By Dele Sobowale
“It is easier to do too little at the beginning of a crisis than too much. In the end, the price is more if the crisis becomes greater.” ECONOMIC LAW OF PRECIOUS RESPONSE
The first part of this series ended abruptly on account of space limitations. But, it should have included the comments below.
The critics of the Federal, Lagos and other State Governments wanting to play to the gallery invariably point to the pains of the measures imposed on all of us – including me. My office is closed down and I still have staff salaries to pay. I have been paying them and will continue to do so as long as possible because I strongly believe that the FG and all those valiant individuals managing this horrible set of problems are on the right track.
That should be everybody’s approach to this matter. Sanwo-Olu, as Lagos State Governor, receives most of the blows from those advocating a different approach. It is for this reason that I have repeated the Economic Law of Precious Response which was introduced in part 1. Most critics of governments, especially of Sanwo-Olu, had based their opposition on the massive economic losses and the hardships that would occur. Few had acknowledged that there would also be economic losses later if governments don’t take the aggressive positions they have taken. Indeed, the economic losses would have been greater if the pandemic had been allowed to spread more widely before lockdowns were imposed. I hope space will allow me today to explain better why doing “too much” at the beginning is preferable to doing too little when infectious diseases strike in any country.
First, I will present in summary two of the points of view of the critics. Next, I will attempt to draw attention to the reasons it is in the nation’s best interests to allow the governments, especially Lagos, to continue as they have been doing and to galvanise support for governments instead of undermining their brilliant efforts.
A SHORT ANSWER TO CRITICS OF GOVERNMENT
“As experience showed, the earlier lockdown did little to stifle or slow the spread of the virus. On the contrary, it was the economy that was stifled, the people impoverished, and the populace exposed to the unfeeling and short-sighted comparisons death and virus abatement. What was required was finding a workable and healthy balance between harsh measures and easing restrictions.” Idowu Akinlotan, THE NATION, SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2020.
“My personal view is that another total lockdown would be counter-productive. Before defeating the virus, we must learn to live with it all around us and practise the skills of avoiding it like a landmine….” Festus Keyamo, SAN, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, PUNCH, May 11, 2020.
Because it is my personal policy not to argue with people for whom I have no respect, Akinlotan and Keyamo represent the few whose opposition to governments management of the pandemic is wrong-headed and should be scrapped. I regard both of them as serious-minded and deep thinkers and they mean well for Nigeria. However, I think they are both wrong in their submissions on this issue. Let me start where Akinlotan ended, namely, “what was required was finding a workable and healthy balance…” As the recommendation stands, it appears persuasive until one examines it very closely. Then one would discover the hands of that well-known social critic who points out the faults in the existing policy but has nothing with which to replace it. It is not good enough.
Several advanced nations of the world had been under siege by COVID-19 before Nigeria felt the threat. Without exception, they have all imposed lockdown despite its predictable economic consequences. The US is just tentatively opening its economy which had been all but totally shut down since March. Jobless Americans are now close to 56 million as a result of lockdown; over 40 million have filed for unemployment claims. But, I have not seen any American calling the measures “unfeeling and short-sighted”.
Now to prove how wrong Akinlotan was in his demonisation of the President, Governors, PTF and NCDC, one only needs to bring as evidence the statement by Dr Fauci, the US top infectious disease doctor and President Trump’s Adviser, when speaking to the US Senate Committee on May 11, 2020 – more than two months after lockdown was imposed on America: “There is no doubt even under the best of circumstances when you pull back on mitigation [lockdown], you will see some cases appear. It’s only doing it at the appropriate time; it’s having in place the capability of responding when the inevitable return infections occur.” Fauci is one of the world’s leading experts on this issue and he has at his disposal advice from literally thousands of other experts. From day one, he had supported lockdown and he still advocates it. Akinlotan has no scientific basis for his opinions which although are well-written. America was/is not the only country to impose lockdowns. No Frenchman calls it “unfeeling”. The sooner we dispense with baseless sentiment the better for all Nigerians.
