CHIEF Lanre Rasaq, an astute politician, administrator and former commissioner at different times in Lagos State, says the current situation calls for sober reflection among the elite and warns against lethargy by citizenry on the measures enunciated to contain Coronavirus pandemic in the country. KUNLE ODEREMI brings some excerpts:
There is seeming uncertainty across the land due to the rising number of victims of the Coronavirus disease. What is view on the issue, especially against the backdrop of the obvious worries by the citizens?
My position is very clear on this matter. The scourge is not limited to Nigeria; it is a global phenomenon. Following the advice of professionals, authorities in Nigeria at the various levels of governments are saying the people should adopt social distance; that there should be no handshake; that we should wash our hands always with soap and that we should use sanitisers and steer clear of crowded place. These are very important guidelines we must strictly adhere to in the overall interest of our safety and the good health of the country. I do not think it is too much sacrifice we have to make at this auspicious moment in order to contain the pandemic. I am aware of our cultural inclination, affiliation and fraternity. But it is for the good of us all to observe all these safety guidelines and other directives meant to tame and contain COVID-19 pandemic. We should maintain the two-metre distance social distancing to prevent the scourge. We must wear face masks to prevent being effected, the spread and contact with the disease that appears to be threatening humanity.
There is a Yoruba adage that simply translates that that the evil day was only postponed by 24 hours and what we have to do to say alive is to embark on the required necessary sacrifice and precaution designed to stave off the looming disaster. That is the logic we must apply to kill or drive away COVID-19 from our land. We must strictly adhere to the advice of professionals on this matter, as the pandemic is not limited to Nigeria. Perhaps, because Italy did not strictly adhere to that advice, that country initially had the highest mortality in the world. We don’t have the kind of modern facilities Italy, United States, Germany, Spain and France and other developed countries have and we cannot afford to fall into the same pitfall or make costly mistakes that account for the high casualties of COVID-19 pandemic in those countries today. God forbid, but if it should take another twist, we will record much more casualties. So, life is about give and take. Of course, though God is in charge, Nigerians should strictly adhere to the government advice.
You keep talking about government role in this crisis, more or less. But are you convinced that government at different levels are doing the needful to contain the pandemic?
Excepting Lagos that has gone through the Ebola problem that has facilities, I don’t know if other governments in Nigeria have what it takes to attack the COVID-19 disease. But it has come and it has come, and we all know that necessity is the mother of invention. We need to be pragmatic, aggressive, focus and innovative in order to be on top of the current problem. It is obvious to everyone that the disease knows neither race nor ethnic nationality. Neither does it know the colour of your eye or skin. It breaks all barriers and threatens the lives of the young, the old, the strong and even the weak, not just the most vulnerable members of the society. We have to tackle it frontally and squarely in order to secure the lives of our people. Therefore, I believe the authorities will definitely want to go the extra mile in the bid to save the lives of Nigerians.
What do you see as the immediate and long term implications of the problem, particularly on the welfare of the citizenry, coupled with the mass poverty in the country as the majority have not been truly empowered to be self-dependent and sustaining on basic human needs?
Has Nigeria itself been empowered as a country? While other countries are battling the scourge by giving out $600 billion; $1 billion; $500 billion as stimulants to face this crisis, our country is still begging to borrow $30 billion to tackle infrastructural needs? It means Nigeria remains a poor country when compared to those countries that have rolled out stimulants to cushion the effect of the pandemic on their fellow citizens. But we are in the struggle together to salvage our country from the scourge and the first item now is not about political restructuring. It is about how do you save the life of the people? I know the government will respond positively. Some of us are already talking to the government, advising them on what they can do to alleviate the negative impact and effect of the current situation across the country. I am optimistic that they will do something.
The political class, particularly the ruling elite imported the disease into Nigeria because of their needless trips abroad instead of settling down at home to face the core challenges of governance having vowed to serve conscientiously to secure the mandate of the people at the poll…
When you travelled abroad in the past and came back, you would beat your chest publicly and say I have just come back from the United States or the United Kingdom.’ You could say ‘I was in France; I was in Germany.’ But nobody will dare raise his head and say I have just come back from those countries now,’ knowing well the thinking of Nigerians today. I’m not too sure of what you have just said concerning the movements of the elite the way you have you just said it.
I cannot vouch for them nor confirm that they are the cause of all these problems. I know it is not only politicians that have travelled and returned from the United States lately, where the covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc. I repeat it is not only politicians that travelled and had come back from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy. However, it is very important that if they promised to do certain things, in the name of God, they should do it. If you don’t do it, there will be another day. I also want to use this platform to advise our people: don’t monetise your vote; don’t vote on the basis of somebody giving you a bag of rice or with cash. Vote according to your conscience. Study the person that you believe will represent you well and give him your vote. It is then you can demand for your rights. A situation, where all votes are cast on the consideration of monetary reward that is what you will always get: you won’t have the right to see the person representing you once he assumes office.
Of course, poverty is still the issue. In advanced countries, those who have devoted their career in various public offices usually retire and use the rest of their lives to serve their people. It is such persons you find in the parliament; they come with a profile of immense experience, professionalism and dedication to serving humanity. So, they go there and serve their country and people conscientiously. But our situation is different. It is curious and disheartening. Here, what people say is: ‘I am a graduate; I don’t have a job. The people in the parliament are making money; let me go there and make money too.’ That is what is happening in the country. We pray God to save Nigeria.
What are the inherent lessons for the political class in what is going now, in view of how Nigeria found itself in the current quagmire?
By any standard, every situation presents itself as an opportunity to learn by Nigerians; it is always a learning curve. But for me to assure if the political class will learn from the present situation, I will simply say I do not control their mind and thinking. But, I know that for every action there is always a reaction equal and opposite. Circumstances and situations will compel some of those who refuse to learn by happenings to adjust. I am aware that it is not only now that things with far-reaching implications have been happening in this country. Cast your mind back to the first and second republics, recall what happened and how people reacted. So, nature will compel them to do the right thing.
In specific terms, what do you think are the implications of what the country is going through now for the politics of Nigeria generally?
It is a lesson for us as a human race; it is not only for politicians. It will affect the economy; it will affect the social aspect of life; it is going to impact on growth and development and it has serious implications for so many things. It will not leave anything. So, we need to be careful and meticulous on what to do in order to improve the situation on ground.
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