Covid-19: The unravelling of the Nigerian elite
THE extant coranavirus (Covid-19) global pandemic has exposed the underbelly of the country, and especially that of the elite that control its politics and the economy. And the revelation is damning: it shows emptiness and virtual absence of substance. It is now evident that the pervasive complaint of infrastructure deficits is not limited to the much-talked-about sectors such as power, transport, water and so on; it also includes a critical and sensitive sector like health. This is not totally surprising as Nigerians had constantly mouthed issues around hospitals in the country. But certainly, only a few of them appreciated the enormity of the challenges in the health sector, which the outbreak of Covid-19 has now brought to the fore. The infrastructure deficit is so grim that hospitals are barely coping with routine medical care, let alone being in a proper shape to respond to novel medical emergencies.
For instance, Nigeria with a population of about 200 million reportedly has less than 500 ventilators for Covid-19 patients even when it somewhat had a leeway to prepare: the country did not have the index case until about two months after the outbreak of the virus was reported in some major cities of the world. The sloppy official response is painful and embarrassing, but it is really not surprising as most of the elite do not use Nigerian hospitals and therefore do not care about putting in place functional hospitals. For instance, the medical records of a very senior aide to President Muhammadu Buhari who is already diagnosed with Covid-19 had to be obtained from the United Kingdom (UK) in order for doctors to proceed with his treatment. And it is common knowledge that should the need arise for his principal’s medical records any time; the same would still have to be retrieved from the UK. Thus, in such a circumstance, it would be difficult to expect that any meaningful official attention would be paid to the health sector in the country.
Sadly, it would appear as if the elite have yet to recognize that Covid-19 is a leveller that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, as some privileged persons were reportedly displaying their characteristic ‘bigmanism’. Or how do you interpret the alleged refusal of some federal lawmakers to submit themselves for coronavirus testing upon arrival in Nigeria from abroad? The lawmakers’ alleged irresponsible disposition smacks of naivety or sheer wickedness because it was some of the elite in the public and private sectors that globe-trot that brought Covid-19 to the masses in the first place. Are they deliberately trying to put the country at a veritable risk of community transmission by refusing to be tested?
If Covid-19 were not a non-discriminatory global pandemic, perhaps the elite who did not provide functional hospitals and did little or nothing to improve the standard of living of the masses would have seen the disease as a punishment for the poor for their moral failings. It is rather unfortunate that regardless of their party affiliation, the Nigerian elite are selfish, myopic and ignorant; they do not know what it means to be elite. For instance, despite the public outcry against the purchase, and at a time when national concern should be about defeating Covid-19 global pandemic, the House of Representatives has reportedly received 400 units of Toyota Camry 2020 model luxury cars which it ordered for distribution to lawmakers as utility cars.
Yes, the cars might have been ordered before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, but can’t the delivery be delayed or the order cancelled outright in deference to the ravaging disease that poses existential challenge to Nigerians and which has also altered in a significant and negative manner, some of the fundamentals that dictate the direction of the country’s economy? Nonetheless, in a way, it is good that the political elite have shown their compatriots how selfish and tactless they can be through unabashed display of insensitivity and misplacement of priorities. It is now clear and not difficult to fathom why public goods and services, including the much needed medical services at this perilous time, can hardly be delivered efficiently and effectively. The truth is that they are clearly very low in the pecking order of the elite.
While some privileged Nigerians, at least to some extent, brought the current travail upon the masses, the response of some of them from the public and private sectors has been lacklustre. It took Jack Ma of China, the 55-year-old billionaire co-founder of Alibaba Business Group, to blaze the trail by donating test kits, face mask, and so on. It is nonetheless gladdening that few private sector billionaires in the country have started to join in the official efforts to combat the disease even if some of them had to be criticised and prodded before they started to step up with reliefs and financial support. What the virus that is gradually but frighteningly despoiling the country has done, in addition to engendering a regime of fear in all and a traumatic experience by its victims, is to unravel some of the country’s elite for what they are: an insensitive and self-centred bunch.
But is it not ironic that those who can afford to go and had always gone everywhere and anywhere to seek solution to their medical issues seem to have nowhere to go at this moment? That is why it is hoped that an end will come presently to the Covid-19 pandemic and that the discerning elite would have realised that it is in their enlightened self-interest to apply the country’s collective patrimony to re-establish a truly functional society that can cater to the welfare of all, irrespective of social and economic status.