COVID-19: What the presidential address did not address 




 

For some days now, there have been mixed reactions on the disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari in addressing the nation on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While some people feel that it may not be necessary, not a few people felt this was crucial given its severity, because of the festering rumour that Mr. President is ill and that he had been flown out of the country, reactions of other heads of state, and the import of such action to make the citizens happy.

At last, the president’s short address stated that the federal government had embarked on planning prevention, containment, and curative measures before the disease hit the nation, assuring that efforts were ongoing to link up with institutions towards finding a solution that would be certified by international and local medical authorities. He urged Nigerians to support the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), led by the Presidential Task Force on this assignment.

President Buhari stated that the government had introduced healthcare measures, border security, fiscal and monetary policy responses with an initial intervention of N15 billion, recruited hundreds of ad-hoc staff to man call centres, support tracing and testing efforts in addition to the training of medical representatives from among armed forces, paramilitary, security and intelligence personnel. Stressing the need for consistency in policy guidelines between federal and state agencies, the president disclosed that inter-state and intercity movements were being restricted to prevent further spread. In this regard, he announced a cessation of all movements in Lagos state, Federal Capital Territory and Ogun state for an initial period of 14 days effective from March 30.

According to him, all seaports in Lagos would remain operational following previous guidelines and that the government would develop a better strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme without compromising social distancing policies. There is also the granting of three-month repayment moratorium for all borrowers in the TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni facilities with immediate effect alongside all federal government-funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank, among others, while for the most vulnerable in the society (not specified), the conditional cash transfers for the next two months has been approved for immediate payment while internally-displaced persons would receive two months of food rations.

Furthermore, federal government stadia, pilgrim camps and other facilities are to be converted to isolation centers and makeshift hospitals. He appreciated the contributions of individuals, the private sector and development partners, assuring that all contributions and donations would be coordinated and centralised to ensure judicious spending. President Buhari promised that relevant government ministries, departments, and agencies were working hard to bring the deadly virus under control, as he further commended public health workforce, health care workers, port health authorities, and other essential staff for their selfless service to the nation.

In summary, most of the provisions announced by the president bordered on restricting people’s movement to encourage social distancing without adequately addressing other germane factors that may make the directives work. To begin with, no specific intervention was made to ensure a regular supply of electricity. As argued in my earlier article, there is no way that people can be made to stay indoors as long as the public power supply remains epileptic. Presidential order that would ensure a constant supply of electricity to an extent would have been given.

Another important area left out is the salaries of public servants. The directive should have been given for the payment of two months’ salary of workers. This would have enabled them to plan for some time. As it is now, many public servants are likely to be financially incapacitated. Private sector employees should have equally been encouraged to pay their employees by rewarding them with generous tax reliefs and other incentives. Pensioners seem to have been left out in the scheme of things. As arrangements were made for internally-displaced persons, old persons and senior citizens should have been better captured.

No doubt, many factories, companies, and production firms and service-oriented organisations are to remain shut down. The window offered to loan beneficiaries listed in the presidential address is meager when compared to the several affected companies. Special loan packages should be extended to them repayable over a reasonable period. Surprisingly, no direct intervention was extended to some indigenous and impactful non-governmental organisations complementing the government’s efforts.

Before the presidential address, I received an alert update from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, on the various intervention programmes unfolded for his citizens. These include support for individuals and families; mortgage support, support for people facing unemployment, people who are unable to work; women’s shelters and sexual assault centres; and access to credit, among others. Nigerian can borrow some of these lofty interventions from Canada or other countries. Since President Buhari has assured that the initiatives would be reviewed from time-to-time, it would be important that some of the points should be looked into in the best interest of the people and the state.

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