ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES
One of the best ways to tackle an issue successfully is by studying those who had successfully or currently tackling the same issue, in order to learn from their failures and successes. One of the best things that happened to Nigeria as long as the present pandemic is concerned is the fact that we are among the last countries to be hit by the virus. With that, we have the good fortune of having a number of countries to learn from. It will therefore be a regrettable pitfall if Nigeria's situation gets as seriously tragic as it has got in the USA, Italy, Spain and China.
China which holds the unenviable record of being the original exporter of the virus has 'mysteriously' been able to clear off the virus from their country. And while just a few months ago, Chinese nationals were looked upon with lots of suspicion and fear and most countries closed their borders to China, the communist country has turned the table through an efficient management of the pandemic. The world is now looking up to them for assistance in tackling this novel virus. Fortunately, China is reported to have translated their strategy document into various languages and has shared same with about 180 countries.
The contents of this document may not have become public, but it shouldn't take a Chinese document to understand some of the common things that the authorities down here need to do to avert an unmanageable national catastrophe which this pandemic portends for us. I have been able to identity some of the following as key strategies that we must adopt to effectively tackle this crisis, while inflicting the mildest possible inconvenience on the people;
MASS EDUCATION ON THE PANDEMIC: The Nigerian government has committed enormous resources on enlightenment programs on this novel virus, but, what these programs have mostly succeeded in doing is to either create excess panic in the people or doubts in the minds of some. There is need for change of strategy on this. The theatrical and creative sector should be engaged to design more effective enlightenment contents that would easily click with the people. Going round the city and visiting the villages, one would notice a dangerous display of ignorance and prevalence of those habits and practices that aided the spread of the virus in other countries. Understandably, people would always view campaigns by government with doubts, but when more creative approaches are adopted, Nigerians may begin to appreciate the situation better and help the government's efforts to succeed.
TEST KITS: A critical need in the management of coronavirus outbreak is providing access for suspected carriers to be tested and on time, too. Already, scientists across the world are making progress in their bids to invent easier to use and faster test kits. The most improved version yet, by my reading, is a test kit that can turn in results in about 45 minutes. However, the hardest hit countries have always had problems with accessibility to test, with most of them resorting to a queue strategy, where people are attended to based on the severity or otherwise of their symptoms. Lack of a seamless testing plan has been blamed for the high level of fatalities in America, Italy, Spain, UK and of course, the index country, China. It may be counted as good fortune for Nigeria that our own crisis came at a time when a lot of improvements have been made and there is a higher availability of testing kits. But, are the authorities and other stakeholders doing enough to acquire as much test kits as possible? Acquiring enough test kits is a priority and part of the billions of Naira already realized through freewill donations should be dedicated to purchasing test kits and if possible set up, at least one testing center in each of the 774 LGAs of the country, and in States like Lagos, Kano, Anambra, Kaduna, it should go further than that.
VENTILATORS: There is a global scarcity of ventilators. The situation is so dire that there have been situations where older patients were reported to have given up their ventilators to younger patients, and they consequently died. Veterinary hospitals are donating their ventilators while new companies are responding to the crisis by venturing into producing the equipment. There are reports that we do not have up to 500 functioning ventilators in the country and if this is true, then, we must be very very afraid. Innoson, the Motor Manufacturing Company based in Nnewi is reported to have offered to locally manufacture ventilators. The authorities must take him seriously and invest funds to enable him get into work. Without ventilators, it is impossible to manage, talk less of curing people whose symptoms have got very serious.
SOCIAL WELFARE OF CITIZENS; The coronavirus outbreak is beyond a medical crisis, but, among other things, has the potential of triggering an unprecedented political and social upheaval that will shake the country to its very foundations. While it is commendable that the authorities are replicating some of the extreme strategies adopted overseas in combating the epidemic, the imitation should be complete or at least, close to it. Sending people home and restricting their movements without any plans to ensure they are fed and safe is a time bomb that has the potentiality of throwing the country into a direr crisis. People cannot be forced to sit at home without food. No responsible man would be able to hold himself back from taking desperate actions when his children cry as a result of hunger. America is paying its poorest citizens as much as 500,000 Naira, MONTHLY for staying at home. The implication of this, is that every documented American earns as much or even more than he would have, if he or she was going to work. It doesn't matter if you are a government worker or that you work in a private firm. Even those without a job are also paid. The American government and indeed, UK, China, Italy and Spain also considered the losses that are to be borne by self-employed citizens within this period and are paying them, too, while a plan has been set in motion to give them good bailout packages, as soon as the crisis is put under control. The Nigerian government has announced a plan that would see about 11 million 'vulnerable' Nigerians receive a pittance from the government. No plan has been announced for those they do not consider 'vulnerable'. There should be a comprehensive plan that captures every citizen and resident of the country. Reductions in prizes of PMS should not be seen as one of the palliative measures, but as a response to the free-falling prices of oil in the international market. Some commentators are even of the opinion that the reduction is too little, too low. It is expected that the government would have put measures in place to check the extortionate tendencies of traders. What is the FCCPC doing to protect Nigerian consumers, especially, in this time of crisis?
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH AND OTHER ESSENTIAL WORKERS: If the government does not immediately take steps to improve the working conditions of health workers and offer them better deals, not just for themselves, but for their families and dependents, too, then we may have a situation where these professionals may abandon our hospitals and take steps to protect themselves, first, if the crisis escalates. Government must offer all those who are on the front line of this battle; not just good pay packs, but insurance packs for them and their families. Death benefits should also be included in the new deal to be offered to these health workers, because they are like soldiers been sent to the warfront and there is no guarantee that they will all come back alive. Of course, no amount of money will be enough to batter for their lives, but the conviction that their sacrifices are appreciated will go some way in motivating them to stake their lives in trying to save the nation.
NATIONAL ECONOMY: There is need for a very creative economic plan to be put in place to protect the Nigerian economy while the crisis rages and as soon as it is over. This is no time for the President to listen to those he likes the tone of their voices, rather he must consult widely, within and outside his Party, for the best ideas to save the Nigerian economy from absolute collapse. How do we prevent our Naira from a total crash? How do we bailout the private sector, especially, the SMEs? How do we ensure that Nigeria survives in a post oil world economy? How do we handle a post-covid-19 Nigerian economy with oil almost becoming a useless commodity? There are many questions that our economic eggheads need to be brought together to proffer answers to. I would personally recommend Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be part of any such efforts.