Coronavirus: The Costly Mistake The Nigerian Government Is Making

The government has spectacularly impressed me since the first case of Covid-19 was recorded in Nigeria on the 28th of February. I expected a repeat of the Ebola outbreak in August 2014 in which some lives would have been lost before health officials become proactive. The Lagos State government in collaboration with Ogun State rose to the occasion and successfully quarantined the index case of the virus - the 44-year old Italian.

Another box that the Nigerian government ticked was the aspect of effecting a working public health strategy. With the use of social media and the mainstream media, the government made information available to her citizens about the menace of Coronavirus and how to avoid it. Channels of communications were also opened between the public and health organizations to help report any suspected case of the virus, monitor quarantined people and engage in contact-tracing. I applaud the government once more.
But there are some obvious failures that we have taken for granted. We are only surviving on mere luck and gambling. Since the first case was recorded, several government hospitals can't even boast of safety kits like sanitizers, gloves, face masks and specifically trained personnel to manage a Coronavirus emergency. No factory is investing in mass production of basic kits in the event of an outbreak including any regulatory move by the agencies of government to control the prices of the kits in the market as some customers are getting ripped off already. The excuse has been that since there was no outbreak here as experienced in other well-troubled countries like China, Iran, South-Korea, Italy and others, those stringent measures weren't urgent and necessary yet.
Another major failing of the Nigerian government is its reluctance to issue travel restrictions against affected countries and subtly the compulsory quarantine of returning Nigerians for at least 14 days which is the standard procedure. African countries like Uganda, Kenya and Ghana, Morocco, South Africa, Burundi, Gabon have closed their borders to affected countries to protect their citizens.
Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that might not have summoned the courage to block entries from the Global North took a lenient but still effective dimension by enforcing quarantine measure on people coming from Europe and other affected countries.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari appears reluctant to implement the restriction or ban on international flights to limit the importation of the disease due to the economic toll it will take on the country especially considering the fact that the prices of crude oil in the global market has been on a downward slope since the outbreak. This stand is very irrational, to say the least. It's like prioritising money over human life. Nigeria came out of the worst recession in history in 2016, meaning it can always recover lost grounds like China is doing but one can't recover lost lives. The protection of lives and properties remains the primary objective of every responsible government.
When the Presidential Taskforce panel on Coronavirus sat yesterday, I expected the travel restriction to be announced but instead, what I read was a public health advisory whose major highlight was restricting government officials from travelling abroad. The government seems to be joking with fire. The rapid spread of the Covid-19 makes it embarrassing, frustrating and overwhelming. The huge cost of its containment can also weigh down any economy as people will be forced to work from home with workplaces closed down to curtail the spread. The implication is that the local economy will continue to drown while the government rolls out exotic palliatives to cushion the economic shocks through emergency health funds and others to revitalise the economy like the U.S President Donald Trump is doing. The truth is that an outbreak will still attract bigger economic losses as well as political ones. The current outbreak of the virus in America is eating deep into the popularity of Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jinping also faced a similar scenario that threatened his government when the outbreak was on the rise.
If a travel ban is issued by the Nigerian government for at least 30 days, over 200 million Nigerians will be protected pending on when affected countries will put the spread under control like South Korea has been doing lately. Since the majority of importation and exportation in Nigeria is done using cargo ships, the effect of the travel restriction will be mitigated pending on when the ongoing battle will peak. The popular joke on social media is that Buhari has prioritised rice over human lives and no credible explanation will be given to an apprehensive populace which already lacks trust in the government.
This is an SOS message to the Federal Government, Nigeria needs that travel ban and the mandatory quarantine of returnees from affected countries. History will treat the Buhari administration unfairly if the disease spreads in Nigeria because Providence has given the country ample time to make strategic adjustments and avert a looming major disaster.
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About Osahon

I'm a journalist and a Political Scientist undergoing a doctoral programme focused on media, democracy and governance in Africa. My mission is to uphold the role of the media as the 'fourth estate of the realm' and also tell the Nigerian Story to the world. You can contact me on Phone number: +2347053302356.
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