Hunger may compel Nigerians to defy lockdown order —Shehu Sani
As the lockdown continues in the face of the ravaging coronavirus pandemic, with many daily income earners lamenting over their situation, Senator Shehu Sani, in this interview by OSADEBAMWEN OSARETIN, says there is a huge problem to be contained by genuine distribution of palliatives.
Do you think that Nigerians can endure this lockdown amid the seeming uncertainty of the announced palliatives?
Firstly, we must recognise that we are in a difficult time; a very trying and tragic moment in the history of our country and the history of the world. The lockdown is a necessary evil that we have to respect and observe. We are simply copying and pasting what the developed countries are doing without putting in place the incentives that will cushion the effects of this curfew on the poor people.
Right now, millions of poor people are stalled in their homes without enough to eat and cater for their families. These palliatives are supposed to be made available before the curfew starts. From the statement coming from the Federal Government, the government or the state governments do not have the data and the details of the people who should benefit from these palliatives. Consequently, what they have even been announcing is not likely to solve 30 per cent of the needs of the population.
The danger of it is that the curfew and the lockdown can only be effective if the people can afford to sit down in their homes and feed their children and their wives. The very time the food stockpiled by the people is exhausted, they will come out on the street and defy any order or directive; curfew or any lockdown. At this time, the resources of the country should be deployed towards ensuring the survival of the poor in their homes. Even if you are rich, you cannot eat your money.
People have to come out and sell food. People have to come out and produce food and if they cannot produce food, there will be hunger in the land. The curfew and lockdown, once it is not being reinforced with a welfare package, it is going to be a social and political explosion that will completely batter the system and the nation and the incumbents in power in most countries in the world. This is a global challenge tasking our sense of humanity.
What should be the individual contribution to communal safety as the government appears clearly overwhelmed?
The government has to take the lead by setting up a volunteer group. As much as they have a medical team, people should volunteer to work and coordinate relief activities to homes. There should be vehicles available in delivering food to feed the neighbourhood and assisting the weaker persons. Now if you ask everyone to leave the street and only the police are on the streets, how can the problem be solved? People cannot stay in their houses when they have no food.
Are you saying the citizens can only volunteer if the government permits them and invites them to do that?
The order is that everybody should remain at home. So, right now, you see Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) moving around in consonance with local and state government and the federal government and providing relief materials to the various points of needs of the people. That is virtually not being done. It is as if we do not just know what to do about the Coronavirus other than telling people to stay at home. Government is supposed to decentralise the coronavirus tests so that our teaching hospitals would also be centres where people can check and do their own tests.
Secondly, there should have been coordination, not in terms of providing relief materials. Doing so, I mean the provision of relief materials is not a one-off thing. You cannot have people locked down for two or three weeks and only give them food once. You have to make sure that this is sustained until this lockdown is over.
Thirdly, we must tell ourselves the truth. It does not mean that after the two weeks that the pandemic is going to be over; this is a very long walk and we must be ready for it. For instance, the Federal Government should have funded our textile firms and industry; for our garment factories to start producing face masks that would be shared to our people. This is what the governments of the United States, Ghana and Iran are doing. Even Gaza in the Palestinian territory is doing this.
It appears we do not know what we are doing because every government felt that it has the knowledge and wisdom to do everything for itself. You do not see government and the opposition elements working together to address this as a national problem. It is still being seen to be the responsibility of the government and that is what the government wants the people to see. For example, you see President Muhammadu Buhari in a group photograph with Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia and others. Why can’t we see the president come together with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar? What is wrong with that?
As far as I am concerned, the solution to this problem is by way of proper coordination; it must be streamlined to reduce the effect on those that are vulnerable. You cannot take a bag of rice to a community that is staying indoors for two weeks and say you delivered palliatives; you cannot do that. You cannot take a gallon of palm oil to that community and ask them to stay indoors. Who will be willing to be left out? If people do not have food to eat in this lockdown, they are going to come out in the street and that will be the end of the lockdown and the fight against coronavirus.
The issue of reliable and workable data has come to the fore. How best can we tackle this, going forward?
In post-Coronavirus world, things have to change and it has started already to change but only the discerning minds are following this. You see Russia delivering medical supply to the United States; you see Palestinians in Gaza delivering face masks to Israelis; you see Cuban doctors moving to Italy. So, it is clear that our vanities have not taken the better part of us as our humanity manifests above all.
Again we are rediscovering ourselves; the essence of our creation as human beings. We are reconsidering ourselves to know the humanity in us, our humility and our compassion. We must do what we need to do. It is not only about getting data for ourselves, but fixing our medical infrastructure to boost our health facilities, especially the public hospitals.
In the past, the political elite had concluded that virus was not meant for them nor a threat to them as this has become. They had concluded it was for the poor people. They allowed the public hospitals- from primary healthcare, general hospitals to the teaching hospitals- to simply collapse because they used to take their families abroad. With Coronavirus, it has become very clear that their money, their privileges and comfort cannot save their lives. So, we have to fund our public medical facilities to save our lives. Every medical facility should have the data of the people living around them.
Again, statistics matters a lot. Now the government wants to share N5000. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs said they will share money to 11 million people. Are these 11 million people not members of the APC? If not, then who are the 11 million people they have shared money to? Going forward to the post-Coronavirus era, we must rethink ourselves on how we can manage ourselves
Amid all these challenges, what is your advice for the common man?
The common man is not responsible for the outbreak of Coronavirus and he is an innocent victim of these issues. He has been faced with poverty; people are struggling to pay their rents;, tuition fees and to feed their family. Suddenly, they are faced with a pandemic that has the capacity of consuming all of us. As far as they remain standing, ordinary Nigerians should continue to hold their leaders accountable. If they do not have food, they should go to the houses of the people they have elected into office because they should be able to give them food. They should not move about anyhow; they should go to their gates and wait outside their houses until they give them food.
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