Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, has issued a stern warning to Lagosians and residents of Abuja and Ogun State saying the government could extend the 14-day lockdown announced by President Muhammadu Buhari if residents don’t behave themselves by respecting the lockdown order.
“If we don’t behave ourselves, there is a likelihood that the lockdown will be extended, but if we behave ourselves, there might not be an extension and I hope we do so,” Mohammed, who is a member of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, told a forum in Abuja when he featured to give an update on government efforts at containing the deadly pandemic.
The Minister added: “If we stay at home for two weeks and we are doing everything we are supposed to do, we should be able to effectively contain the disease. Therefore, my appeal to Nigerians is that they should obey the directive on social distancing, personal hygiene and shun gatherings; after two weeks, we will resume our normal life. But if they think it is a joke, then we may have to stay at home more than the two weeks.”
Mohammed also disclosed that the Federal Government was planning to meet with indigenous manufacturers to discuss and facilitate the local production of Personal Protective Equipment, to enhance the fight against the coronavirus. He said the Minister of State for Health, Olorunnibe Mamora, and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Adeniyi Adebayo, would meet with the manufacturers on behalf of the government.
He said that the move had become necessary in view of the shortage of the equipment and the need to encourage and develop local manufacturing of medical equipment. He said, “PPE is in short supply globally and we want to see how we can start manufacturing them locally. All over the world, people are making mask locally because there is a short supply of masks.
“Those ones we got from Jack Ma have been shared with the states. We call them starter packs and they contain masks and test kits. We have given them to states according to their needs. Naturally, Lagos got more because it is the epicenter of the virus. We are trying to source the PPE more locally, but one thing about PPE is that if you don’t get it right, you may lose more lives,” he noted.
The Minister also disclosed that the corpses of persons who died of COVID-19 cannot be claimed for burial. He said such corpses would be handled by the ministry of health because they are contagious.
United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) today announced a donation of over 5 billion Naira (USD14 million), through the UBA Foundation, to catalyse a comprehensive pan-African response to the fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.
The donation will provide significant and much needed support to Nigeria and 19 other African countries, by supplying relief materials, critical care facilities, and financial support to governments.
The UBA support programme will be allocated as follows:
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) to Lagos State Government in Nigeria.
N500 million (USD1.4 million) to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) to the remaining 35 states in Nigeria.
N1.5 billion (USD4.2 million) to UBA’s presence countries in Africa.
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) for Medical Centres with equipment and supplies Free Telemedicine Call Centre facility.
The pan-African bank will fund a medical centre immediately in Lagos, Nigeria, with beds for isolation and ICU facilities, managed and operated in partnership with Heirs Holdings’ healthcare subsidiary, Avon Medical Hospital.
In addition, UBA is providing a free telemedicine platform, that is physician-led, to provide direct access to medical advice to citizens, in compliance with social distancing requirements.
UBA Group Chairman Tony O. Elumelu, stated ‘This is a time when we must all play our part. This global pandemic must bring citizens, governments and business leaders together – and quickly. As we see a rapidly increasing number of cases of the Coronavirus in Nigeria and Africa, the private sector has to work hand in hand with various governments, in stemming the spread of the global pandemic.
We commend the efforts of governments and we are keen to partner and contribute our resources to the collective effort, that will ensure the response to the pandemic is swift and effective’.
Operating in 20 African countries and globally in the United Kingdom, the United States and France, the United Bank for Africa has a strong record of supporting its communities, through challenging times.
In The Spotlight
As at the last count, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed 111 cases of the deadly Coronavirus in Nigeria. Compared to the statistics in many countries, this figure is low but it is rapidly rising. In the absence of a cure, the best weapon remains prevention. Social distancing to stop the virus from spreading and basic hygiene like washing of hands hold the key until scientists come up with an effective cure. In addition to rules for home isolation and quarantining, all schools have been closed down; parliament has suspended sittings. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) no longer meets. Civil servants in many states except those on essential services have been told to stay home. Mosques and churches are closed to congregational prayers and services. International flights into Nigeria are suspended. Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) hurriedly concluded its matriculation examinations. West African Examinations Council (WAEC) suspended its school certificate exams. The National Sports Festival was suspended. Markets in many cities have been closed. Many factories and private sector offices including banks are partially shut or closed. Many states have shut down, sending jitters across the length and breadth of our national existence. For good reason, the virus is socially distancing Nigerians, but public officials must be careful that it doesn’t disenfranchise and infringe on basic rights of citizens. Despotism is incompatible with democracy.
