When the lockdown was imposed as part of efforts to contain the extent of spread and gravity of Coronavirus pandemic, I had no doubt in my mind that it will have disproportionate effect on the poor . The strange and devastating effect of the virus was sudden as it was severe. No one ever prepared for this and so we could only listen to our experts on the pathway to containment and remedy. I am aware that it has been a very excruciating experience for many of us especially those daily wage earners. But it is an important bridge we have to cross to collectively confront and eventually defeat this unseen enemy of mankind. It is a temporary phase that will soon pass away. Thankfully, we have been quite lucky that the numbers are not increasing as rapidly as it is doing in other parts of the world.
The lockdown has also exposed several gaps in many areas of our national life including something as basic as access to food, portable water and primary healthcare, even hygiene habits. I observed useful interventions on the part of the federal, some state and local governments. Many of them acknowledged the perils of the lockdown on the poor , and have tried to provide one palliative or the other to alleviate the hardship and hunger . Some illustrious Nigerians and corporates have bigheartedly complemented such efforts across the country. Sometimes it sounds like a drop in ocean when you juxtapose the number of those who need help with those who actually receive it in the end.
Like most government programmes of this nature, implemented in a hurry, it will have its own problems inherited from the institutional cracks like paucity of credible data that bedevil our public sector. One will not be surprised if it produces some unintended consequences but we have to keep learning from our mistakes. However it is important we are mindful that the process in all cases must be such that inspire trust across board.
In the midst of fear and growing anxiety about the rising fatality of COVID-19, I was impressed how citizens themselves organised to fill in the gap. People came out in their numbers , standing in with one another in a very impressive way in several communities across the country. I saw very courageous displays of kindness and selflessness and kindred spirit as people gave sacrificially to support one another. I have observed with great surprise and excitement how people quickly formed themselves into groups in their bid to put together resources to procure essential items for distribution among the needy.
Around my neighbourhood in Lagos, I saw people organize themselves online and make contributions of cash and food items to support others who are less-privileged and in need. I was told that those food items were distributed fairly and orderly among the poor and most vulnerable in the society without rancour. I am also part of an online platform back home in Rivers State, PH CITY-ONE LOVE, who raised millions of naira to support the poor and vulnerable. The group created a food bank with volunteers mostly from the elite class, visiting residential areas like the waterfronts where people feel alone and marginalized in this period. Food items , sanitizers and other items were given to residents of the area.. In course of that act of service, Volunteers came face to face with poverty, hunger, lack of access to medical care, and population density. I am glad that we made our own modest contribution to such laudable effort both at individual and family levels. Also , several households in Opobo/ Nkoro and Andonilocal governments in Rivers State were touched through the DAP FOUNDATION . We are inspired by the force of example to continue to support as many as we can as God provides.
In related instance, established musicians and artists came together to raise funds for upcoming artists who do not have the economic muscle to sustain themselves. They diligently gave out 5,000 to 20,000 Naira financial support to these young upcoming artists as encouragement. The social media wasn’t left out as individuals and business owners , SMEs did sporadic giveaways to people in need . In Kaduna and Kano states, I heard of stories of two different wealthy men who kept their houses open throughout this period for just anybody who want to eat. In both cases I did not hear of restrictions on the basis of religion or political affiliation. I have followed keenly similar initiatives and developments in Bayelsa, Abuja, Kaduna, Ibadan, Abeokuta and many other cities across the country. The stories and actions are not only inspiring but shows the immutable human spirit in us. I was touched that without any prompting, these persons have provided their shoulders and nobly supported those who do not have.
The abnormal times we have found ourselves provide us with opportunities as well as challenges. It has brought out how we can rally around one another and help our neighbours regardless of partisan affiliation, ethnicity or even religion. An opportunity to show love to fellow citizens to demonstrate the love of humanity in us. When I look at the level of work done by citizens to one another, when I listen to positive stories from Azumini to Azare, Kula to Kafachan, from Nembe to Numan, I can only conclude that we obviously are far more united, more thoughtful than our politics often make us look. We are one people and it is in this unity that we can overcome not only this pandemic but any other form of challenge that confront us. Those imaginary boundaries that seek to divide us must give way to our quest for the common good of the many not the few. That the most potent resolve to defeat COVID-19 must be citizen-led for us by us.
These events have further shown how citizens can fill in the gap and almost resort to self-help especially when some government failed to provide the right leadership as it was clear in some states. The underbelly of governments that neither connect with nor respond to the aspirations and priorities of citizens have been exposed by the pandemic. For those leaders who resorted to knee-jerk reactions in place of well-articulated policy response, their citizens were quick to look for more responsive alternatives.
The values of government come out clear in times like this. Tough times like this separate patriots from pretenders. A pandemic of this magnitude is a matter of life and death. At such moments, communication become very key to delivering tough decisions and citizens easily know leaders who are committed to common good and those who may not. Partisan lines ought to disappear as citizenship and public safety become the defining factor for decisions and intervention. Sadly in some states, you could spot the difference when policy inconsistency delivers desperate and selfish partisan objectives by leaders who do not know when and how to put people’s interest first. Leaders who fail heed to, or do not have the ears of their followership, get exposed as those taking a walk through public office.
I saw that connection with followership display itself in the United Kingdom when the Prime Minister Boris Johnson led from the front and citizens from both sides of the divide supported him. This was evident when they cheered as he left the emergency room last week. Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa is another positive example. He had to take tough and forthright decisions aimed at containing the spread of this dreaded virus in South Africa. However, the citizens have been applauding him because he communicated with them openly and they perceive his interventions as generally credible. Public communication is an important component of public leadership.
In the contrast when government pronouncements are inconsistent, then it confirms that government is unresponsive to the pulse of the street and priorities of the people. We saw this manifest clearly in Rivers State last week when misleading pronouncements of embargo on religious gatherings were publicly issued to the people in preparation for the festivities,flaunting guidelines from statutory agencies that are empowered by law to provide directives about curbing the spread of COVID-19. Nothing can be more insensitive, deplorable and unacceptable. Yet, I wish to applaud our courageous citizens who had to ignore such conflicting pronouncements while doing what is good in line with best practices from the authorized agencies. The conduct of the religious leaders was particularly exemplary. Leaders who are detached from reality expose their capacity gaps and will continue to failmiserably. At a time like this leaders must desist from speaking out of cheap narrow-mindedness, and whipping up unnecessary religious sentiments. These are pathways to avoidable danger and signs of decay and chronic incompetence in the polity. They are highly pointless and can become both costly and counterproductive.
COVID-19 might have set out to kill and destroy, but, it has set off such deep unparalleled and commendablelevel of philanthropy that will be impervious to time. As citizens, we must continue to look inwards where necessary and expand on such inert virtues of good neighbourhood that we have in abundance. Yet, such individual and community efforts cannot replace the role and efforts of the Federal, State and Local governments on addressing the impact of a challenge as massive as lockdown on the most vulnerable amongst us. It is also time the leadership at all levels address, on a sustainable manner, access to the basic things of life by the citizenry, for that is the true essence of government. The ultimate measure of leadership in Government is the greatest good of the greatest number of citizens. Together we will remain united as we confront and defeat this contagious virus with everything in us.
(Reactions are welcome)