Corona virus has altered the way we think, the way we socialise, our culture, our belief and governance. The belief that the western world has solutions to all the problems has been altered; the belief that some clergymen will see/ predict/ prophesy solutions to problems has been negated; the belief that science will proffer solutions to every problem has been distorted; and the belief that there is always a safe place was displaced. Even the political class/elites that cannot but travel abroad have to stay at home. All of a sudden, our health facilities became sufficient for their ailments.
The sharp dichotomy between the rich and the poor became an advantage for the spread of the disease in most third world countries, Nigeria as a case study. The collapse of the middle class that would be the bridge between the poor and the rich really helped in curtailing the spread of the virus. The middle class would have gotten in touch with the rich, contact the virus and spread it among the poor (which would have been a doom). As fate would have it, the weakness of the poor became their strength.
We have become our children’s doctors, as minor cases are not entertained in our hospitals; we have also become our children’s teachers; as schools are closed down; our religious centers such as churches and mosques are closed; prisons and police cells are decongested, increasing the number of social threats with inadequate policing. Almost all the existing structures collapsed and individualism became the order of the day.
We were lockdown without clear knowledge of the disease. Orientation and enlightenment as to what COVID 19 is was not adequate. Ordinary man on the street ought to have adequate knowledge about the virus. The suspicion that the whole thing about the virus is that it is just a means of enriching the political class is being strengthened by the inability of the government to provide adequate and convincing information about the disease. If somebody has malaria, an illiterate in the village will to a large extent know that it is malaria even before any formal diagnosis. Symptoms of malaria are known to everybody. But in the case of COVID 19 and other virus related diseases, it is only the “well” educated and people that are into medical profession that really understand what and how the virus is. The interview on social media granted by High Chief Raymond Dokpesi goes a long way to buttress this point where he stated that he needed explanation on the synonymous usage of malaria and COVID 19. If a well placed person of the caliber of High Chief Raymond Dokpesi needed explanation, what then will be the fate of illiterates in the village or in the market?
Just as we gradually ease the lockdown in Nigeria, certain measures must be put in place for quick recovery. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and prepare adequately for the future. The first issue that requires urgent attention is how to educate the people on the spread of the virus, possible ways of controlling the spread. Most of the orientation programmes about COVID 19 are elitist and not yielding the required result. The best approach would have been to utilize the existing arenas of power. It is taken for granted that these arenas of power understand the peculiarities of the people and this will hasten up recovery. Most of these arenas of power are not well harnessed or under-utilised except when they are needed for political reasons. And where they are put into use, they have been reduced to an appendage of the formal structure. Polycentricism is highly required at this point. Polycentricism is a fundamental prerequisite of self-governance, that is, the ability of the groups of individuals to work out problems and find solutions by themselves. “Beyond the three tiers of government, there are centres of authority in Nigeria: NGOs, CBOs, traditional authorities, primordial organizations and so on to augment provisions of goods and services. When power is formalized, it does not capture the essence of power itself, in its raw form. Power itself is divested. The one that is considered as power and authority is just the one that is formalized, whereas, actual power manifest in the community heads, the cooperatives, formations and so on” (Alao, 2014). This is why the formal structures make use of the informal structures during elections. These centers of power can really resolve issues; when the formal ones fail, life continues and these arenas of power takes charge. If all these arenas of power are well harnessed rather than concentrating on the formal structures alone, the recovery from COVID 19 will be accelerated.
Government must recognize these arenas of power as a good and viable means of governance. It allows for stability, legitimacy and reduces the burden of governance if properly put into use. These arenas of power should be saddled with the responsibility of orientating the public while they are guided by NOA and NCDC. Government should also as a matter of urgency and necessity put up a committee that will look into the issue of education. With the present situation, how are we going to re-open the schools? Putting into consideration all the preventive measures that must be put in place to stop the spread of COVID 19. How do we maintain social distancing in Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools? Taking for granted that the students of tertiary institutions will be able to take preventive measures (which is not also sure). Education is important to the development of any nation, hence, we cannot keep our schools closed perpetually. Option of online lectures would have suffice but for the present state of our network and inability of the parents to afford the gadgets to connect online.
There is an urgent need for the provision of loans for the citizens as business capitals are lost to the lockdown. We should prepare for the economic implication of COVID 19. Attention should also be placed on SMEs to cushion the effect.
Government should come up with policies that will encourage local producers; relax on tax, duties and interest rate on loans to encourage businesses. Strengthen our borders and work on electricity supply. Less I forget, improve on the health facilities as it is known that there are instances that we have to rely on the facilities on ground, no opportunity to travel abroad for health care.
-Olaleke (PhD) is secretary, Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity, Maryland, USA