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They give that we may survive

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It is the worst of times. But it could be the best of times too. I am pleased to see that fellow Nigerians are finding the soul of goodness in this unmitigated evil called COVID-19 pandemic. In my memory, and my memory if you insist, goes down quite a bit in the history of our country, this qualifies as the first time that Nigerians would demonstrate their Nigerianness as their brothers’ keepers. It may be that because we wear the face mask, we are forced to do much more than talk. That is not bad for a country given to talking, often at cross purposes.

This time, the wealthy, the men and women who like to thumb their noses at the rest of us on account of we have no money to count, have stood up to be counted in support of public sector efforts to give the coronavirus a good fight. They recognise the national challenge that the virus poses for all of us. They know it is an existential challenge for our present and our future. They know that this could be the worst blight on our national economy. They appreciate the implications of that. They know there is only one way to go – and that is to defeat this virus, save lives and prevent the economy from collapse, taking generous promises by the politicians down with it to our collective disappointment. They are willing to do that if it takes money to win the pandemic fight.

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And so, they rose up as one man to own their country. They rose up as one man to collectively face the challenge of a disease that kills and destroys with nary a thought of mercy for the old and the vulnerable. They came together, the billionaires, the multi-millionaires, the millionaires and, not to be outdone, the thousandnaires, and freely and generously gave to save our lives and our country. Individuals, institutions and private companies formed Nigeria’s Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19. And the money flowed, in billions, millions and thousands, swelling the fund, as of April 17, to an unbelievable N25,893,699.791, domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria where neither thieves nor moths would disturb it. Some other individuals and organisations choose to contribute expensive equipment, medical facilities, hospital beds, etc, for the same purpose of freeing our country from the grips of the virus and save lives.

For fear of listing a few and offending those who have not been named here, although I would imagine none regards this piece as a roll call of the generous men, women and organisations, let me say that the familiar faces in the billionaire club are conspicuous here: Aliko Dangote, Africa’s wealthiest man, leads the billionaire pack with the donation of N2 billion. There were, at the time of the report on which this column is based, some 13 individuals and companies in the billionaire category. Of course, you could easily guess – Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Oba Otudeko, Femi Odetola, Mike Adenuga, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Modupe and Folorunsho Alakija, MTN Nigeria, Herbert Wigwe and Segun Agbaje.

I am sure you must be as pleasantly as I am to see that some struggling fellow Nigerians who do not have much and therefore not much to give, also gave. Two of them, Abubakar Ismail Abubakar and Bello Shuaibu gave N1,000.00 each. It was not their widow’s might. It was a gift from the generosity of their hearts and an indication they too know the challenges confronting our nation and wish to be part of the efforts to defeat them. As we say in Agila, it is not he who has that gives but he who has the courage.

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A few important lessons flow from these generous donations and the spirit behind them. If we do not lose sight of them, then our country would have re-positioned itself from tackling the challenges of COVID-19 and reaped the benefits of a nation acting in unison. If we learn and apply the right lessons that flow from the complicated challenges of this nature, a more cohesive nation with a different social orientation could emerge from the tragedy of this killer virus.

I admit that in a matter of this nature, when one cannot resist the temptation to rhapsodize the generous men, women and organisations who give that we might live, it is easy to naively expand realistic expectations beyond a reasonable limit. Still, consider the possibilities that could flow from the response of our countrymen outside the corridors of power to the pandemic challenges.

These wealthy Nigerians and organisations do more than respond to the pandemic. What they actually respond to are the crying inadequacies in our social and health delivery system. What the pandemic has done is to make it impossible for countries whose health delivery system cannot help them to run to other countries for help. This has been the practice in our country. The rich journey to other lands and leave the poor at the mercy of quacks and herbalists back home. COVID-19 says, stay home and fight me. I thought I heard that.

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We have many things to be ashamed of in this country but the fact that there is not one first-class hospital for a country of 200 million people must rank right there at the top of our list of shame. Riches were and are squandered and we watch the chickens walking leisurely home to roost. Silly chickens.

The fundamental lesson here is that we could parley this new attitude of the rich taking on a national health challenge and take it to the next level by opening the space for them to come together as a group and give the country one first-class hospital in every geopolitical zone or one first class hospital in two geo-political zones combined or even one first class hospital by grouping three zones together. Simple maths: this could give us six or three or two first class hospitals. I believe if they are properly challenged to do it, the wealthy would gladly do it. There are not many misers among the rich. Each of them wants to leave something behind to attest to their time and place in the nation’s book of life.

The COVD-19 pandemic challenge is the challenge of making Nigeria a nation that is permanently and solidly ready to take on whatever nature, man or satan throws at it. We can see that the advanced countries too are only human. That they had serious problems making their health delivery system respond to the pandemic was a shock to us in the developing countries whose faith in their capacity has a taproot. But they are taking steps to ensure it does not happen again. And they are saying, not again.

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We have no choice now but to follow them and see what we can learn and what we can apply to keep our country in fair shape. An illness does not have to be a pandemic to be taken seriously. Malaria, for instance, has never been a pandemic but it has killed more people than any other disease in the tropics. Would it not be wonderful for Nigeria to have the only specialised malaria hospital in Africa? I am sure a couple of our billionaires would be glad to lend their names to that worthy cause.

In contemplating the challenges for the private sector, we must admit that the wisdom of private/public partnership is now fraying at the edges. It has not quite worked here because the public sector tends to stifle the initiative of the private sector. The two sectors are not necessarily mutually exclusive but they are not mutually inclusive either. They are too different systems with different attitudes and orientations. If marrying the two systems produced good results in other lands, I can only report that I see such projects in our country held down by the bureaucracy, the corruption and the tardiness inherent in the public sector. Let us fully free the private sector to enable it do what it does in other lands.

Prayers are not my strong point because I cannot speak in tongues other than Idoma and English. But believe me, I am praying hard that the over N25 billion would not be wasted or stolen scientifically and at the end of the day leave our health delivery and social system no better or we no wiser than we were before COVID-19 struck. You too should join me in my marathon prayers.

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