Nigeria’s Government Dilemma over fight against COVID-19
By Ebuka Onyekwelu
It is now very clear that Nigerian government is not ready for any kind of fight against covid-19, in Nigeria. This does not require much effort to unearth because there is extensive infrastructure deficit and the manpower is insufficient. Even as of today, Nigeria’s medical officers are on strike for welfare related dispute with the Federal government. This makes Nigerian case a tripartite desperate situation, in which Nigeria is lacking basic infrastructure, does not have sufficient manpower and also having dispute with medical officers who are now on strike at such a critical time. So one does not require further evidence to see that Nigeria is awfully vulnerable to covid-19, for possible ravaging. Nigeria has so far recorded nearly 200 confirmed cases of infection with Lagos and Abuja toping the chat as expected, with two deaths and slow pace of recovery. It is abundantly clear that the country cannot contain wide spread of the virus.
So far, the most effective government response was the order for total lock down in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States. This lock down is only two days old and suddenly the Nigerian authorities reconsider its stand, saying that markets in these cities can open between 10am and 2pm, as from the 2nd of April. With markets open, are people now free to move about? And how will the social distancing be enforced? Quite frankly, Nigeria is not ready and will not be ready to contain a widespread pandemic even in the next twenty or thirty years. After years of wasted opportunities, gross bad leadership and endless feasting on the country’s commonwealth, nearly nothing works in Nigeria. The citizens are poor and Nigeria currently is the poverty headquarters of the whole world, with millions going to bed hungry daily. Most of her citizens are daily laborers who depend on their paltry daily pay from unskilled and semi-skilled labor to earn a living. In Lagos for instance, millions of people live in slums. The city has thousands of drivers who depend on their daily income for their daily survival. Though the Lagos internal transport system is far inadequate, unorganized and mostly occupied by private drivers using the popular danfo vehicle to move millions from one part of Lagos to another, this system still feeds several thousands of Lagos residents, and with a lock down, these drivers are automatically out of job. The situation in Ogun state is not much different from what is obtained in Lagos. The same also goes for Abuja where most of the people come to the city from far distances, villages and surrounding suburbs, where they live because they cannot afford Abuja city rent and living standards; and then take the pain of travelling to the city everyday to go to work in the city and back. Many rickety taxis occupy the streets of Abuja, though not as chaotic as Lagos, but the condition is much the same as thousands of these Nigerians depend on their daily income to be able to eat.
This circumstance is further escalated by lack of any form of social support or even solid infrastructure in place to enhance the people’s standard of living. Therefore, millions of these Nigerians work daily primarily to eat. They provide their own power supply through fueling their generators or if they depend on public power supply, then it means they have no need for power supply, as the public power supply is nearly nonexistent. They provide their own water supply and just about any other basic supply they need from day to day. Worst still, data is a problem for Nigerian government at all levels. It is difficult for the government to say the precise number of her citizens who may need desperate help in a total lock down. Although from all indications, a total lock down is indispensable for Nigeria to avoid pervasive spread of the virus, however, with a lock down, the country faces potential challenges that could be severe and terrifying.
What Nigeria is facing essentially is a thorny situation in which the only viable option to ensure the virus does not spread is comprehensively threatened by infrastructure deficit and the incompatibility of a total lock down with millions of her citizens. The people simply have nothing to fall back on! And the government cannot scratch the surface of this problematic, even in years. For the government and the people, it is precarious and could likely lead to total breakdown of order. If the government continues with the sit at home order and total lock down, hunger and desperation may result in astronomical rate of crime and the government cannot contain it. So again, the federal government of Nigeria has to choose between lock down for two weeks with all the poor conditions millions of her citizens are forced to face which may threaten millions of lives and control the possibility of widespread of the virus, but face possible jump in crime rate that can be comparable to a state of nature. On the other hand, relax the lock down, expose the people and the country to possible shutdown by widespread of the virus. At this stage, each path the government toes comes with dire consequences and could have lasting impact on the country.
Nigeria’s best option in containing coronavirus remains a total lock down. Though with its own costs, but the country’s deficiency in medical infrastructure, medical personnel and the striking medical officers, left Nigeria with no much choices. But even the only viable option is faced by the peril of locking down millions, who depend on their daily income to make a living and so likely to be locked down hungry. The possibility of many dying of hunger and many probably taking laws into their hands to cause general chaos that will destabilize the government and perhaps the country looks the government in the face. Such a dilemma!
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