I have just read a situation report on “how people in Kano are responding to government directives against COVID-19” released by the Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, Kano, April 7. Before I go into the report, let me confess that I am not familiar with the organisation. I am knowing about it for the first time. I am probably not alone because I do not think it is familiar to many of us outside Kano State. Still, its report should command public attention for the issue it raised about the containment policies on COVID-19.
From their report, my educated guess is that CITAD is a group of concerned Nigerians in Kano State who are alarmed by the wanton defiance of the restrictions imposed on intra- and inter- state movements by the state government as part of national efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, the killer virus that is sending hundreds of people into their early graves daily in Europe and the United States. It is holding the world by the jugular. It has exposed the hollowness in the health delivery systems in the advanced countries, making us all sitting ducks for its ravages. A virus this dangerous could not be toyed with. But we are doing just that in this country. A million pities.
According to CITAD, despite the restrictions, nothing has changed in Kano State. Life goes on because the “people have ignored the social distancing directives.” And so, “market activities are still going on as usual without any obvious precautions in place; and ceremonial gatherings are currently going on as usual…” Young people are out there playing football; tricycle operators still carry four passengers and offer their passengers no precautionary measures such as hand sanitizers. And to put a fine point to it, says the report, “across the state, wedding ceremonies are being held in defiance of the directive against large gatherings.”
I find the report disturbing. We all should. We are talking about the lives of fellow Nigerians, the increasing threat to them by the virus, the inexplicable defiant attitude of people towards measures put in place by federal and state governments to try and save all of us. This attitude amounts to a criminal sabotage of the regime of restrictions on human and vehicular movements within and between states. And it reflects our rather laid back attitude towards the one stubborn virus that refuses all global efforts to halt it in its tracks.
Nigeria records new cases almost every week; evidence, if anyone needed some, that the gradual but steady rise of the coronavirus should not lull this country and its leaders into a false sense that its capacity to reduce our national population is exaggerated. According to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, there were 22 new cases this week bringing the total figure so far to 276. Six people have died from it. Compared to what the virus is doing to the Americans, the Italians, the Chinese and the Spanish, it would appear that our prayer warriors are doing a much better job of containing the virus than modern medical sciences in those advanced countries of the world. Don’t take my word for it.
It is easy to blame the stubborn Nigerians for their refusal to support health measures taken in their own interest. It seems to me, however, that the fault is not entirely theirs. The fault lies more with the federal and state governments. Neither of them has been particularly keen on policing the restriction orders imposed on the people. Nigerians being who they are, their capacity for exploiting loopholes is legendary. Within two days of the lockdown order coming into effect in Lagos and Ogun states, the federal government suddenly approved the opening of markets from 10 am to 2 pm. The Abuja Municipal Area Council, ordered the opening of markets from 7.00 am to 1pm. That is a whole day.
These were essentially panic measures that has the profound effect of sabotaging the restriction policy intended to expose us less to the virus infection. I thought the federal government should have given itself at least one week to study the situation and, armed with a review, take some such measures as it deemed necessary to enforce the order and yet make it have the milk of human kindness.
Lagos State government is the most active in enforcing the restrictions; not because it is the worst affected in the country with 145 cases but more importantly because the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu is the most proactive political leader we have seen in our country in recent times. I am sure you saw the photograph of the gridlock at Lekki, the very highbrow city by the sea, sometime this week. The vehicles were going somewhere, of course. And sure, most of them belonged to men and women who have so much money that bothering to count it would make them sick. You would expect such people to support and co-operate with the restrictions because they have more to lose if the disease comes knocking at their doors. When those who ought to lead by example fail to do so because the weight of their pockets and their high social standing make them privileged men and women, they rub Agatu pepper in the eyes of the under-privileged.
Commercial Christians, sold on the lucrative nature of empty but alluring religiosity, continue to defy the restrictions. I understand that. It is the survival of the smart bible wielders. The lockdown or the restrictions deny them their weekly collections from the poor sold on the false hope that if their pastors are okay, they are okay and destined for heaven. This is a case of greed and irresponsibility rolled into one. It should make the pastors, including Bishop Oyedepo of Winners Chapel, ashamed of themselves. Dead people do not pay tithes. I thought that was elementary.
Since the imposition of the restrictions by federal and state governments, some state governors have obviously found themselves in the rather uncomfortable situation of being labelled anti-religion and, horror of horrors, risk being denied God’s favours and, of course, being barred at the gates of heaven. Those prospects are grim, to say the least. I am not surprised, therefore, that as of this writing two state governors have succumbed to the pressure to open up the places of worship. Katsina State government this week announced the immediate lifting of the ban on large gathering as it affects Muslim prayers in mosques on Fridays. Ondo State government has similarly lifted the ban on churches during the Easter period. The walls of social distancing are beginning to crumble. We can shake hands and hug again; coronavirus be damned.
I would be hard put not to defend the right of an authority to make a policy and, if it suits its purpose, review and even cancel it. But I would be hard put to believe that when the decision to restrict movements and limit the gatherings to a safe and manageable number, these governors did not take the sentiment of the religious communities into consideration. I am sure if they had done so and persuaded them to support the policy for the lives and the safety of their congregants, they would have been less fearful of the consequences of the policy should their names be taken before God.
What is happening is that the policy makers are chipping away at the integrity of their own policies. Integrity matters to policies because without it, a policy is not policed and can only head for its eternal safe place on the shelf, there to gather dust. Our political leaders should worry about the fact that a systematic chipping away at the integrity of our public policies has been the bane of our national development. It is the reason we are given to the unimpressive development shuffle – one step forward, four steps backward.