By Eric M Kuju
Telling a Nigerian to trust the Nigerian Government is like asking a shepherd to entrust his sheep to the care of a wolf. It just seems so stupid.
So deep is the distrust that whenever there is any commendation for the government, no matter how little, the first reaction is that the commendation is coming from a person either on government payroll or someone who enjoys the patronage of government.
In fact, I am sure it is the exact reaction this piece is going to generate. I can only hope that the reader will read long enough and with an open mind so as to understand the angle I am coming from.
But who can blame the typical Nigerian for skepticism? After all it’s the same government that has allowed corruption creep into every facet of our economy. Construction of roads and other infrastructure in Nigeria cost almost triple what they cost in other climes. And many of the times, the road is either badly done or is not done at all.
Is it when you talk about agencies and parastatals such as NNPC, NDDC, NHIS and FIRS? You are almost certain that anytime they are in the news it will be for one incredible corruption scandal or the other.
Even something you will expect no human being to mess with – security and health – you find officers of the government having a field day with resources meant for those sectors.
It just seems unreasonable to expect the people to trust such a government. But is that really the case? You see, just as the successive governments in Nigeria have shown that corruption has nothing to do with religion, tribe, political party or literacy, there are also some areas where all these governments have been surprisingly efficient.
The Nigerian Government for all of its shortcomings has over the years proven that it can be trusted to deliver when it comes to the eradication of diseases.
The first that comes to mind is Dracunculiasis (commonly known as the Guinea Worm disease). The same government that has been unable to provide stable electricity for its citizens for over many decades even with the billions of dollars that was sunk in, was somehow able to do enough to eradicate the disease in the country. Within the space of 25 years, Nigeria was able to go from having over 650,000 cases to having no case at all. Nigeria’s Guinea Worm-free certification from the WHO came in 2013.
What makes the story of the eradication of the Guinea worm disease in Nigeria more astonishing is the fact that an overwhelming majority of the victims of the disease are poor people. One would expect that for a government that is well-known for not taking issues that affect the poor seriously, a disease such as Dracunculiasis will not be anywhere near the top of their priorities. So what happened?
Nigeria has also been certified Polio free by the WHO. It is also a disease that affects mostly the poor. What happened? How come the government sustained efforts until the disease was completely eradicated?
Look at how immunization is done in Nigeria. Today, every child born in the country is guaranteed the required immunization. At birth the child receives the Bacilli Calmettee Guerin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine, Hepatitis B vaccine and then the oral polio vaccine. In the succeeding weeks and up to 24 months after birth, that child will receive two other doses of the oral polio vaccine along with others which include the pentavalent, measles, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines amongst others.
Immunization is done in a very efficient way in Nigeria that the only way a child does not receive the complete package is if for some reason, the parents do not make their baby available to the relevant health officers. And it is at no cost to the parents. This is one of the major successes of the Nigerian government.
Another experience that is still somewhat fresh in our minds is the Ebola crisis. The handling of that crisis by the Nigerian government drew praises from all quarters.
For some strange reason, the usually ineffectual government become alive and active at such times. In an earlier part of this write-up, we have already established that it is not necessarily because those in authority are at risk of contracting the diseases.
Could it then be because of the involvement of foreign parties? Foreign parties such as the Carter Center played a very key role in Nigeria’s battle against Dracunculiasis. But there was hardly any involvement by any foreign party in the much acclaimed handling of the Ebola outbreak.
But it is not my intention to try to find out why the Nigerian government rises up to the occasion in times such as this. To me it is enough that I am able to show the pattern of the government’s efficiency in such situations.
Even with the COVID19 pandemic, apart from the government’s initial reluctance to close the country’s airports so that no one will bring it into Nigeria and the unfortunate way many government officials handled the distribution of palliatives, they have been up and doing ever since. The federal government set up the Presidential Taskforce on COVID19 (PTF) led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha. Virtually all the state governments set up COVID19 taskforce in their states. And even the private sector in Nigeria formed a coalition – CACOVID – to contribute to the fight.
In fact, it is the citizens that have not been cooperating. The good thing about COVID19 is still what is making it hard to control. It has a very low mortality rate. Even it’s morbidity rate is also low so people very easily take it for granted. Research has shown that if 100 persons contract the virus, most of them will not even present symptoms with only about two of those persons are likely to die. This has made many Nigerians care less about the disease.
There are arguments that even malaria is more deadly than COVID19 so why all the fuss? Some even go as far as saying it is a hoax. Nothing can be further from the truth.
It is true that most of the people that die from COVID19 are persons with co-morbidities but it is also true that there are records of young people with no underlying ailment dying. In other words, there is no way to tell with certainty, who will die and who will survive COVID19.
But why is it even difficult for citizens to cooperate with the government? The guidelines are not outrageous. Is wearing a facemask that difficult? The excuses people give are just funny. Someone will say he cannot breathe well while wearing a facemask. It is more likely that you’re not using the one made from the right material. Some others – especially females – do not like using it because it is not fashionable. Really? At the expense of your health?
How about the washing of hands with soap and running water? According to the CDC, washing your hands regularly reduces the risk of you coming down with several diseases other than COVID19. These include the common flu, cholera, typhoid and many others. So we should maintain this practice even beyond COVID19.
Because of our culture in this part of the world, maintaining a two meter distance from each other may be a bit strange but it is not impossible. It is a small price to pay for what is at stake.
Another concern could be about the vaccine. I would not want to give any credence to the very outrageous myths about the COVID19 vaccine. But on whether or not it is safe for use, I can say the vaccine is safe and once it becomes available, I will present myself to be vaccinated. Why? The answer is simple. The same (or similar) process that produced the small pox, polio, measles, meningitis and mumps vaccines that we have greatly benefited from, produced this one. The same regulatory bodies that approved them as safe for use, have approved the COVID19 vaccine. And as I know I am no expert, this is enough assurance for me. And it should be enough for you too.
The summary of all this talk is that all things considered, there is greater benefit to trusting our government during this pandemic and the downside to distrust and disobedience could be dreadful.
We need to keep all our reservations aside and stand together against corona.