Gaps in Buhari’s extended COVID-19 lockdown pronouncements
Ordinarily, the special address by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he handed out a further 14-day extension of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown should have been a briefing on the three aspects of the first two weeks’ clampdown on social activities in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States.
Perhaps because habits die hard, the president is used to his usual style of making declarations to the country, as was the practice during his days as military head of state. As such there was nothing indicative of his democratic presidency when he spoke to Nigerians yesterday but one.
Apart from the fact that his ‘fellow Nigerians’ opening reminded most adult Nigerians of the late General Sani Abacha’s epic coup speech of December 31, 1983, that ushered in the Buhari/Idiagbon junta, by reading his speech without as much as a minute’s space for Nigerians to interrogate his administration’s strategies or input, left much to be desired.
It was good that Buhari recalled how, in his “address on Sunday, 29 March 2020, I asked the residents of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory to stay at home for an initial period of fourteen days starting from the Monday, 30th March 2020.”
He did not pause to contemplate or respond to the questions queuing in the minds of the citizens: “And then?” That was the part that ought to throw up a review of the measures put in place to cushion the effects of the lockdown, especially the effectiveness of the shutdown and efficiency of the palliatives. Had the president or his handlers cared to listen or feel the pulse of Nigerians, the opportunity of reviewing the initial 14 days lock down and announcing a further two-weeks’ extension would have been ample time to condemn the utterly skewed distribution system of the cash handouts.
What is more, it would have been a golden opportunity for the president to denounce the echo of “97 per cent of the poor are in the north while five percent are in the South” vote narrative. On this score was the lack of inclusion of critical structures like community-based organizations, trade and market associations, as well as such other segmentation of the society.
President Buhari’s broadcast to Nigerians did not disappoint those who have associated his administration with lack of preparedness and thoroughness in approach to governance, because there is nothing in the speech or containment measures that show the originality of thinking or action.
On the two occasions, he was impelled by public opinion to talk to the citizens, it was as if he was being encumbered with giving an account of his mandate and promise to serve Nigerians. Yet the president was forced to toe the line of an easy fib by echoing the mind of his speech writer when he declared facetiously: “As your democratically elected leaders, we made this very difficult decision knowing fully well (sic) it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities.”
A quick check and run down on the processes preceding the lockdown did not show any synergy between the presidency and the National Assembly, as the two arms of government that should ordinarily collaborate in such matters that have far-reaching implications on the citizenry.
How come and when did ‘we’ the elected leaders come to the inevitable decision to lockdown and disrupt livelihoods? Even when Buhari decided to patronize (recognise) “the massive support from our traditional rulers, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) during this pandemic,” he left some gaps that robbed the testimonial of credibility.
Were the inputs of those organizations spontaneous, if concerted, in a structured format expected of a government of the people by the people for the people, in a moment of great national socio-economic upheaval?
Where the facts and figures to underscore the fact that “to date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day (and) trained over 7,000 Healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation?”
There was no word about the spiral cases of criminal invasion of neighbourhoods and purloining of food items by hungry and displaced regular citizens whose lot have been to eke a living day-by-day in hand-to-mouth schemes. But the President skipped that to announce that “as a nation, we are on the right track to win the fight against COVID-19.”
Extending the lockdown period by another 14-day stretch does not support that optimism, because as the president acquiesced, “the increase in a number of confirmed cases and deaths being reported across the world and in Nigeria specifically,” raises concerns.
But, without going further to question the country’s standing in the area of healthcare institutions or emergency isolation centres for the pandemic, the president’s speech revealed one vital area of concern to most Nigerians when he alluded to social register in a country that has been battling with records and census figures.
The president stated: “In the past two weeks, we announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to ease the pains of our restrictive policies during this difficult time. These palliatives will be sustained.
“I have also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week.”
In the coming days, Nigerians would want to know which institution has been in the custody of the social register as well as when last an enumeration or documentation was incidental to it. Perhaps, that would throw some light to the president versus National Assembly’s misgivings about the Special Intervention Programme (SIP).
Already, Nigerians have continued to supply the missing gaps in the president’s broadcast and their voices represent a lament over the leadership, structures and systems in the country.
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