Now in its fifth month of sudden arrival on the global scene with incomparable viciousness and matching fatalities – which are already featuring in thousands – the odiousness of COVID-19 cannot be downplayed. In country after country, the story is the same as it unleashes the unprecedented calamity of innocent persons embracing sudden death – ironically through the most basic of humanity’s passions: hugging loved ones, shaking hands with friends, congregating together in unity of purpose and sharing life experiences. It is no more news that life remains safer when people keep distances from each other, go into forced or voluntary quarantine and subscribe to rather unusual adjustments in life-style as driven by a general sense of panic. Hence, just as every calamity in society comes with its own privations and debilitations, so COVID-19 has also come with a bagful of anguish and pains.
However in all of its virulence and devastation, COVID-19 may still not qualify as the biggest burden Nigeria has today, as a country. Even with its culpability for the death of scores of Nigerians and posture as a heinous threat to millions of others, COVID-19 is not only a late-comer to the league of Nigeria’s factors of debilitation, but is hopefully a soon-to-be vanquished foe; thanks to spirited efforts by the Federal and several state governments. Hence in line with humanity’s disposition to be forward looking, considerations of what will be hereafter – that is whenever the pandemic’s reign peters out, and the regime of restrictions on personal liberties are relaxed, have commenced among the hopeful.
The basis of this hope is the growing realization that the pandemic is at least not the end of the world which the present generation of humanity has come to know. And that one bright day, COVID-19 will just become history. Just as well too, many cannot simply wait for that day.
Flashing back to the early days of the pandemic’s ravage, there were tendencies that betrayed some lack of preparedness by the country, especially in the healthcare regime, for the advent of a contingency as the vicious as the pandemic. With reports of its early victims comprising the high and mighty, the fear of the virus served as the beginning of wisdom for many. However with a rash of quick rallies, various governments eventually established a grip on the situation leading to brighter hopes for Nigeria, that come what may, COVID-19 may not possess the fire power to erase all Nigerians off the globe, even as it proves itself as the real champion of scourges, which the country has to deal with.
Hence for a forward looking generation, lessons from the country’s encounter with the pandemic, make it imperative to look beyond the present, pursuant to predisposing the country for better response in the face of any other likely-to-come contingency. For instance, it is already becoming inevitable that the country is heading into another economic recession, even with the COVID-19 dispensation hardly diminished, significantly. While the looming recession may be worldwide, Nigeria may be worse hit than the industrial countries which unlike her, have a fall-back base of industrial capacity to recalibrate them into reckoning.
For Nigeria the COVID-19 provided valid lessons in respect of the country’s laid-back position and relative unpreparedness for such contingencies. However the scenario has changed, as the reality that life after the scourge will clearly not be business as usual, dictates a new sense of preparedness for Nigeria. Where the country will be and how it will fare then, will be determined by how it predisposes itself from now.
Already the country’s initial response to the virus left much to be desired even as it is recording limited successes in managing the scourge. Hence, concern is now over the capacity of government and the country to respond proactively in the face of future contingencies, especially in the critical health sector. Public concern is mounting over the perception that governments in the country, are more fixated on the containment of the virus, without commensurate attention on the reinvention of the country’s capacity to counter contingencies which is a recourse to prioritizing the rapid development of infrastructure – the backbone of meaningful development.
A pointer to the need for the country to review its posture on infrastructure development and by implication reinvent its capacity to tackle contingencies is the recent observation by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Federal Government (SFG) Boss Mustapha, when he lamented that he never knew the extent of dilapidation of the country’s health facilities, until he was engaged in fighting the pandemic. It is obvious that Boss Mustapha may not be the only high-brow government official that is oblivious of the scandalous state of the country’s health facilities, especially with respect to the fight against COVID-19. That is also not surprising as his class of public officials do not routinely use Nigerian healthcare facilities except in extreme emergencies. They simply go abroad for even the slightest headache, and in the process play ostrich to the country’s own facilities. It will therefore be interesting to record his reaction with the knowledge that whatever rot he saw in the healthcare sector, is only a tip of the more offending state of mess, in virtually all other areas of public facilities across the country.
Hence, while he may deserve commendation or otherwise for being frank about his observation, his seeing Nigeria clearer at least for once, is important. It actually calls for celebration that a pair of very powerful eyes in top level of government, has seen the real Nigeria for what it actually is. Going from there he can edify himself by noting that the rot which bothered him in the health-care sector, is only a façade masking the deeper muck in Nigeria’s infrastructural base that needs to be cleared, for the country to move forward, and guarantee for it a more robust response in the face of future contingencies.
If the only takeaway from COVID-19 by the administration is the motivation to prioritise in real terms, the rapid development of infrastructure in Nigeria, the country’s sacrifices at the instance of the scourge would not have been in vain. Otherwise Nigeria’s tortuous journey out of the shadow of COVID-19 whenever it comes, will hardly be encouraging to Nigerians, and remain defeatist with respect to whatever expectations in respect of building on the lessons from the pandemic, by the government.