Make no mistake; the coronavirus otherwise called COVID-19 is already a pandemic. No country can boast of its immunity. The global economy is already bleeding fast and furious. Like in other aspects of life, time is central in the spread and control of this monster virus that has infected at least 718,685 people worldwide and killed 33,881 and counting. Nigeria had a two-month window period to learn valuable lessons and get prepared. A month before the Italian index case, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the likes of Nigeria with weak healthcare systems that COVID-19 is a virus like none other before it. Concerned stakeholders also tabled proactive preventive measures which the federal government did not bother to consider. Clearly, the FG 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 and present danger.
Even as the pandemic now stares us menacingly in the face, Nigeria, unlike other countries currently ravaged by COVID-19, continues to live in denial. And unlike others that also came too late to wisdom, the presidency under Buhari has continued to care less. Across all television channels, the common feature is presidents debriefing their nations 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 speeches and conduct. That is real leadership. It is, therefore, a no-brainer that Nigerians are asking, where is President Buhari in all of these?
Until Sunday, March 29, when he ordered a 14-day lockdown of Abuja and Lagos and Ogun states, Buhari had not made any state of the nation’s address on the coronavirus pandemic and that is strange, though not unfamiliar because of his remarkable aloofness as he enjoys talking to Nigerians from abroad as if Nigerians were leprous. The closest Buhari has come in this matter was to launch an emergency toll-free number, 112, and have press secretaries issue releases. Granted, Buhari is not the most eloquent of men; but he is the commander-in-chief, traditionally made for times like this which demand true leadership with compassion – showing those capable or incapable of it. The president is the father of a fearful nation and what is certain is that his response so far to the coronavirus pandemic is unpresidential and unacceptable.
Yet, despite the panicky situation, Nigerians have been denied the right to hear from the one man whose voice matters and who alone can re-assure the citizens to trust the capacity of the government to save them from this killer pandemic – President Buhari. Some senators even took it upon themselves to ask Mr. President to address the nation because at times like these, the people need to hear from their leader. No leader can afford to padlock his lips at such challenging times. The primary purpose of the senate advice was to persuade the president and his handlers to unlock his lips and let him bond with the people by showing empathy and leadership. The senators were anxious to see the president do what the American president, Donald Trump and the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and other world leaders are doing – talking to their people on a regular basis about what they are doing to save the sick and contain the disease from spreading and killing more people. These are difficult times for governments, businesses, the economy and the people. Times like these truly try committed leadership.
But Buhari failed to capture the gravity of the moment dismissing the call to address the nation by the “ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics,” noted a statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu.
Thankfully, in the absence of leadership at the federal level; and without any firm rules and guidelines on how to protect the population, state governors have risen up to the occasion, imposing stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and even shutdown their states against inter-state and intra-state travel. While it is worth commending all governors, and state actors who have taken proactive measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus; this governance by freelancing amid the spate of restrictions imposed on Nigerians has become the source of much controversy and anger. While there are credible voices especially within the medical community calling for the government to enforce much more draconian measures; in point of fact and law, these actions and restrictions of movement ought to have been done within the context of a national state of emergency declared by the president; without which, they violate Section 41 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), which guarantees freedom of movement.
Some governors have gone beyond locking down their states and have shut their state borders to “non-essential” traffic. Such restrictions amount to flagrant violations of the fundamental right of freedom of movement unless they are justified under a law, which conforms to the provisions of Section 45 of the 1999 constitution which spells out the circumstances under which such rights, may validly be derogated from. There seems to be an overreaction by the governors to establish barriers around their states. If left unchecked, these restrictions risk transforming Nigeria into a confederacy. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) should rein its ignorant members by upholding the sanctity of the constitution.
Irrespective of the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has endangered public safety and warrants drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, the rights of citizens are fundamental because they are guaranteed by the constitution and not upheld at the pleasure of the government; hence no governor can exercise his power outside the dictates of the law. The Court of Appeal in 2016 in the case of Faith Okafor vs Lagos State Government & Co; held unequivocally that an order or directive of a governor is not a law and its violation cannot attract criminal sanctions. The Constitution is clear. If there is an emergency, the proper legal step is to declare a state of emergency. None of the governors has asked the president to declare an emergency in their states. No governor has made regulations pursuant to the Quarantine Act to curb the spread of coronavirus. Therefore, those restriction orders are at best, mere advisories and threats of sanctions against violators of COVID-19 restrictions are non-sequitur.
