OP-ED Opinions 

A Long Ride By Sesugh Akume

Our saving knight in shining armour rides in magisterially, talks about the orders he has issued, tells lots of lies, consoles himself, talks about the things important to him leaving out every other, and rides back to wherever he came from. No questions asked, none answered. After all, he’s doing us such a favour.

Four weeks ago, Chikwe Ihekweazu, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Director-General, said they were looking at taking the COVID-19 daily test numbers to 1,500. On 2 April, Osagie Ohanire, the Minister of Health, said they had attained the the 1,500 per day testing capacity. More than a week later, they announced that the total number of tests (since March or so when they began) was ‘about 5,000’, but they kept repeating their 1,500 per day testing capacity refrain.

Two weeks ago, during his broadcast on 13 April, Muhammadu Buhari said his regime was working towards increasing the daily test capacity to 1,500. Increasing the testing capacity to the 1,500 per day we had been regaled with tales of achieving for close to two weeks prior. He was more interested in the capacity than the actual number of tests. 

As of Monday when he came again, two weeks later, the total number of tests was at ‘about 10,000’ (for a country of 200 million.) The day before Buhari’s Monday, 27 April broadcast, Chikwe Ihekweazu, the NCDC DG, said they desperately needed test kits. During his broadcast however, Buhari said they were taking the daily testing capacity to 2,500 per day! Again, the fixation was on the (false) capacity, not the actual number of tests. No mention of the inadequate test kits. Senegal is producing millions of test kits and ready. Meanwhile, the truth is there have hardly been up to 600 tests per day, ever.

The regime had announced that it received donations from various sources to combat the pandemic. There was no update on how much has been received, how much has been spent, and on what, what remains, and how it is hoped to be spent, as some more is expected to come in.

Buhari said the FCT, Lagos, and Ogun reopen in a week from 6am to 8pm, and I’ve wondering which Lagos he was referring to! The Lagos where people are on the road by 4am in order to beat the traffic and be at their places of work by 8am but sometimes fail, and spend other long hours on closing to get home by 11pm? He also spoke about work resuming, no mention of schools.

He said distribution of grains, cash transfers, and other palliative measures have been successful and transparent! This is not just untrue or false, it is a lie. A blatant one at that. Oyo and Ondo states rejected the contaminated rice unfit for consumption sent to them outright. Bwari residents in the FCT. If this is not wickedness, I don’t know what it is. Nothing is transparent. Not the cash transfer, not the shared grains, nothing. Even the useless National Assembly said so. After the dry speech he walked away. No journalist could ask him questions so none was answered.

The five weeks on lockdown was a total waste. A lockdown isn’t a solution to the spread of COVID-19, it’s a buffer to slow down its spread as the system gets prepared. I don’t know one thing that was prepared. The lockdown itself was ill-considered. How was it to work considering the realities that most people don’t have piped water in their homes, most earn daily and live from hand to mouth, most have zero savings, and no refrigeration capacity to store food beyond a day, etc?

To add insult to the injury, the useless Senate resumed the next day for one day after a month on recess, assented to an N850bn loan for Buhari to use more than 70% of it to run recurrent expenditure with no value for money to the citizens, and adjourned sine die. Nigeria is the only country in the world seeking funding for other things at this time not related to COVID-19. The rubberstamp Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, Buhari’s surrogate and proxy in the Senate said the regime has responded well to COVID-19. He didn’t say why or how. I’m sure he, like Buhari read what was given to him without having a clue what exactly it was he read. 

Clearly, there isn’t going to be a COVID-19 legislation that provides a stimulus package for Nigerian businesses, none to take care of already broken citizens whose lives took a worse turn, none from which clear subsidiary regulations would be enacted to combat the scourge. There will be no oversight on how our money is spent, and how the regime is serving Nigerians at this time to ensure that we are being served well, or served at all. This opportunity to turn around the country and our sick way of doing things will as usual be wasted. The country will be run by knee-jerk orders Buhari gives as we go along. Nobody remembers journalists risking their lives to report what is happening, and helping spread the news on guidelines and other information that needs to be passed across.

In the meantime, Kano is bursting at its seams with daily deaths, which in 2020 are being called ‘mysterious’. Are there autopsies? No, they’re deploying verbal autopsy. There’s no way of enquiring further because grave diggers and undertakers have been cowed into silence by grave threats. There are already media reports of an influx of Kano residents into the FCT (which is supposed to be on lockdown with none coming in or going out.) Brace, we in for a long ride.

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