President Buhari

By OBINNA EZUGWU

A civil society group, the Civil Society Alliance Against COVID-19 (CSAA COVID-19), has written to President Muhammadu Buhari to suggest better ways of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

The group which made the recommendations in a letter dated April 21, called for an urgent adjustments to the current lockdown policy and a revamped, people-centred approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.

The group said the current policy of locking people down without providing them means of survival was counter productive.

Read full letter:

21 April 2020
Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR
President
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Aso Villa, Abuja
Your Excellency,

*OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE COVID-19 RESPONSE IN NIGERIA*

Our condolences on the death of Mallam Abba Kyari, whom you described as a loyal friend and compatriot. May Allah dwell him in Jannatul Firdaus.

We, the Civil Society Alliance Against COVID-19 (CSAA COVID-19), write to share our observations and suggestions as Nigeria deals with the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. We note that at 6pm on Friday, 17 April 2020, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) reported that 7,153 samples have been tested. As of 11:50pm on Sunday, April 19th, 627 cases, 21 deaths and 152 discharged cases were reported. We commend the NCDC’s commitment to continually improving its reporting and protocols with the promise to provide weekly reports on samples tested. Nigeria can only win the fight against this disease if credible and dependable statistics are made available to facilitate effective decision making;

2. We note with satisfaction that of the twenty-one states and the FCT that have so far reported COVID19 cases, ten have not reported any new cases for nearly a week now. In fact only seven states – Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Borno, FCT, Katsina, Jigawa and Lagos reported new cases as at Sunday, April 19, 2020. This trend is a
welcome development which should be reinforced and sustained.

3. We also note that we have community spread of COVID-19 facilitated by inter-state travel particularly from Lagos to other states. Coupled with that is the limited infrastructure for effective contact tracing and a fragile public health system which cannot cope with an exponential rise in the number of cases;

4. We therefore understand the Federal Government’s motivation to further extend the lockdown by two weeks and limit movement on a massive scale in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory. Other state governments have also imposed lockdowns (for example Akwa Ibom, Delta, Kaduna, Kano, Osun and Plateau) and the South-West Governors have closed their land borders;

5. While we acknowledge the recommendation of the World Health Organization and the NCDC on enforced social distancing, we also call on the Nigerian government to be sensitive to Nigeria’s collective reality and heed recent warnings from the World Bank against prolonged lockdowns which put the subsistence of millions at risk (Africa’s Pulse: An Analysis of Issues Facing Africa’s Issues, World Bank, April 2020);

6. We indeed have noted with grave concern the tremendous hardship placed upon Nigerians by the current lockdowns across the country. Over 80% of Nigerians work in the informal sector, and rely on their daily earnings for survival. They have been confined to their homes and communities under these stay-at- home orders for weeks now, oftentimes without food, access to water or proper sanitation, electricity or healthcare. For this reason, it is important to design and communicate a clear strategy for the management of this pandemic and the provision of safety nets in the final week of this current lockdown in our commercial and political capitals. Safety nets required include access to basic needs as food, water, sanitation and security which are the legitimate entitlement of every citizen. Any plans for a prolonged lockdown without efficiently and transparently administering these safety nets could create “a cure that is as bad as the illness.” (Social Distancing Unlikely to Hold Up in Africa Without A Safety Net, Brookings Institute, April 2020);

7. We also wish to raise the alarm at the increasing insecurity and the unleashing of COVID19-lockdown￾related violence against Nigerians by both criminal groups and security forces which could precipitate a serious breakdown of social order. We now have daily reports of increases in armed robberies, gang violence, gender-based domestic violence, extortion and extrajudicial killings. Nigerians have been rendered ‘sitting ducks’, unable to leave their homes, vulnerable and without adequate protection. We also note that some communities have had to form ad-hoc vigilante groups in a bid to protect themselves from armed robbers – a move that has the potential to further exacerbate rising levels of violence;

