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OPINION – Covid-19: Why Are States Falling Apart? Adewale Kupoluyi

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Many lessons have been learned during this season of lockdown occasioned by the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More than ever before, the importance of personal hygiene, family bonding, altruism, institutional collaboration, and adherence to public directives, among others, has been brought to the front burner. As a series of top-level interventions programmes and plans are still unfolding, what appears worrisome is the loose synergy between the Federal Government and the respective state governments. This issue is of great concern because of the nature and ability of the disease to spread like wildfire if a collective effort is not deployed against this deadly virus.

To defeat this common enemy, there is an urgent need to close this gap. It is appreciated that constitutionally, Nigeria is a federation while the states are the respective federating unit, which allows for a great level of autonomy. However, the way and manner that federalism is run in the country clearly show that we are a federal state in theory but a unitary system in practice. In other words, we play double-standards and lay to claim to federalism when everything is going on well and cry foul when things turn sour. The continued clamour for devolution of powers, restructuring, state policing, resource control, and fiscal autonomy remain contending matters in our polity.

This unfortunate development and confusion have crept into the ongoing war on COVID-19. The federal and state governments have unfolded health, social, and financial packages to confront the pandemic headlong. Unfortunately, discordant tunes coming from state governments have elicited grave concern that cannot be shoved aside. Health matters should not be politicised because the lives of everybody are at stake. Irrespective of what programmes the various state governments have put in place, a centrally-planned response to the pandemic should be the way to go.

It is instructive that the presidential lockdown order operational in the frontline locations of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; Lagos State, and Ogun State is the major strategy that has largely helped to curb the spread of the virus. Aside from these three states, it can be observed from the updates coming from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that the virus is spreading faster to more states daily. If the situation is not properly managed, which no one prays for anyway, the country may experience an upsurge that could be fatal. The simple reason is that the nation lacks the necessary infrastructure and personnel to handle such a monumental disaster that is avoidable.

As the Federal Government promises tighter measures, some state governments seem to be relaxing the movement restriction orders within their jurisdictions by giving concessions for religious worships and resumption orders for civil servants to resume at their duties posts. From the various media reports, the state governors that have relaxed, reviewed, or reconsidered their earlier positions on the lockdown instructions include those of Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Ondo, Katsina, and Kogi while Abia, Ebonyi, Cross River, Imo, and Taraba states are allegedly planning to lift theirs. Oyo State civil servants were also said to have been told to resume before the end of this month after the state government must have concluded the decontamination exercise across the state.

In his second national address a few hours ago, President Muhammadu Buhari announced an extension of the current restriction of movement in the frontline states for another 14 days, expansion of the social register from 2.6 million to 3.6 million households by supporting an additional one million homes with the Social Investment Programmes, and the directives to ministers to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a ‘Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19’, supported by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and Economic Sustainability Committee. As admitted by the President, the cessation of movement, physical distancing measures, and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus.

Curiously, the President alluded that state governors – many who are violators – have praised for aligning their COVID-19 policies and actions to those of the Federal Government! Before the governors begin to celebrate the presidential accolades, they should be stopped from further falling apart by giving contradictory directives detrimental to the commendable efforts of the federal government. There is no need to play politics or flex muscles with the lives of the people. It is absurd for the government to relax the confinement simply because some people want to go to church or mosque.

Governments cannot continue to be involved in religious affairs, which is a clear violation of the constitution for Nigeria is a secular state. The aberration is seen during the sponsoring of religious activities such as pilgrimages, using state resources. This should stop. A major problem facing emerging democracies is the challenge of virile intergovernmental relations that seek to promote official rapport between central, regional, and local governments in an institutional arrangement. It allows vertical, horizontal, governmental, and non-governmental policy-making structures at different levels and sectors.

Professor Deil S. Wright, an American political scientist, and scholar recommends that intergovernmental relations in a federal state should be not be seen as competing for authority but levels of government cooperating or complementing each other. As a way forward, it is unfortunate that President Muhammadu Buhari did not declare a national lockdown for the next two weeks with the right incentives to Nigerians across the board. State governors, who wield much power in the country, from other political parties aside the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), should be co-opted into the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to enable them to become part and parcel of the decision-making. This should send a clear signal that nobody is playing politics here.

While commending the various medical interventions put in place to end this scourge, the government should provide more consumables and finances for the people. The truth is that many Nigerians are hungry and angry because they are unable to access the palliatives given out to the poor and vulnerable across the country. The government should avert any social unrest. The crime rate is increasing across the country. It appears that what is meant to be given out to the majority of the people has either been mismanaged or cornered. No amount of lockdown can work successfully without addressing the financial and economic needs of the people. I am sure Nigerians are ready to stay indoors for long when they have enough food stocked at home.

Besides, two months’ salaries should be paid to public servants and other categories of workers by ameliorating their sufferings without leaving out the elderly, homeless, and physically-challenged. Relevant authorities should aggressively continue work on the identification, testing more people from the current capacity of about 1,500 tests per day, isolation and contact tracing capabilities, and preventing transmission. Security should be beefed up across the country. More importantly, there is a need for reorientation on what it takes to fight the ravaging pandemic to a standstill. This is an urgent national call for action that transcends political, religious, ethnic, or tribal sentiments.    

Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), adewalekupoluyi@yahoo.co.uk,@AdewaleKupoluyi


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