A Pandemic Nigeria in COVID-19 Era

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By Kassim Afegbua

This is a layman view, thinking aloud at a pandemic era in Nigeria when all seems bleak; future unassured, economy uncertain, leadership on recess, hypocrisy flourishing, priority misplaced, policy summersaults, creativity on reverse, initiative absent, national consensus broken, regional harmony in tatters, nepotism on the increase, ethnic bigotry growing rapidly and the citizenry utterly disillusioned.

It is a view that attempts to underpin the several contradictions that perpetuate our land and our leadership factory, where workers are left alone in the hands of those “who are not in politics to solve problems”, but to add to our problems.

A leadership that does not take ownership of anything other than the blame game. How is our economy fairing?

Are we making progress in this era of COVID-19? Have we made progress in the last five years? Have we done better in terms of standard and quality of living? Does Nigeria look like a promising journey to a better destination? Are the signs we see today telling us something about our future?

I was at Nyanya area of Abuja on Saturday, 16 May, to feel the vibrations of the hussles of the ordinary man easily classified as “poorest of the poor”. I saw a gathering of able-bodied men and women, around the market square and I decided to distract their discussion. I asked them what they were arguing about that was almost becoming a quarrel. It was about a N50 note.

A customer who had hired a wheelbarrow pusher had given the note that later turned out to be bad. Before the young boy could discover, the customer had disappeared into the market. And it became a heated argument of cursing, abusing and wailing. I dipped my hand into the pocket and gave him a N500 note and advised him to return to work. At this time, I was the only one wearing the nose mask.

There was no social distancing. I had queried them why they chose to expose themselves to the vagaries of the deadly COVID- 19. One of the young boys told me, that they cannot afford to spend N500 to purchase a nose mask. Another told me that he would rather eat food to fight COVID-19 than buy a nose mask and remain hungry. Further interrogation revealed that they hadn’t enjoyed government palliatives in any form.

They were simply bitter as they rain curses and abuses on the president for their pitiable condition. The impact of the lockdown has become remarkable across the country at a time when our economy is suffering from trauma. Those who depend on daily income to make ends meet are the more vulnerable while those who have nothing to do at all are left to wallow in hunger and deprivations.

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Should Nigeria’s economy be this bad at this time when there is so much savings from estacodes and other travelling expenses which often time run into sever billions of naira? For two full months, no government appointee or official has travelled out of the country for personal or official engagement.

Travel allowance or Duty Tour Allowance has been saved as part of the overheads of various ministries, departments and agencies of government.

These are often the conduit where so much billions are siphoned in the name of travel allowance, even when such trips are generally not meaningful. We have saved so much from medical holidays of those government officials who lie about their health condition to embark on medical trips overseas.

We have made some huge savings from reckless trips abroad to purchase items that are within the country. Despite all these, are our people fairing any better? The poorest of the poor needs to be happy if the rich must have peace of mind. They need to be asleep if the rich wants to sleep.

They need to be fed, if the rich deserves to sleep peacefully. It is hunger that drives most of these youths to take the risk of scaling fences to rob people in their homes, in the cloak of darkness, not minding the danger in their act. You see visuals of them trying to break into homes to unleash mayhem.

The unlucky ones get caught and the issue of hunger becomes handy excuse. There is hunger in the land. It has gotten to a sickening dimension. The opportunities are limited, that is if they exist at all.

The lockdown further crippled a lot of opportunities. Job losses are on the increase. Unemployment has worsened. Underemployment has sky-rocketted while the quality of life has remained abysmally low. What is government doing to stimulate enterprise? Here is the politics of the COVID-19 economics.

When it was necessary to fly to China to bring the Chinese Doctors and other equipment to Nigeria, Nigeria’s indigenous airline, Air Peace, embarked on the trip almost at no cost. When it was time to bring back stranded Nigerians in Dubai, UK, Italy and America to make some money, the Federal Government opted for foreign airlines and made the returnees to pay for their trip. Air Peace was abandoned.

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They didn’t just pay for their trip, they also paid for their accommodation in places where they were quarantined. This is how to be a Nigerian. Suffering must feature in the menu list. Double standard will be served as desert. Hypocrisy will be the teaser and appetiser.

A man who was stranded in a foreign country, who perhaps might have exhausted his travel allowance because of long stay in hotels, will have to pay for his flight, and when he lands in Nigeria, instead of heading home on self-isolation, will be quarantined in hotel at his own expense. What exactly is the role and responsibility of government to a taxpaying citizenry? What benefits accrue to a citizen for being a Nigerian?

As if we have become a cursed nation, the government says it was carrying out school feeding programme across the country. Does that sound sensible? What about the pensioners? Who is paying them?

There are states in Nigeria that are owing their pensioners over two years arrears of pensions. How would such category of Nigerians cope under a lockdown era? The situation is worse in Benue State where some pensioners, I was made to understand, are being owed over 24 months arrears.

Talking about the school feeding programme got me thinking about the deceptive leadership of the APC-led Federal Government. How can you tell Nigerians that you want to feed school pupils at home with our twisted demographics across the land?

Has the Minister of Humanitarian, Disaster Management and Social Development become so jobless as to contemplate such senseless engagement in the name of response to COVID- 19? How do you capture the pupils? Where are their homes?

This is just another official scam that attracts corruption and embezzlement. Should feeding unknown students be the prerogative of a government at a time like this? Shouldn’t government be thinking of how to promote e-learning on a broader scale and scope to fill the gap of learning at a time like this? Shouldn’t government be thinking on how to partner with telecoms companies on how to build the relevant infrastructure to sustain the e-learning project in sync with the dynamics of global technology?

I am yet to understand the rationale behind the school feeding program. There are thousands of pupils who do not have what could be called a home. How do you capture them? Government should have just told Nigerians that they intend to commence the feeding of almajirai than confusing it with school feeding programme.

That, to me, would have been a more plausible idea. President Buhari is utterly out of tune with a 21st century Nigeria. He still operates like a 17th century leader. How much of leadership he provides is still in the realm of conjecture, because his handlers praise him for being an expert in delegated responsibility.

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President Buhari presents to me the fate of a Chief Executive Officer of a Public Limited Company, who sits all day in his office, without creating time to go round the company, to see for himself the challenges being faced by his workers.

He gets briefings from his Directors and departmental heads and forms his opinion from such subjective situation. How the product is produced to service the markets is none of his business insofar he can see the item on the market stalls.

Every departmental head is said to be given free hand to take decisions, no matter how bizarre, without the CEO knowing what has transpired. Even, when products do not meet the quality and standard specification, they are packaged in a way and manner that the CEO won’t have the faintest idea.

Because he is a sit-in-the-office CEO, who closes at will, he does not often understand the volume of energy that goes into the production. He approves memos, gives directives, recruit staff without even considering whether they are dead or alive, because he has no business inviting them for one-on-one dialogue. A CEO of such consideration will in no time kill the company. That is the fate of the Nigerian enterprise.

We are in the middle of nowhere in the comity of nations. Imagine the sickening insult that a country of 200 million people with A-grade scientists cannot come up with its own response to COVID-19 but had to gladly receive the Madagascan model. What a shame. While some of our renowned scientists and pharmacists have been shouting loud about their discoveries, we are looking the way of Madagascar.

Nigeria should be the one feeding the African continent with solutions to problems and not the other way round. But with a CEO like President Buhari, all you need do is to offer prayers to halt Armageddon.

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