?

No one is preparing for this or talking about this except Covid-19.

Even now many are already hungry in this nation. Yet a man by the name of Lai Mohammed has publicly declared in a provocative and arrogant manner, without any shame or data that no one is hungry in Nigeria since they have disbursed 100 billion naira – perhaps to their agents, parry stalwarts, thugs, touts, their ragged legions of street sweepers, urchins, lay lubbers, tinkerers, herdsmen, coat hangers, shoe shiners etc.

Both LCCI, NECA ASBON have also voiced their concerns that with inflation rate now at 1.26% Nigerians face a hard and bleak future.

So where do we go from here?

This is why I strongly suggest that the economy must not be allowed to enter into a terminal crisis. On no account.

Work must begin immediately. We are focusing the wrong enemy. Hunger will kill more Nigerians than Covid-19, if the economy collapses or slips into Depression.

There is a historical nexus between the collapse of an economy and the death of democracy and rise of totalitarianism. Post- war Germany is an object lesson and our best illustration.

I warn you to be careful about your decisions as per the economy at this time. So much man- hours have been lost, and so many lives have been attacked by the virus but these will pale into insignificance when the economy fails and/or famine ensues.
I urge you all to think seriously on what I have said here.

Your Excellencies, I thank you for your patience.

Your Compatriot,

Moses Oludele Idowu

He can be reached via mosheoluidowu@yahoo.com

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