By Henry Chibuike Ugwu
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China, sometime in December 2019, the entire world has been confronted with a threat like never before in recent times. As of 27th April 2020, over three (3) million cases of coronavirus infections had been reported in one hundred and eighty-five (185) countries and territories and as much as two hundred and eight thousand (208,000) people had lost their lives globally.
Nigeria is not left out from the dire consequences of the pandemic as it reported its index case sometime in February 2020. As of 27th April 2020, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had reported over one thousand (1000) confirmed cases with about forty (40) lives lost to the pandemic.
The Nigerian Federal Government and some State Governments have imposed bans on movement in different dimensions in a bid to forestall the widespread of the disease in Nigeria. Sadly, the pandemic has exposed the outrageously incompetent status of the Nigerian healthcare and medical systems thereby leaving most people puzzled about the huge public investments, on paper at least, which have been put into those systems since 1999.
Even more mind-boggling is the fact that most Governors in Nigeria have shifted almost the entire burden of managing the pandemic to the Federal Government. They have forgotten quickly that the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as per the Nigerian Constitution dictate that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. This implies both the State and Federal Governments.
Hence, there is no better time than now for all Nigerian Governors to display patriotism, astuteness and innovation in managing the pandemic, especially given the ravaging effects of COVID-19 in developed countries like Italy, Spain and the USA. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not only battling a pandemic as we also have the most incompetent set of political office holders manning our leadership infrastructure across all levels. COVID-19 has not shown discrimination as it affects every class and category of people, therefore, it is important that all Nigerians are conscious about this pandemic and we articulate on viable methods of coping with, and perhaps even eradicating the virus in Nigeria.
STRATEGIES FOR COMBATTING COVID-19 IN NIGERIA:
Every State Government must immediately identify lands in remote locations in all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) and set up an isolation centre in each LGA. Each centre should consist of not less than five hundred (500) beds and must be fully equipped with necessary health facilities and machines, good toilets, etc.
It is also important that a bus is assigned to each LGA to aid in the dispatch of necessary materials for the isolation centres and to enable prompt response to emergency calls.
The State Governments must work with the NCDC to provide at least one functional COVID-19 testing centre in each senatorial zone. This should secure more elaborate testing of Nigerians with symptoms of the disease and it will also bring this extremely critical infrastructure closer to the people in the rural areas who are at the moment isolated from accessible and credible testing centres.
Each State Government must also set up a COVID-19 task force made up of renowned and experienced virologists, medical doctors, health workers and security experts. This task force is to meet regularly and recommend practical approaches and innovations to the State Governments to enable them to adapt in the best manner to the dynamics of the infections and spread of COVID-19.
The task force of each State will also liaise with all relevant security agencies to ensure that the State borders are properly and efficiently secured. At the moment, despite the bans on inter-state travels, many persons still smuggle themselves through States and only have to pay some money to the security agents at the borders. The corruption at the borders is extremely reckless and very dangerous without any doubt.
The State Governments are to also stimulate local production of hand sanitizers and face masks in a manner that will make them affordable and easily accessible by residents of any State, especially those in the hinterlands. The Governments must also invest in subsidizing those items and donate to the poor in society to ensure that everyone is in a position to apply basic precautions in fighting against the virus.
More so, all State Governments that have universities and other tertiary institutions situated within their territories must expeditiously liaise with faculties/schools of medicine, health sciences and nursing. The relevant faculties/schools are to afford the government with a database of their students currently residing in the respective States for the State Governments to reach out to them and begin training and strategies for combating a wider outbreak within the States. These training can even be conducted via webinars and other electronic means and the Governments must provide all necessary materials, data and stipends inclusive, to ensure that many of those students are enrolled in the programme in a bid to complement our grossly inadequate population of medical doctors and other health practitioners and better prepare the States for managing any future outbreaks if they occur.
We must also begin to explore alternative or complementary medicine in the search for a cure for the deadly COVID-19. Traditional and herbal medicine practitioners must be encouraged and stimulated to search for cures or vaccines for the virus since there is no harm in trying. The coronavirus task force to be established by each State Government can coordinate the relevant practitioners to ensure they are given all necessary support and concessions. This should not interfere with every other scientific system in place in any State which is aimed at securing a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19.
Finally, State Governments must cut their costs of governance. If there was ever a time when the litany of special advisers, special assistants, technical assistants, etc should be downsized it is now! The pandemic has revealed, even more, how redundant many of those political aides are and the opaque nature of their employment roles. We simply cannot afford to be paying salaries and other perquisites of office to the redundant political staff at a time like this.
The Governor of Kaduna State- Mallam Nasir El-Rufai should be applauded for taking the bold step to slash, by half, the salaries of political appointees in Kaduna State. He should do more and other Governors must take a cue if we are going to survive this pandemic.
Coronavirus is real and the huge death toll it has left in various parts of the world portends danger for Nigeria if we fail to plan efficiently and apply the funds earmarked for combating the virus prudently.
All hands must be on deck to ensure we defeat COVID-19 in Nigeria and everyone must ensure we adhere to the precautionary measures published by the NCDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Some State Governments who had initially declared lockdowns and curtailed the freedom of movement in their States are beginning to bow to the pressures of emotional Nigerians who want to return to their normal lives and businesses. In fact, the Anambra State Governor recently informed the public that he had lifted the bans on movement and the lockdown in Anambra State so people can return to their normal lives. It is clear to an objective mind that the approach of that Government is the height of recklessness. Inasmuch as it is pertinent that we secure the return of people to their normal lives and businesses as soon as possible, the consequences of throwing caution to the wind and giving any such premature directives in that regard without setting up a practical structure for dealing with an outbreak would be apocalyptic.
We must be innovative and we cannot be too careful in attending to the deadly virus.
*Henry Chibuike Ugwu is an Anambra-based legal practitioner