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Buhari’s strange leadership in COVID-19 crisis

By Editorial Board
23 March 2020   |   4:11 am
Many states have begun to shut down in efforts to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease that has, at last, found its way to Nigeria, sending jitters across the length and breadth of our national existence.

Muhammadu Buhari

Many states have begun to shut down in efforts to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease that has, at last, found its way to Nigeria, sending jitters across the length and breadth of our national existence. Clearly, the Federal Government in its consistent negligence responded too little too late. But most worrisome is the disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari at this most critical time of unprecedented but clear danger.
Don’t get it twisted; the coronavirus disease, otherwise called COVID-19, is already a pandemic. No country can boast of its immunity. Even in very few countries without the first case, their economies are already bleeding fast and furious. The first case is only a matter of when. Nigeria did hang on till February ending when the Italian index case tested positive. About three weeks later, Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Benue, Kaduna, public and private schools, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and the airspace have literally shut down to contain the spread. We commend all governors, and state actors that took the proactive measures. 
Like in other aspects of life, time is central in the spread and control of this Frankenstein monster. Besides the conspiracy of who engineered what between China and the United States, poor response to this unusual emergency has been a major bane of its spread across the world. State’s denial of the problem before its acceptance is why over 10,000 have died, with Italy of 60.5 million people now taking an unenviable lead in the death toll of more than four thousand.       

Nigeria had a two-month window period to learn valuable lessons and get prepared. A month before the Italian index case, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the likes of Nigeria with weak healthcare systems that it is a virus like none other before it. Concerned stakeholders also tabled proactive preventive measures like either a shutdown of the airspace or restriction of air movements to only two airports for proper monitoring of all inbound travellers. The Federal Government of Nigeria could not be bothered.
The Senate Committee on Health during an oversight function to Lagos airport and Apapa port were indeed shocked and immediately raised the alarm that the foremost ports of entry were not secured. The Lagos airport for instance had only a doctor on duty, amid inadequate support staff, screening equipment, just as operating airlines were not complying with basic control directives of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Nigeria, like others currently ravaged by COVID-19, continued to live in denial until the pandemic stared us menacingly in the face.
But unlike others that also came too late to wisdom, the presidency under Buhari has continued to care less. Across all paid-TV channels today, the common feature is presidents debriefing the country on where the virus stands and efforts at its control. Like true commanders-in-chief, they are seen talking to the people, encouraging first-line responders and preaching hope in speech and conducts. That is real leadership. It is, therefore, a no-brainer that Nigerians are asking, where is President Buhari in all of these?

Till date, Buhari has not made any state of the nation’s address on coronavirus pandemic and that is strange, though not unfamiliar. It is no longer news that President Buhari’s aloofness is remarkable. He enjoys talking to us from overseas as if Nigerians were leprous. After all, he did not care when citizens were getting killed in Benue and even in his home state, Katsina. He could not be troubled when Abule-Ado community in Lagos exploded and more than 20 killed the other day. He did not bat an eyelid even when his presidency was nearly going up in flames over rift between the national security adviser and chief of staff. 

But the new coronavirus is a different animal. The modern world and its civilisation has never been this shaken to its foundation like now. It is also a time for true leadership with compassion – showing those capable or incapable of it. The closest our president has come in this matter was to launch an emergency toll-free number, 112, and have press secretaries issue releases. Indeed, Buhari is not the most eloquent of men. But he has been elected to occupy the seat of the commander-in-chief, traditionally made for times like this. Health experts have their space in this context and leaders have theirs for motivation and direction. 
The sensitivity of this time more than ever exposes the manner of the presidency Buhari leads. The president is the father of a fearful nation. What manner of paterfamilias will not bother to visit his children when they are down in the hospital or move a limb when his entire economy goes on life support? Yes, he has sent them to the hospital and getting feedback from the clinical services, but what of compassion and empathy? What of leading by example in most critical times of his family life? 
Is he even worried, if he is aware that he has very limited chances of another UK hospital treatment should his health fail at this time? Where is enlightened self-interest in this presidency? Has age and concomitant factors so shackled our leadership that the general has forgotten how to rally his troop to chances of victory? There are certainly more questions than answers at the moment. However, what is certain is that the response from Buhari is unpresidential and unacceptable. 
Due to consistently poor leadership, we have lost ample time for self-fortification. Nevertheless, it is not time to despair as a people. It is time to be strong, well-enlightened, share knowledge, cooperate with authorities, be our brothers’ keeper and have faith. Given what is already known of coronavirus to date, Nigeria is at the vantage position to lead the rest of Africa not only to resist the pandemic but also to cure the world. The so-called superpowers have shown their frailty, if not buffoonery, before an infinitesimal virus that should ordinarily not survive in African warm climate. The very low rate of its infection among Black Africans is a testament to that assertion. 
For us, this is the time for bodies like the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) and virologists to be most active in finding control measures and cure. Once there is an index case at hand, good researchers, not politicians in lab wears, already have research materials for vaccine development. Our scientists cannot afford to be as bad as our political officeholders. We recognise efforts of the likes of Maurice Iwu, a professor of pharmacognosy, (a branch of knowledge concerned with medicinal drugs obtained from plants or other natural sources) in this regard. Their contributions should be institutionalised in accordance to their clinical merits. This is a golden moment for Nigerian exceptionalism to make a statement for Africa, especially in the face of inhuman international politics of attrition.
Now and more than ever is the need for properly coordinated national emergency response team. With 27 positive cases already on ground, and over 1000 on surveillance list, all medical and paramedical hands must be on the deck and eyes on the target. We have a long haul emergency that requires the presence of mind of all and sundry. It is already bad that there are only three test centres in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Meanwhile, it is not a time for any arm of medical practitioners to down tools, press for additional welfare or officials to be at loggerheads.
Besides, it is not a time for religious leaders to place misleading spirituality over scientific facts and timely medical treatments. While we do not deny the place of higher forces and efficacy of prayers in situations, we have more of a human and medical problem that should be dealt with accordingly. Our religious leaders, besides prayers, should use their pulpits to preach personal hygiene, practical safety measures like social distancing, hope and patience, as their social responsibility to our collective survival.   
Someday, and in not too distant future, Nigeria and the world at large will overcome this existential plague. True leaders that rallied their troops of medics, responders, researchers and strategists to victory for humanity will mount the podium of posterity to be decorated. Pretenders to the throne, villains that dashed hopes, and let down their people, will also have their lots in the dustbin of history. 

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