Reverend Stephen Panya Baba is the President, Evangelical Church Wining All (ECWA). In this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria in relation to the nation’s leadership as well as the way out of the problem.
ARE you satisfied with the way the government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic rocking the country?
I think so far so good, they are trying their best, but initially, we all thought it was the problem of the developed countries. It is now clear that it is a general phenomenon. So, the initial reluctance which the government put up in handling this matter has now changed to the urgency that we are experiencing. We are glad that very drastic measures are being taken to curtail this scourge of coronavirus.
Don’t you think the outbreak of this virus has further exposed government’s shortcomings in terms of healthcare delivery?
May God have mercy on us and I pray that it would not escalate, but we don’t need coronavirus to bring out our shortcomings in terms of poor medical facilities and inadequate medical personnel. These issues have always been there. People have always been shouting and those in positions of authority have refused to listen, because they have the privilege and opportunity of running out of the country to get medical treatment, while the majority of the citizens of this nation have no alternative but to try and survive with what they have on the ground here in the country.
But now, what the coronavirus has done is to expose both the low and the mighty to the same facilities, except with one or two who still have the opportunity of flying out in their private jets and pay a very high price. Most of the people in government today cannot even travel out for medical treatment. So, with the coronavirus, they are forced to receive the same medical treatment as ordinary Nigerians. Though they may still have privileges to go to some good hospitals, the rate at which this scourge is spreading, there might not even be medical personnel in most of the hospitals to attend to all because they themselves are endangered species. They have to stay at home, in order to be protected.
God is using this to teach, especially our leaders, a lesson. We can only pray that they would learn after all these are over by the grace of God. They would have repented and be willing to do the right thing, instead of running out of the country for medical treatment leaving the sector in a shambles in Nigeria.
Nigerians are beginning to feel the pain of the total and partial lockdown in different parts of the country and quite a lot of people are crying that, that there are no palliative measures to cushion the effect of the lockdown. What do you think the government should do in this regard?
When Nigerians voted for this government, the hope was very high for improvement in various aspects, including reviving the economy, putting an end to insurgency and others. I am sorry to say that the government has failed woefully, while other governments around the world can afford to put palliatives in place. How does a government that is about to borrow more money be in a position to put palliative measures in place for its citizens? The economy was in a very bad state before the coronavirus problem to the extent that we are going to borrow to survive. Now, I wonder where the government will get money to finance this. In this country, we can only cry out to God to help us out of our situation and also pray that other nations that are in a position to help us economically with materials and monetary resources will do so.
Also, we should pray that those that have stolen resources from the coffers of this country will receive the touch of God to see the vanity of storing up for themselves and their families. And with this coronavirus, it is even possible for them to die and leave all the ill-gotten wealth behind. It is better for them to release the money now, because if they die in the process, they will have to account for this before their Maker. But if they are able to see the vanity of life and how fragile human life is, they should be able to release this money at this material time.
Having said that, we are grateful to those who have been able to donate towards salvaging the present situation, including those outside the country and those within.
What should be the role of the Church in this present situation?
Our major function in this critical situation is to try to mobilise the people to obey the authorities and to sensitise them that whatever drastic measures that are being put in place are for the good of all so that the scourge can be over. The Church needs to pray; in fact, this should be number one. It should intercede for the mercy of God and also to reach out to members, especially the underprivileged among us in terms of medical care and supply of their daily needs like foods, among others.
What do you have to say concerning some religious leaders that are not adhering to government’s instructions and directives concerning the number of people that should congregate in every place of worship at a particular time?
We need to obey the authorities in the country. In some instances, they are not preventing us from congregating. It is because of the necessity on the ground. We should realise that this measure is temporary; we need to cooperate with the government during this period. The government is not causing us to sin at all. We can still worship God individually. And the government does not bear the sword for nothing. So, let us obey the government and complement their efforts in fighting the pandemic.
My advice to the government is to put all the necessary machinery in place towards the eradication of the disease so that we can get out of this as soon as possible. The government should review the remunerations of doctors and health workers. If we don’t do this, we will continue to train them for the use of developed countries as we are experiencing now. One of the most frustrating things is when people are qualified to serve in one capacity or the other and they are denied the opportunity of rising simply because they are not from the place where the institution is domiciled and the less qualified are placed over them. This issue needs to be addressed.
Also, our hospitals in the country are in deplorable conditions. My prayer is that this coronavirus will be a lesson to our government. They should realise that they need to give the health sector adequate attention. We pray that the pain coronavirus has caused us will make our leaders to sit up and do the right thing.
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