Akinlotan was unfair when he stated that “lockdown did little to stifle or slow the spread of the virus”. First of all, lockdown is a last and desperate measure by the authorities. By the time it is adopted, the virus has been out of control. More than eight weeks after Governor Como locked down New York, the deaths recorded daily were still rising. The same for Spain, Italy etc. How on earth Akinlotan would expect the experience in Lagos to be different is baffling. It isn’t good to attack a policy based on such spurious grounds which evidence elsewhere can disprove. Numbers invariably continue to rise when lockdown is first imposed because the testing of millions of people is just starting. Why Akinlotan expected two weeks of testing to reduce the rising numbers when it had taken more advanced nations with multiple facilities over two months (and they are still piling up figures) is a mystery to me. In the case of Keyamo, to start with, as a Minister, he was openly voicing an opinion contrary to government’s position on the matter. As a private citizen, he is entitled to his views on important matters, but he was out of line with his public statement. COVID-19 is as important as any issue in Nigeria since 1914. That said, it remains for me to inform the Minister that he was dead wrong.
The FG, FCT, Lagos and Ogun states officially announced lockdowns. But, in reality, there was no lockdown anywhere because the masses (or mob) and elite, right from the start, were opposed to it on account of the economic consequences. Let me quickly admit that I am as aware as anybody of the financial implications of lockdown. Businesses were going to shut down – with the attendant risk of never re-opening. That was a fact. But, that was also a fact in China, Italy, Spain, US, UK, India, as well as other nations which opted for mitigation.
The only reason lockdown, Nigerian-style, would prove counter-productive is the fact that our mostly undisciplined, irresponsible, self-centred and corrupt Fellow Nigerians ensured that there was no effective lockdown. Which other nation on earth did we know where human beings allowed themselves to be tucked under cattle in order to violate the regulations? In which other country would a trailer travel over 800 kilometres carrying people across several state borders with security people at over 50 check points before being apprehended? Lockdown, as conceived by governments, did not fail – because it was never tried.
Nigerians sabotaged it. But don’t worry. If governments lift the lockdown and the repercussions feared by the experts occur, Nigeria will be just as ill-prepared for that contingency. Unfortunately, when the bodies start dropping, the critics will not be the ones called upon to clear the mess. Government officials will be called upon to save us from our self-induced catastrophe. At a time like this, I am reminded of the statement by the late Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, 1883-1945, who said “Ruling Italians is not impossible. It is merely useless.” Nigerian leaders, at federal and state levels, called upon to shoulder the responsibilities of office at this time must be forgiven for sometimes thinking that ruling Nigerians is also “not impossible but merely useless.”
I doff my hat for all of them – especially Buhari and Sanwo-Olu.
NIGERIA’S ECO-SOCIO-COVID-19 UPHEAVAL
“It’s an ill wind which blows nobody any good.” William Shakespeare, 1547-1616.
COVID-19 alone would have tested the universe beyond anything known to mankind since the Black Plague devastated most of Europe in the 14th Century killing almost one third of those alive then. I read a report in which two of those whom had carried three victims to the cemetery died by the grave site. It was that bad.
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We can only pray that Nigeria’s case would not reach that stage.
But Nigerian governments – federal, state and LG (where they exist) – are now called upon to manage a cataclysm – a hydra-headed set of health, economic, social, legal and emotional problems which no governments before them have ever had to tackle at the same time. And, to make matters worse, virtually all of them are urgent. Invariably, governments are working under the tyranny of the urgent which frequently means that some of the decisions made might be wrong to critics blessed with the benefit of hindsight.
Most of the criticisms of government on these matters suffer from the fact that the critics have never been called upon to make very important decisions in an emergency.
Consequently, COVID-19, after taking centre-stage, had pushed into the background other problems just as threatening to our national security. Crude oil price reduction to levels last experienced in 1985-7 has not only re-written our 2020 Budget, but the global recession which, according to the International Monetary Fund, also has grave implications for our present and future. That is one issue. Almajirai being tossed from one state to another already constitute the next gang of bandits, armed robbers and kidnappers nationwide.
As the debate regarding whether or not to continue lockdown, let us remember that compared to America and New York State, Nigeria and Lagos State are performing excellently well. Figures available recently of deaths are as follows: America, 88,404; Nigeria, 167; New York 37,000 (est), Lagos 63. By any measure of comparison, our leaders have performed well. We should continue to support them more on COVID-19. It is in our own interest.
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