This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 20 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, 474,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with 21,300 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and China where the pathogen originates from. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 65 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with one fatality recorded and two discharged. Six others are to be discharged in Lagos any moment from now. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made three broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government on Wednesday was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of paramilitary outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
In spite of these commendable efforts by the state government, The Tide observes that the level of compliance with restrictions in the state is abysmally low. There appears to be apathy and indifference by the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives even when the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Of particular worry to us is the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overload their vehicles, while many people still transact their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believe in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man state ministerial committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for the state government to rally traditional rulers, religious clerics and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the public awareness.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to suggest that, as a way of encouraging public compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19, the state government should consider some stop-gap measures to cushion the effects of its directives. One of such measures might be suspension of issuance of government’s tickets to commercial drivers in the state pending the time the fight against Coronavirus will be over, while also putting a permanent stop to tolls collected from transporters by the police at various stop-and-search checkpoints.
We also consider it apposite that the state government makes sanitizers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidized and affordable rate.
However, while the state government must rally its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.
S’ South: Need For Unity
On Monday, March 16, 2020, a team of leaders of the Niger Delta region was in Government House, Port Harcourt, on a special visit to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike. The mission of the high-powered delegation was to prevail on the Rivers State Chief Executive to be the arrowhead of the push for the development of the richly endowed but largely marginalized region.
Leader of the team, Elder T.K. Ogorimagba, disclosed that their visit was primarily to urge Gov Wike to consider being the number one advocate for the development of the South-South region.
Accordingly, the elder statesman described Wike as the ‘Advocate of the region’, and urged the Rivers State governor to host a conference of ethnic nationalities of the South-South region to strategise on achieving consensus on promoting the development of the area.
This was after a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Smart Adoki, had intimated the governor that the Niger Delta leaders were in Government House to thank him (Wike) for providing leadership for the region and to appeal to him to work for the restoration of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in the interest and benefit of the people of the region.
In his response, Governor Wike decried the manifest disunity and disharmony among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and called for unity and a commitment to building a strong bond of togetherness that will foster the needed development of the region.
The governor emphasised that discordant voices from the same region along ethnic and political affiliations will not only continue to tear the region apart but will also continue to empower the forces of social, political and economic marginalization, oppression and suppression against the people of the Niger Delta.
“We must speak with one voice, irrespective of the political party that we belong to. The time has come for us to work together. If we don’t work together, we will continue to lose out,’’ he said, adding that ‘’ the song we should sing is the Niger Delta, not that of any specific ethnic group.
‘’When we sing the song of any specific ethnic group, it is difficult to unite. Let’s not restrict our struggle to that of any particular ethnic nationality.’’
Governor Wike noted that ‘’It is unfortunate that the NDDC cannot deliver on regional projects. There are no interstate roads and NDDC has not done any major project. Instead, the NDDC is engaged in micro projects to promote political interests.’’
The Tide cannot agree any less with the Rivers State Chief Executive that the Niger Delta region needs unity of purpose and a strong synergy among its diverse ethnic nationalities in order to attract a better deal and an enhanced living condition for the people.
It is, indeed, not difficult to see, as the governor noted, that interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others, have not been able to effectively deliver on their mandate of changing the squalid physical, social and economic conditions of the region largely due to lack of coordination, synergy and singularity of medium of articulating the position of the region on the national stage.
We equally agree with the governor that the time has come for the region to harness the strength and benefits inherent in unity and togetherness. The politicisation of the agencies of government, including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, intended to midwife development, with the active unholy connivance of ethnic, political and other vested interests in the region, must stop forthwith.
In this regard, it is heartwarming to note that the governors of the region recently resumed their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and came out with a renewed commitment to collectively tackle common problems and challenges facing the region.
With the governors showing the direction and leading the way, other critical stakeholders should not have difficulty taking a cue and following the guide.
We, therefore, think that traditional rulers should follow suit while ethnic groupings should endeavour to promote and propagate regional agenda above their individual group interests.
Ethnic-based youth councils and movements should also be prevailed upon to emphasise and pursue overall regional agenda as against championing primordial causes to the detriment of collective regional goals.
