COVID-19: In This Time Of Uncertainty, Government Cannot Leave People To Their Fate By Seun Awogbenle

With over 700,000 confirmed cases and about 40,000 deaths so far recorded globally, it is sad to conclude that these are indeed perilous and extraordinary times only equal in dimension to the apocalypse fantasy and myth. Hence, when President Muhammadu Buhari in his nationwide broadcast on Sunday announced the cessation of movement in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days, it simply came across as a normal course of action, since COVID-19 has now become a matter of public health emergency.

With the growing realization that the best way to slow the spread of the virus is to practice Social distancing, self-isolation and encourage more people to stay at home, no fewer than 15 states in Nigeria have already announced one form of restriction or the other, as a strong response strategy to the pandemic. It is also in this realization and in support of the multi-sectoral effort of government that millennial Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa, my youth led civic-initiative has also decided to postpone the Citizens Conference which we convene annually for diverse young people across the country to share ideas for public good and national prosperity.

All over the world, it has become commonplace that to contain the viral outbreak only a lock down in the form of movement restriction and stay at home directive, can help to accelerate the needed break in the chain of transmission and also prevent the community transmission of this viral outbreak. Thus, with the lock down we can flatten the curve and successfully manage those who are already infected. In a matter of fact, the good news as I write this piece is that about 20 people have already recovered from COVID-19 in Nigeria, an indication that this is a battle we would surely overcome. Inspiring!

Clearly, in the face of a pandemic that is spreading like wild fire, we cannot choose to carry on, thus, a stay at home order is apropos for the time we are in, but what is potentially dangerous is what my brother Dr Dipo Awojide, one of Nigeria’s finest young leaders who I particularly admire profoundly, puts perfectly that by putting economic and commercial activities on hold, without making adequate and effective provision of food and money for the underprivileged, impoverished and vulnerable families we could be playing with the metaphorical fire!

This is largely true, when put it in proper perspective, Nigeria has a vibrant informal sector with nearly 40 million MSMEs employing 60 million people, which is more than 80% of the entire labour force. Clearly most Nigerians are in the informal sector, who rely mostly on income and stipends for their daily survival and mostly as social security for their kith and kin, the evidence that we have today does not suggest that government is giving enough thought to the survival of these people who constitute bulk of our working population

In the event of a lockdown as what we have now, government should have committed to a robust stimulus package which will serve as incentives, palliatives and social safety nets to cushion the effect on the greatest number of our population. This time offers government the rare opportunity to demonstrate for once that it is committed to the welfare of the people, particularly the poor in this uncertain and extremely difficult moment.

Across the world, government of different countries are putting in place robust economic stimulus initiative to support their people and cushion the impact of this unexpected outbreak on their population, what we have so far seen in Nigeria is a mockery of what can be called social safety net in an uncertain economic period such as this. In Canada where a similar lock down is being experienced, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday March 17, promised his government “will be flowing income support to millions of Canadians”. Similarly, in the UK, the government has said it would be support Britain’s 5 million self-employed workers with grants that cover 80% of their average monthly profits from the past 3 months, up to a value of £2,500. In the United States, the government is expected to provide its citizens emergency financial aid.  The treasury secretary Steven Muchin was quoted as saying the government would be providing citizens with cash assistance as part of its massive stimulus package, which will be divided into two large tranches.

The truth is that to ask the bulk of our population to stay at home without food or cash aid, has the potential to kill faster than Coronavirus. Most of our population lack the capacity to stay at home and survive over the next 12 days. While I commend the effort of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in this regard, the reality is that a lot still has to be done. The Federal Government must act decisively to support households and businesses that have been worst hit by the impact of the virus. In a time like this, the government has only one duty, to help Nigerians through this uncertain and extremely difficult moment. That is the only thing that would make sense!


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