8. We have also received with great alarm and shock the National Human Rights Commission’s report of extrajudicial killings by security forces of 18 Nigerians in a bid to enforce lockdowns in various states, killing the same number of people COVID 19 has killed so far in Nigeria;

9. We join the call of Nigerians to immediately quarantine EVERY ONE that attended the final rites for Mallam Kyari. We were saddened and disgusted as we watched the Federal Government including the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, on national television, violate its own recommendations on social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). It introduces a huge credibility gap in the government’s efforts to manage this pandemic;

10. We recognise that the government’s cash transfer scheme aimed at reaching over 1.1 million of the most vulnerable, is currently being implemented with varying degrees of success. However, this is a drop in the bucket as Nigeria lacks sufficient capacity to implement large scale welfare programmes to reach the millions affected by the lockdown. We urge the Federal and state governments to work with more stakeholders and across party lines to improve the effectiveness of emergency food distribution to the poorest of the poor;

11. These issues make it imperative to scrutinize the response of both the Federal and State Governments to COVID-19 towards taking decisive and constructive actions to stem the rising tide of social unrest in the country and forestall any more loss of lives and property from mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with deliberate consideration to protect Nigeria’s vulnerable populations. A complete breakdown in law and order will overwhelm any official response to the pandemic.

*RECOMMENDATIONS*

12. We call for urgent adjustments to the current lockdown policy and a revamped, people-centred approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath and therefore recommend the following:

13. The federal and state Governments should expeditiously carry out extensive mass education and enlightenment campaigns on prevention of COVID19 using all the machinery typically deployed during electioneering campaigns especially radio, TV, town/village criers etc. This is a campaign for every Nigerian’s survival. The campaigns should focus on educating Nigerians about COVID19, the use of masks, the need for physical distancing, hand washing, good hygiene practices, non-stigmatization of those who test positive for COVID-19, and what to do at home if people experience mild symptoms;

14. Take immediate and decisive steps to rev up the medical and health response to COVID19 which should include, among other things, more aggressive contact tracing and increased community-based testing as well as incentivizing health workers. The strategy should be to ensure that the virus is not allowed to spread beyond the seven states still reporting cases and effectively curtailing spread within these seven states while the current lockdown lasts;

15. Address increased gender-based violence (GBV) by ensuring continued access to services for victims; clarifying that those providing GBV-response services are exempted from movement restrictions in order to attend to victims and providing extra funding and other resources for GBV services;

16. The restriction on mass gathering should be maintained: that would also mean continuing to limit religious gatherings, social gatherings and entertainment-related businesses;

17. Enforce Social Distancing rules by working with commercial transporters and National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to limit the number of passengers that can be carried and requiring every transporter (cars and trucks) to keep copies of detailed manifest of drivers and passengers. In addition, urgently consider the mandatory use of masks by passengers in public transport vehicles alongside emergency measures to make these affordably available to those traveling;

18. Urgent and better coordination to assist those already being impacted by the COVID19 recession. Nigeria should immediately consider welfare payments to the unemployed and tax payers below a reasonable income level which could utilise technology and the increasing amount of data gathered by government using BVN where individuals and communities should be able to register online and offline for assistance;

19. Drive down the price of food by providing well managed regulation of the movement of food and its safe sale to ensure that food is accessible to all Nigerians;

20. Partial re-opening of the judicial system in keeping with the need for rule of law and security measures. We can, as much as possible, make use of the internationally proven approaches for remote hearings;

21. Designate high-level scientific advisers to work with the NCDC and fund the Academy of Science to work with relevant agencies on researching possible cures and the approval of rapid diagnostics tests (RDTs);

22. Federal and state governments should aggressively embark on expanding Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and nutrition interventions in all under-served and economically vulnerable communities to ensure access to clean water and shore up the immunity of Nigerians. Deploying army engineers across Nigeria, especially to Northern Nigeria, would improve the provision of water in collaboration with humanitarian actors and the private sector;

23. The government must also look into negotiating extensions and support for housing rents especially for the poor who pay rent on a monthly basis and for businesses and persons whose shelter arrangements will be affected by COVID-19;

