By Emeka Ejere
President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech to the nation on Sunday night has now come and gone but it’s fall-outs remain.
Generally viewed as coming late in the day, the President in the broadcast tried to remedy matters related to this perceived delay and take on the central issue of providing verbal leadership to a nation that had since concluded that his not making the speech earlier was indicative of the larger modern governance dilemma that he had widely been seen as not living up to.
On their part, while his handlers and supporters say that they are well aware of the situation the world over where presidents cursorily rise up to the challenge and make regular motivational speeches to their people at such moments of need, they however go ahead to excuse the president not readily doing this as a matter of his personal inclinations, style and idiosyncrasies.
Beyond this gulf of reasoned argumentation however, what has the president finally delivered?
First, he confirmed in his broadcast that his government once again formally accepts that there is indeed a Covid-19 challenge facing the nation and the globe and that they have been doing all that they can to address it. In a country where leaders in their own rights have been known to publicly repudiate the administration of vaccines on the ground that they were in reality covert family planning props, this preliminary issue has to be taken out of the way.
Second, the President also most graciously acknowledged the magnitude of the crisis and publicly affirmed to boot that it would indeed take almost everything that we have as a nation to attempt to combat it.
And third, he proceeded to reel out some more regulations to tackle the challenge while also opening up on palliatives the administration was calling up and putting in place to address the challenge.
Among the new regulations being introduced are the total locking down of Lagos and Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Among others, businesses (except where exempted), markets and schools are also shut for a 14-day period in the first instance.
On the palliatives side, he mentioned that the School Feeding Programme would be continued while residents of Satellite Towns abutting the shut-in states would get some food support through the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry of the Government.
As is to be expected, the speech has stirred all kinds of reactions. While overall, there is relief over the fact that it has basically been made, there is however also deeper concern that it may not have offered much in real terms.
Other than the acknowledged situation of a late closing of the nation’s borders, which the speech essentially skirted, there is a feeling of disappointment over the non-announcement of a broader stimulus package to cover the sustainability needs of the millions of low and irregular income earners in the shut-in states. Though this is being assuaged in part in the Lagos area by the complementing food donations being made by the Lagos State Government, many still reason that this would indeed not get the job done as the evidence from the first day of implementation in the state has revealed and which has since also been confirmed by Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwoolu who has promised also to address the observed’hiccups.’
Similarly discomfitting is the announcement to pass on relief to children via the School Feeding Programme. On the best of days the administration of the programme was controversial. Now with the school system shut up, our national database failings so legendary and the states in emergency, what logistical magic would be conjured to get the food to its proper, targeted and intended beneficiaries?
There is also the matter of the legal premises for the President” s action. Lawyers like Ebun Ade Onagoruwa, SAN and Jiti Ogunye maintain that more formal enactments need to be introduced to satisfty the demands of Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution. Clearly in its bid to avoid similar legal confusion, Lagos State, which has clearly demonstrated better savvy at this time, had summoned it’s legislators last week to enact a State of Emergency law to specifically stave allegations and charges of unlawful conduct that could arise.
All said, all done, the speech does address the COVID-19 issue all right but it equally reconfirms the growing notion that the Buhari administration may still not have gotten it all together in terms of striving to fulfill the imperative of working within the broadest range of consultations and decision making, even if it has to work with ‘a team of rivals’ in the national interest. Which indeed is not good enough.