‘Nigeria needs to develop a democratic informative culture where response to pandemics will be communicated to the grass-root citizens’

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In this interview SpotlightUK’s editor Solape Alatise discusses Nigeria’s response to COVID19 with Godwin Okafor, Naija247News Editor-in-Chief

Q: On a scale of one to 10, what do you think about Nigeria’s response so far to corona virus? One being very poor and 10 excellent.
A: I would say six.

Q: Do you think the lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State was a timely one?
A: The lockdown was implemented too late and people weren’t given time to prepare. There was also no appropriate communication on the matter with the residents of all three affected locations explaining what lockdown means. On a wider national scale it is too late to lockdown the borders of the country, especially with Nigeria having borrowed borders; we don’t know who is coming in and out. It’s too late to shut down the international airport. In everything the government has done they have been too late.

Q: Why do you think it took president Muhammadu Buhari so long to respond to the situation publicly?
A: President Buhari was forced to respond and come out of hiding on the matter. He didn’t believe in corona virus to begin with, in fact most Nigerians didn’t believe in the virus. He didn’t believe in it until his chief of staff Abba Kyari contracted the virus. Also some of his key cabinet and cabal members got the virus.

Q: Should the funds donated by private sector individuals and businesses to tackle the outbreak be under government control?
A: The donation of funds should be done transparently. The private sector should be donating to a fund created by the government and the money
should be channelled into Nigeria’s healthcare system.
The government should be in charge of the donations from the private sector. The money
should be used to make Nigeria’s health sector stronger, paying doctors well and building high-class health centres that will curb the amount of money spent on medical tourism by Nigerians. Bringing that money back to Nigeria.
Paying doctors well, in particular, will reduce brain drainage in Nigeria. We need to attract Nigerian medical professionals abroad, give them a reason, an incentive, to return to native soil. The government should develop fiscal and monetary policy for the country’s health sector. Policy that means local investors pool their funds and resources making Nigeria’s healthcare system world-class.

The healthcare sector should flourish and thrive beyond the country’s response to the pandemic. Money people are willing to invest now
should also impact Nigeria’s future. Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund should be in charge of the donations.

Q: Do you think there is more than just a humanitarian motivation behind the private sector attempting to fight the virus, alongside the
government?
A: In every government, there will be a call for the capitalists of society, the big men, to implement the policies of the government in order to bring more money into a country’s economy. It’s all about assisting the government that they might assist the private sector. That’s how it goes.

Q: Do you think that it’s a shame that this is the way things are done? People donate and expect something in return.
A: I think that’s the way politics is. It’s everywhere around the world. It’s just that in the case of Nigeria its not done properly, in the sense that they only focus on big business. In the West on the other hand, they focus on the small-scale business. There is no database of businesses in Nigeria apart from banks and oil companies.

A database needs to be created for small businesses, having them on file will enable the government to support them in creating jobs. In the case of corona virus the government should have this database so that when normality returns, those small-scale businesses can be assisted. Perhaps they can also be afforded softer monetary policy or tax, reduced multiple taxation and help surviving in the economy.

Q: Is there anything you think is missing from Nigeria’s strategy for combating corona virus?
A: The strategy should be maximum education. To educate Nigerians on what coronavirus is, how to prevent it and what social distancing means. Educating mothers, primary and secondary school children. There should be a national broadcast on it. How to survive in an economic recession should also be featured. This will make Nigerians who are seeking out this knowledge more learned, deterring them from going online to pick up information like eating garlic will help you recover from the virus, which is wrong.

Q: Do you think the task force set up by the president to deal with the virus is likely to implement this education strategy?
A: They should be able to, so long as they are not too slow. Are they willing to work is the question. The nature of the Nigerian government is that they don’t act until things get worse. The response is slow, the presidency is slow.
Everything about Buhari is slow because he doesn’t believe in working with experts. He believes in working with his cabal team whereby what is enacted addresses their personal interests not national interests. The government is slow and they need to work faster.

Q: Should the military be used to enforce government measures designed to address the virus, given Nigeria’s turbulent military history?
A: The military should not be militarising Nigerians, the military shouldn’t be used as a tool to enforce measures. It is a matter of educating Nigerians.
There should be a fine for disobeying lockdown but no military action should be taken. The military should be friendly.

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