24. Ensure that interventions by Nigeria’s security forces are done efficiently, professionally and with the utmost respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of human life. Our security forces need to step up to halt the attacks on neighbourhoods by armed gangs who must be stopped lest their behaviour is normalized;

25. Discipline law enforcement personnel who are undermining the lockdown measures, especially cross￾border movement by aiding and abetting violators of the lockdown;

26. Impose lawful consequences on those who recklessly endanger others by disobeying NCDC guidelines so that such behaviour does not continue with impunity. As such, we call for an investigation into, and prosecution of, the following groups of people: (1) the security personnel responsible for the extra-judicial killings of 18 Nigerians under the guise of enforcing the lockdown; and (2) those who organised and supervised the funeral of Mallam Kyari;

27. We therefore call for the removal of the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 for the lack of leadership he displayed which has the potential to damage all the work the NCDC and other institutions, including civil society are doing to prevent the spread of the virus;

28. Strengthen the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19 by including the Women Affairs Ministry and other stakeholders and place it under the direct oversight of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for better coordination and alignment. As he is already overseeing the Economic Sustainability Committee, this move will accelerate the success of the COVID 19 response through synergistic implementation of the various palliative interventions of the government in the interest of the majority of Nigerians who are on very low incomes.

As we all work together to weather this storm, we are confident that we will beat COVID19 and emerge stronger as a people and a nation.

Signed:

1. Abiodun Essiet Initiative for Girls

2. ActionAid Nigeria

3. Adinya Arise Foundation

4. African Youth Initiative on Population, Health and Development (AfrYPoD)

5. Alliance for Africa

6. CEE-HOPE Nigeria

7. Centre for Impact Advocacy

8. Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN)

9. Child Rights Protection Initiatives (CRPI)

10. Citizens Center for Integrated Development and Social Rights (CCIDESOR)

11. Community Life Project/ ReclaimNaija

12. Country Associates Network (CANET)

13. Daria Media Foundation

14. Dinidari Foundation

15. Dorothy Njemanze Foundation

16. EiE Nigeria

17. Equality Through Education Foundation (ETEF)

18. FAME Foundation

19. First Future Leadership

20. Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre

21. Girl Child Africa

22. Global Rights

23. Halliru Memorial Youth Development & Empowerment Initiative (AYDI)

24. House of Justice

25. Initiative for Research, Innovation and Advocacy in Development (IRIAD)

26. International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH)

27. International Women Communication Centre

28. Joy Onyesoh Foundation

29. Justice & Empowerment Initiative

30. Linking the Youth of Nigeria through Exchange
31. Molluma Medico-Legal Centre

32. Nigeria Mourns

33. NoMore234NG
34. Ovie Brume Foundation

35. Proactive Gender Initiatives

36. Resilient Aid & Dialogue Initiative

37. Safe Circle Foundation

38. SBM Intelligence

39. Sesor Empowerment Foundation

40. She Forum Africa

41. SilverchipFox

42. Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative (SI4DEV)

43. Tap Initiative for Citizens Development

44. TechHerNG

45. Vision Springs Initiative

46. Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC)

47. Women’s Crisis Centre

48. Women Foundation of Nigeria (WFN)

49. Women Information Network (WINET)

50. Women for Peace and Gender Inequality

51. Women for Women International

52. Aanu Rotimi

53. Abiodun Baiyewu

54. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi

55. Aderonke Bello

56. Ayodeji Fadugba

57. Ayisha Osori

58. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

59. Gloria Mabeiam Ballason

60. Ier Jonathan

61. Laila St. Matthew Daniel

62. Lesley Agams

63. Mabel Ade

64. Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome

65. Nana Nwachukwu

66. Nenikan Deshi

67. Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi

68. Omowumi Asubairo Dada

69. Rhoda Nanre Nafziger

70. Tungchamma Lengdung Apolos

*cc: The Nigeria Governors Forum*