For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.
—Josiah Gilbert Holland
BILL Gates once described crisis as the best recruiter of talent. By that I think he means in circuitous elocution that necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps he means a little more. It is in times of trouble that great leaders step up to the plate and great people are at their best. I recall similarly Winston Churchill’s famous speech ending with: ‘this was their finest hour’. Perhaps Covid-19 has begun to bring out the best in our resourceful leaders and the greatest of our national spirit. Perhaps. A popular social media critic went ballistic on seeing that the Oyo State Governor held a party rally on the 18th day of March. It was an indignation I equally shared with far greater restraint and humility. It was a mistake the governor publicly apologised for. This critic was implacable, remorseless and unforgiving in his numerous outbursts. At a point he started raining curses! Olopa ewo ni t’epe?
A few weeks later, the scandalous burial of the late chief of staff to the president hit the waves. The cream of our national leadership literally embraced the coffin and jampacked the Gudu cemetery in Abuja. They threw all rules of distancing and containment to the dogs in a funeral that was televised live on TV. They used a bunch of hangers-on to handle the corpse. One of them threw off the mock PPE suit right at the venue. Another scrapheap scavenger seized the coffin soaked with COVID blood and made away with it till today. Our social critic went tame and philosophical. No curses. No noise. And he is very neutral. No problem. The anomalies rendered above are reflective of our attitude to these novel events surrounding the global epidemic that now holds the whole of mankind hostage. Lockdown is a popular default action to which authorities all over the world have deferred. The consequences however threaten the wisdom. In the richer nations citizens on lockdown literally grow fat as they gorge on rich food before tv screens. Citizens of poorer lands languish in lack. The attempts made by some governments in Nigeria to provide succour are so token that they ended making their citizens hungrier and angrier. Some governments literally fried puffpuffs and shared among citizens one each! That was their idea of palliative.
The Oyo State government adopted a 120,000 family bench mark in its reasoned approach. It is not without its grave errors. Private enterprises are always the scape goats. Many of the 120,000 homes in Oyo are bound to include families of civil servants who have been paid salaries twice without going to work while private business owners languished. That is just how difficult the present circumstances are. We are all learners. It is my mind nonetheless that while we all wallow in the fog of this unknown plague, we would help the situation more by showing requisite humility and honesty of purpose. While critics and cursers went about their official duties of berating Seyi Makinde and remained muted over the mass murder in Abuja, the President, Muhamadu Buhari, came up with a revised response that is a carbon copy of Gov. Makinde’s COVID response. Seyi saw the right protocol and adopted it long before the rest of the nation. A curfew that restricts night life and encourages containment rules, allowing farmers, medical and food businesses to thrive is a far-sighted option.
Government in Nigeria lacks the resources, data and diligent manpower to execute a successful palliative intervention. That wisdom has just been tested by experience. The federal government itself leads the pack by example showing a crass lack of transparency and impartiality. The infradig of some people simply forming a queue and collecting cash without adequate record and statistics will forever resonate as the hallmark of misgovernance. Not even the national assembly could secure a list from those reckless distributors of our commonwealth. The beneficiaries do not want to be identified! Then the office of the Accountant-General went up in flames! You are left with a choice, a Hobbesian choice indeed whether to remain locked down and locked in while some people collect cash from white gloved officials standing behind huge stacks of money or go about your pursuits with care. It remains a tight choice. The worrisome news from other lands cannot be ignored especially in the light of the care such nations have taken to observe the containment rules.
The governor of Oyo State has showed extraordinary sincerity and understanding of the people and the problem. It is a clear trajectory that defines standing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Buhari has once again thrown his army of praise-singers under the bus by adopting the Seyi Makinde protocol. Just as the doctors and scientists are already admitting that they initially misunderstood Covid, it is not impossible that government might be adopting a faulty protocol altogether. But true grit the type that we can see from a few of our leaders in this moment of crisis, is one quality we cannot dispense with. It is made of a clear understanding of the problem and a honest appraisal of our peculiar circumstances.
- Ogunwusi, former Editor of the Nigerian Tribune, is a legal practitioner.
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