Dr Jude Momodu, an Associate Professor of Peace and Conflicts Studies at Modibbo Adamawa University of Technology (MAUTECH) in Yola spoke with our Adamawa correspondent in Yola, Tom Garba on COVID-19, banditry and other issues:
What would you say about the many deaths recorded in the United States and the ones in Nigeria?
It is important that we lay a proper background about Corona Virus Disease which is popularly known as COVID-19. The disease is viral in nature and it originated from Wuhan a city in China in December 2019 and it has since then become a global pandemic affecting both national and global economy and politics. The virus has continued to decimate human population. It has also overwhelmed hospitals, health workers and the health infrastructures across the world. At the last count, more than 3.5 billion persons have contracted the virus globally with about half a million fatalities. The US currently has the highest number of infected persons with over 2 million Americans infected with the virus as well as having the highest number of fatalities with about 71,000 persons dead. According to report from John Hopkins University, about 3.6 billion people may have contracted the Corona Virus with about 252, 0000 fatalities globally. These figures are as at May 6th 2020.
Clearly, the huge negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the US is due to the manner in which President Donald Trump has responded to the pandemic since it began to spread across the globe in January 2020. It was glaring that he did not realize the profound impact that COVID-19 could have on the US and the world at large. In fact, the President came up with the narrative of denial and accusation against China, claiming that the virus was created in China and therefore it was a ‘Chinese Virus’. This attitude continued for weeks until the virus entered the United States in February 2020. The US federal government at the initial stage of the virus was ill-prepared and unwilling to tackle the virus head on. Therefore, the US that has for many years provided leadership in times of tackling world crisis, this time around failed to provide the leadership that the world needed so dearly to galvanise other world leaders to forge the collaboration that will assist in tackling COVID-19 pandemic. This leadership vacuum is still lacking currently in terms of mobilising resources to contain the spread of the virus and also to develop the vaccine to cure the virus.
With regards to Nigeria’s response to COVID-19, although the impact of the virus in Nigeria is far low when compared to the US but the federal government of Nigeria also did not adequately prepare to tackle the virus. In late February 2020, Nigeria recorded her first index case and many Nigerians advised the federal government to close down her sea, air and land borders but this call fell on deaf ears to President Muhammadu Buhari who refused to act. As a matter of fact, the federal government did not take any tangible action neither did it prepare to tackle the virus until it started spreading across some Western states in early March. Currently, the pandemic has continued to spread like wildfires across Nigeria and the federal and state governments have clearly showed incapacity in containing the spread. It is only Lagos State that has showed the capacity to contain the virus although it is still having the highest number of people infected with the virus. So far, Nigeria has recorded 2, 950 cases of infected persons and 98 fatalities and the figure continue to rise.
Clearly, the US and Nigeria federal governments did not do much initially to protect their citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic. The two countries are still paying dearly for the consequences of their inactions and lack of preparedness to contain COVID-19 pandemic in their countries.
Was the lockdown policy of the federal and some state governments for six weeks justified?
Yes, I think the lockdown policy has to some extent worked in terms of containing and discovering those persons that have contracted the Corona Virus. Although it may not have solved all the problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. As a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari on 29th March 2020 signed the Proclamation Order on the ‘General Management of COVID-19” in Lagos, Ogun, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and later included Kano State. On Monday, April 13, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a 14-day lockdown these states. This was done in accordance with Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004). At the same time some states government invoked the ‘Quarantine Act of 1926’ to declare locked down of their states as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19. By and large, the lockdown policy is helping to reduce the spread of the virus as well as helping Nigerians to imbibe the social distancing, wearing of face mask and washing of hands protocols, which are all strategies to contain the spread of the virus.
What has been the loss of human life caused by the lockdown, including death in police dispersal of crowds?
Unfortunately, the lockdown policy which is meant to contain the spread of CIVID-19 pandemic and to save lives has however resulted in more people being killed by the law enforcement operatives and criminal elements. In fact the National Human Rights Commission has alleged that since March 2020 when the lockdown was announced, law enforcement operatives have extra-judicially killed about 18 Nigerians. This unfortunate development is not surprising because the Nigerian security operatives have a reputation for killing innocent Nigerians whether during crisis period or at peacetime. In a state like Lagos, criminal and cult gangs like the ‘Awawa Boys’ and ‘One Million Boys’ took over streets and communities, looting and extorting money and food items from innocent Lagosians. These gangs also killed many innocent people. There was even an alleged reported case of a police officer attached to the Rivers State COVID-19 enforcement team extra-judicially killing a female police officer. There are also cases of citizens who were on lockdown clashing with some law enforcement operatives. The law enforcement agencies showed incapacity in crowd control management and in some areas terrorized by criminal elements, they alleged that they called the police to come to their aid but the police did not show up. Some security operatives were mostly and publicly seen brutalizing innocent citizens as well as extorting money from members of the public.
How would you assess the efforts of the NCDC? What did it do right or do wrong?
The National Center for Diseases Control (NCDC) like many other government agencies in Nigeria are often not adequately funded and as a result they are ill-equipped to discharge their official functions effectively. However, the NCDC has greatly risen up to the occasion in terms of executing its mandate. So far, NCDC has set up Public Health Emergency Operations Centers in 23 out of the 36 states of Nigeria. Also, NCDC has set up some testing laboratory centers in order to allow access to Nigerians to be tested for the COVID-19. However, the testing centers appears not to be enough as many states still do not have testing centers and they have to use those in other far away states. This has often delayed the results and treatment of infected persons and some patients have died before their results were returned. The NCDC also do not have enough testing kits and as such they only have 1,500 daily-testing capacity of suspected persons with the virus. In the aspect of timely briefing of Nigerians about COVID-19 updates and the activities of NCDC and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic, the NCDC is not doing badly. They organise daily briefing on national and private television channels to update Nigerians and the entire world about the state of the virus in Nigeria and the efforts being made to combat it.
Would you say that the efforts at combating COVID-19 pandemic may have distracted the government from fighting bandits and Boko Haram, allowing them to strike with impunity?
The deadly nature of COVID-19 pandemic and its capacity to kill human beings as well as hurting both national and global economy cannot be doubted. Therefore, COVID-19 pandemic has become a very topical issue and of course the most popular issue on the front burner of national and global discourse. Notwithstanding the popularity or impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, security threats have continued to rear their ugly heads in Nigeria. Bandits and criminal elements are still not resting on their oars. Just few weeks ago, bandits operating in Kastina killed about 45 residents of a community and they even requested that the community people should surrender to them the palliatives that they received from the government. Indeed, criminals and bandits have continued their campaign of terror and wanton killing of Nigerians regardless of the deadly nature of COVID-19 pandemic. In recent times, especially after the victory of the Chadian forces against Boko Haram insurgents, the Nigeria military appears to have stepped up its offensive attacks against the Boko Haram insurgents with clear signs of having upper hands on the insurgents. However, this is not to deny the obvious which is that the Nigerian security forces are largely overstretched beyond their capacity by the multifarious security threats they have to combat as well as the mandate recently given to them to enforce COVID-19 lockdown rules.
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