Comrade Debo Adeniran, an activist, is the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) and a public affairs commentator. He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic to Nigeria as well as the resolution of the crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), among other issues. Excerpts:
How do you see the way the federal and state governments have been handling the COVID-19 pandemic?
It is difficult to determine whether the handling is inadequate or not without engaging in a comparison with other countries. The index case could not have been discovered, but for the Lafarge doctor. We can talk of laxity at the entry point. But, the disease is new and there could not be symptoms until after some days. The best could have been to shut down the airports at the early stage. They ought to have shut down the airports long ago. A lot of people with the virus could have entered into the country undetected at the airports, just like the index case. Many could have also entered before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the virus situation as a pandemic.
The Federal Government could have saved 50% of the cases, but former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement that the discovery of the index case was a hoax, just like Shehu Sani could have discouraged a lot of people from taking action. People should not do things because of political leanings, since they were not the ones that tested the patient. The media should not have amplified the cynical statements.
Patients cannot be exposed. The medical profession has a code of ethics. When the index case was declared free, it became obvious. Obasanjo and Shehu Sani could have discouraged the Federal Government from closing all the borders and airports and seaports. We have seen what has been happening to Italy, China and some other countries. We would have shut down the airports long ago.
Lagos and Ogun have taken precautionary measures to check the spread of the virus, especially Lagos, where the index case was discovered. But, someone came in, went to Ibadan and then to Ekiti, where he was discovered. It may not be the fault of the state governments, since it was not discovered at the airport. Health officials at the entry points at the expressways would have tested the people. Health officials should have been posted along the major expressways to examine people, especially those coming in from Lagos and Abuja.
Some precautionary measures have been taken in several states, schools shut down, stadia, sports events stopped. All these are okay. But, tracing the contacts may be difficult. Earlier, some lawmakers could not subject themselves to checks at the airports to their own detriment. They attended social gatherings. The carriers of the virus could have reduced by now with all the hints by the WHO, if Nigerians did not take things for granted. Nigerians themselves contributed to the problem.
Wash hand basins should be provided at public places. People could have been touched by a carrier. Costs of sanitisers have gone high. People do not want to engage in self quarantine because of their businesses. Government should make things available to those on self quarantine.
A lot of people live on what they get on daily basis. Aged people should boost their immune system and have sex regularly as well as engage in exercises. People should engage in self isolation. If they do not have to go out, they should stay at home. Government should do more enlightenment in market places and people should keep social distance and avoid handshakes.
Education on the virus is enough as all discussions in radios, television and newspapers is about the disease. But, we cannot overdo it. Markets should be open because people do not have enough money to stock food for a long time. Hoarding should be avoided. We cannot properly do self isolation when living conditions are difficult.
With one death recorded so far and the figure hitting 65 so far (as at Thursday), what more do you think the governments should do about the rising Coronavirus situation?
That the figure has risen from one to 65 is alarming. Even at that, there are a lot of hidden ones because flights still went on for a long time. Many carriers entered undetected. The country is vulnerable to the disease. The government should trace those who entered the country and ensure that even those in contact with them are quarantined for at least 14 days. From one to 65 in three weeks means that if we continue that way, in another three weeks, we may have 3, 400.
Nigerian has so far recorded one death, the carrier who died in Ekiti. The contacts should be quarantined. Atiku’s household should be quarantined. Yuguda is said to have self-quarantined himself.
Coronavirus has taught us good lessons. We can do with what we have. If we do not, people will perish. People should make alternatives to what we import. Some of us raised alarm about importation of finished products. Our refineries should be made to work we should produce what we need, including medically. We should not rely on foreign countries for our needs. It was not so in the days of our forefathers. We should be self-reliant. We should be self-reliant. We can develop our technology. We should stop borrowing from these countries, using our national resources as collateral, creating uncertain future for generations to come. We should stop medical tourism. If the airport had been open, Buhari’s daughter and Atiku’s son would have been taken abroad for treatment. Coronovirus has become a leveler of people.
Do you think the citizens and corporate institutions understand the seriousness of the pandemic?
For a long time, citizens stopped to believe the government. Cynicism has been there. The average Nigerians no longer believe their government. People are misled by people like Obasanjo. But, when they saw the number of corpses in China and Italy and other countries are locked down, people begin to believe there is a pandemic. People are not responding because they thought it is a ‘big man’s disease’ and the ravaging poverty is much. People are violating rules on buses. A BRT conductor was beaten up because he did not want to carry people who would stand. There are too many people on the road. When the government does the right thing wrongly, they make doing the right thing difficult, as it is the case in Lagos.
