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A long COVID-19 war

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At long last, the state governors have bestirred themselves. They appear to have thrown off the embroidered Baban Riga of their collective lethargic response to the coronavirus. I thought Rip Van Winkle was about to lose his sleeping record to their excellencies. I hope his sleeping record is now safe.

I am sorry to admit that that is a generalised statement. Such statements are made in circumstances such as these. The do-nothing and confused attitude of the few would always leave palm oil stains on the many who know what to do and are doing the best they can in the face of this rather consuming challenge that has left developed as well as developing countries flailing for a foothold.

One state governor who has not slept since COVID-19 intruded on our country and added more pains to our economic struggle and a cocktail of security challenges that continue to befuddle the mind, is Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State. He is the only state governor who has divested himself of the social crust of power by deciding not to be addressed as his excellency. I cannot say it too often. He is the shining star in the dark sky of this enormous global health and economic challenges among the state governors. While some of his colleagues dithered, he rose to the challenges. While they sat there on their haunches, wondering who, between the federal government and the state governments should act, he acted and keeps on acting.

The governors, under their umbrella body, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum decided this week to impose inter-state lock down for two weeks, beginning April 23. They acted nearly one month after Buhari locked down Lagos, Ogun and FCT, for the same reasons that the governors suddenly woke up to. Better late than never? Rubbish. The challenge is not Buhari’s challenge. It is our national challenge and the men and women who bear that burden even more than the president are the state governors. There is no running away from that.

The governors also decided to set up COVID-19 committees at the regional level to be headed by their commissioners for health. I find this superfluous. Each state government, according to the NGF communique, already has a state task force on the war against the virus. To shorten the chain of bureaucracy, the state task forces should suffice for an effective liaison with the presidential task force headed by the secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha. Too many centres of authority are a clear recipe for motion, not movement.

We must appreciate the fact that the virus is a local problem. The business of the federal government is to (a) own it as a national challenge and lead the war to contain it and (b) issue broad policy guidelines the state governors must implement along with their internal containment, preventive and curative policies. This being a federal system, albeit a fake one, the real work lies with the state governors on a day-to-day basis. They cannot fail to discharge one critical responsibility without doing enormous injury to the survival of our nation. I speak of their grassroots responsibility, as in keeping the rural areas reasonably safe from the cold hands of COVID-19. It imposes on them the burden of ensuring that the virus is kept away from our rural areas. A single infection in one local government area would be an unprecedented national disaster. Can I hear someone say it is not our portion in Jesus’ mighty name? Amen. Thank you.

The news from the coronavirus world continues to be worrisome. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, reported 91 new cases late April 22. It said a total of 873 people are now affected in the country. So far, 28 people have died. There is thus a steady spread and a rapid climb in the number of infections in our country. More than 25 states have reported at least one infection. As at now, some states are safe in relative terms, partly because there is a crying incapacity for carrying out tests that would determine which of the states in real terms are the least affected. It is likely that when more tests are carried out, more infections might be detected. I just hope not.

Globally, the news from the World Health Organisation, WHO, is equally grim. There is a slight let up but not a real let up. The global number of infections is a horrifying 2.5 million people and a death toll of 175,000. Daily, the old and the young alike are suddenly translated into cold statistics.

The Director-General of WHO, Tedross Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this week that “we see worrying upward trends in Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics. And some that were affected early in the pandemic are now starting to see a resurgence in cases.”

For the state governors, it means that their decision to lock down inter-state borders must not be lost in the thickets of what is politically correct but practically a cosmetic approach to a serious problem. They must gird their loins and effectively supervise the full execution of their own order. It is painful but the pain and the inconvenience of restricted inter-state movement are less painful and less inconvenient than dying.

To put a real dampener on any hopes that the world might wake up tomorrow and find that this horrible nightmare has joined the Black Plague in the dark history of human struggle to defeat diseases, the director-general advised us not to entertain such pious but be unrealistic because “we have a long way to go. The virus will be with us for a long time.”

In other words, he sees no quick fix to the virus. It is going to be a long war – troubling, messy and, of course, totally devastating. It is not just a health war anymore; it is an economic war that would complicate matters for the survivors. No national economy now and in the wake of the pandemic, would be safe or untouched by it. A new crude oil sales math tells us the price of crude oil has fallen below zero, throwing national and sub-national budgets out of kilter.

This, as you do appreciate, is a serious and peculiar problem for oil-producing countries that depend, as we do, largely on their earnings from crude oil. A barrel of oil costs nothing now. You could hear the sound of emptiness in the national treasury already. Development promises will be broken and, sadly, the roads slated for construction this year by the Federal Government will remain stuck with coloured pins on the drawing boards. Fate tends to portray leaders as men cursed with truth deficit.

I foresee a case of oil, oil everywhere, but no buyers. A huge global oil glut looms in the near horizon. Anyone can see that this probably would be a global economic disaster on a scale the world has not witnessed in modern times. Spare some sympathy for national economic planners. It is they who would help their nations manage the global, national and sub-national economies devastated by COVID-19.


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