The first case of Covid-19 was reported in Nigeria on February 27. The case was an Italian citizen in Lagos, the center of excellence that would later become the epicenter of the contagion in Nigeria. Many analysts blamed the federal government for its carelessness and lack of proactiveness. They opined that it was possible for the country not to have any case, after all, “a cripple should not be caught in a war that is announced beforehand”
This is a saying among the Yoruba people in Southwest Nigeria. However, the Nigerian government watched with indifference as the virus took on many countries in Europe until it crept into the country unchecked. The numbers increased from one to ten to tens to hundreds and now Nigeria comes second to South Africa with the highest number of confirmed cases in Africa.
The quick spread of this virus occasioned restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun states, including the federal capital territory (Abuja). The restriction was announced by the President on March 30. This decision left many Nigerians in the ruins of economic hardship. As the poverty capital of the word, it was evident that Nigeria could not afford a lockdown, but the Nigerian government is notorious for its gross incompetence and perpetual unwillingness to make independent, pro-people policies.
The federal government simply did a copy and paste of the lockdown approach as announced by developed countries who have the economic capability to help their people avert the hardship that may ensue. They provided palliatives for their people in the form of food items and cash, in fact, the Canadian government reportedly helped its citizens clear their house rents. Those are countries where the people come first in any government policy.
When the federal government of Nigeria announced its readiness to provide palliatives, loans among other stimulus packages to mitigate the hardship caused by the lockdown, many Nigerians were indifferent to the announcement. Nigerians have lost faith in their government, they refused to be locked down, they would rather let the deadly virus catch up with them than let hunger deal a blow on them. Unsurprisingly, many heard and read about tons of grains released to poor Nigerians but they wait hopelessly for a share that never got to them.
President Muhammadu Buhari himself admitted in one of his broadcasts that the lockdown comes with “heavy economic cost,” hence the decision to partially relax it. The partial relaxation was announced after 4 weeks of total lockdown, with audio palliatives.
The government had failed with the distribution of palliatives and the relaxation was a ploy to sweep such failure under the carpet. Starting from the Conditional Cash Transfer, the method adopted by the government remains elusive, and despite pumping millions of naira into the initiative, the media could not get hold of just one beneficiary. The government could have used the BVN data to transfer these funds to Nigerians but that was not done.
The minister of finance gave the flimsy excuse that not all Nigerians have bank accounts, she stressed that most rural people do not have bank accounts. That sounds plausible on the surface but, the translation to this is that the over 37 million Nigerians who registered for BVN and have bank accounts do not deserve palliatives from the government.
Another form of palliative was the distribution of food items to “the poor and vulnerable”. These two words qualify a large percentage of Nigerians but these people were still robbed by the political elite in a period of crisis. The distribution was fraught with diversion and mismanagement and the items never got to the “poor and vulnerable.” Media reports give credence to this allegation. In Ogun state, for instance, a Special report by Platform Times, an online news outlet, alleged that the food items provided by the state government were hijacked by members of the ruling party in the state.
This is the case in most states and the people continue to groan in silence. What Nigeria can do better This pandemic has affected the global economy and many organizations may cease to exist by the end of the pandemic. Practitioners in such sectors as media, aviation, hospitality, tourism, education, and business are already counting their losses. Companies are now finding it difficult to sustain regular payment of salaries because, of course, their income has been disrupted. No gainsaying, these companies also need palliatives, in form of intervention from the government.
This would have saved many private employees who are now either laid off or denied salaries. For the class of "Poor and vulnerable", fair and equitable distribution of food items inappreciable quantities would be a good option. The government could partner with non-governmental organizations involved in humanitarian services to ensure that these items are fairly distributed and are not diverted by selfish political party members. These NGOs would help with the door-to-door distribution of the items, then the government may have the effrontery to order citizens to stay at home.
Good plans are mere plans on paper until they are well implemented