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Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Dearth of Independent Thinking

The business of governance is supposed to be a very serious enterprise demanding critical thinking and an uncanny ability to craft intelligent solutions to existential problems using the most effective combination of native intelligence and scientific postulation. Government has been behind every great stride in human development be it the evolution of the transport systems, space travels, urbanisation and just about everything the modern man enjoys. Government is necessary for the simple reason that they are established to solve problems. A government that cannot solve the most basic of problems is nothing more than a criminal enterprise, feasting on the collective resource without any justification.

In Nigeria, many political scientists have opined that for much of the last 50 years, governments whether civil or military have existed merely to prey on the people, exploit the wealth of the collective for personal gains and leave Nigerians far worse than they met them.

In December 1983 when General Muhammadu Buhari toppled the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari and took over the reins of power, the naira was exchanging for 72 kobo to the dollar. By the time he was booted out after series of economic flip-flops, policy inconsistencies and general confusion, the naira had lost almost 100% of its value and was exchanging at something close to N2 to $1.

Think about the tragedy of having the value of your income halved in just 20 months simply because you have officials who know very little about economic management. The naira was not the only “commodity” whose value fell between December 1983 and August 1985. Prices of commodities like milk, bread and some items designated “essential commodities” hit the rooftops and many had to resort to begging or some forms of criminality to survive. Sounds familiar?

The naira’s free fall continued under the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida which booted the Buhari military junta out of power after Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro alleged that a “small group of individuals were misusing power to the detriment of national aspirations.” Under Babangida however, public ethics and morality went to the dogs, corruption became widespread and poverty took deeper roots.

Things did not get better with Sani Abacha and as we have seen over the last 20 years, Abacha preoccupied himself so much with stealing that he did not give a hoot about what happens to Nigeria’s future. Many have estimated that the funds Abacha alone stole could have been applied to launch Nigeria into the league of developed, industrialised nations.

Things also did not improve with the departure of the military; not in Abuja and certainly not in most states. Isn’t it strange that till date, most states still can’t pay salaries and pensions, poverty now has its global headquarters in Nigeria and for many, the past appears far better than the future. It is not basically about asking for the impossible. Nigerians are hungry and what is the solution to hunger? Food. Unemployed? Then create jobs. No power? Simply do what other nations that have stable electricity are doing. Why are these problems too difficult for every government in Nigeria since 1960 to solve?

Government is Nigeria, for the most part, has no interest in thinking to solve problems. Yes, you find officials very busy, mostly occupied but to what end? It is never about the people. It is about looting, preservation of self-interests and what again? Whatever promotes the agenda of the tiny members of the cabal.

To be clear, no one, especially not this writer would dare suggest that every singular individual that has occupied public office soiled his hands or worked against the interest of the people. No. We have seen a few good men.

However, the greater number are wolves in sheep’s clothing. From presidents to presidential aides, governors to parliamentarians and all who work within the corridors of power, you will find a disproportionate number of men and women for whom the application of commonsense to solving basic problems means nothing. Governance for them is basically a race at self-promotion and personal aggrandisement.

Litany of confusion…

If you were ever in doubt that governance in Nigeria, especially under this current regime is nothing but a crude joke, look no further than the confusion that has trailed the management of the CVID-19 pandemic in the country. From poor logistics to wrong communication, the task force managing the pandemic and the government that set it up have shown very little capacity at creating smart solutions to tackle problems.

A few examples would suffice. Think about the chaos that attended the management of the palliatives allegedly shared by the Buhari government during the lockdown. No order, no organisation, no transparency, all lies and deliberate obfuscation. In other parts of the world, the government was sincere in the management of palliative programmes. However, under the Buhari administration, it was largely guesswork, X amount given to Y number of beggars in Mararaba, Z millions in cash given to M number of destitute in Sokoto…. There was nothing in place to ensure accountability.

In several countries of the world, the national governments were particularly mindful of small scale businesses, salary earners and other economic players (spelt contributors) mostly affected by the economic lockdown. In Buhari’s Nigeria, the Taskforce did very little to support the businesses whose survival now hangs on the balance. Think about how this would affect unemployment and poverty subsequently. For officials of the ministry in charge of managing the palliatives, it was basically about some nepotistic ideas, ethnic triumphalism and promotion of destitution.

The palliative programme was not the only thing the government failed in managing effectively. Consider the presidential directive a fortnight ago partially easing the lockdown. The only directive given in place of policy guidelines was “wash your hands, wear face masks and observe the social distance.” No industry-specific guidelines on how to stay safe and avoid community spread of the infections.

How for example should hairdressing saloons operate? How about bakers? Would “wash your hands, cover your face…” work as fine in a commercial bus as it would in a neighbourhood market? What happens in offices where tables, kitchens and computers are shared? How can they be helped by covering their mouths and noses with masks? Any operational guidelines for the hospitals?

More questions than answers….

Now you ask: what is the government’s plan for the millions of Nigerians who have already been thrown into unemployment as a result of business decline and other economic considerations? Is the government thinking about how the unlawful activities of the Fulani herdsmen affect the agricultural value chain and by extension the general economy?

You see why the writer announced at the beginning that the government is not really thinking and nothing about the pandemic really moves the officials. Why are they copying the measures European countries have put in place without paying attention to the peculiarities of our local economy? In Europe and America where these lax ideas are copied blatantly from, the social-welfare mechanism is robust, the infrastructure is in top shape and the businesses are certain to get the right institutional support to bounce back in no time. What do we have here? Has the CBN announced the criteria for accessing its N50 billion SME support public?

The bottom line is that the government must adopt a new approach to managing situations. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed our unpreparedness to tackle problems and if any lessons must be learnt, it must be how to apply our brains to tackling problems. Apparently, we are faced with no choice but to either think or perish.

 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect ROOT TV's editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Okafor Chiedozie
Okafor Chiedozie is an economist, political writer and amateur Igbo historian. He pursues these and other interests out of Abuja.