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COVID-19, NIN, etc.: leadership desperately needed

Published by The Nation on Sat, 09 Jan 2021

UndertowIT is an understatement to suggest that Nigerian leaders are unprepared for high office. For over 10 years, they have battled insurgency ineptly and are no nearer knocking the crisis into a cocked hat than they were at the beginning when, with unsteady gaits and tentative steps, they tried to dismantle the religious indoctrination erected by Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf. In the middle of the insurgency, they have even adopted the harebrained idea of rehabilitating and, as they put it unconvincingly and scornfully, deradicalising Boko Haram militants, despite the poor attention given to beleaguered fighting troops, internally displaced persons, and those widowed by the unending war. The counterinsurgency operations of the government exemplify a total misplacement of priorities, thus giving an indication of the poverty of leadership disabling the country. There are of course other disconcerting emblems of the poor leadership undermining the peace, stability and development of the country. Set below are a few of such emblems, all pointing to the urgent need for the enthronement of sound national leadership.N400bn for COVID-19 vaccines:The government plans to spend this whopping amount to procure vaccines to tackle this new and frightening plague. However, the proposed budget for the health sector is N632bn in 2021, and N340bn in 2018 to get a comparative picture. The actual release may be smaller. Between 2006 and 2018, capital expenditure proposed for the health sector only reached N60bn in 2013. All other years were considerably smaller. How does any government defend N400bn for vaccines for a disease that has so far killed fewer than 1,500 people and infected less than 90,000' Meanwhile, everyday, some 2,300 under-five-year-old and 145 women of childbearing age die from preventable causes. Neonatal mortality rate is also about 37 per 1000 live births or 250,000 every year. In addition, Malaria killed about 95,000 in Nigeria alone in 2018. These figures have not triggered the same kind of panicky response as COVID-19. Worse, Nigeria takes all its cues from Europe and America to formulate a national response to COVID-19. When the developed countries went for a lockdown, Nigeria heedlessly followed suit but without implementing relevant economic safeguards. Now Europe is rushing vaccines into the market, and Nigeria is waiting for the same vaccines rather than developing its own.No consideration for Nigeria/ECOWAS vaccine:Amidst the flurry of global vaccine developments to combat COVID-19, neither Nigeria nor any other country in West Africa has considered it urgent or needful to fashion their vaccine responses. Last Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Affairs minister, Wang Yi, visited Nigeria, among other things, to market Coronavirus vaccines developed by two Chinese firms, Sinopharm and Sinovac. On behalf of Nigeria, Foreign Affairs minister Geofrey Onyeama has indicated interest in receiving supplies. Perhaps to concretise the anticipated deal, the Chinese have underscored their interest in continuing to support Nigerias infrastructural development through various loan deals. Nigeria has announced that the first consignment of vaccines will be coming in January. It is unclear who the manufacturers are, but are probably from either Moderna or Pfizers BioNtech. But Regardless of the source, there is no indication whatever that safeguards have been put in place that take into account African peculiarities which have seen low infection and mortality rates. Worse, indeed far worse, there are no indications that Nigeria ever actively considered developing a vaccine or leading a West African consortium of researchers and pharmaceutical conglomerates to develop a vaccine or vaccines. Nigerian and West African leaders are eternally oriented towards consuming imported products, regardless of whether they are fit for purpose. And for vaccines that are being obviously hurriedly developed all over the world, there is no protection whatsoever for the hapless regional population should anything go wrong.COVID-19 restrictions and second wave lockdownWith an infection rate that seems to be doubling, and a mortality rate that appears to be creating panic particularly in elite circles in Nigeria, there are ongoing discussions for stricter restrictions and even the possibility of a second lockdown. Infection in Nigeria has almost reached 100,000 out of a global infection figure of a little less than 90 million; and deaths have climbed to less than 1,500 in Nigeria out of the global total of about 1.9 million. Of course, the Nigerian figures are worrisome, but they are still far less than the global figures. Rather than keep to and encourage firmer restrictions and observance of protocols, Nigerian authorities are in a lather, and are now actively mulling a second lockdown partly because developed countries have already embarked on second lockdowns as a response to the fierce progression of the second wave. Nigeria does not have the competence to embark on a copycat second lockdown, and is even dangerously less capable of policing the restrictions it has enunciated. Not only are the law enforcement agencies badly compromised by corruption and weakened by public attacks during the EndSARS protests, they are also poorly equipped and remunerated. Nigeria is between a rock and a hard place. Should they contemplate a second lockdown, given their inefficient, if not totally inept, response to the first lockdown, they may not be able to control the security fallout certain to follow the panicky measure.The NIN frenzy:Suddenly, the Nigerian government woke up in December to require its citizens to, in two weeks, link their National Identification Number (NIN) to their phones or else get their SIM cards to be blocked. The directive had earlier been given and ignored in February 2020. Foreigners were expected to update their SIM with their passports. On the surface, the objective is not misplaced. But the problem is that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was simply not ready for the whole circus, having created a ponderous and laborious system of identity card registration. To give a two-week deadline, now extended to February, was not only foolish at a time of pandemic, it was reckless. Like the shutting of land borders, the government simply looked at the benefits of the scheme to the detriment of the huge attendant cost, not minding their own inefficiency. Apart from the dangerous crowding at NIMC registration centres in the age of COVID, the cessation of SIM card registration and all other ancillary businesses have deeply impacted livelihoods. Is there nothing that can be done right in Nigeria' This, by the way, is the third time a national identity card scheme would be implemented. But every time the project miscarries, the people are left holding the short end of the stick.APC BoT bites the bullet:Like everything else about the party and the government it heads, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is reportedly proposing to amend its constitution to scrap its Board of Trustees (BoT) and replace it with Elders Council. Since it took office in 2015, the party has been unable to inaugurate its BoT. They hope that changing that nomenclature would help them overcome their dithering. They have not considered why their BoT has been difficult to inaugurate, but they seem sure that once their constitution is amended, their hesitations would end. If they succeed, as they hope, and discipline is restored in their party without a corresponding enthronement of justice, why, there is nothing they cannot do henceforth, including going to the moon on a glider. Is it any wonder that of all the reforms they contemplate, and of all the programmes they formulate, justice and fair play have not been among their watchwords' If they can hardly lead themselves, how can they hope to lead the country'Buhari appeals for divine border policingOn December 2, 2020, while receiving former vice president Namadi Sambo, President Buhari veered off discussions on the ECOWAS Election Mission to Niger Republic to speak on the lengthy border with that northern neighbor. The context for that switch was not easily apparent, but the switch was made anyway. Said the president: I come from Daura, few kilometers to Republic of Niger, so I should know a bit about that country. The president is quite decent, and we are regularly in touch. He is sticking to the maximum term prescribed by the constitution of his country. Also, we share more than 1,400 kilometers of border with that country, which can only be effectively supervised by God. I will speak with the president, and offer his country our support. We need to do all we can to help stabilise the Sahel region, which is also in our own interest. What is not in doubt, given President Buharis policies, his projects which are beneficial to or oriented towards Nigerias northern neighbor, and his constant references to that country, is that the president is more preoccupied with and sentimental about Niger Republic. Nigerians will have to reconcile themselves to his obsession; there is little they can do to shift the presidents mindset on building roads, railways and refineries to Niger Republic. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that the president cannot give Nigeria the attention and leadership it deserves. Worse, given the miscarriage of some of his administrations policies and his elementary grasp of religion, it is no wonder that he has left the countrys porous borders for God to police.This piece was adapted and enlarged from last weeks Palladium column
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