In several countries, food is given out freely and people are given money to survive. That is possible in Nigeria. But, the public officers make it impossible. When money budgeted for projects are looted, people are ready to die because they do not see any future.
What is your reaction to the reduction of petroleum pump price from N145 to N125?
It is good reference for government. Several occasions global oil price fell, government refused to change the price of fuel at the local level. The price reduction is not even the same proportion to that at the global market. But, it is nice. But, more incentives could be given by bringing down the fuel price. It should include diesel, kerosene, gas and other things manufactured from petroleum products. Government should bring down the price of fuel to the barest minimum. Everybody make use of petroleum products one way or the other. In Libya, people do not buy fuel at a time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting global economy, with its effect on the Nigerian oil sector, trade and even construction, do you think the country’s economy will not slide into another recession?
It depends on how the country handles it. The recession will be global. The pandemic has affected all sectors. Nothing much is happening in the stock exchange. The world economy is at standstill. It will be a global recession. The bigger the economy, the bigger the recession. Saudi Arabia is not taking pilgrims. Rome is not taking tourists. Italy locked down its economy. People cannot import and export products. Ships are stranded in the seas. People should prepare for tougher time if the pandemic continues.
Government should look inwards to boost the economy. We can go back to the farms. If government utilises the pandemic well, we will suffer the pangs. What we need is mobility, which government should subsidise. The average citizens would have been taught to be stronger through self sustenance. People are learning that paid employment is not enough. There should be other means of affecting more increase. The pandemic is affecting individual economy. Government should find a way of helping those providing perishable goods. The pandemic may lead to more strife and uprising and further distrust of the government by the people.
How do you see the leadership crisis in the All Progressives Congress (APC), especially as it concerns the position of the party’s National Chairman?
It is normal with the ruling party. It also happened to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at their own time, in many countries, when a ruling party is approaching an election year, there is bound to be a clash between those in power and those who want to succeed them. It happened to PDP. If APC does not take time, what happened to PDP will happen to it. The difference is that nobody wants to defect from APC. Those who do not want to be disciplined are vocal in the crisis. The same thing happens in the country. Oshiomhole is suffering what President Buhari and the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu are facing in the handling of those who want corruption to continue. Oshiomhole should apply more wisdom and diplomacy. The crisis may spell doom to APC in Ondo and Edo elections, as well as the 2023 general elections. The struggle for influence and support is the cause of the imbroglio. They went to court. That is the civilised way of resolving crisis.
Would you say the courts have not contributed to the crisis in APC, especially in Edo chapter?
It is still the courts that will regulate what is done wrongly. There were conflicting rulings among High Courts of equal adjudications, but the Appeal Court has doused the tension by granting stay of execution order. This has given APC opportunity to rework its system. But, for the courts, there would have been more crises. The developmental problems in Nigeria contribute to the way the courts work. There are problems of data sharing. This affects the courts. Lawyers know how to manipulate things for their selfish purposes. That makes it difficult for the courts to exonerate themselves from the crisis.
Do you see the crisis in Edo APC being resolved so soon?
The Bisi Akande Committee has given them the opportunity for reconciliation. A lot of compromise has been reached and suspended people have been reabsorbed. This is the opportunity for the Akande Committee to bring peace to APC.
What is your take on delisting of several political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the fact that the courts may make nonsense of the agency?
It is neither here nor there. If INEC has power to register parties, it should have power to deregister them. At any time the condition for registration are no longer there, or has degenerated, INEC will deregister. If you have members at the moment of registration and suddenly the members defect to other parties and the membership depleted, there is no point in keeping such political parties.
Some of the political parties are not working towards political stability. Many register to corner resources to themselves. Many of them do not have assets or offices. If INEC wants to register parties, they should have at least 1% or 001% of the population where they want to operate. Most of the parties lie to INEC when their claims are not verifiable. No ideological leanings. Conditions for registration of political parties are loose. That is why as many as 93 political parties were registered. If there is a clear-cut ideology, all parties with single ideology should merge. People should know what to expect from a party. When there is no membership, no ideology, no clear manifesto, why should we have different political parties? They only help to create administration confusion at INEC. If the courts base their rulings on the Electoral Act, INEC may win. The cases cannot make a mess of INEC’s stand. The condition for registration of political parties should be clear.
By Ejikeme Omenazu 5:03 am , Sun, 29 March 20