The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Gida Mustapha, told Daily Trust in this exclusive interview, how the dreaded global coronavirus pandemic would affect the nation’s health care fortune. He also said the committee is not collecting or distributing money and donations but materials.
How has the COVID-19 impacted on governance in the country?
There is no doubt that the world is in the midst of an unprecedented catastrophic crisis because the Coronavirus is now the most significant public health emergency of international concern. It has spread across 209 countries and territories around the world. Now we have more than 1.7 million confirmed cases world-wide; 107,000 deaths while about 246,270 people have recovered from the disease.
Coronavirus has placed a considerable and significant strain on Nigeria and the global health care system and the global economy. Although the disease started in China and spread rapidly across Europe and the Americas, many African countries are now witnessing a rapid rise in the number of cases.
By 9.30pm, April 11, 2020, Nigeria had recorded 318 cases and six fatalities. Coronavirus has spread to 19 states. Globally, countries with advanced and sophisticated health systems are struggling to deal with the pandemic with heavy fatalities. We can be under no illusion that this is a national emergency and it is on all of us to work closely in solving this.
How do you assess the impact of the PTF on COVID-19 on the nation’s quest to tackle this virus so far?
The Presidential Task Force was inaugurated on 17 March as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari. So far, we have received the full support of the President which enabled us to record a number of achievements, especially high level political and multi-sectoral coordination for preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have seen a well co-ordinated inter-ministerial and inter-agency collaboration across all areas of the pandemic response which culminated in the development of a National Multi-Sectorial Pandemic Response Plan; engagement of all MDAs and extra-ministerial departments in the response; high level coordination of the United Nations agencies and other bilateral and multilateral partners as well as foundations and international bodies involved in the response. So, the Task Force has done remarkably well.
The pandemic has put lots of strain on the nation’s economy. How much support has the federal government received from home and abroad?
Nigerians, individuals and corporate bodies, have responded in a fantastic manner. Our major industrialists and business concerns have donated huge sums of money and equipment in support of fighting the pandemic. Last Monday, we unveiled the one Basket Fund initiated by the United Nations. This is to aggregate and coordinate all international financial, technical and manpower support for Nigeria in combating the pandemic.
We have received donations from international philanthropists like Jack Ma, corporate bodies operating in Nigeria like the CCECC which brought a 15-member Chinese medical team and equipment. We have had high level engagement with the organised private sector with better coordination of their core competencies and expertise. We have also engaged with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and Corporate Nigeria, mobilised by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Emphatically, all members of this committee are committed to transparency and accountability. Therefore, the PTF is not in anyway directly involved in the collection and disbursement of cash donations for COVID-19. The Accountant General of the Federation has already published in the newspapers the account details for collection through five commercial banks and also provided the modalities for its utilisation. All the main COVID-19 accounts shall be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria. However, all non-cash donations shall be duly received by the PTF.
You were recently quoted as saying you were unaware of the rot in the nation’s health sector, which you denied the following day. Kindly shed more light on this?
The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to x-ray the inefficient state of our health care sector. The weaknesses in our health system became more glaring as we see how more established health systems in Europe and America buckled under pressure.
On Thursday, at the National Assembly, I said I became fully aware of the state of our medical system during this assignment. This was misunderstood, but let me clarify that I am aware and have indeed been a champion for the reform and transformation of the healthcare system. In my modest way, I have done a lot in my community, working with other people to uplift the healthcare system in my small community. However, this PTF assignment has afforded me the opportunity and I believe, all members of the committee, to dig deeper, interrogate and x-ray the system better.
Before the lawmakers, I said the pandemic has provided for us the unique opportunity to review the healthcare system which is in dire need of reforms and funding.
It is regrettable that my views were completely misinterpreted. For the benefit of those who do not know me well, I come from rural Nigeria, was born in a village almost 64 years ago that had no hospital but a very small missionary dispensary, probably with one mid-wife. I had no birth certificate but a declaration of age.
So, from birth, I knew the state of our medical system and am not a foreigner. But since I have been serving on this committee, I have had a further insight into what is happening.
Most of the things you see around are specialist hospitals or clinics.You just see the buildings without knowing what is inside. Serving on this committee has given me an opportunity of walking into these facilities and making observations on the supposed standard. And my conclusion is they don’t have what they ought to have.
Many Nigerians are worried that hunger may become deadlier than Coronavirus.What is the PTF doing to reduce the burden of hunger, especially due to the lockdown across the country?
You remember the contents of the broadcast made by President Muhammadu Buhari that government is fully aware that many Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector, will be adversely affected by the lockdown.
We do know that many people earn their living on a day-by-day basis. So we are conscious of the sacrifice they have to make. As I have often said, combating coronavirus is like fighting a war; that is why government has rolled out a number of emergency palliative measures to try and cushion the effects of the lockdown and the disruption of the social and economic life of our country.
As you are aware, the Federal Government has raised an Economic Sustainability Committee, headed by the Vice President, in addition to the team headed by the Minister of Finance, to examine the impact of the pandemic on the economy. Government approved a stimulus package of over N500 billion; authorised the employment of 774,000 Nigerians for social work; directed immediate payment of Conditional Cash Transfer under the Social Safety Net Programme; authorisedunconditional continuation of the School Feeding Programme to sustain the nutritional essence of the programme; authorised the release of 70MT of grains from the national strategic reserve for distribution in Lagos, Ogun, the FCT as well as the 13 frontline states.
The Nigeria Customs Service, on the orders of the President, has released 150 trucks of seized rice and other commodities for distribution to the poor. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, working with NEMA, has gone far in distributing these commodities to the various states.
What then should Nigerians expect from government post-COVID-19?
The on-going experience has taught us a lesson. Now we know that we have to review the policies, programmes and infrastructure in the health sector, albeit in the immediate and on long term bases.The National Assembly is in a unique position to work on how to develop a legislative framework to prepare Nigeria for any future pandemic; develop a legislative framework for transforming our healthcare system and also strengthen the legislative framework for economic growth through domestic manufacturing of our medical and pharmaceutical products.
We are conscious of the need to lay a legacy foundation for the immediate, medium and long-term development of the health system. To this end, the PTF has proposed to utilise the resources being mobilised in a strategic manner for sustainability. Specifically, to focus on the development of critical infrastructure in the states; encourage states and local governments to ensure that funds appropriated for the health care sector are judiciously and efficiently applied.
It is important to appeal to all sub-national entities to recognise the serious nature of this situation and to strategise with the federal government to win the war. We do not have a different response; we have one national response.It is expected that each and every sub-national government should fit into this national response so that we can collectively deploy our resources, strategies and personnel to directly and decisively deal with this pandemic.