Section 305 (4) of the Constitution empowers state governors with the approval of two-third majority of state legislatures, to ask the President to declare a state of emergency in their states. Section 8 of the 1926 Quarantine Act gives governors the authority to issue regulations to tackle emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic. But President Buhari has neither declared a state of emergency in any State nor made regulations pursuant to the Quarantine Act. And no state legislature has enacted any law that empowers any governor to stop entry or exit from any State. Therefore the resort to executive fiat is a brazen act of illegality and unconstitutional. Section 5(2) of the 1999 constitution vests executive powers of a state in the governor and may, subject to the provisions of any law made by a state legislature, be exercised by him directly or through the Deputy Governor and Commissioners of the state government or officers in the state public service. Under section 5(3) of the constitution, the executive powers vested in a state under subsection (2) shall be so exercised as not to “impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive powers of the Federation; endanger any asset or investment of the Government of the Federation in that State; or endanger the continuance of a Federal Government in Nigeria.”
Besides, the issue of state borders falls within the scope of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) set up under the 2006 National Boundary Commission Establishment Act. Under Section 9(1)(d) of the said Act, the Internal Boundary Technical Committee (IBTC) shall promote the development and effective management of internal boundaries (i.e. boundaries between states). Under Section 13 (J) of the said Act, State and FCT Boundary Committees shall each liaise with neighboring states to promote good inter-community relationship. Therefore, What state governors can do under Section 13 (J) of the aforementioned NBC Act is to set up control check points manned by NCDC officials and state and local government health inspectors to conduct testing and scanning of persons coming into their various states; with a view to identifying Covid-19 infected persons and quarantine them in isolation camps.
It is worth noting, and with emphasis, that the way out of this legal quagmire is for President Buhari to declare a national state of emergency and invoke the Quarantine Act of 1926, which empowers the president to issue regulations for the safety and protection of Nigerians when in the opinion of the president or state governor, there is reason to believe that there is a grave medical or other danger as a result of an infectious or contagious disease, which poses a danger to the public. No one can deny that the Coronavirus pandemic rises up to this standard. But to the extent that President Buhari has been derelict in his duties; and with no such law having yet been deployed as the basis for such restrictions, no governor in Nigeria has the power or authority to alter, restrict or encroach on the fundamental rights of citizens to peaceful assembly and free movement. If and when the world eventually overcomes this existential coronavirus plague, true leaders that rallied their troops of medics, first 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 cast in the dustbin of history. Let’s hear you now Mr. President; which side will you be on?
In The Spotlight
Nigeria announced its first COVID-19 case on February 27 - an Italian who came into the country on February 24 and displayed symptoms of the disease while visiting Lafarge Cement Company in Ewekoro, Ogun State. He has been treated and discharged. Since then Nigeria has recorded a total of 111 cases, as at the time of this writing, with two reported deaths. The Nigerian government has introduced a number of measures: monetary measures by the Central Bank of Nigeria, and fiscal measures by the Federal Ministry of Finance. State governments and the private sector are also taking steps to contain the virus, treat the affected and prevent an escalation of the disease. But of all the measures taken so far, it seems to me that not enough attention is being paid to the psychological impact of COVID-19 and its effect on the mental health of Nigerians. Psychology is very important to our management of the pandemic. I am beginning to observe very unusual behaviour among Nigerians. People are responding to the Corona Virus pandemic in very unusual manners that may have a worse effect than the pandemic itself, such that long after the disease may have receded, we could have a large population of damaged persons who may be struggling with the after-effects.
COVID-19 pandemic is probably the biggest scourge and uncertainty that the world has faced since the Spanish Flu of 1918 -1920 and the World Wars of 1914 and 1944. Uncertainties induce stress. People respond to change in unusual manners and coping mechanisms may be different and elastic. Nigerians don’t seem to be handling the psycho-social implications of COVID-19 too well. With the two-week stay at home order that has now been announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory, we may be dealing with something fatal. How will people cope? How can they be helped to cope while staying at home to prevent a community spread of the scourge?