From every section and every quarter, there needs to be a convergence and unanimity in agitation for emphasis on competence and passion for the development of the area as the only guide in the appointment of helmsmen for NDDC, PAP and similar agencies.
The era of ethnic nationalities, political parties and other interest groups agitating for their own to be given such positions in view of giving them undue advantages without fair and due consideration for the greater wellbeing and benefit of the whole region should be gone for good.
A house divided against itself, they say, cannot stand. And indeed, a region with common shared ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural problems as we have in the Niger Delta cannot overcome its peculiar challenges except with a concerted, unified, coherent and focused resolve.
Still On COVID-19
Since Coronavirus (COVID-19) first reared its ugly head in December, 2019, in far away Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, a lot has changed. It has apparently turned the world upside down. Peace and tranquility which the people have hitherto enjoyed without inhibition seem to have deserted the globe. Panic and fear have crept in and becoming the order of the day in virtually all continents of the world.
Moreover, things appear to have really fallen apart and the centre seems not to hold any longer. The respiratory disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO), aptly described as a global pandemic, has continued to ravage and make mince meat of mankind, leaving in its wake pain, anguish and thousands of deaths. What is happening in the world today is only comparable to a war time.
Worse still, there is no sign of it abating in sight, as no vaccine for its cure has been discovered, even though scientists and medical experts are working round the clock to provide a panacea. At the last count, over 30,000 persons have died from the virus across the globe.
In fact, the rapidity with which the pandemic is spreading across the globe is unprecedented, most astonishing and alarming. In the history of the world, there is nothing compared to it. In response, and as a way of checking the widespread of the virus, various measures have been put in place.
There are massive lockdowns all over the world. Today, sporting events and activities are suspended or outrightly cancelled; and airports are closed. Businesses, contracts and appointments are put off; with heavy tolls on mankind. Stocks have continued to have free falls. Global oil prices have crashed. There are travel bans and restrictions here and there.
Today, the world is literally at a standstill; it is virtually convulsing, courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Overnight, the fear of COVID-19 has become the beginning of wisdom in almost all countries of the world. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently asserted, “monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of the disease should be top priorities for countries”.
Interestingly, several countries have swung into action to contain the spread of the ravaging monster. In Nigeria, for example, which has confirmed 131 cases so far, with two deaths, the Federal Government has taken drastic measures to curtail the spread of the disease.
It had earlier announced the closure of Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and later placed total ban on international travels at all the airports in the country. It equally imposed travel ban on 13 countries which it considered to have high risk of the pandemic as well as banned public and civil servants from foreign travels, among other measures.
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on the situation and revealed the measures and some palliatives the government has put in place to cushion the effects of the disease on the citizenry.
We boldly state that some of the palliatives are not what Nigerians are expecting from the government today. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from other countries which are providing other forms of palliatives to their citizens.
Most significantly, as soon as the news of the outbreak of the pandemic broke, the Rivers State Government swung into action by constituting a five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19, to undertake aggressive sensitisation campaigns to check the menace of the contagion in the state. The committee, headed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, has not relented in intensifying the campaigns by reaching out to critical stakeholders in the state.
Sensitisation jingles and messages aired on radio, television and newspapers, which the state government through the committee has powered, are no doubt going a long way to put the disease under control in the state.
These are beyond the efforts being personally made by the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to contain the spread of the disease in the state. First, the Governor directed all schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shutdown till further notice. Regrettably, Rivers State has recorded one index case as confirmed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In furtherance of the commitment of the state government to protect Rivers residents, Governor Wike also announced the closure of all borders including air, sea and land routes into the state to traffic and banned vehicular movements in and out of the state. He equally closed down all public parks, night clubs and cinemas till further notice and banned public burials and wedding ceremonies across the state. He has signed the Executive Orders to give verve to all the directives issued by the state government to check the spread of the disease.
The government had earlier set up a 12-man task force on enforcement of the ban on public gatherings and places of worship headed by the Governor as a way of containing the spread of the disease.
Indeed, The Tide commends the actions taken by the state government so far to ensure that the incidence of COVID-19 in the state is reduced to the barest minimum. We believe that this is not the time to let down the guard. The sensitisation campaigns must be intensified.
