President Muhammadu Buhari was presidential in his address to the nation on coronavirus (COVID-19) on Sunday. He got off his accustomed armchair; stood up and spoke to Nigerians like an unfeigned commander-in-chief. I could see the sense of urgency in his cadence and grimace. Really, the president’s first COVID-19 ‘’outing’’ is a far cry from the previous televised embarrassments. Though it was a pre-recorded broadcast, the previous ones were recorded as well yet dismal. So, there is some improvement in the president’s public address.
But it is dismaying that the president had to wait until citizens gassed him out of Aso Rock with ululations before he could do his bounden duty. Weeks after coronavirus hit the country; he is just addressing citizens on this lethal threat. Be that as it may, he has spoken so I will dwell on the content of his speech.
The president said: ‘’Based on the advice of the federal ministry of health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11 pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun state due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States.
‘’All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.’’
‘’We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other states.’’
The order to lock down Abuja, Lagos and Ogun are expected and apropos. It has been proved by the China example that the surest way to combat COVID-19 is through social distancing – and the plausible method of ensuring this is if people stay at home. The same recipe is being applied in the UK, Italy – where an entire region is quarantined – and some other countries facing this viral enemy. So, the order is a conscionable and reasoned strategy to deal with this problem.
But I think the president’s relief plan for Nigerians who will be impacted by this lockdown should have been more robust. Beyond his take on providing relief materials for the vulnerable members of society – which is quite inscrutable, I must say – there is no plan for working Nigerians who will lose the means to provide for their families at this time.
Also, I would have loved to see the president roll out sustenance packages for Nigerians who will be paying rent, electricity and water bills and other essential bills during this tortuous period.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, last week, announced a plan to help ‘’workers whose income has been hit by the coronavirus. Employees inside and outside the unemployment insurance system and the self-employed can apply to receive C$2,000 each month for four months’’ – according to Bloomberg. The prime minister had also announced a moratorium on rent and other essential bills for working citizens. Also, the UK and the US are implementing analogous relief plans for their citizens.
As a matter of fact, we are not as rich as those countries, but we could have borrowed from how comprehensive their plans are – not necessarily paying every citizen a certain amount.
In addition, the president said: ‘’For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our Internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks.’’
I see a bit of ambiguity in this statement. Who are the most vulnerable in our society? What is the assessment for that? Really, at this time, everyone in Nigeria is vulnerable. Some companies are among the vulnerable, most Nigerians, including those in the middle class, are on the vulnerability threshold. We are all made vulnerable by a coronavirus. So, the president’s relief plan should have been more detailed and encompassing.
In all, I hope the government will be more responsive to unfolding developments on COVID-19 in the country – particularly as it relates to the economy — and initiate measures accordingly, and not slither into inertia after today.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.