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BIGPEN EDITORIAL On COVID-19: Buhari, No Time Than Now For National Response!

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President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in his March 29, 2020 COVID-19 address assured Nigerians of a “national response to the health emergency and economic crisis”. Curiously, in the same speech, Mr President settled for a restriction/focus on Lagos/Ogun States and Abuja in the containment strategy.

The rampaging COVID-19 or Corona Virus is already a global pandemic. Today, it has not only gotten to Nigeria, first spreading to frightening 19 States, with Lagos/Ogun and Abuja reportedly holding over 71% of the cases and now 26 states! It was and remains pedestrian to think that because Lagos and Abuja are the major entry points, there are no other routes and travelers into the country by air stay put or end up in those locations only. A truly national response, BIGPEN thought, could forestall situation where cases in Lagos and Abuja are contained only for the disease to explode in other states of the nation as already happening.

Indeed, given our chance of sending the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) boss, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, to China to study response strategy before recording its first case, Nigeria ought to have conceived a national and better containment strategy under the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and avert the situation the NCDC boss now shouts may be headed for a national implosion.

Shamefully, the lack of national response is even apparent with the lopsidedly deployed palliatives which has seen the Dr Kayode Fayemi-led Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Senator Ali Ndume, et al, beg or demand for a nationwide consideration. Besides, PMB’s and the Governors’ delay of what turned out to be laughable palliatives and extensions of lockdown, provoked protests and armed banditry in many states and planned lockdown reviews, in others.

Regrettably, nowhere is the “synergy” desired by the Fayemi-led NGF, absent than between the Federal Government (FG) and Rivers State Government on the Caverton Helicopters and the ExxonMobil workers issues, all because of the missing national strategy in the COVID-19 containment concept. BIGPEN hopes Mr President would rise up in support of the recent Fayemi-led NGF’s belated but nonetheless commendable plan for two-weeks states-wide lockdown and inter-states movement blockade to prevent spread of the Corona virus.

We think Mr President also lost opportunity to, in his March 29 and April 13, 2020 speeches, express readiness (which comes before action) to combat national gaffes exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Had we a useful data base of all strata of people to address needs in this emergency, where National Population Commission, NPC and National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, had apparently failed us, handling national challenges would have been perhaps easier.

The Federal Government should raise the capacity and embolden our health care delivery system for times like this rather than surrender to half-truths that even advanced countries where overwhelmed by the pandemic. Some countries beside China rose up to the challenge! To begin with, we did not need to allow the avertable virus into Nigeria? Is it not true that Rivers and Lagos States locked down before Mr President executed his sectional lockdown? What informed delay in Mr President’s limited lockdown?

The pandemic has also opened up need for online educational system. How long, for example, will our schools remain shut if this pandemic, God forbid, continues for months more? Let PMB-led FG please rise up to these national imperatives! The lack of these capacities will continually make PMB or any other President for that matter fall short of addressing national emergencies.

We urge Mr President to rise up with a national response against the pandemic. There is no time than now! This is the only way he can halt the virus in its tracks and achieve the second avowed “objective” of the battle against COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria-protecting the interests of business owners and survival of the ordinary people.

Editor’s Footnote: This editorial title has been reedited to reflect the appropriate situation in Nigeria

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