The closure of the state’s borders by the Governor was the real icing on the cake in terms of the proactive measures adopted by government to contain the spread of the disease in the state. In fact, the government needs the support and cooperation of the Federal Government as well as all and sundry, to ensure that this particular measure works effectively.
We are also elated that the government is strengthening and enhancing the surveillance measures already in place to prevent the importation of the virus into the state. The truth remains that the battle against the pandemic is a battle that must be fought and won. For this to be realised, we think, all hands must be on deck.
All residents of the State must, therefore, observe basic principles of hygiene as recommended by experts by washing their hands regularly with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers as well as keeping their immediate surroundings clean at all times. This is because, as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID – 19.
No To Generator Ban Bill
A few months after the Senate rejected a resolution to ban the importation of generators,
the Senator representing Niger South, Alhaji Bima Enagi, initiated a bill that seeks to prohibit the importation and use of generating sets in Nigeria.
Titled “A bill for an Act to Prohibit/Ban the Importation of Generating Sets to Curb the Menace of Environmental (air) Pollution and to Facilitate the Development of the Power Sector,” it stipulates, at least, 10 years imprisonment for an offender.
The proposed law also notes that “Approval for exclusion shall, however, be obtained from the Minister of Power, who shall brief the Federal Executive Council quarterly on approvals granted.” The bill further directs “all persons to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect, in the country.”
The bill excludes generators for essential services, especially for medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services, elevators (lifts), escalators, research institutions and facilities which require 24 hours electric power supply.
Ostensibly, the bill seeks to curb environmental pollution and accelerate the pace of development of the power sector. Obviously, there is an overwhelming decoy to view the new bill as stemming from patriotic zeal. But a critical appraisal easily uncovers the hollowness and utopian disposition of that piece of proposed legislation.
The projected law is inoperable and a barefaced invitation to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Ironically, the same reasons that lent the ban unworkable for people in essential services form the basis for its likely failure. For now, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the anticipated law to achieve the touted objectives are non-existent.
The bill is vacuous and, therefore, should not have passed through the first reading. Having gone through that level, it should be discontinued forthwith to conserve public funds and save more of valuable legislative time. Elsewhere, painstaking research and intellectual rigour are put into the conception and reflection of bills that serve the public interest, but this bill bears no such nugget.
In their quest to expedite action on the bill, the Senators seem to care less about the facts on the ground concerning the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nigeria. For example, in mid-2019, electricity power generation dwindled from 4,000 megawatts to an abysmal 2,039 megawatts.
On April 25, 2019, there was an entire shutdown of Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogbo and Papalanto Power Stations. There has been a significant abatement in power supply to Nigerian households from 42 percent attained in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 37 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Public power supply to commercial and productive establishments was worst during the same period.
This is why we gasp in amazement at this projected law. No one is in doubt that generators are a nuisance and a national pandemic, posing a huge threat to the health and well-being of Nigerians. It is equally correct that the device consumes about $14 billion import bills annually, but there is a need to inquire into the reason for their prevalent use.
Of course, it is the epileptic public power supply in the country. The truth is, without generators, the Nigerian economy will flounder as businesses reckon on them for survival. Every institution (public or private), including the formal and informal sectors of the economy, depends on them for power supply. This is why they are a necessary evil.
To advance electricity supply in the country, the federal government privatised the power sector in 2013, leading to the creation of 11 distribution companies (DISCOs). But year after year, both the government and the DISCOs have always blamed and accused each other for being responsible for the inadequate power supply.
We are aghast at why our Senators keep introducing bills against the use of generators in a country with a brazenly capricious power supply. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s office was projected to spend N46 million on fuelling generators in the 2019 federal budget.
Rather than become upset at the importation of generating sets, the Senators should examine how the country got into this mess, and why the federal government injected a prodigious N1.7 trillion into the power sector following the privatisation with its 49 percent equity stake, while the DISCOs, who are major stakeholders, have invested only a pittance. Having investing such whopping sum to improve public power supply in Nigeria, the situation appears worse now than ever before.
Although Senator Enagi’s bill may be charitable, it is hasty. Nigeria must first address the hazardous power supply situation before considering a bill to outlaw generators, if need be. In a country where the national grid collapses customarily without these generators, what will be left of the economy?
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