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The two governors living in denial

This is rather hard to take. It seems we are being asked to accept the miraculous impossibility that Kogi and Cross River states are COVID-19…

This is rather hard to take. It seems we are being asked to accept the miraculous impossibility that Kogi and Cross River states are COVID-19 free islands in the murky ocean of the virus infections in our country.

This is worse than naïve and the strangest form of a federal administration not unduly bothered by gubernatorial foolishness and given to exercising a strange gubernatorial right to live in denial of what the rest of the states and the world know is true.

I am unwilling to believe that Kogi and Cross River states have done something pleasing to God to spare them the pains, the trauma and the agony of the pandemic that other states and nations are going through in the hands of covid-19. But governors Ayade and Bello choose to live in denial and deny their people the right to be tested for the virus so that those infected could seek medical aid to survive. Professor Ayade’s attitude is shamefully un-professorial.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike

That the two state governors choose to deny what is real to the rest of the country and the world must qualify for what the late Ojo Maduekwe once described as idiotic. That the federal authorities represented by the Presidential Task Force headed by the secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, would allow the two men to persist in their arrogant foolishness and put the lives of their people in danger is, to be advisedly polite about it, baffling and inexcusable.

If at this time there be state governors who still believe that the pandemic is a mere voodoo global scare, then we must truly fear for the future of our country in the hands of such men. Covid-19 has made a steady daily climb and progressively affected every facet of our national life. According to the latest figures from the centre for disease control as of this writing, some 30,746 Nigerians had been infected with the virus; 689 of them of them had succumbed to the lethal pandemic. By the time you are reading this, we would have had more cases and, perish the thought, more deaths.

Experts here and elsewhere have repeatedly warned that the virus is not about to give up its unholy mission of killing human beings and destroying national economies. For how long would Ayade and Bello persist in living in denial? Part of the tragedy here is that the commissioners for health in both states are medical doctors. Are they acting out the wishes of their principals by ignoring their professional oath to save lives or are they too persuaded that COVID-19 is not real? It boggles the mind.

It is time for the federal authorities to get down from sitting on the fence and take urgent steps to bring the two states into the national orbit. There is nothing in our constitution that permits a state governor to take the lives of his people for granted. Living in denial is not an act of statesmanship or empathic leadership. It is a misguided action of the African big man luxuriating in the comfort of his high office. It is intolerable.

Nigeria is an agrarian nation with more than half of its population living in rural areas. Most of our states are, therefore, rural states. It should be possible for a state governor to appreciate the vulnerability of the rural populace to a huge health challenge such as this. The real national challenge is how to prevent the pandemic from spreading to our rural areas because the consequences would be both horrifying and horrendous. I think the federal and state authorities need to do more to give the rest of us hope that our nation is standing up to the challenge now and post covid-19.

I have repeatedly suggested in this column and elsewhere that the best national approach to tackling covid-19 is for the federal authorities to own the challenge of defeating the pandemic. It must devise the policies and strategies and get the states to cue in for implementation. I thought PTF was primarily set up for that purpose but from what I see, the PTF response is still rather ragged with the states assuming the right to do as they wish in meeting the challenge. The voice of PTF must be heard loud and clear. Its strategy must be seen to be binding on all states and their big men governors with no room for independent actions that might be detrimental to the national policy and strategies.

I warned in this column last week that government strategies must be products of hard-headed thinking that draws from the experiences of other countries. I warned that it would be a mistake for the government to allow itself to be driven by sentiments in a quest to make the people feel good. The federal government has now seen its policy of re-opening schools at this time would be a disaster. It was forced to roll back the policy. Perhaps going back and forth is inevitable but we would benefit from consistency in the strategy.

We do wish that covid-19 would become history. But while it lasts, we are in for a regime of inconvenient lockdowns and restrictions of our movements and association. Inconvenience is tough on the human spirit. But there is no choice between death and temporary inconvenience. It is better for the people to endure the inconvenience and survive rather than for the government to opt for convenience and expose the people to whips of the pandemic.