Today, we received the news of the first COVID-19 death, the former Managing Director of Pipeline and Product Marketing Company, Engr. Suleiman Achimugu.
The global pattern of the spread of Coronavirus pandemic suggests that Nigeria should be prepared for the worst after cases in the country recently entered the double-digit zone.
We missed the opportunity to shut down our borders weeks ago, when the rest of the world was doing so. We have missed the opportunity to test aggressively, testing that would have enabled the NCDC and Ministry of Health identify and isolate virus hotspots. We are again wasting valuable time in locking down the country, and outlawing large social gatherings.
Let us be clear, COVID-19 is no longer a health crisis, it is now a matter of national security. This is the greatest national security threat Nigeria has faced since the Nigerian Civil War.
Unfortunately, the present leadership – political, religious, and socio-cultural, have failed to recognize this clear and present danger, and have failed to protect Nigerians and Nigeria.
We are extremely concerned that the threat of COVID-19 has yet to be officially designated as a national security issue by the President and the 36 governors, requiring emergency funding and the use of their security votes to acquire necessary medical kits and equipment. We must understand that time is critical here. The lapses in response time and the gaps in preparedness are the reasons why even developed countries are battling very hard to fight the pandemic.
It is therefore unthinkable that, having had a reasonable time to prepare for what was inevitable, a country of 200 million people only has five Laboratories to test for Coronavirus. Even worse, there is none in the entire Southeast and Northern zones. We demand that this is an emergency that must be addressed in a matter of days and we shall not give up this call until these facilities are made available to these zones. We must also put on record that the pace of testing is almost criminally negligent. The UK is being criticised for doing 8000 daily. As a nation we have not done 800 tests since the crisis started.
Tough times demand tough measures, therefore, our leaders must immediately halt the merriment, their unthoughtful religious assertions, and learn from countries that have declared this pandemic a war which must be confronted and defeated. The decision of a special advisor Garba Shehu to attend a pubic event in Kaduna State stands condemned.
The decision of Gov. Nyesom Wike to hold a political rally in Rivers State stands condemned.
The decision of President Buhari to attend public Jumat prayers stands condemned.
The statement from Gov. Ikpeazu that Abia is protected because the state is mentioned in the Bible stands condemned.
The world has changed and it will leave behind countries that are unwilling to act with responsibility and do the needful in the interest of their citizens.
We are also asking the Federal Government and the Central Bank to put aside politics in the utilization of the announced economic stimulus packages to be provided, by giving special priority to business and industrial hubs in Lagos and the Southeast, in the fashion of the Anchor-Borrower Scheme.
The distribution of the funds must be transparent, and steps and criteria for accessing the funds clearly spelt out and made publicly available. With income from oil hitting rock-bottom, every naira and kobo must be spent on things and in areas that can help to re-flate the economy, and not on vanity projects.
As a matter of urgency, the $22 billion loan instrument must be withdrawn, restructured and represented to the National Assembly by President Buhari as an economic stimulus package to address the economic challenges the pandemic will bring. The $500 million that will be wasted on Digitization of NTA must be immediately scrapped and diverted to support small businesses. Government must face the bitter truth that the years of waste are over.
Considering the exposure of Igbo business players to global trade, and trade within Nigeria, it is our demand that the leadership in the Southeast, including the South East Governors and Ohaneze, immediately convene an emergency meeting to assess the global/local threat of COVID-19 on Igbo investments and propose measures on how to protect Ndi Igbo from being destroyed by this virus.
We make bold to say that this Government under President Buhari has failed to provide leadership at a time when Nigerians need it most. President Buhari has failed to address the nation in a manner that will built confidence in the citizens, and has failed to give a terrified and confused nation hope and direction. A responsible leader would have declared a state of emergency, and we call on President Buhari to wake up from his slumber and attend to a nation in need.
Most importantly, we also want to put our governors in the South East on notice, that In the face of incompetence and criminal neglect from the Federal governmentl, that Section 8 of the Quarantine Act empowers governors to execute emergency powers when faced with an infectious disease outbreak.
We call on all Nigerian governors to rise to the call of leadership by enforcing social distancing measures and banning large public gatherings under the legal authority of the Quarantine Act.
The absolute failure of the federal government to protect the lives of Nigerians in this health crisis, after their failure to provide security to Nigerians, once again brings to the fore the argument for a restructured Nigeria. But this is not the time for that debate. We must come together as a nation to defeat this threat.
The destructive path of this virus in countries across the world gives us an idea of what to expect: infections in Nigeria will continue to rise exponentially, and sadly lives will be lost. But we can slow down the spread by being sensible and following health advice.
We face trying times ahead, but with unity of purpose and faith, we shall overcome.
Nze Ugo-Akpe Onwuka (Oyi)
INTERNATIONAL COORDINATOR – IGBO RENAISSANCE FORUM
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