A few days ago as of this writing, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 declared Kogi State a high risk area for the virus. You go there at your own risk. The task force, for which read the federal government, has actually been inexplicably tardy about this. The state governor, Yahaya Bello, promotes himself as our local Donald Trump.
Like the former US president, Bello does not believe that the pandemic is real. Like Trump, he is contemptuous of what the rest of the world knows to be true, to wit, mankind has on its hands the biggest health challenge in more than two centuries. Like Trump, Bello is contemptuous of science and the informed views of scientists.
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And like Trump, he acts out of ignorance and could not care less that by choosing to wallow in his ignorance, he exposes the people who put him in his exalted office to the risk of infection and death. More than 400,000 Americans died of Covid-19 and still Trump, dismissed the deaths as a fairy tale. It is not unlikely that if the graves in Kogi begin to make room for the people in large numbers as victims of the pandemic Bello too would have maintained his stand and remained aloof to it all.
Right from the onset of the pandemic, Bello pooh-poohed evidence of the virus on our shores. He said state governors who spoke of the rate of infections in their states were doing so to collect money from the federal government through false pretences. He ran PTF officials who went to Lokoja to conduct tests out of town. At a stage, he claimed that he had found a cure for the virus. It was just as well that he later denied it. After, we do not know him as an herbalist. But his attitude towards the pandemic leaves a sour taste in the mouth and speaks of a leader who does not fully appreciate his responsibilities to his own. I thought that since he is planning to succeed Buhari as our next president he would need Kogi people to be alive and vote him into the next logical office – governor-president. The idea that Kogi could be a safe island in the raging sea global pandemic is patently foolish. That should not be beyond Bello, the unchallengeable strong man of Kogi politics.
Why did PTF allow the man to act as he wished? I know Bello is a strong man but for him to treat the task force with such high-handed contempt might be a true reflection of his political clout under Buhari’s watch. The truth about the pandemic is not a matter of personal belief or choice. Whether Bello believes it or not does not make a difference to the problem that the pandemic poses to the nation. His refusal to open Kogi to Covid-19 tests has grave implications for the primary health of his people and the spread of the disease from there to other parts of the country. He should have been called to order despite whatever political protection he is enjoying from the top. The PTF as a presidential task force has the power, I presume, to call a state governor who chooses to live in denial, to order if only to help save his own people from infection and certain death.
Bello’s case points to some fundamental problems with how the pandemic is being handled by the federal and state governments. The enthusiasm of the task force at the beginning has waned. It would appear that too many things have gone wrong with how the war against the spread of Covid-19 is being waged. First, nearly one year after the pandemic hit our shores, there is still no serious attempt to conduct tests and determine the rate and the number of infections in real terms. In other words, the daily rate of infections reported by CDC does not tell the real story of our national situation. Test kits are still not available in most of the states. A sample taken from a state and taken to Abuja takes some two weeks for the result to be returned to the particular state from where the sample was taken. Covid-19 does not wait for such tardiness and the infected persons waiting to know their status would most likely have succumbed to the virus in that time.
Secondly, the federal government does not appear to show the level of seriousness that we, as citizens, expect from it in tackling the pandemic. Indeed, its handling of the pandemic now verges on the scandalous. It has been nearly one year since the pandemic complicated our rickety health delivery system. Still, the government appears to be catching at the straw to find ways and means of tackling it. I was not, I verily believe, the only Nigerian who was scandalized to learn that the 2021 budget has no provision for Covid-19. Yet the same government tells us that it has voted N400 billion to purchase anti-Covid-19 vaccines. It has also given out N10 billion for the production of the vaccine locally. I suppose that would not be a problem. Faced with the same problem of inadequate fund, the late strong man of Uganda, Idi Amin, simply ordered the central bank to print more money. I hope we would not go the Amin route.
Was anyone of us aware that that some local scientists have achieved the commendable feat of finding a vaccine that had been clinically tested and tried on some guinea pigs and found to be efficacious? The announcement has raised the scepticism quotient of fellow Nigerians who fear, and rightly so, that we are in for jabs that would make Covid-19 laugh loudly at us and our nation. We should refuse to be turned into guinea pigs by some closet local scientists in search of fame and fortune. Government should see to the delivery of the vaccines that it has since ordered and were originally scheduled to arrive last month.
Thirdly, it seems there is no primary custodian for Covid-19 right now. The federal government appears to have ceded this to the state governments. This is not right. Apart from Lagos and one or two states, most of the state governors are indifferent to the pandemic crisis. I had argued here and elsewhere that the proper thing for the federal government to do right from the beginning was to own the pandemic war. This is what the new US president, Joe Biden, has done. He has declared war against the pandemic as a priority and is doing everything to ensure that a million Americans are vaccinated against the virus daily. He leaves no one in doubt that he intends to beat the pandemic and deny the graves of more and more corpses daily. If Covid-19 had broken out under his watch, the story of its spread and deaths from it would have been different. America would have led the fight and put the virus in its place.
Buhari can follow Biden’s lead and be the pandemic warrior in our country. He needs to give us the assurance that in the end the pandemic would lose and we would win. This is one war that Nigerian leaders cannot expect to fight and win with an ambivalent attitude. Nor is there room now for lethargy or sitting on haunches.