The decision to ease the lockdown is obviously more political than realistic and scientific. The economic reasons adduced for proposed easing of the lockdown are purely political excuses that do not explain much. It should be pointed out that Nigeria’s economy is a monoculture economy depending on the sale of oil. Even if we increase our oil production today, there are no buyers, or off takers to. The argument and advice of our economists to the effect that the economy needs to be opened up quickly against sound health advice and international best practices is simplistic, inhumane and will add very little value to the economy of the country.
Our economists have also argued that people will die even without the pandemic; that malaria, Lassa fever and other diseases are killing more people than COVID-19. That may be the case. However, the fact that some people may die does not justify policies and decisions that will actually get people killed. COVID-19 is still in its infancy, therefore attempting to compare it with Malaria or Lassa fever is an unscientific mischievous adventure!
Secondly, while we have more specific information on malaria and other diseases, we don’t have scientifically verifiable information on the COVID-19. As President Muhammad Buhari himself said, the virus has no cure. Scientists have said that preliminary investigations have shown that the sequence of the virus includes broad categories of RNA viruses, which is why the cocktail used in the treatment protocol includes antiretroviral drugs.
Furthermore, scientists are yet to determine the effects the virus has on some recovered patients. We do not know what the impact will be on people who have recovered whether there are long-term effects on their immune system or whether anything will happen to them after recovery. Imagine, if a large population are infected by the ease of the lockdown and it turns out that there are long term effects! And so, it does not make economic sense to put your population, which is the biggest asset of Nigeria has today, at risk.
Those who argue that the continued lockdown of the economy will result in recession are not honest enough to admit to the obvious fact that as long as our economy depends on oil sales in other economies, any pressure in those economies will pull our country down into recession. In fact, given the low demand for oil resumption of massive production of oil will result in further devaluation of the product.
Reality of COVID 19 in Nigeria
On Friday May 1, the NCDC reported 238 new infections up from the previous days. The total number of confirmed cases has risen to 2170 with 68 deaths. There has been a steady increase in the announced infection rate. If out of 12,000 tests conducted, we have 2,170 confirmed cases, it simply means that our infection rate of 19% is one of the highest in the world. Our death rate of 3.1 percent, reflects the global trend.
Going by what we know of the present global pattern, it is obvious that the cases will rise in Nigeria for some time to come. Our testing capacity is also one of the lowest in the world. The implication is clear. We do not know the true status of the epidemic in Nigeria. We may as well be sitting on something more dangerous and bigger.
This is why the politics of the fear of public uprising should not be allowed to dictate the pace of easing the lockdown. Opening up Nigeria now that the infection rate is increasing, is unwise, reckless and inhuman. Opening up Nigeria now will not stop the slide of the economy to recession.
Opening up Nigeria, now will not stop the economic chaos, and will not put food on the table of most Nigerians. Opening up Nigeria now will overwhelm the health sector system. Opening up Nigeria now will quadruple the infection rate and make the fears of the international organizations come true; namely that there will be corpses on the streets of Nigeria.
Opening up Nigeria now, should a miracle not happen, would simply worsen the situation and expose vulnerable poor Nigerians to the greatest danger of their lives. This may result in one of the worst scandals that Nigeria will face internationally and could lead to the local revolt that we are desperately trying to avoid.
What should be done now?
1. It is instructive to note that the whole world is working on generating greater understanding of the virus. We need to patiently and slowly wait for a few more weeks for the situation in Nigeria to fully reveal itself. In the next few weeks testing needs to grow up to at least 10,000 per day and should be planned in such a way that proper nationwide mapping of the COVID-19 prevalence in each community, local government area and state are captured in real time with the use of technology.
2. State governors and the Federal government should be convinced to invest more in testing kits. Our Universities and research institutions should be more involved openly. Unfortunately, ASUU is on strike. It is unfortunate that our governors are waiting for the Federal Government, which appears to be depending and waiting for donors. These test kits, which at the basic levels, include cotton buds/swabs and reagents could be locally sourced. In any case, the cost of the testing kits is low.
3. This current challenge qualifies to be regarded as a National security challenge as any form of increase in infection would affect all the vitals of our security system.
4. So far, the manner palliatives are distributed to the poor has been very degrading of the people. If we do not value our people, why should foreigners value them? The images of people struggling for food is very unhelpful. This is the time for us to restore confidence in the institutions of our communities. Needless to mention the obvious fact that almost all communities in the urban areas have organized vigilante groups and meet regularly to provide their water and electricity. These groups and associations can be used to map areas and distribute palliatives. Large crowds of people struggling for food gives the impression that Nigeria has descended to the level of Somalia.
People are organized in such a way that these things can get to them and will be shared properly. Why would government officials themselves, in air-conditioned cars with large escorts of security agents be going around dropping food in a manner that people struggle and trample on each other to get food? Such stampedes result in waste and could potentially increase the risk of infection.
Finally, this pandemic has revealed how unfair government and its processes have been to Nigerian people. There is need for a repentance and change of course by those of us who are in government. Those of us who are leading, need to change our ways – and change course and direction of the country! This is important because the way we are headed, especially in the last five years, is the road to perdition or at best the road to nowhere.
Rep. Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum
Takum/Donga/Ussa/Yangtu Federal Constituency, Taraba State.
May 2, 2020