I first noticed the psychological crisis that we face when immediately after the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health announced that sanitizers, face masks and gloves can be used to protect oneself against COVID-19. Nigerians didn’t take chances. They bombarded all the available shops and super markets. When President Donald Trump assumed the role of a scientist and further announced chloroquine as the clinical solution to COVID-19, many Nigerians bought up all the chloroquine tablets in the city of Lagos. Long before President Buhari announced a two-week lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, Nigerians had also already begun to stockpile all kinds of items. It was worse a day after the Presidential address. Even street corner shops had long queues of persons, buying things they may not need, or perishable items that they can do without. A week ago, I went to a confectionery, I saw people struggling to buy bread. One man bought 20 loaves of bread! When he was accused of greed and insensitivity, he told his accusers to shut up. After all, he was spending his money. At another super market, I saw a guy struggling with three trolley loads of toilet paper. I saw him as he loaded the toilet paper into the trunk of his car. I was actually also going into the same supermarket to buy toilet paper. Afraid that the fellow may have emptied the entire store, I didn’t know when I blurted out:
“Oga, na wa for you oh. Wetin?”
“What have I done?”, he responded.
“Oga, look at all these packs of toilet paper. Na only you dey shit for Lagos?”
“Man, you can’t blame me. Have you not seen what is happening in London? People are stockpiling food and other essentials. I advise you to do the same. Buy whatever you can buy because we don’t quite understand how this Corona thing will turn out.”
When I got into the supermarket, I was confused. Entry was controlled, the managers having adopted what they called a “Q” system. Despite the fact that there was no crowd inside, the few persons allowed in at a time were busy buying every available item as if the world was about to end. I saw a lady with a trolley- load of eggs. I ended up observing other people. I really couldn’t buy as much as I wanted. I felt as if I was surrounded by persons suffering from what psychiatrists call obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or better still, anxiety disorder. COVID-19 has turned so many persons into mental health cases. Fear has driven the people into all kinds of strange behavior. The fear of dying and suffering is probably at the root of man’s survival instinct. My doctoral research in thanatos and thanatomimesis showed that the fear of dying is perhaps worse than death itself. See, for example: Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Illyich (1886); Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (1969). In the face of COVID-19, many are dying silently out of fear, panic and anxiety. Who will save or help such persons?
Perhaps the biggest psychological indication that I have observed is the crisis of “over-confidence” fuelled by the illusion of control, dangerously complicated by ignorance of an African peculiarity. Over the weekend, I was in Ogun State. I was shocked to see the markets bustling with reckless energy and stupid community spirit. Nobody was observing social distancing. I saw young men hugging each other, shaking hands and carrying on as if COVID-19 was a foreign tale told by idiots. At a point, I had to challenge a group of youths, huddled together, playing draughts (that is - checkers), excitedly, without a care in the world.
“Eyin boys, what you are doing is not right. Have you not heard of Corona? You should observe social distancing. This is not the time to play draught, back-slapping, sitting close to each other. Corona Virus kills,” I said.
“Baba Alaye, e gboju n be. Corona is a big man’s disease. It cannot do anything to us. It only affects corrupt people. Awa o je gbi, a o le ku gbi. We are not corrupt. Corona cannot touch us. Let the elite deal with their problem. Corona for where? Me sef, I be Corona. If Corona see me, we go look at each other Coro, Coro. Oju koro ki i pa oju koro je.”
I tried to offer some information. I didn’t want to antagonize them, so I put the blame on the Ogun State Government, not doing enough to sensitize and mobilize the people to see reason and respect Science. I talked about the supremacy of Science in these strange times… It didn’t work.
“Egbon, oro alakowe le n so yen o. We local people have a solution to it. I know the herbal concoction that will drive Corona Virus away, by the time I use herbs, with incisions and spiritual meal, Corona will pick race so fast, it will find itself back in China. Awon a ti tani. Egungun be careful.”
I was perplexed. Corona Virus is a matter of life and death. It does not respect geography. It does not distinguish between members of Nigeria’s political parties: it doesn’t know whether you belong to the Peoples Democratic Party or the All Progressives Congress. It is a contagion, a deadly, infectious disease. The smartest scientists in the world are struggling to understand what it is. Some characters sit in Nigeria’s rural communities and insist that they have a herbal formula or a spiritual formula that can cure Corona Virus. If Corona Virus moves from Nigeria’s cities to the hinterland and rural areas, we should expect death on a ferocious, Italy-like scale.
I mentioned ignorance earlier. There are also some religious leaders going about telling the people that Corona Virus cannot touch Christians or Muslims. One popular Pastor even preached on Sunday that whoever goes for testing is likely to be infected and so, no Christian should go for testing because Corona Virus is a manifestation of the anti-Christ. In Katsina, one Muslim cleric insisted on holding Friday prayers in defiance of official directives. The State Task Force on Corona Virus dispersed the crowd. What followed was that some of the members of the group stormed a police station and burnt down the vehicles in the compound. They said they were defending their right to pray and assemble. They are mad. Every Pastor or Imam who violates the rules on the containment of COVID-19 should be arrested and made to face the full wrath of the law.
