The Executive Order on Covid-19 protocol breaches

Trouble by the continuing shelving of protocols by Nigerians even as a new variant of Covid-19  took its toll on the country, President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed an Executive Order making the wearing of face masks in public compulsory across the country.  The order, which was signed on January 27, mandates all Nigerians to wear face masks at all gatherings and keep a physical distance of at least two metres.  For the purposes of the order, public places include open markets, malls, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, hotels, event centres, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, motor parks and fitness centres. According to the order, no person shall be allowed within these places without a face covering that covers the nose and mouth, washing of hands or cleaning them using hand sanitisers approved by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and checking of body temperature. Failure to wear a face mask in public attracts a six-month prison sentence.

To be sure, the Covid-19 protocols, particularly the wearing of face masks, presents some difficulties. But the coronavirus affliction is global, and presents grievous discomfort  and certain death in the absence of cautionary measures. What is more, the latest order by President Buhari was not whimsical: it was dictated by the unending spike in the number of confirmed cases of the dreaded virus in the country. In this regard, we think that the order is quite timely and expedient. While society cannot be unduly shut down with catastrophic social and economic effects owing to the pandemic, there is a crucial need to ensure that Nigerians abide by the protocols rolled out by the government through the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health, as well as by sub-national governments. Covid-19 recognises no class, age or gender: it strikes with deadly force and causes irreparable damage. It will therefore either be defeated by the society, or it renders society prostrate.

Admittedly, however, the Executive Order has hardly done the expected magic. If experience in public and private spaces are anything to go by, most Nigerians still undermine all protocols meant to curb the spread of Covid-19. And rather disturbingly, top government officials in the Presidency, as well as officials at the state and local government levels, are equally culpable. They have been caught on numerous occasions violating the protocols with impunity, and suggesting that law and order could not under any circumstances be applied to them. They have failed to live by example, apparently because of their utter disregard for public health, and to the chagrin of the public. One way to ensure that the government means business, therefore, is to ensure that these protocol violators inevitably get their just deserts in accordance with the provisions of the law. That way, a strong message would have been sent that the government intends to walk the talk, and will tolerate no breaches of the Executive Order.

It is distressing that contrary to the ceaseless warnings and enlightenment campaigns by government agencies, schools, markets and worship centres, among others, still make no provision for hand santizers. We hope that henceforth, the Executive Order will be faithfully implemented, without which it would, at the end of the day, have been just another policy meant to scratch the current problem on the surface.



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