Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC boss

Since the discovery of the index case in the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria, the nation has not rested.

And things came to a head this weekend with the announcement that the pandemic has currently claimed no less a person as the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari.

Given Kyari’s very influential (though backstage) role in the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, this most evidently is a major blow for the administration. While we join others in commiserating with the administration and his immediate family on the loss, it is also our hope at Business Hallmark that the associated political dimensions of this passage would very quickly be addressed so as not to constitute a further disconcerting blot on the governance capacities of the incumbent administration.

This would particularly be most necessary at this most auspicious moment when the nation is caught in the gripping throes of this most disconcerting global pandemic. And indeed, if the truth is to be told, we have as a country, only largely been ‘wobbling and fumbling’ in the management of the crisis this far.

Poor response

From the moment, news broke about the outbreak of the virus and the expanding impact of the crisis in Wuhan, China and later in other parts of the world, there were calls for the nation to immediately lock itself in and prevent even the entry of any case in itself given that all indicators were pointing to the fact that the virus could only be ferried in from spaces in the world where it had already taken root. Sadly, however, and with the notable but limited exception of the Lagos State Government, we dithered, until case after case, strolled in through our poorly manned entry spaces.

Even when the decision was taken to begin to lock-in the nation, this was not comprehensively implemented, leading to a gradual escalation of the problem.

Broken into its specific components, one of the noticeable dimensions of the crisis that was then to follow was the growing numbers of those infected, those that have tested positive and those that have now been felled by the pandemic. More worrisome is the fact that things are now at the community transmission stage where everything that we have needs to be thrown in to avert the possibility of an explosion in the sheer number of cases.

Indeed, the prognosis on this score is quite dire with analysts reporting that the continent could net as much as 300,000 deaths from the pandemic before the close of the year. Other accounts suggest that the figures could rise to as much as 3.3 million to 10million deaths and as much as a whopping 1.2 billion infections.

Already, the numbers, very sadly are coming. As at Saturday, there were 17 verified deaths in Nigeria out of 493 confirmed cases with 159 recoveries.

In the larger world outlay, the numbers had risen to 2.256m confirmed cases, 571,851 recovered cases and 154, 350 deaths.

Concern and reaction

As is to be expected, there has continued to be growing concern over the management of the crisis in Nigeria and they come in different dimensions.

First is the seeming crisis of overview, perception and definition. Here the slant seems to be on almost exclusively containing the spread and attempting to manage discovered positive cases.

This is what has led to a very heavy emphasis on the lockdown mechanism as the preferred mode of management for the crisis.

But as has come to be most evident, a lockdown strategy is not in itself a complete management mechanism as it only addresses essentially one of three critical planks of the crisis, namely its expansion. But it does not provide solutions for the economic and security fallouts of the crisis for the overall society as well as the medical resolution of the crisis now and going into the future. It also does not address an even fourth but related challenge: even if you manage to eliminate every positive incidence today, what fool-proof mechanism can you put in place in a country like ours, complete with porous borders and not very professionally driven immigration officials?

Reviewing the strategy

Viewed critically then, there is a pressing need to overhaul the COVID-19 management strategy to ensure that a more comprehensive approach is empanelled.

At the head of this review should be a need to prepare, like the United States and Denmark did in the same outgoing week for example, for two possible scenarios going forward; and they are the ‘with-COVID-19 scenario’ and the ‘post-COVID-19 scenario.’

In our view as a newspaper, it is important to properly understand the nuances involved in both scenarios as a desideratum for sound and effective policy modelling.

The with-COVID scenario presupposes that societies should plan for a possibility that the virus would simply not go away in the present and the immediately foreseeable future, while the post-COVID-19 scenario is based on a time in the future when things would have returned to normal.

With no cure in sight at the moment, many commentators think that the with-COVID future is the more realistic path to plan with. We tend to agree with them. Also, while the with–COVID strategic managers endorse the lockdown as the most extreme part of this strategy, they also touch on the need to expand its range to include other complementing components.

First is the need to expand medical capacity in-country for testing and isolating those who are suspected of having come in contact with possible suspects and those that have already tested positive.

Related to this is the imperative of deepening local production of required medical equipment and consumables in the form of sanitizers, facemasks and other Personal Protective Equipment, PPE. Going further, the needs expand to hospital beds, ventilators, curative drugs and a Nigeria-made vaccine or vaccines.

There is also the issue of information management and community involvement. A warlike this cannot be won from above; there must be cooperative community buy-in. Here, the mass media, Civil Society Organisations, Community-Based Organisations, traditional rulers, faith-based organizations, social clubs, age-grade formations and other layers of social structure would need to be consciously integrated.

Related to this is the question of security and enforcement models. That security agents have killed as many as 18 citizens in the course of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions is a crying shame. A clear-cut, non-combat enforcement strategy should be preferred to what obtains under the current situation.

This review of the security strategy would help in achieving the other goal of identifying possible criminal abuse of the entire situation. With communities feeling safer to interact with security agents, they would then help in containing the rising spiral of criminal abuse and gang warfare that has presently crept into several locked in city suburbs.

And then we come to the big elephant in the shop, the economic. To put it mildly, the administration’s handling of the economic implications have largely been uncreative, dodgy and tardy. And it has in no small measure complicated the security and medical dimensions of the challenge even this far.

One of the stated objects of governance in the Nigerian Constitution is the well-being of the citizenry. On a good day, it is a massive struggle for ordinary Nigerians to eke out economic value and sustenance out of this badly structured and chiefly dysfunctional land. Not to talk of the present situation where a necessary but badly implemented state-imposed lockdown has been added to their bill. The result has been the very obvious difficulty in getting a number of our people to stay at home.

Given the almost inevitable reality today that a lockdown of sorts would invariably continue to be a part of the management program for the subsisting crisis, funds and resources must be found to feed and refresh the millions of Nigerians that are expected to continue to comply even as they stay locked in. The present tendency to pass off the existing Social Intervention Programme, SIP as a COVID support package and even extending its numbers from 2.6million to 3.6million beneficiaries is even at best still a most inadequate drop in the ocean. A more ambitious programme of loans and relief to as much as 150million Nigerians would be a more realistic move.

Added to this would be the necessity of working out a program of the phased reopening of the overall economy going forward. We did not ask COVID-19 to come calling. But now that it has come, we must do all within our wits, to bring it under control, as best as we must. This indeed is what fighting people and nations do. And there is enough wit in here to find and execute better solutions. If only our current crop of leaders would humble themselves to make the sacrifice of allowing others that can help to come into the decision making spaces.