Some Corona Virus lawyers have also been quoting the law and insisting that government does not have the right to shut down borders or states or ask people to stay at home. You see: the psychological aspect of Corona Virus should be addressed! Law is made for man, not the other way round. Corona Virus is a threat to human existence. No responsible lawyer should insist on those rights that can accelerate the extermination of the human race. Whoever is not happy should go to the courts and test the law: there are enough laws and precedents to sustain a counter-argument.
Along the spectrum of the psychotic disorder that COVID-19 has generated is the growing community of hypochondriacs and germaphobes. Have you met anyone like that in the last few weeks? I have. I am talking about the “don’t-touch-me” “don’t-come-near-me”, “maintain-social-distance” crowd. These are overnight scientists. When they step out every morning, it is as if they are approaching a war zone armed as they are with face masks, sanitizers, and sanitary wipes. One even sprayed me before I could say “good morning”. They have become obsessed with COVID-19. They soak in every piece of information on social media, particularly WhatsApp where a unique type of psychosis is on display. Every minute you are likely to get a forwarded message saying one thing or the other about the disease. I can’t fully recall all that I have read - from conspiracy theories to jokes to treatment advisory: turmeric, ginger, lemon and all sorts.
Ordinarily, human beings are tactile. They like to relate with one another. We like to touch each other. All of a sudden, we are being told that we cannot touch, hug, kiss or do all the things we ordinarily do. Social distancing has disrupted our lives. I try to imagine what life would be like after Corona Virus. We simply have to re-learn the habits that used to govern our lives. Even the way we speak has changed. Corona has affected human language and may find its way into the English Language dictionary. One famous phrase today is COVIDIOTS – persons who refuse to self-isolate or respect official health advisory on Corona Virus like the Pastor who says the disease is anti-Christian and the Imam whose followers attacked a police station in Katsina. You may also have heard of the word CORONIALS. These are children who may be born in the season of Corona Virus, products of love and passion in the time of COVID-19.
I recall meeting a lady the other day and somehow we started talking about Corona Virus, the key subject of the year. She told me:
“My biggest problem is that my husband is now always at home. He likes to watch football, but there is no football anymore on TV. All the European Leagues have been suspended. He has become restless and demanding. I don’t know how I will cope with him.”
“Madam”, I said as quietly as I could. “Don’t worry. You will be fine. The worst that can happen is that in nine months’ time, we will come for the naming ceremony of a CORONIAL baby.”
“Me? I reject that. I am done. What do you think I am? A baby-making machine?. You can’t sexualize me. I am a professional,” she thundered.
I didn’t push further but a big concern about the Corona Virus lock-down is that nine months from today, we may end up with a spike in Nigeria’s population. Husbands are being forced to stay at home with their wives. A week ago, commercial sex workers in Nigeria were already complaining that Corona Virus is not good for business. The stock exchange in that sector has crashed, far worse than the spot price of crude oil, and the crisis in the foreign exchange market. All the customers are now at home. They are not allowed to keep roaming about, sowing wild oats.
In Germany, a state official committed suicide because of Corona Virus. SUICIDE! But perhaps we should also worry about substance abuse. Across Africa, people are abusing drugs, herbs and alcohol. I have seen young men in our local communities who insist that Corona Virus cannot survive in an alcoholic environment and so from sun up to sun down, they are busy taking alcoholic drinks to attack any virus that may find its way to their throats. To the best of my knowledge, the only link between alcohol and COVID-19 is the advisory that we must all use alcohol-based sanitizers. I have also heard the tale being bandied around that Corona Virus is an evil spirit and that marijuana and cigarette will neutralize it. I don’t think that is true. But of course, the COVID-19 crisis has created a virtual and physical industry in myths, conspiracy theories and fake news. The way I see it, the world is going crazy and we need to deal with that.
Governments, in countries, where it is possible, should not just mobilize doctors and nurses, they should immediately mobilize psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health experts, and counsellors who can help stem the tide of global psychosis, before and after COVID-19. The latter is even more important because the pandemic is disrupting the equilibrium of households and livelihoods. It has also made small scale entrepreneurs who are hiking prices for opportunistic reasons crazy. Unfortunately, the emerging poverty and hunger viruses may last longer than Corona Virus. We are certainly in a tight corner. Beyond social distancing, we should reach out to one another as a community and as friends, families and colleagues. The short and long term solution to this plague probably lies in collective strength, co-operation and good leadership at all levels.